“Lived and died
“And struggled and lost
“And the end was unceremonious.”
– Perfect cadence in Mike Medaglia’s Last Days Of Nobodies (Signed & Sketched In)
Expecting To Fly #1 of 2 (£3-00, Scary Go Round Comics) by John Allison.
He’s playing Doom!
But didn’t we all think that when first immersed in the video game Doom? Racing down that first, three-dimensional tunnel alone blew my newbie little mind. Then eventually oh my god it was green and red and terrifying!
Set inextricably in Britain 1996 when copper-wire theft was a thing and some VHS video machines ran on short and long play (compatibility alert!) this is John Allison’s best book yet. And that’s saying something given how much I adored the revised-for-print edition of BAD MACHINERY: THE CASE OF THE GOOD BOY. I love the Marvel-homage and Tetris-tribute cover. Tetris is very telling here:
“It’s the perfect game. The rules are clear. Organise the world into perfect, neat little rows. Watch your problems disappear. There’s a tiny, two dimensional world in there. I’m keeping it going.”
So speaks Shelley Winters, a slim and attractive redhead always smartly dressed for school. She’s quick, witty and seems very wise. But she’s having to “keep it going” against all odds in the wake of a family tragedy.
Tim Jones too appears to have a level head on his shoulders. Older and taller than Shelley and his best mate, Ryan Beckwith, he seems organised, smart, attentive, generous and reliable. Ryan, meanwhile, has much to contend with. We’re talking about Tetris again:
“My life’s more like the ‘B’ game. It’s Level 9, High 5. Big messes clogging things up, making it impossible to do well. Everything happening too fast to change.”
The difference in Tim and Ryan’s lives in is made grin-inducingly clear during their morning schedule readying themselves for school. Allison ingeniously depicts this in a large, early shot of the two adjoining halves of their semi-detached house, each window of which is a panel. Ryan calmly brushes his hair, slips on his jacket, kisses his mum good-bye and leaves the house. Ryan panics, brushes his teeth, flails manically as his mum attempts to attach a school tie and… you get the picture.
The “big messes clogging things up” actually boil down to his dad. His parents are separated and his dad has moved out but he keeps coming back and dragging Ryan out to the boozer.
“Mum told me not to let you in the front door, Pa.”
“I let myself in the window anyhow, so it’s not a problem.”
Oh yes, it is.
However. However. Ryan is actually capable and he cares. He’s not the irresponsible idiot some might suspect from afar. It’s just difficult to say no to your Pa.
Two of the elements I love most about John Allison’s art are his figure work and faces. Everyone has a different body form and body language: Ryan wide-eyed and gesticulately wildly, though all too often weighed down by pressure and hangovers; Tim tall and lithe but not lanky; and the small of Shelley’s back could not be more perfect.
John also does “drunk” very well!
So. Ryan is assigned to watch over Shelley by a teacher who suspects she is fragile. Tim is very much taken by Shelley while Ryan fancies Becka and a party at Mick Speight’s approaches.
How long do you think it will be – in Tetris terms – before, I’m afraid, it’s game over?
The Collector h/c (£25-99, Archaia) by Sergio Toppi…
“Let’s get one thing straight: don’t mistake me for your usual collector who fills his gallery with sundry items picked for age, trade value, and intrinsic beauty. Most such folk have no trouble showing off their treasures. That’s not me.
“I only collect things of deep personal means to me, things that have ‘lived’, actors in histories I alone know, from research. Once I obtain them, I set them aside, no one else ever sees them again.”
Originally published in 1984, at long last this masterpiece has been translated into English. I believe this is pretty much the only original longer form work that Toppi did, instead preferring to concentrate on various one-shots. I have no idea why that would be, perhaps just the circumstances and fashions of the Italian and French comics scene at the times, but to our modern tastes, seasoned as they in favour of the extended narrative, I can’t help but think that is a crying shame. Because as truly wondrous as Toppi’s line-led art style is, here the writing is equally as well crafted. He clearly was able to spin a tale just as well as he could illustrate it, because in the Collector he has created a truly fascinating character.
Yes, the Collector is a man who always gets what he wants, whether it be an enchanted Native American peace pipe, or a necklace imbued with magical powers once owned by the great Lama Padmasambhava. But when an object of his desire is acquired, it will never be seen again by another living soul, for the Collector’s treasures are for his avaricious pleasures alone. For the most past he is a man of absolute honour, but he’s not above a moment of crafty chicanery, devious double-dealing, or even outright treachery to gain his prize. And for those who cross him, or worst still also lust after what he covets, well, he’s a fearsome enemy to have to face.
