“If you dehumanise others then you dehumanise yourself.”
– Stephen on NOUGHTS & CROSSES by Malorie Blackman, Ian Edginton & John Aggs, below.
Noughts & Crosses: The Graphic Novel (£12-99, Doubleday) by Malorie Blackman, Ian Edginton & John Aggs.
“This is growing up, isn’t it?”
“I think it is.”
It’s not going to be easy.
We make things so difficult for ourselves, don’t we? Racial prejudice is as ridiculous and unreasoned as it is vile and unnecessary, yet we’ve polluted our history and corrupted our children with it for millennia. It’s also the biggest source of rank hypocrisy outside of organised religions battling each other for authenticity and superiority whilst spreading lies and hatred about “the other”. It’s an insult to our God-given intelligence.
With a single, simple, straightforward if comprehensive inversion Malorie Blackman eloquently exposes how we complicate everything from friendship to family and every aspect of society just because of the colour of our skins. How utterly superficial of us.
Enhanced by John Aggs with the most tender art imaginable which breaks into stark brutality, the key success is in making you care: by making it personal. And despite the best intentions and the very real love of the two lead protagonists, Sephy and Callum, no one is perfect: everyone will make mistakes which will make you physically wince.
Persephone Hadley and Callum McGregor have been friends since early childhood. Callum’s mother Meggie worked for Mrs Hadley as Sephy’s nanny and on sunny summer days she was allowed to bring Callum along to play. On the surface it seemed idyllic. But when Meggie failed to produce an alibi for Mrs Hadley for an evening’s affair while Mr Hadley was away, she was summarily sacked after fourteen years of faithful service.
Flash forward a few years and it hasn’t stopped Sephy and Callum from meeting up on the beach, their romance tentatively blossoming. The future still looks as bright as can be. But back home their families are showing fractures – massive ones at the McGregors’ – and it’s going to grow very dark indeed.
So what’s the big schism? It’s race and racism, I’m afraid.
The comprehensive inversion…? In this world of white Noughts and black Crosses, the Noughts never created empires through military and economic conquest. It’s the Crosses who have always called the shots. They do to this day, whose social conditions approximate America’s in the early 1960s as recollected by Congressman John Lewis in MARCH Book 2.
Seph is a Cross who comes from one of the most privileged families of all: her father is a ruthless, top-tier, two-faced politician who only reluctantly agreed to a few Noughts entering Cross schools under the presumption that so few would qualify academically that the difference would be negligible. Because Noughts are all thick, aren’t they?
Callum, a Nought, has just qualified.
The McGregors’ reaction to this news is far more complicated than would be obvious, but then this is a complex book full of complicated and conflicted individuals. Yes, individuals! In spite of the very real domestic hardship – and personal affront – that her dismissal by Mrs Hadley caused the McGregors, Callum’s mother Meggie won’t abide use of racial slur ‘dagger’. But the two more vocal members of the family – his father and older brother – have grown increasingly resentful. Dare I even use the term “militant”? As to Callum’s sister, Lynny, she seems withdrawn and confused about her own racial identity. Oh, just you wait, but again – not as obvious as you may think. She has some wise words to counter Callum’s optimism about being allowed access into a Cross school, then, potentially, university:
“Just remember, Callum. When you’re floating up in your bubble, they have a habit of bursting. The higher you climb, the further you have to fall.”
Are they wise words, or a defeatist attitude to making a difference? Whatever you believe, reality has a horrible habit of slapping sleepy dreams wide awake. We are, if you remember, in the realms of Congressman John Lewis’ very real MARCH Book 2 when the decree for the desegregation of schools was met with mendacity and obstruction by local government and law enforcement.
“Noughts are treated the same way here as they would be outside…” says the feckless headmaster.
“And that’s the problem!” argues a teacher who typically cares.
Callum’s reception will not prove pretty, but it is Seph whom I felt for the most. Time and again, in spite of Callum’s self-sacrificial advice to stay away from him at school, she tries to intervene against the rife racial prejudice, putting her neck on the line by joining him at lunch – a brave display of public support – then reaping the wrath of her friends. Did I mention that the racial slur for white Noughts was ‘blanker’? Seph’s called a “blanker-lover” (just as I was, aged 14, once called a dagger-lover*) and is physically struck in the face.
“Stick with your own kind! I don’t care who your Dad is! Sit with blankers again, we’ll treat you like one! You need to wake up and check which side you are on!”
Ugh. One of us. One of them. One of your own kind. Blackman recalls the divisive, dismissive language so accurately. It was vital that she came up with fictional racist language so that no one had to repeatedly read the real atrocity yet could still experience its vicious and sickening impact. And how cleverly did Malorie coin the denigratory term ‘blanker’?
“Blank by name, blank by nature.
“Blank white faces, no colour in them. Blank minds, empty and stupid. Blank, blank, blank.
“That’s why they serve us and not the other way around.”
