“It’s the not-quite-right taking a turn for the oh-my-god-no!”
– Stephen on Through The Woods
Through The Woods h/c (£12-99, Faber & Faber) by Emily Carroll.
And I don’t mean just jagged teeth, but teeth where there ought not to be, doing things which they shouldn’t. Wobbling teeth are most worrisome of all: imagine what lies behind.
Also present and most incorrect: woods, caves, families and intruders – infesting your house, inhabiting your body and eating away at your soul.
It’s the not-quite-right taking a turn for the oh-my-god-no!
Eerie and chilling, this Victorian brand of horror owes less to the likes of RACHEL RISING or FATALE and much, much more both in tone and style to THE HIDDEN’s Richard Sala and especially MEATCAKE’s Dame Darcy. The protagonists are called Janna, Yvonne, Mary and Mabel, and they all have pert, pointy noses and long, slender fingers. There is the same sense that anything can happen on the page: the countryside may suddenly loom at a tilted angle, the path snaking through it becoming representational (of both space and the time taken to travel it); colouring may bleed outside its boundaries; the wail of a tortured soul may curl across the glossy paper forming the very gutter between its pitch-black panels haunted by past deeds in bright white and electric blue. As with Dame Darcy, lettering plays an integral part in the art and storytelling.
In ‘A Lady’s Hands Are Cold’ the not-quite-right is signalled early on by the intense flush on a young girl’s face as she sits in nervous trepidation at the other end of a vast, opulently laid dining table to the man her father has told her to marry. He, we never see but for the back of his head and a mouth into which he slides slabs of rare, juice-dribbling meat he has stabbed and cut with a two-pronged fork and carving knife. The oh-my-god-no is not far behind.
Another features a brother taking credit where far from due. Jealousy often goes unnoticed.
Then there are three sisters left to fend for themselves when their father goes hunting. In the woods, of course, but for what is uncertain. He says he’ll be gone for three days but warns them to leave the house and seek their neighbour’s if he fails to return on schedule. He fails to return on schedule. Things fall apart.
A Victorian parlour prank becomes more successful than anyone ever wanted it to. Two life-long friends find themselves at odds, and one starts seeing the most terrifying spectre I have ever laid eyes on because of what I laid eyes on. This one’s not as transparent as most.
A stylish soon-to-be-sister-in-law plays host to… No, there we will not go.
Nor will we go through the woods now that we are safely back home.
“Oh, but you must travel through those woods again and again,” said a shadow at the window.
“And you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…
“But the wolf… the wolf only needs enough luck to find you once.
Shackleton – Antarctic Odyssey s/c (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Nick Bertozzi.
“Success. The South Pole. Break out the meatballs!”
“We couldn’t have done it without the dogs.”
“Yes. They were tasty.”
Did you know previous expeditions use ponies? Poor ponies!
The above is Bertozzi’s fabulous, three-panel summary of the Amundsen Expedition, the first to reach the South Pole. It’s indicative of wit that’s been deployed throughout, making this a light, bright entertainment as well as an education.
On the other hand, I’m afraid he’s not joking: dogs don’t do well in the Antarctic. Poor dogs!
It kicks off with a quick geography lesson informing us that the Antarctic’s down south (well past the Thames) and there is a line of latitude past which the sun disappears during winter for an entire twenty-four hours.
Now, I’m all for exploration and have done a fair amount myself: the Brecon Beacons in summer and the Berwyn Mountains in winter. I can light a gasless, hexamine-fuel-block army camping stove with three sheets of toilet paper and a match, and have on one successfully cooked a gourmet, three-course meal for my Junior Instructors, although I do concede that if a melted Rolo and skimmed milk drink is not your idea of pudding then “gourmet” might be stretching it.
However, it seems to me that the remoter regions of the Antarctic are an ocean too far, and no amount of homemade damson gin is going to take the nip out of the air. It is very, very cold as Bertozzi’s central subject matter – 1914’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition – makes abundantly clear. That the crew manage to stay in such dignified high spirits and deport themselves with jovial optimism during the most severe deprivations and weather conditions is astonishing. They’re stranded on the aptly titled Endurance for the full first year, trapped in the ice. For a year! Not a great start.
The fate of The Endurance is pretty ill too, after which it becomes less of an expedition to the South Pole and more a struggle for survival out on the ice whilst inching themselves back towards the nearest semblance of civilisation, a Whaling Port hundreds of miles and several islands away on South Georgia. To get there will mean braving ridiculously rough seas in tiny rowing boats after they’re already starved and exhausted. It is… circuitous. Do you honestly think they all make it back alive?