There’s a superb foreword from Sean PUNK ROCK JESUS / JOE THE BARBARIAN Murphy which absolutely nails the appeal of Toppi’s unique style, and for me underscores everything that is beautiful about our preferred medium of choice. There is no wrong or right way to illustrate a comic, as Sean states, “Here’s the first lesson of Toppi: you don’t even need pretty lines to create pretty artwork – even the most basic, entry level type of scribble can be turned into a masterpiece if you apply it correctly.”
Toppi found a unique methodology of drawing that allowed him to express his own inner vision to its fullest. But beyond that, he also had an incredible understanding of how to make his artwork stand out from the page. Look closely at this work and what you’ll immediately notice is whilst there is immense foreground detail poured into the characters, there are equally vast expanses of white background, ensuring the focus stays firmly on the principals of the scene. He was very figure-focused, Toppi, but even on the occasions where there are vast open vistas, the insanely detailed landscape itself is contrasted against a blank white sky. Contrast is the key word here, and it’s a tool in all its forms that many artists don’t understand how to use properly, or haven’t mastered, at least not to this degree. Not all artists have styles that demand it as much as Toppi’s, to be fair, but where you have a style as rich in textural complexity as this, it’s essential for the balance of the panel composition.
At the start of this work there are listed about 20 or so other works by Toppi, as yet untranslated. I fervently hope that Archaia will continue to publish English language versions of this material, because it so deserves the widest audience possible. A true great.
Last Days Of Nobodies (Numbered Edition of 100 & Signed & Sketched In!) (£7-00, Avery Hill Publishing) by Mike Medaglia.
Oh, but the cadence is perfect! I’m adding that to my top twenty sentences written in the English language.
Wreathed in religious scrolls, this quietly elegaic and unsensationalist full-colour comic is both eloquent and beautiful to behold.
Framed in bright white yet drawn on a fine-grained, calico-coloured paper, it tells of Vincent van Gogh’s final countryside walk.
As he strolls the world whorls and warps around him as it did in his paintings. The sun is blinding, then a further two pages post-gun-shot are devoted to cross-hatched silence, the second one denser like woven wool in red and green. Later still, Vincent’s fading breath floats from his eyes and mouth to frame images of the alarm raised around town, the doctor dashing to Van Gogh’s assistance.
Wow. Just wow.
It was Jonathan who discovered Avery Hill Publishing here and so far that house appears to be an impeccable hallmark of quality.
Did I mention this comic is signed and sketched in and limited to 100 copies?
The Garden Of Words (£10-99, Vertical) by Makoto Shinkai & Midori Motohashi…
A genuinely wonderful surprise, this understated tale of romance. I nearly didn’t bother giving it a read but I’m pleased I did, as it is of equal quality in terms of storytelling and art to the much lauded (and rightly so) 5 CENTIMETRES A SECOND. And like that work, it was also first an anime. The titular garden of words refers to a beautiful space in a Tokyo park where a 15-year-old schoolboy and 27-year-old mysterious woman forge an unlikely acquaintance over the course of the early summer rainy season.
Takao aspires to be an artisan shoemaker and finds the park a peaceful place to sketch his designs, and Yukari, well, her motives for visiting the park are not something she’s willing to speak about nor something the polite and well mannered Takao is willing to pursue. As their first chance meeting draws to a conclusion Yukari says goodbye to him by quoting an enigmatic poem, leaving Takao bemused and intrigued in equal measure.
Soon enough there’s a tacit agreement that both will find the other there when it rains in the morning, and so they gradually continue to further their acquaintance. It’s clear to both there is a potential mutual attraction, though obviously their age difference means it must remain unstated. Then summer comes into full bloom and the rains just stop. For several weeks Takao wonders if he will ever see Yukari again, but when he eventually does, it’s in very different circumstances.
Ah, I’m loathe to say any more, because what I’ve really done here is take you up to what is the pivotal moment of the story. To give anything else away would completely spoil things, I think, whereas hopefully I’ve merely piqued your interest. If you like a little anguished and tortured, will-they won’t they, romance, then you will absolutely love this. There’s a real delicate touch in the art that perfectly captures the gentleness of Takao’s and fragility of Yukari’s personalities that is a delight to behold. Their peculiar friendship is perfectly plausible, and in Japan’s formal society it’s glacially slow unfolding only adds to the deep emotional undercurrents present in the story.
Doomboy h/c (£18-99, Magnetic Press) by Tony Sandoval.
ID is a kid just like any other, only more partial than most to doom metal.