Jeepers, but John Aggs excels here.
The young ladies aren’t demons or demonised. They’re perfectly approachable, pretty and chic and exactly the age they’re supposed to be. They look loving and reasonable until the moment they’re neither. You wouldn’t see their ire coming, either.
Aggs’ Callum with his blonde, floppy hair and English-Rose air will have you grinning with affection and wishing that Callum was in a completely different graphic novel if only for his own sake. Sephy and her older sister Minerva you instinctively recognise as siblings, each in their own way influenced by their mother’s fashion sense but with entirely natural departures. I love an artist who thinks of these things!
It was our Jonathan who spotted the similarity in style to THE DROWNERS’ Nabiel Kanan whose equally school-centred, teen-centric but out-of-print EXIT – to which this is closer – was sublime. It’s there in the crisp lines, tree textures and shadows cast too! It’s so obvious now that I see it. There’s a particular panel I don’t have for you here in which, after a moment of misunderstanding resolved, Sephy reaches up to Callum’s chest with the most delicate hand gesture, their eyes meeting.
“So am I.”
And you just know that they’re going to be okay.
You know that, don’t you?
One of the smartest adaptations I’ve ever read, this feels neither overly abridged nor cluttered – both a real risk when transforming prose into comics, but Ian Edginton has judged it to perfection.
In terms of the ingenious reversal and what we all take for granted, one moment that particularly stuck in my mind was this, when Sephy – worriedly and with genuine concern – asks a pale-skinned Nought girl how she’s faring after being bashed about with a brick:
“How’s your head?”
“It’s okay. Thanks for asking.”
“That plaster’s a bit noticeable.”
“They don’t sell pink plasters. Only brown ones.”
I’ll let that sink in, if I may.
I could go on for pages – another real risk when this is not printed on paper – but you need to discover this for yourselves. I’m hugely indebted to its artist John Aggs for taking the time and trouble to send me interior art which I couldn’t find anywhere online.
*Sadly the word used was not ‘dagger’. But you get the gist.
If you dehumanise others then you dehumanise yourself.
Sunny vol 5 h/c (£16-99, Viz) by Taiyo Matsumoto.
SUNNY’s a series we love so much we’ve reviewed every volume.
It has the capacity to win your heart and then break it over and over again.
Episodic in nature, with six self-contained chapters in each book with a beginning, middle and end, it’s centred round a communal Japanese foster home and focuses on the children taken into its care… often by their parents. Who leave them there. Permanently.
Here, for example, we finally find out how imaginative, excitable and rebellious, ash-haired Haruo was introduced to the rest of his life:
“Haruo thought he was being taken to an amusement park or something. He was so confused. What a mess… A lot of the kids get told stuff like that when they come. They start freaking out, hanging onto their parents. I guess they can feel something bad’s coming.”
Yeah. Like being left there, permanently. His parents stayed overnight but by morning were gone, leaving Haruo to run around screaming all day in search of them. Maybe twice a year he receives a visit from his mother. Haruo associates her with the smell of Nivea and to this day he carries a tin of it everywhere in his pocket, bringing it out from time to time to sniff.
Smell is something snot-nosed Junsuke also associates with his mother. In his case the smell is of hospitals, for Junsuke’s mother is so ill that she’s been lying in one for what seems like forever. When Junsuke catches a cold this volume – a real stinker – he’s taken to a much closer hospital against his fervently expressed wishes… but then relaxes once he’s there because with that smell in the air he can imagine his mother being right by his side.
(Quick note: this manga reads from right to left. Would you look at that downpour? I’m drenched!)
What impresses one above all, then, is the resilience of these young individuals, and the kindness of the carers like Miss Mitsuko, Makio and his grand-father who modestly suffixes all his life lessons with the qualifier “That’s what I think.” Miss Mitsuko takes the trouble to get Junsuke’s bed-ridden mother on the phone, if only for a few moments, to reward his mental resourcefulness.
Ah, resourcefulness too! Quiet, studious and bespectacled Sei’s had enough, waiting for the proverbial train that never comes: not a single visit. So he copies out the transit timetables he finds in the home and makes meticulous notes on his own plan of action which you will only discover afterwards, and his honour may make you cry. Can you imagine what it’s like to be told this: first that your mother has disappeared, asked not be traced, then…
“Your dad changed jobs, so he had to move. So no one’s even in the apartment you used to live in.”
In a perfect piece of storytelling the panels close in from Sei and Makio’s granddad on opposite sides of a low Japanese coffee table to Sei silently absorbing the news, to Sei with his eyes shut, and then darkness.
Equally poignant is the visit from Megumu’s Auntie and Uncle. Rumour is rife round the home that they plan to adopt her. As we’ve learned from SUNNY VOL 3, Megumu’s mother is quite dead and they are the last hope she has. What a wonderful couple they are, both tireless in a patience which you may consider sorely tried if it wasn’t for their unconditional love. Still, it proves quite the weekend and you do know that I’m prone to misdirection, don’t you?