The best laid 10-point plan of these mighty men involving two sailing ships and medals for all is laid out in all its reasonable detail right at the beginning of the book. It goes well astray within pages. It’s worth noting that the timing of the expedition turned out to be far from fortuitous: August 1914 was mere months from the outbreak of WWI so, with no hope of further funding from the throne (all monies, they knew, would be diverting to the war efforts), Shackleton saw no other option but to crack on when normally he would have turned back before he’d begun.
I learned so much that would never have occurred to me, particularly about the geology – the pressure of the ice packs, feeling sea waves under your feet which are standing on ice – and I had no idea these expeditions took two years. Obviously the humour factor starts failing when with their prospects of survival start waning, and there is one toe-curling moment I challenge you to resist reacting physically to, but one way or another Bertozzi keeps it riveting from start to finish.
His line is fine which, combined with a perfectly judged balance of grey tone, keeps the pages spacious and full of just the right light to convey times of day, temperature and weather conditions. It’s all about the temperature and weather conditions, an expedition like this, and what you will witness over these 120-odd pages is a tribute to human stoicism and dogged determination in the face of overwhelming adversity.
Still, poor dogs.
Gold Star (£3-99, Retrofit Comics) by John Martz.
Alternating between the past recounted as single cartoons and present in the form of four-panel comic strips, a bespectacled bunny has been nominated for an award.
In the present the award is announced, the nerve-ridden rabbit proves victorious, and he is called to the podium to make his acceptance speech.
In the past he arrives at his hotel on the previous day and makes precisely the wrong friend at its evening’s reception.
There is an immensely satisfying moment when the past becomes immediately reflected in the present’s acceptance-speech fluster but the punchline – when the fluster is fully accounted for – is a howler.
Love And Rockets vol 10: Luba And Her Family (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez.
Jaime’s THE LOVE BUNGLERS also featured childhood prominently and contains one sequence so shocking and a single panel so utterly arresting I took days to recover from both.
JULIO’S DAY was an exquisite, generational affair about a man who wastes his entire life.
MARIA M. I called “Crime and punishment executed with rapid-fire, bullet-point precision”.
THE CHILDREN OF PALOMAR was a haunting, community-based number.
LOVE AND ROCKETS: ESPERANZA is a fab introduction.
HIGH SOFT LISP contains the lines “She wept when I asked her to marry me. I wept when she asked for a pre-nuptial agreement!”
Possibly the most skeletal review I’ve ever written.
King-Cat Comics & Stories #74 (£2-99, King Cat) by John Porcellino.
John’s girlfriend, Stephanie, finds a bat in the attic. It’s too cold to pop the poor mite outside so they put it to bed in a ventilated shoebox while Stephanie scours the internet in search of local experts. They find one. They meet. The bat finds a loving new home. I didn’t know there were bat cages. They’re domes made of wire.
Thank God for Stephanie: I’m afraid she’s pretty much the only good news this issue. Even the letter column is tinged with melancholy. Zak Sally says “I’m tired of it” though I don’t know what “it” is. I like that John still copies them out by hand.
Comics’ chief map-maker Oliver East will love the portraits and descriptions of ‘The Bridges Of South Beloit’. At first I thought “Wow, so many!” I could only think of four in Nottingham and I had to remind myself of two of them. Then I realised I was just thinking of the River Trent and forgotten the canal, railway and tram bridges. There are loads.
My favourite episode this time out is ‘B.O.’ Unless I’m hiking up a hill on a very hot day I don’t tend to sweat so have never worn deodorant. John did use deodorant sticks until dating a punk rock girl in 1994 when she told them it causes Alzheimer’s, so he stopped for nineteen years. This is the story of why he stopped stopping: a day of disasters and cumulative stress causing him to sweat profusely then stress about sweating, and the cycle continues until he stinks to high heaven at a public event he cannot walk away from. Nightmare!
I love Porcellino’s storytelling. It’s the ultimate in clarity. There’s no fuss, no clutter. Come to think of it there are no images at all in ‘Dead Porcupine Blues’ although the layout might represent a flag. I don’t think so, but then I don’t understand the references in it. It might be poetry, after a fashion. ‘Tennessee’ is, to me. Maybe there’s a ray of sunshine in that one, after all the rain.
House Party (£9-99, Great Beast) by Rachael Smith.
You can judge this book by its cover. “Do not throw house parties!” it warns. “They will end in detritus and disaster.” To which I would add:
Definitely don’t invite people you don’t know or, if you know them, don’t like.
Michelle, Neil and Siobhan live together. They used to happy; they used to be the life and soul of their own house parties. But Michelle’s not the writer she aspired to be, Siobhan’s not the artist she’d hoped, and it’s two years since Neil had a paying gig as a comedian.
In a desperate bid to reconnect with their youth and popularity Neil decides it’s time to recreate the past and throw another house party. Michelle and Siobhan have doubts. Those doubts prove all too well founded.
The production on the book’s lovely: matt paper, bold colour, spot-varnish title in white. The set-up borrows from Bryan Lee O’Malley, the style from Marc Ellerby, the relationships from John Allison. A little too much from all three, actually, but Smith is growing increasingly confident as evidenced by the big, big panels and abundance of double-page spreads. With that comes one word of warning: this isn’t as long as you might imagine.
“Neil, I thought this was going to be fun… This looks considerably not fun.”
House parties: don’t do it.
All of our copies come with big, bold and perfectly placed original sketches in them. Thank you, Rachael!
The Man That Dances In The Meadow (£3-99, Space Face Books) by Sam Alden.
To escape her office’s daily grind and toxic personal politics a young woman ventures into a meadow for her packed lunch. It is straddled by electricity pylons which loom over her like the wire frames of gigantic robots. One hot day she falls asleep only to be woken (perhaps) by an airplane flying overhead. She discovers a man with his back to her dancing deliriously, his movements a blur of multiple exposures.
Desperate to see him again, she becomes distracted both at work and at home with her girlfriend. They’re supposed to be planning their big move from the city to a town where her girlfriend’s earned a place at college, but the woman who saw the man that dances in the meadow is growing increasingly and irrationally anxious.
Gradually she loses her grip – on everything.
Congratulations, mini-comic, you successfully raised my blood pressure. Simple line, dot tone of different densities and a great deal of sweating, plus one knock-out page in the meadow at night, the pylons all stark and spectral in white.
The Whale(£7-50, Gaze Books) by Aidan Koch –
[Editor’s note: Dominique is astute and concise.
Anyway, I’ll butt out now, and hope these blatantly artificial extra paragraphs have done their job.]
Curio Cabinet (£10-99, Secret Acres) by John Brodowski.
One hundred and thirty-eight pages of densely shaded pencil preceded by a sort of magic trick in which the word “abracadabra” is given the illusion of having magical properties. It doesn’t, but I had to think about it.
These are short, silent and surreal stories interspersed by episodes of ‘Cus Mommy Said So’ in which a man in a hockey mask makes waves and throws things. Mommy turns out to be lacking in both maternal instinct and patience.
In ‘Hunter’ fauna take flight as a cathedral organ erupts and the Grim Reaper roars down the aisle on a motorbike. Oh wait, they’re not taking flight at all – they’re congregating.
‘Kindred Spirits’ also features squirrels and a man’s overenthusiastic affinity for them. There is a picnic in which a bird doesn’t wait to be fed. And a hatchet bent on suicide buries itself.
There are miners, dinosaurs, warriors, grotesques galore and Iron Maiden’s mascot puts in an appearance. I believe the creator is partial to a little heavy metal.
It occurs to me that there are a lot of deaths and broken windows in this book.
Sammy Harkham calls it “laugh out loud”. Sammy Harkham is weird.
I Will Bite You! And Other Stories (£10-50, Secret Acres) by Joseph Lambert ~
Like Lucy Knisley, Joseph is a graduate from the Centre for Cartoon Studies and this, his debut book is largely a collection of his work leading up to and including his work at that esteemed academy. A rare mixed-bag with no duff flavours, Joseph’s style is loose. At times I’m reminded me of Al Columbia; others of Joann Sfar. But if those names mean zilch to you, that’s okay, what counts are the comics here, and the comics here count.
There’s a very fine common theme of duality throughout these stories, perhaps intentionally – I don’t know – but seemingly pointed as two of the stories deal with pairs of siblings. The eponymous opener is an abstract tale about a frustrated man-child biting everything and growling in thick, black scribbles; constantly overhead are the mocking presence of the Sun and the Moon, side by side, amused by the biter’s angst until he retaliates with fatal repercussions.
The tale feels old, even tribal. An urban Aboriginal tale of how the day and night find themselves as they are.
The first tale also has the moon play a part, when two hyperactive brothers distress an older sibling with their rambunctious escapades and bring the moon pressing against their house, bending it at a right angle. The second story, ‘Too Far’, turns a minor spat between too brothers into a dimensional incident wherein the older eats everything, and in his now-metaphysical body his family, and indeed the whole of creation, forge on.
But by far my favourite is his assignment from CSS to retell the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. ‘Turtle, Keep It Steady!’ has the animals as drummers competing for the beat, the turtle playing a straight, no-nonsense steady beat, while the hare plays Keith Moon/Mick Fleetwood-style with a bottle and a bunny occupying his paws, leaving his ears free to freestyle with predictable results.
This is some fine comics.
Occupy Comics: Art + Stories Inspired By Occupy Wall Street s/c (£11-99, Black Mask) by Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, Ales Kot, Si Spurrier, many more & David Mack, Charlie Adlard, David Lloyd, many more –
Anthologies for a charitable cause are often hit-and-miss affairs in terms of the material you get and this one is no different. But really the point is the cause more than the comics so it’s probably best to take the rough with the smooth; if you are interested in the Occupy Movement or the general furore surrounding it then you will find some interesting little nuggets here.
In terms of the strips three really stood out for me. CITIZEN JOURNALIST by Ales Kot (ZERO, WILD CHILDREN, CHANGE) Tyler Crook (BPRD) and Jeromy Cox (many superhero titles) is a snapshot of what it takes to get footage from a scene where the regular media have been “asked” by the police not to film. As you can imagine, what it takes is a mix of ingenuity and courage plus the ability to take a punch or two. Well put together with lovely art. CLEVER by Ben Templesmith is a two page spread explaining briefly how we are all being shafted, complete with zombie/skeletal men in suits. CHANNEL 1% by Matt Pizzolo and Ayhan Hayrula gives a succinct overview of how the events leading up to and including the Occupy movement have been spun.
You also get a bunch of other stuff including a chunk of prose by Alan Moore [the cartoon’s pedigree as a fiercely iconoclastic medium (Gillray) and comics’ too (Hogarth)] and an illustration by Molly Crabapple whose arrest at the one year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protest is well worth an internet search. Interesting stuff.
Rocket Raccoon #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Skottie Young.
Quick-fire stupidity and hyperactivity done well.
Rocket Racoon is the anthropomorphic ladies’-man member of Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, although let us not forget Groot, its walking, talking tree-trunk. Groot indeed guest-stars in a wrestling match to which Rocket Racoon has taken his this-minute’s lady-love on a date. He so romantic!
The epitome of the thoughtless, self-centred male about whom so many of my lady-friends used to complain until they wised up and found someone infinitely more sensitive and so suitable instead (ah, youth! ah, maturity!), our resident raccoon even attempts to secure future dates while on a date in front of his date. Brilliant!
He’s also in trouble. One gleaming, fang-faced smile into one too many cameras and his status as a wanted man is flagged planet-wide. Now who could possibly want him?
Everything I’ve typed up so far links up by the punchline and makes perfect sense. Also, the sub-plot about a second sentient raccoon (when Rocket supposes he’s the last of his race) is reignited. Ooooh!
The cartooning is gleeful with big, broad grins with flashing canines, showing the show-off to maximum advantage whilst keeping you all screaming “Yay!”
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!
Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews. Neat, huh?
Judge vol 4 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Yoshiki Tonogai
Nightwing vol 4: Second City s/c (£10-99, DC) by Kyle Higgins & Brett Booth
Justice League Of America vol 1: Worlds Most Dangerous s/c (£12-99, DC) by Geoff Johns, Matt Kindt, Jeff LeMire & David Finch, many more
Battle Royale: Angels Border (£8-99, Viz) by Koushun Takami & Mioko Ohnishi, Youhei Oguma
Blue Sheep Reverie vol 6 (£9-99, June) by Makota Tateno
Avatar Last Airbender vol 8: Rift Part 2 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru
The Seven Deadly Sins vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Nakaba Suzuki
UQ Holder vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu
Raygun Roads (£4-99, Changeling Studios) by Owen Johnson & Indio
Death Sentence h/c (£16-99, Titan) by Montynero & Mike Dowling
Legends Of The Tour (£14-99, Head Of Zeus) by Jan Cleijne
ITEM! Staggering graph on the gargantuan spike in interest in UMBRAL the second it was declared Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month. I’ve always been humbled by the trust members put in our club, but it is mind-melting to see how wide that influence evidently is. Hurrah for analysts like Antony Johnston! Bloody good writer, to boot.
ITEM! Different to last week’s link, time-lapse photography of Joe Sacco’s THE GREAT WAR going up in the Paris Metro.
ITEM! Interview with Ed Brubaker about VELVET in which he tells of a TV station which was interesting in optioning the series… while proving they had missed the whole point. It’s a real “D’Oh!” moment.
ITEM! Joe Decie, he’s so funny. “Where do you get your ideas from?” Comic.
ITEM! Not as off-topic as I would like. Almost every week some professional woman or another – in comics, games, animation, journalism – is targeted online by a vicious mob of menchildren desperate to suppress any woman’s voice, influence and authority. “Sexism” doesn’t come close to describing these vile, cowardly attacks which often include rape threats. Now acclaimed author and journalist Leigh Alexander has written some typically sage advice on how supporters can help women under online attack without exacerbating the situation.
ITEM! BIG QUESTIONS’ Anders Nilsen takes on Amazon. I’ve read that comic in its entirety and it is deliciously witty. We’ll be stocking the two as a complete package – already ordered!
ITEM! A sobering comic about a refugee fleeing conflict by Karrie Fransman. Its perfect punchline echoes the sentiments of Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL.
I think we’ll leave it there.