“Doom metal is this extreme type of metal with a real slow tempo and crunchy guitars playing these heavy sounds you don’t hear in other kinds of metal. The music and lyrics work together to give this feeling of despair and horror and looming danger.”
He goes to see gigs with friends like Spaghetti, a hulk of a teen with a temper; and with Sepilium whose eyes like ID’s lie completely hid under a long mane of hair. He plays his guitar which Annie drew eyes on but Mina’s the minor celebrity around these coastal parts.
Then one night ID takes a shortcut home across grass and there’s a freak gust of wind curling and swirling, throwing up trash with a noise. He finds his mum sitting up in the lounge.
“Annie’s mom called… She didn’t wake up in the hospital.”
That’s when everything changes.
ID finds a great big hole in his chest. Not just in his heart, but in his chest. He has the most almighty, violent break-up with his band who ostracise him, threatening ID with violence; he buys a star for inspiration from a girl he’s never seen before, selling them far from legally on the kerbside; he reinherits the dog Elsy he once gave to Annie; and he starts seeing vast wonders up in the sky…
Then he begins playing. Under the nickname Doomboy which Annie gave him, he plays his guitar secretly on the shore with Sepilium transmitting it into the ether. And the crowd, as they say, goes wild. They just don’t know where the music’s coming from.
Tony Sandoval grew up in the Northwest deserts of Mexico but this art feels continental to me. There’s a thin, fragile line matched with ragged textures, but big round heads with tiny eyes and tiny noses – elements of Lowbrow, now that I come to think of it – and mouths that break out into great big shouty chasms. The name Sam Kieth keeps cropping up in my mind.
The colours are predominantly sandy, brown, green and blue, and as for the cloud-bursting visions… You may want to click on these, blowing them up to full size!
The book hangs not heavily with melancholy but there’s certainly a yearning throughout, along with the constant threat of danger both from his pride-pricked, vengeful ex-bandmates and from Spaghetti about whom ID discovers a startling secret. I’d love to talk about that and the spot-on way Sandoval played it, but I want you to be as gobsmacked as Sepilium and ID.
Ricky Rouse Has A Gun (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Jorg Tittel & John Aggs…
As you can see from the photo below, Jörg Tittel is a very intense man. I can testify to this personally having met him at The Lakes Comic Art Festival in Kendal recently. It took him about thirty seconds before he was interrogating me as to precisely why we weren’t stocking his book at the show. I told him that whilst I did enjoy much of it, that it did indeed have some salient points to make about the US military-industrial complex, China’s disregard for intellectual property – the titular Rickey Rouse being a blatant rip-off of Mickey Mouse – and much else besides, that I felt it all suddenly went a bit Die Hard, like some ‘80s action movie, with a completely preposterous, over-the-top ending.
Jörg then fixed me with his scary gaze and told me that was precisely what he had intended, satirising the golden age of action films whilst providing some serious political commentary. He may have been hypnotising me, actually, because the more I thought about it, the more I realised there are probably several Page 45 customers who would get a real kick out of it. So, buy this, it’s like Die Hard with an armed-to-the-teeth nutter dressed in a faux Mickey Mouse suit fighting terrorists who’ve taken over a theme park…
I should add that Jörg was an immensely entertaining bloke to chat and share a few beers with, and in addition to this work he has written and produced a play starring Richard E. Grant, plus written and produced a film ‘Testudo’ which was entered in competition at various top film festivals. He’s big into transmedia, particularly in the concept of games interacting closely with films and television. Sounds completely mad, but then having met him, I reckon if there is anyone insane enough to make it work, it’s him!
Action Philosophers h/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey…
Heh. There are as many word gags as visual gags in this panel-based philosophy primer, and they are multitudinous. In fact, scarcely a panel goes by without fun being poked at some great and learned thinker or their theories in some outrageously insouciant manner. Considering that intensity of humour, therefore, it is astonishing that this material is as wonderfully informative and subtly educational as it is. Weighty topics are dealt with precisely and succinctly, before yet another punchline has you sniggering again.
This tenth anniversary über edition collects what was previously four volumes featuring 40 luminaries from the ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary ages of philosophy. Slightly surprised not to see the wisest modern action sages of them all in there – Evan Dorkin’s MILK AND CHEESE – but I guess that just gives them something else to get irate about!
Anyone who enjoyed the excellent EVOLUTION: THE STORY OF LIFE ON EARTH and STUFF OF LIFE: A GRAPHIC GUIDE TO GENETICS AND DNA would definitely find this material as interesting and amusing a read. And genuinely, a really good philosophy primer.