As I’ve written before the presentation of the children in SUNNY is far more raw than you might expect if all you know of Japanese comics is the sugar-buzz adrenaline rush of the shouty-shouty, wide- and glossy-eyed brigade. This scruffy lot are infinitely more human, the art more humane so you can’t help but care. There is both a fragility and a fractiousness here both in the art and in the heart of its antagonists. Take Haruna, not from the orphanage, but caught as if by a fishing fly in less than salubrious circumstances.
“Everything I do goes wrong.
“It really sucks.”
Haruna does try, sometimes, she really does. But she’s not exactly her own best friend; she can be belligerent to the point when a teacher sighs…
“You’ll have to warn me next time you decide to attend. I’m not dressed for foul weather.”
Tim Ginger (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Julian Hanshaw…
“So your book. I have to be honest, I didn’t know you could do that with comics. I guess I’m a bit old fashioned. Thinking of the strips I used to read in the base newspapers.”
“It’s a brave new world out there, Tim.”
Indeed it is!
Well, well, well, hasn’t Julian Hanshaw come a long way since the crowd-splitting THE ART OF PHO? This is one of the best written pieces of graphic novel fiction I have read this year, and the art is rather good too.
Tim Ginger is passing his twilight days living in a trailer in a deserted caravan park in the middle of the desert in New Mexico. A former test pilot, replete with eye patch, his only hobby these days is his cricket played with a group of ex-pats at a nearby field they lovingly set up for matches. His beloved wife Susan passed away a long time ago, and he seems content to see out his days sitting drinking a few beers outside his trailer during the day, and gazing at the near-infinite number of stars in the clear desert sky at night.
The only thing that might tempt him to break his regime is his publisher Mike, who is always trying to get him on the lucrative sci-fi and comic convention circuit. For you see, during Tim’s last tragic flight to the edge of space, something happened. Something strange and inexplicable, that he wrote a book about, which was hugely successful with UFOlogists and conspiracy theory nuts.
Unfortunately for Tim, given his position that there are certain matters he isn’t at liberty to speak about due to his military background, there are those who still believe he knows much more than he revealed. So when he agrees to do some conventions, one such nut, Karl, begins to hound him and chastise him for his part in perpetuating the ‘big cover-up’. He’s particularly enraged when Tim reveals he’s working on a follow-up book… about cricket. There’s a wonderful scene, that neatly conveys how cleverly written this work is, where Karl is sat in the audience at a panel Tim is speaking on and takes his opportunity to cross-examine Tim in public. Tim’s reply blows Karl’s mind…
“Do you really want to know the truth, Karl?
“About the universe.
“And still be stuck in supermarket queues.
“Or waiting on the end of a phone to some call center on the other side of the world?
“Or. Why not just kill yourself?
“Hurry up the moment of enlightenment.
“Or perhaps that’s a leap of faith too far?
“And you know what, Karl?
“The real kicker?
“The government are no smarter than you.
“They can’t believe society manages to tick over as it does. And there isn’t rioting in the streets.
“They do their four years.
“Fill their pockets.
“Get on some quasi non-governmental body.
“And pray it doesn’t all go tits up.
“On their watch.
“We worry too much.
“I still worry too much.
“There is already too much information out there.
“Live the life you love, Karl.
“Choose a God you trust.
“And don’t take it all so seriously.”
The scene then cuts to Karl, still sat in a deserted auditorium, immobile, eyes staring into the distance, hours later, as the light is eventually turned off.
So where does the opening quote about comics come into it then? Well, whilst on the convention circuit, Tim runs into Anna, a member of his ground crew who used to prep his planes for his flights. She’s written a book too, a graphic novel as it happens, the true stories of various people who have chosen not to have children and why. People like her and her ex-husband Chuck, and indeed Tim and Susan, who were the only ones of their wide circle of friends on the military base who made that choice. Which firmly cemented their mutual friendship as the rest of their friends got embroiled in the day to day minutiae of kids.
Anna separated from Chuck a long time ago, and truth be told, Tim and Anna always had an unspoken, unacted-upon, mutual attraction. Anna would be interested in rekindling those romantic feelings, but Tim isn’t over the loss of Susan, whom he dearly loved, and nor is he fully over what happened on the edge of the atmosphere that day. For something quite remarkable did happen. Something that he only ever shared with Susan.
Ahh, what a fabulous story this is! I was absolutely gripped from start to finish. I was so intrigued by Tim’s story, what exactly did happen to him up there, and were he and Anna going to get their happy ending? There are some wonderful twists and reveals Julian throws in mid-way, (the eye patch has two of its own!!) which only add to the poignancy of Tim’s tragically reclusive lifestyle choice. The art is really excellent too, entirely in keeping with the tone of the work. Julian reminds me of Michael DeForge quite a bit, though without the surrealism. I love the gentleness and subtlety of people’s expressions he captures. This is going to end up on my top five books of the year list for sure.