The Last Temptation (Signed Edition) h/c (£55-99, Dynamite) by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli, David Curiel, Dave Mckean
Signed not just by Neil Gaiman and by Mike Zulli, artist on Neil’s THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF THE DEPARTURE OF MISS FINCH CREATURES OF THE NIGHT, but also signed by Mr Face Paint himself, Alice Cooper!
So, you know, I’d act fast.
Inevitably brief return of the elusive Gaiman story that originally saw print at Marvel, the first part of which came, I think, with the Alice Cooper album which Gaiman wrote lyrics for. Seems rather unlikely, doesn’t it? Perhaps it’s just a dream I had.
Steven, not the bravest of blokes, takes a ticket to the Showman’s Theatre of the Real on a dare, then wishes he hadn’t.
Powers vol 1: Who Killed Retro Girl? (£11-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming.
Bendis is doing the Warren Ellis thing at the moment. He’s someone working in the superhero field, writing what seems like half a dozen titles, touted by everyone as the new big thing and suddenly you turn around and there’s a bunch of his books on the shelf.
POWERS focuses on the police force in charge of a superhero-filled city. Detective Christian Walker is assigned a new partner. He and Deena Pilgrim make a good team, upholding the tried and true rules of the genre: he’s not happy about the arrangement, she’s heard about him and eager to make a friend. It’s not exactly ‘Tango & Cash’ but they hover in the same area. Bendis, as detailed in FORTUNE & GLORY, has had some dealings with Hollywood and his scriptwriter’s ear for quick, snappy, overlapping dialogue and understanding of screen formula pacing makes this, along with his surprisingly enjoyable ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, a modern superhero take in a way that ASTRO CITY actually isn’t. Oeming’s art treads around the animated Batman arena, touching on Hempel’s SANDMAN work with rich, complementary colours by Pat Garrahy, bringing out the fluorescent lights and night time skies.
Retro Girl, one of the most loved figures in the city sky is dead. The media are quick to paint her as a mix of Kurt Cobain and Lady Diana. Walker and Pilgrim are on the case, rounding up the suspects and trying to find out what the graffiti at the scene (‘chaotic chic’) means.
Amazing Spider-Man vol 1: Parker Luck s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Humberto Ramos…
“Alright it’s true. I am Spider-Man. But I’m not the Spider-Man you know. Or the Peter Parker you think you know.”
“Wait. What does that even mean?”
“Months ago a very superhero-ish thing happened to me. I got mind-swapped with a bad guy.”
“Yeah. But I’m back to normal now.”
“With a supervillain?”
“For how long?”
“Before we ever met.”
“So this whole time… Doctor Octopus?”
“Yes… I know this is a lot to take in, but the person you… had a relationship with wasn’t me. That was…”
“That mad scientist. The one with the metal arms?”
“That’s the one.”
“Well he was bold and decisive…”
“Sounds like him.”
“…yet surprisingly tender.”
“I… uh… wouldn’t know about that.”
“And that does account for his unparalleled genius.”
“Well, not to brag, but I am a bit of a… Sorry.”
Ha ha, poor old Peter Parker, even now he’s back in control of his body, he’s still clearing up the various messes Otto left behind. And, as ever with Peter, it’s affairs of the heart that usually cause him the most consternation even when he’s not to blame. I think out of all the Marvel titles, ASM is the one that can rightly be most labelled as pure soap opera. And I do mean that in a positive, affectionate way. The endless rounds of fighting then making up between Peter and his friends, plus the ever-amusing pantomime villainy of one J. Jonah Jameson, fresh from his the debacle of his term as Mayor, ruined for him of course in his eyes by the wondrous web-slinger, ensure this title remains interesting, if not ground-breaking.
I did enjoy the SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN run, I must say, because when a solo character has been going for as long as Peter has, it is nigh on impossible to keep coming up with new ideas to freshen things up, but even so, I can’t help but be pleased Peter is back. There’s something mildly comforting about the fact that even someone with the proportional strength and speed of a spider has about as much luck as a fly trapped in the proverbial web. And, Dan Slott seems to still have a few more ideas up his sleeve for tormenting Peter based on this ‘first’ volume, so I shall keep reading!