Poetry Is Useless h/c (£22-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anders Nilsen.
That sets the tone perfectly. Also:
“Why can’t we just get along
“Stick and beat each other senseless?”
“A bird in the hand is better than a horse in the mouth.”
It’s not necessarily the most profound proverb, but it’s clearly inarguable.
These are Anders Nilsen’s notebooks full of cartoons and comics bursting with mirth and wholly intentional bathos.
“The entirely of world history, yes, including Napoleon and the Black Plague, has led to this moment, in the grocery store, where you’re choosing what kind of cereal to buy.
“Don’t fuck it up.”
God and Satan are very much in evidence, God petulantly flicking his cigarette butt into Satan’s back yard. It’s silly to start a fight. The repercussions can be of quite Biblical proportions.
I think the process may be something like this: Anders reads, hears, sees or remembers something and amuses himself enormously by questioning it, often at length and in such ridiculous details that it is rendered absurd. He pokes things until they puncture, even admirable things like imagination and empathy. He can be pithy as well:
“Dear empty, lifeless void…
“Thank you for nothing.”
It’s easy to forget that the creator responsible for the haltingly moving eulogy DON’T GO WHERE I CAN’T FOLLOW and its epilogue, THE END, plus the raw, vulnerable and dreamlike DOGS AND WATER is an effortless comedian. I don’t know why: BIG QUESTIONS is one of the funniest graphic novels I’ve ever read, and his piece in the equally enormous door-stop treasure chest that is DRAWN AND QUARTELY: 25 YEARS OF CONTEMPORARY CARTOONING, COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS had me roaring with laughter. RAGE OF POSEIDON is riddled with wit.
A lot of the comics involve you being addressed by a black silhouette, which may sound a little simplistic but nothing more is required for it’s all in the timing of the speech balloons, their contents, and this is the man’s notebooks, remember? They weren’t intended for publication, but if they hadn’t been we’d be missing one of the funniest books on our shelves which fans of Tom Gauld’s YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JEPACK will adore.
There are pages of portraits accompanied by pronouncements – snippets of stupid things his oblivious models are saying – and sometimes he gets caught and adds that to the memento as well.
Graph paper appears to provoke Anders into producing patterns and shapes, usually bleeding out from the centre of his sketchbook like a techno-organic virus.
One of the funniest slices is a retort to a critic’s snotty response to BIG QUESTIONS:
“Apparently, about my last book, the philosophy one with the little birds, some comics critic said my philosophical “reach” exceeded my “grasp”.
“In answer to this criticism, I would cite the conversation Heidegger and Kirkegaard had in the Sorbonne as the first guns were erupting at the start of the First World War.
“Kirkegaard: “Is someone gonna go on a beer run?”
“Heidegger: “Where’s my pants?”
“Kirkegaard: “Cuz I have five bucks but I’m not drinking any more fucking Miller High Life.”
Coming in for a right satirical slapping are institutions like the Food And Drug Administration and poetry, obviously, which is useless.
Apart from Byron, apparently, for Anders and Lord (I think that was his first name) do agree on the whole Sorrow being Knowledge fandango – you know, “Those that know the most must mourn the deepest” etc.
“They say the unexamined life is not worth living.
“They don’t mention that the examined life can be kind of like getting dragged through the desert at the end of a rope, too.”
Amen. Excuse me, but it’s wine o’clock and oblivion calls.
Nearlymades: A Smattering Of Found Stories And Kipple Narratives (£9-00, Boing Graphics) by Simon Russell…
We get asked about abstract comics on a not infrequent basis and since the excellent ABSTRACT COMICS hardcover anthology went out of print, seemingly into the great abstract void of fuzzy-black-never-to-be-reprintedness without even the merest hint of brilliant-shining-tunnel-of-light back-from-the-dead softcover reprint, we have nothing to show people. Until now…
Simon Russell first came on my personal radar when he sent us his ROY (Reclaiming Lichtenstein For Comics), a lovely barbed dig at the titular plagiarist who considered ‘comics to be non-art’. My opinion, not necessarily Simon’s. We didn’t stock that, simply because it was a very mini-mini, but it showed real talent, I thought. This though, is a very different beast. Creating abstract comics is a real art form. Go too abstract and well, it becomes so subjective as to be practically meaningless.
A perfect example of a brilliant and very meaningful abstract comic would be Anders Nilsen’s ‘Event’, which only appeared in a MOME collection. It was a series of ever-increasing, coloured small rectangles, accompanied by statements like “eight events you have sent on course” and “sixteen things that would have happened but now will not”. Actually, I have a totally unique version of that work as I asked Anders to add an additional page on the blank page that followed it in my copy of MOME. He was rather tickled by that!
This collection contains 29 individual works, many one- or two-pagers, plus a few longer ones. I personally preferred the longer ones, simply because the narrative felt stronger. Some of the shorter ones tend more towards abstract art in my opinion; nothing wrong with that. I personally need a few more sequential panels to get my juices flowing with this type of material, but I definitely respect the craft that’s gone into each work, even the shorter ones. What they all are, without exception, are thought-provoking. Which is of course essential with this type of material otherwise it is pointless. The titles often provide a clue as to the theme, as does the minimal amount of text accompanying or submerged within the panels.
My favourite, a longer one, ‘Interview With Medusa’, commences and concludes with a sequence of Photoshopped coloured images of bare planks of wood, the lines of the circles through the wood running horizontally, as of course happens when you plane planks from a tree trunk. Most of each plank is a deep blue, with a single huge orange circle overlaid, each of these circles containing a knot of wood of deeper orange still. The effect is clearly meant to be of the planet Jupiter and it’s never ending, always moving, Great Red Spot dust storm. The fact that the horizontal lines are in a different position and with a different knot, as it is a separate plank each time, only adds to the illusion of the movement of the Great Red Spot and the passage of time. This collection is chock full of clever devices like that and you’ll find yourself marvelling at the construction.
So yes, next time someone asks if we have any abstract comics, we will have something to show them.
Fante Bukowski (£9-99, Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver…
“Someone told me you were trying to make it as a writer now?”
“Good luck! Me? I’m still at the firm. Actually your father just gave me a big promotion! Hey, you take care! Boy, oh, boy! What a life, huh?”
“When I’m famous I’ll crush you.”
I could very easily simply say that if you loved Dan Clowes’ portrayal of the self-proclaimed ‘people person’ WILSON you would get a real kick out of this, though stylistically the art is much closer to a tidied-up Jeffrey Brown. Fante Bukowski – real name Kelly Perkins, he changed it to make himself cooler – is absolutely desperate to be a writer. The work of his favourite writer of all time, unsurprisingly being Charles Bukowski, is seemingly his idea of how a real scribe should live too.
Consequently, he’s given up his job at a top law firm where his unimpressed father is a partner and is now living out of a cheap motel, drinking cheap booze, singularly failing to impress women, or indeed literary agents, and generally agonising about not coming up with any good ideas to write about. In other words, comedy gold in the hands of Noah SAINT COLE Van Sciver who likes his humour dark and his protagonists as flawed as a roll of cheap lino.
It reads a lot like WILSON too in the sense that each page, or sometimes two pages, is a gag strip in and of itself, always with Fante as the punchline. And so gradually we build up this unflattering portrait of a man flailing helplessly, perhaps haplessly might be a better adverb actually, against the tides of life, the ever-present fear of remaining in obscurity forever crippling his will and motivation to knuckle down to some actual writing! The occasional quote from a literary giant perched atop the next page merely compounding our opinion that Fante isn’t going to break his losing streak any time soon…
‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.’ – Stephen King.
But! Inspiration does strike like a bolt from the blue in the middle of the night and somehow Fante comes up with an idea, starts writing, manages to get a girl, and then even persuades an agent to take a look at his book. Surely things aren’t about to change for our hopeless hero… No, that’s right, of course they’re not! But I guarantee you that his misery is our mirth as everything falls apart once again and Fante decides a Kerouac-esque road trip is the only solution to his blues. No, that’s right, of course it’s not! But I guarantee you…
Well, you get where I’m going with this… Fante, meanwhile, is going nowhere fast.
Island #1 (£5-99, Image) by Brandon Graham, Marian Churchland, Emma Rios, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Ludroe.
Indeed. I have no idea whether the classic work by the metaphysical poet and cleric inspired the title for this eclectic anthology series. Be nice to think so, but who knows?! Anyway, this issue opens with a couple of double-page abstract paintings from Marian BEAST Churchland, closely followed by the first instalment of a great sci-fi ménage à trois bodyswapping yarn set against the backdrop of an unstable society beset by anarchistic riots and domestic terror outrages, simply entitled ‘I.D.’, from Emma PRETTY DEADLY Rios.
‘I.D.’ was probably my pick of the bunch from this first issue, as the three protagonists meet for a drink to begin discuss their own particular reasons for wanting to engage in this most unusual of transitions. Illustrated in a rather unusual palette of red and white, the unique feathery penmanship will be immediately familiar to anyone who has seen any of Emma’s previous work, but let me tell you, she’s an incredible writer too. I will be reading the next issue of ISLAND just to see how this story continues.
Then, an interlude of a prose memoir essay about a dear departed friend by Kelly Sue BITCH PLANET DeConnick. This thoughtful, touching reminiscence is very sweet, we’ve all had someone in our lives who have had that sort of gentle but powerful impact, and I respect the fact Brandon Graham has allowed DeConnick to eulogise about someone comics readers will never have heard of in this issue. I hope this type of piece might become a regular feature actually, I would like that.
Then, it’s straight back to sequential art based antics as we have a full thirty pages of new MULTIPLE WARHEADS madness from the man himself, before this inaugural tip of the archipelago culminates with forty-five glorious pages of all-action vigilante undead skate punk nonsense called ‘Dagger Proof Mummy’ from someone called Ludroe. Who apparently comes from Ludlow, which is of course well known for its undead skate punk culture… Neither half of that last sentence may be entirely factually accurate.
Fans of MULTIPLE WARHEADS will be delighted, for this is Brandon right on top nonsensical form here, with all the usual visual and verbal play on word gags coming thick and fast alongside the preposterous story itself. It’s not a direct analogy by any means, but the wandering story, surrealist narrative and illustrative elements plus the colour palette made me think of Moebius’ AIRTIGHT GARAGE.
Hmm… after the recent impact the first few issues of MEANWHILE, the anthology carrying Gary Spencer Millidge’s much anticipated conclusion to STRANGEHAVEN, and now this exciting mix of tricks, it seems the periodical anthology might not be quite so dead and buried post-MOME as we had originally thought.
Wolf #1 (£3-99, Image) by Ales Kot & Matt Taylor.
“How do you feel about myths, Antoine?”
“I love myths.”
“You are one. And I apologise for not believing you. I hope you understand – the measures we had to take were simply business. Examining the stock, so to say.”
Ooof. Where have you heard that before?
Meet Sterling Gibson, “a well-known supporter of occasionally having black people set on fire”.
Meet Antoine Wolfe, a black person Sterling Gibson saw occasion last night to set on fire.
To be precise, he tied him into a straight-jacket and set him on fire on top of the hills overlooking Los Angeles. It took him quite some time to get as far as Mulholland and throw himself into a white celebrity’s swimming pool. Naturally Antoine is arrested. He’s black. He’s probably not as crispy as he should be, though.
No one who’s read Matt Taylor’s THE GREAT SALT LAKE will be remotely surprised to learn that this is beautiful to behold. The eyes particularly have it. This is important given that there’s a great deal of one-on-one confrontation going on. Antoine Woolfe has a clear head and quick wit. But so do those he’s antagonising, and I like that. He particularly enjoys antagonising those with power over others, be they lowlife thieves using mind-control to rob old ladies on buses, both literally vampiric landlords (“cuisine sucks”) or multi-millionaire businessmen who support occasionally having black people set on fire. Did I mention Antoine was barely singed?
So. Eloquent anti-authoritarian occultist detective who relishes playing verbal sabres, sticks up for the vulnerable, despises injustice and is haunted by dead friends – in his case fellow former soldiers. Did you read Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING and HELLBLAZER? As a revitalised John Constantine with a radically different accent and vocabulary, Antoine Wolfe is a joy to spend time with.
The only thing missing is the requisite spirit of place. Except it’s not missing:
“You see this city? This city is a blend. It’s desert and it’s woods and it’s ocean and it’s cheap junk and it’s expensive junk and it’s ugly and it’s beautiful and it’s fiction and it’s real.”
Once more Matt Taylor, lit by Lee Loughbridge, excels. This could not be anywhere other than Los Angeles, a city I know intimately from so many visits… err, playing Grand Theft Auto. I even enjoyed the treated photography which jarred not a jot: beautifully coloured to denote time of day with just the right degree of detail retained.
This is a big, thick issue full of big, intelligent ideas and a great deal of fun – the most accessible thing I’ve read that Kot’s written. It’s far from linear with multiple strands I’ve barely alluded to and some that I haven’t even touched. I think you’ll like his mate, Freddy Chtonic, whose face isn’t particularly well appointed for drinking coffee without a straw. Whether anyone will like the teenage girl found covered in blood between her mauled parents, I’m not sure yet. She sees very open and innocent but has a rather disturbing name and so, potentially, heritage. I think much may depend on how she is treated.
“You got kids?”
“Sometimes the only procedure that matters is empathy.”
Starve #1 (£2-75) by Brian Wood & Danijel Zezelj…
With very good reason. Gavin Cruikshank was once upon a time a feted celebrity chef, with a moderately popular TV show called Starve. But personal problems – including an extremely bitter divorce with his ex-wife who was a teensy-weensy bit shocked and upset at learning the love of her life and father of her child was suddenly ready to come out of the closet – meant that just disappearing seemed like a good option, even if abandoning his daughter broke his heart.
Plus he had begun to fall out of love with cooking as well, spending increasingly less time in the kitchen and more and more in front of the cameras promoting the Cruikshank brand. To his surprise, in a world where global warming and an increased sea level has wreaked havoc upon major conurbations almost entirely at the expense of the have-nots, vanishing amongst the hoi-polloi in distant south-east Asia was far easier than he expected. Suspiciously easy, perhaps.
Except, except… in this brave new world where most of the population are struggling to find anything decent to eat, the rich have elevated the consumption of excess and fancy to obscene new levels. And thus, during his absence of several years, and quite unbeknownst to him due to his off-the-grid lifestyle, Starve has become the number one rated television programme on the planet.
It’s not the programme he left behind, though. It’s become something far more disgustingly voyeuristic than that. As those with all the money flaunt their boorish opulence with increasing abandon, Starve has practically become a culinary gladiatorial arena. These stellar ratings however, must be maintained at all costs, and so someone came up with the idea to bring back Gavin Cruikshank, to see if he could hack it in this new cut-throat competition.
So the Network tracked him down, keen to keep up the juggernaut momentum of their entertainment behemoth, politely pointing out he was legally obliged to do eight more episodes from his existing contract, then not so politely pointing out if he didn’t they would ruin his life, and oh, he wasn’t likely to see a penny of income from selling his soul once more, because his ex-wife now owned all his rights to Starve…
There are all sorts of little games at play here. I’m not sure I entirely believe the Network’s execs, his one-time colleague and rival Roman Algiers who is the current host of Starve, or Gavin’s cunning and still very bitter ex-wife, as to what is going on, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t either. It clearly isn’t going to be as simple as that. But he decides to take up their challenge, partly to find out what is going on, also because he wants to rekindle his relationship with his now grown-up daughter, and most definitely due to the healthy pinch of egomania that every top chef needs. He wants to take them all on at their own games and beat them. He trusts his daughter implicitly, though, and I do have to wonder if that isn’t going to be his Achilles heel…
Ah, he does come up with some good concepts for stories, Brian Wood, I must say. There are all sorts of sub-pots, sorry, plots, bubbling away in the background here, but basically this is going to be a character-driven story. You can see the look and personality of Gavin has been part-inspired by the original British enfant terrible of cuisine, Marco Pierre White, and then just given that little bit of a cocktail sexuality shake up before being served with a twist on the crushed ice of a collapsing, polarised society. Sounds tasty!
I really enjoyed Danijel Zezelj’s art here. It’s mean and moody, thickly lined and darkly coloured, with Gavin Cruikshank in particular looking like a brooding serial killer who’d be as likely to carve you up as fillet a fish, and who definitely prefers his steak dripping with blood. As I say, just like Marco Pierre White then! Intriguing palette cleanser of an opening issue… now bring on the main!
Zenith Phase Four h/c (£20-00, Rebellion) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell…
“… So all I’m saying, Robert, is that we need to get the next phase of your career sorted out. A new image, keeping up with the times. All this rave stuff’s had its day. The minute I heard that record where the fellow sings ‘Raving, I’m Raving,’ I knew it was the finish.”
“I don’t need an image, Eddie. I’m a household name. And anyway, the last time we talked about this you said punk was coming back.”
“Did I? No, it’ll not be punk, it’ll be a revival of all that gender-bender nonsense. Boy George and Marilyn , remember? You wait and see, once that RuPaul fellow starts getting records in the charts, they’ll all be swapping their trousers for tights.”
“Why don’t you just say it, Eddie: you want to see me in a bra, don’t you? You have for years you daft old tart.”
Funny how you can have a completely different perception of certain material when you re-read it. I distinctly remember this being my least favourite ‘Phase’ by some distance upon initial reading nearly twenty years ago. After the all-out superhuman war epic of ZENITH: PHASE THREE, this just felt like a massive anti-climax with a cop-out deus ex machina ending, and even the art seemed inferior in comparison.
In fact, upon reading it once again, I was struck by how fitting a conclusion it brings to the whole Zenith story, as well as being a great arc in its own right. And I appreciated the ending much more this time, more precisely a deos universi, for its cleverness (along with a certain other revelation regarding the true nature of the superhumans), especially when you realise Morrison certainly wasn’t trying to suddenly wrap things up neatly because he had no idea how to finish the story. He almost certainly had this in mind right from the very beginning.
On the art front, I do still think Steve Yeowell looks better uncoloured. I loved the stark nature of his black and white art in PHASES TWO and THREE, and most of PHASE ONE. It just seemed more angular, precise. I think some of the beauty of his illustration is lost during the colouring process employed through this volume, but I fully appreciate that others may disagree.
Anyway, following the events of PHASE THREE, the surviving superhuman community has experienced a schism. The vast majority, under the banner of the Horus Programme, led by three of the original members of Cloud 9: Lux, Spook and Voltage, are openly proposing superhumans simply take charge of the planet for their own ends, humans being an out-evolved irrelevance. On the other side, wanting to maintain the status quo and trying to help humanity is their former colleague Peter St. John, a.k.a. Mandala, now the British Prime Minister, who is backed only by Zenith and Archie the robot.
Events escalate and rapidly start to spiral out of control following a failed decapitation strike on the Horus group by mildly psychic-powered human US government agents, then the revelation I alluded to changes everything, and the reason why the main story is interspersed with the memoirs of a de-aging Dr. Michael Peyne, told from a future where the Lloigor rule a devastated earth dimly illuminated by a huge black sun, becomes all too clear…
Then there’s that ending… which as I said, is a brilliant conclusion to an early Morrison epic, which is as good as anything he’s done since, I believe, but then I did always have a soft spot for this material, it being such a radical departure for a 2000AD strip at the time. Meanwhile, in amongst all the action, you get pearls of genius comedy poking fun at the popular music nonsense of the eighties and nineties like the opening conversation between Zenith and his manager Eddie, above. In terms of blending action and comedy, it’s pitch-perfect. Unlike Zenith’s singing.
Fables vol 22: Farewell (£13-50, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham, various.
AKA FABLES #150.
Yes, this is the final periodical issue as well as the final trade paperback – confusing no one! I don’t envy retailers who sell it on their shelves as a monthly. Fortunately we’ve just popped it in all its lovely supporters who have a Standing Order with us!
Whether you regard FABLES as a hit or a myth, you cannot deny its longevity!
Twenty-two collected editions, two or three original graphic novels, one prose novel and several spin-off series, all of which you can find on our FABLES web page or on our shelves with the rest of the Vertigo books, just past the till on the left! We even have those Diamond has long considered out of print!
That was a Public Service Announcement on behalf of our ravenous till.
The Motorcycle Samurai vol 1: A Fiery Demise s/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Chris Sheridan.
No, you’re boring.
Shockingly repetitive and life-suckingly slow, I suspect half the problem lies in its original incarnation as a digital comic: no one worked out the cost of all the paper they’d be wasting.
“Roy, it’s not every jubilation some strangers rolls into town with the fugitive brother of the town’s criminal boss in tow.”
Yet it is every ten pages on which someone will tell us so.
“Just to be clear, in case you didn’t know, you’re standing before the boss of this town, Frankie Parker. That was my brother you dumped at the sheriff’s feet.”
It was pretty clear, don’t you worry. What isn’t clear is why this page needs to exist:
“Come on. Just don’t let this turn out like that time in Chino.”
“With that old fool of a sword swallower?”
“”That was nothing like this, Chuck.”
I don’t understand.
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.
The Divine (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Boaz Lavie & Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka
Katzine Issue One (£5-50, self-published ) by Katriona Chapman
Katzine Issue Two (£5-50, self-published) by Katriona Chapman
Nearlymades: A Smattering Of Found Stories And Kipple Narratives (£9-00, self-published) by Simon Russell
Haunter (£10-99, Study Group Comics) by Sam Alden
Leaf (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Daishu Ma
Not Funny Ha Ha (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Leah Hayes
Sshhhh! (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason
Steven Universe vol 1 (£10-99, Kaboom) by Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle
The Diary Of Teenage Girl (£13-99, Random House / Vertical) by Phoebe Gloeckner
Meat Cake (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Dame Darcy
Wasteland vol 11: Floodland (£14-99, Oni) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten
Zero vol 4: Who By Fire s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ales Kot & Ian Bertram, Stathis Tsemberlidis, Robert Sammelin, Tula Lotay
Batgirl vol 5: Deadline s/c (£13-50, DC) by Gail Simone, Marguerite Bennett & Fernando Pasarin, various
Hawkeye vol 4: Rio Bravo s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & David Aja, Chris Eliopoulos, Francesco Francavilla
Inhuman vol 3: Lineage s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Ryan Stegman, Andre Araujo
Rocket Raccoon vol 2: Storyteller (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Skottie Young & Filipe Andrade, Jake Parker
Spider-Man 2099 vol 2: Spider-Verse (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Will Sliney
Bleach vol 64 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo
Master Keaton vol 3 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa
Monster Perfect Edition vol 5 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa
Fairy Tail vol 49 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima
Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor vol 1: Revolutions Of Terror (£10-99, Titan) by Nick Abadzis
ITEM! Rare, hilarious CEREBUS treasures by Dave Sim have been animated, appropriately enough, online!
ITEM! From the creator of online comicbook marvel THE FIRELIGHT ISLE (get your gawping gear around that!), Paul Duffield writes a second clear and considered essay on ‘Comics And The Value Of Language’. Ever wondered what happened when a sequence in a comic seemed not quite right? Or even the entire thing? Paul explores the ways in which things can go wrong and the root causes of why. Clue: this is a visual medium!!!
We’ve something rather special coming from Paul any day now.
ITEM! Comicbook creators Sean Phillips, Dave Gibbons, Bryan Talbot, Jonathan Edwards, Sarah McIntyre with Philip Reeve and more re-create the Lakes District for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October in “Wish You Were Here – Postcards from the Edge of Reality”. Click on that link to see the full collection!
Each is naturally very different in tone and style, but the below unmistakeably belongs to Poblin-creator Jonti Edwards, doesn’t it!
Page 45 Reviews written by Stephen & Jonathan then edited by a clapped-out cassowary on ketamine