Locke & Key vol 6: Alpha & Omega s/c (£18-99, IDW) by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
Impressively cataclysmic conclusion to Joe and Gabriel’s sotto voce horror masterpiece. The school year is winding to an end, graduation looms for many of our cast, and the kids of Lovecraft are preparing for their after prom party, a rave in a cave, yes that particular cave, which you might think by now everyone would be trying really hard to avoid… though I suppose everyone thinks the villain has already been vanquished at the end of volume five. OH NO HE HASN’T! As we well know…
The dastardly miscreant in question has been secretly going about his business in the possessed body of [SPOILER] and now has almost everything he needs to execute his apocalyptic plan and bring the rest of his kind through the portal into our world. There’s just one more of the Keyhouse’s keys he needs to get his hands on, and he’s knows Kinsey Locke will be bringing that particular item to the party, which just so happens to be taking place where he needs it most… in that cave! Fortunately for the Locke family, the residents of Lovecraft and indeed the entire world, Tyler Locke has finally realised precisely what his lucky charm gifted by deceased father actually is, and more importantly, how it can be weaponised. He also has a sneaking suspicion everything isn’t over just yet. Clever boy.
Tyler won’t be the ultimate hero of the piece, though. No, that prize is reserved for someone else: someone, who after all he has been put through already in a very, very difficult life, truly deserves it, bless his cotton socks. It’s time for the pure of heart and simple of mind to take centre stage at last as Rufus and his toys undertake their final mission for the highest of stakes.
Joe Hill has created a brilliant set of characters within this work, but Rufus has easily been my favourite. He now knows exactly who the villain is and exactly what needs to be done to stop him, but when you’ve the mental capabilities of barely more than a toddler, and you’re locked up in a secure hospital several miles from where the action is going to go down, what can you do? The answer? Whatever it takes soldier! Go, Rufus!
When you’ve put so much time and effort into following a series, you obviously want it to conclude in a befitting and satisfactory manner. Happily Joe Hill achieves that with aplomb and I believe this will be a series that continues to sell for a good number of years to come. It has everything you could possibly want in a good horror yearn: creepy locations, a fabulous cast of fully realised primary and secondary characters, plus an evil menace beyond measure. Also Gabriel Rodriguez has provided stellar art throughout. My initial impression was the art style was going to be incongruous with horror writing, but it just works perfectly in conveying the more fantastical elements of the story whilst dissembling the occasional burst of shocking violence. So, when all is settled are there happy endings for everyone? Certainly not, but suffice to say, some people get the endings they certainly deserve…
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?
Battling Boy: The Rise Of Aurora West vol 1 (£7-50, First Second) by Paul Pope, J. T. Petty & David Rubin
In Real Life (£13-50, First Second) by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang
The Leaning Girl s/c (£22-50, Alaxis Press) by Benoit Peeters & Francois Schuiten
Preacher Book Book 6 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon, John McCrea
Star Wars vol 3: Rebel Girl (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Stephane Crety
Stray Bullets vol 1: Innocence Of Nihilism (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham
C.O.W.L. vol 1: Principles Of Power s/c (£7-50, Image) by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel & Rod Reis
100 Bullets Book 1 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso
DC Comics Year One h/c (£25-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Greg Capullo, various
Green Lantern vol 4: Dark Days s/c (£12-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Billy Tan
Marvel Masterworks: Avengers vol 6 (£18-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich & John Buscema, Don Heck, Werner Roth
Miracleman Book vol 1: A Dream Of Flying (UK Edition) h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Alan Moore, Mich Anglo & Gary Leach, Alan Davis, Don Lawrence, Steve Dillon, Paul Neary
Miracleman Book vol 2: The Red King Syndrome h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Alan Moore & Alan Davis, John Ridgway, Chuck Austen, Rick Veitch
Ordinary h/c (£14-99, Titan) by Rob Williams & D’Israeli
Attack On Titan: No Regrets vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Gun Snark & Hikaru Suruga
Black Butler vol 18 (£8-99, Yen Press) by Yana Toboso
Blade Of The Immortal vol 30: Vigilance (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura
Fairy Tail vol 43 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima
Monster Perfect Edition vol 2 (£14-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa
Naruto vol 67 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto
Vampire Knight vol 19 (£6-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino
ITEM! Nottingham’s GameCity9 is a go! On now! Until the weekend! Good golly!
ITEM! Jonathan and I have bought Page 45’s building. All four floors and the cellar! It cost us hundreds of hours work and £350,000 so please pop in and spend money!
ITEM! Yay, no capricious landlord and the freedom to renovate when necessary.
WE ARE NOW IN FEROCIOUS NEGOTATIONS WITH OURSELVES ABOUT THIS OUTRAGEOUS RENT!
I WILL NOT BACK DOWN! BUT NEITHER WILL I!
THIS COULD GO ON FOR FIFTEEN YEARS!
ITEM! Page 45 review of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014. It is epic. But then so was the festival.
It’s the same blog. It took me ten days. I even review a comic there by local school children who are amaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazing!