Racism, crime and commandeering! Vast Baroque architecture, mountaineering, life in the Lebanon, a stroll through the woods! Moomins, Martians, dragons, giant space robots and the best ADVENTURE TIME comic ever!
News underneath: substantial previews of new comics by Hannah Berry, Marian Churchland, Jennifer Hayden & more!
High Crimes h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Christopher Sebela & Ibrahim Moustafa.
“Please don’t be dead, Sully. I still want to pull your secrets out, one tooth at a time.”
Either of those should give you idea of the flavour of the climb ahead of you. At 200 full-colour pages saturated with former Olympic snowboard medallist’s Suzanne Jensen’s internal monologue recalling her fall from grace during her ascent of Everest while fleeing one fuck-load of armed and highly trained trouble, it is a dense and intense read well worth your fifteen quid.
Almost all of this takes place during that painful, laborious and desperate crawl during which it is most emphatically impressed upon you how many and severe are the dangers even if you don’t have an American black ops faction fixing to fix you once and for all. The more impatient element in me wanted Zan and the story to get a bloody move on but anything swifter would have been doing a disservice to the experience: climbing a mountain like Everest is punishingly and perilously arduous and is going to take page after page after page.
“Perilously arduous”? Just look at all the bodies! I hadn’t thought of that: it has never occurred to me how many bodies litter the snowscape, unclaimed, because although climbing a peak that high above sea level is so close to impossible that so few have done it, getting down alive, once exhausted, is much harder still. Carrying down the deceased? Forget it!
This is HIGH CRIMES’ premise, its pivotal plot point and – before I forget to allude to it later – will prove a vital resource.
Like LAZARUS’ Greg Rucka (steaming with professional jealously during his introduction) I’m in awe with how much already extant knowledge then further research Sebela has not just packed into but utilised to full effect during the uphill struggle of this gruelling graphic novel. Speaking of packed, how many meanings do you imagine a title can hold? Just take a look at those three covers I’ve selected out of so many more.
Not only does each tell an extensive story in its own right (as do all the others) but they are immaculately composed by artist Ibrahim Moustafa and all reproduced within along with additional promotional design work carefully coordinated with and instigated by Sebela himself. My point is this: if “the key is to commit” then these two have unlocked the motherload. There are no half-measures here.
Haskell Price is a vulture. While in the guise of a guide aiding wealthy explorers to reach summits, he loots the well preserved corpses of those long left behind in the snow. He carefully bags a few items of interest, then severs a hand. Once back in Nepal’s Kathmandu he pays a bent police officer to identify the hands’ owners by way of finger prints. Price then contacts the deceased’s nearest and dearest to demand a fee for retrieving the body itself. It’s quite a very steep fee but then it’s a very steep climb. And I know from personal experience directly related to Kathmandu that you would pay almost anything to have your loved one’s actual body back to bury. Closure, etcetera.
Suzanne Jensen is the business partner Price took under his wing when she fled the fall out of her blood tests. An Olympic snowboarding champion who won multiple medals, she failed a blood test for drugs. Not just performance-enhancing drugs, either. The media went ape-shit, the authorities closed in and demanded her medals back. She ran. Suzanne left it all behind – everything except herself, the drugs, her self-loathing and her addiction. Everything, in essence, that could continue to haunt her: Suzanne left nothing behind. She’s a wreck.
Haskell Price scavenges the body of a man called Sullivan Mars. It’s just another body, yet another corpse he will identify by its finger prints which will be known only to him and his corrupt cop. Except that if you want to identify finger prints then you have to go online and access a worldwide database. Does “American surveillance” ring any bells with you?
“Remember, Mars went rogue to protect the future from people like us. Let’s show him how badly he failed.”
His body’s still up there and only Price and Jensen knows where it is. Or what is on it. Or what one of them already has: Sullivan Mars’ journal.
The one thing I would warn you about is that – unlike many corporate comics’ collected editions wherein the story ends so much earlier than you were expecting because of the padding they’ve played the book out with – HIGH CRIMES is a book of false summits: you’ll think you’re nearing its apex, its end, only to discover that yet another steep climb lies ahead of you.
An Entity Observes All Things (£8-99, Retrofit) by Box Brown…
“The alien entered me.
“The lizard-man and I became one entity.
“Together. We. Destroyed. My ego.
“Viewing my memories without any sense of attachment.
“The lizard reduced my existence to nil.
“And then we rebuilt.
“I was moulded into my most perfect form.
“The negative ideas that once impeded me destroyed.
“My body had been remodelled.
“My chronic conditions gone.
“The lizard fixed me…
“The lizard fixed me.
“The lizard then showed me the depths of the universe.
“I say “then” as if it happened in sequence.
“But you have to understand this was all happening simultaneously.”
Of course, Box, I understand completely…! The above is about a third of a monologue from a story called The Lizard in this mind-bending collection of nine short stories, all of which definitely swing well towards the more fantastical end of the science fiction spectrum. Each one takes some bizarre conceit such as revisiting past memories as a form of therapy, a cult leader attracting followers through music and the power of social media, someone taking an abandoned giant war robot for a spin through space, or indeed being probed by an alien lizard-man flying a gigantic pyramid.
But, there’s always a devious or deviant twist in every story whether it be choosing to ignore the doctor’s implicit instructions to repeat the memory exactly, being poisoned by a weird drug, giant space robot copulation, or becoming ultra-successful and wealthy post-abduction. None of the stories without exception goes where you would expect, which I think is the primary appeal of these works. They have a real primal feel to them and pack an extremely powerful punch, which is all you can ask for from a short story.
I love the art too, usually black and white with one additional colour. He does like his black dot hatching too, our Box. Some elements of the illustration are clearly freehand in a loose style quite reminiscent of Johnny Ryan, yet these are combined in practically equal measure with figures and heads composed of perfectly straight lines, corners and circles that look like they could be Chris Ware’s warm-up material.
Also, there are some incredibly elaborate buildings and detailed structures that defy all architectural logic. Somehow, it all comes together perfectly to produce a style as fascinating as it is unique in its totality. In comparison to his far more controlled and composed ANDRE THE GIANT, this compilation looks more like he’s emptied out of the contents of his mental sketchbook and then decided to compose stories ad hoc from the various components. I like it lot! Also, each title page comes with a drawing of a different giant robot, every single one of which looks like it could batter all the Transformers and the Decepticons put together!
The End Of Summer (Signed & Sketched In) (£9-99, Avery Hill) by Tillie Walden.
Vast arches, vaulted ceilings and windows several storeys high; classical statues set inside concave bays; halls which conclude with the opulence of a Roman cathedral’s chapel. Could you get more Baroque than this?
Then there’s the ethereal air, nightgowns and all that time spent in bed; an indoor lake on which the children go sailing; and a giant cat called Nemo.
Winsor McCay, anyone?
This is a family home! Also a haven from a three-year winter during which the doors must remain firmly closed, but for a sanctuary it doesn’t seem very safe. It’s cold and it’s hard and there will be conflicts and confinements. I don’t think this family is very healthy at all.
Quite apart from the fact that young Lars is dying. I’m not sure of what but he seems rather sickly, consumptive. He appears to be fading away. His closest relationship is with his sister, Maja, but that’s also going to run into trouble. As I say, not the healthiest of families.
He’s comforted by that giant cat which – when it’s not carrying Lars on its back – is constantly curled up like a gigantic, fluffy, white pillow which is what Lars uses it as.
To be honest I wasn’t sure what was happening towards the end. It’s all very rarefied and the family far from distinctive. But it’s very beautiful with the crispest of architecture which boasts the most enormous sense of space and attendant frigidity. You can almost hear the echoes.
Our current copies have the most swoonaway sketches of snoozing cats inside.
Moomin And The Martians (£6-99, Enfant) by Tove Jansson.
She eyes her dirty dishes at the sink, incredulously.
Are you traumatised by new technology? Does nano-bling and digital do-da baffle you to the point where they might as well be magic, their means of operation a heart-sinking, hair-tearing mystery? Welcome to my world! That I can actually format these reviews in WordPress and populate them with size-adjusted interior art is a minor miracle, true testament to the teaching prowess (and patience) of Jonathan and Dee.
Family Moomin is about to experience extreme bewilderment, for the Martians have landed! Well, one of them has. He’s a funny little fellow the colour of coal with a head so fuzzy he looks as if he’s stuck his fingers into an electricity socket. He appears to be wearing a glass gas lamp globe. Twin springs dangle down on either side or sit up straight in be-startlement.
He’s a classic piece of Jansson design (which you can admire aplenty in the back of the MOOMIN DELUXE SPLIPCASED EDITION) with big, expressive eyes, at once mysterious and ridiculous and entirely at odds with clichés of the day, as Moomintroll discovers when he roots out his old science fiction book as reference.
Anyway, the little chappy’s innocuous enough: it’s the box of wires and cogs and bulbs and buttons the Moomins find in his spaceship that cause all the mayhem. They don’t come with instructions so learning how it works will have to a question of trial and error. Well, mostly error. Mrs. Fillyjonk’s cow will never be the same.
If Tove has anything social to say this time round, it’s pretty brief and right at the beginning when Moomintroll is given a hand-me-down transistor radio which doesn’t work to begin with but he doesn’t really mind: he just admires its complicated looking inner gubbins. I had precisely that experience myself way back then.
“If you hadn’t hidden my Superstrofonic Box in the baking oven I would have learned English a week ago.”
If Moominmamma had hidden the Martian’s Superstrofonic Box in the baking oven the second she found it, this entire fiasco could have been averted. The laws of physics are in for a right battering. I’m not sure having a luminous police force is an entirely positive development.
Moomin Complete Lars Jansson Comic Strip vol 10 h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lars Jansson.
“I would never watch TV. Strictly a plebeian pastime!”
“Oh, we don’t watch it, either.”
“What do you do with it, then?”
“We bought it for a sideboard.”
“Between vulgarity and snobbishness there’s really little to choose.”
Ha! Typically of the Jansson siblings there is much mirthful social commentary here on what was then a boom in square-eyed covetousness and obsession, but equally typically of the Moomin family they fall into it quite by accident when Moominpappa is persuaded to buy a television set as the latest thing to put ornaments on! Initially they’re oblivious to its true function and wonder why there’s no room inside to store crockery inside. Like so much they encounter it is an enigma to them.
Once Moominpappa does tune in, however, he’s swiftly turned on and completely drops out of regular family activity and interaction, so desperate is he not to miss out on a single minute or new development. He snubs the spectacle of cranes flocking outside in favour of a TV programme on birdwatching and misses a meteorological marvel outside because there are waves on the gogglebox instead. Does any of this seem familiar, much? Snorkmaiden starts judging her beloved Moomintroll by soap opera standards, conflicting advertisements for competing washing powder brands cause chaos in the household as they try to keep up with the paid-to-praise Joneses, and Lars Jansson essentially invents TiVo decades before its time.
The biggest recognition box I ticked, however, was everyone and everything cordially inviting themselves round to watch TV and in doing so displacing the Moomins, and then when Moominmamma offers them coffee they hiss:
“Ssh! Must you talk?”
Black, white and brilliant. Also in for a skewering: Beatniks. Their dance one of the funniest things Lars has ever drawn!
Strange Fruit #1 (£2-99, Boom!) by Mark Waid & J.G.Jones.
In which I get to haul out one of my two favourite words, “serendipity” (the other being “parenthetically”), for although this comic was written and drawn many months ago it is right now that the confederate flag is hitting the news big-time as a public display of racism.
In light of which, the full-page punchline will have you grinning from ear to ear with glee. Best use of a confederate flag ever, and it could not possible be better placed!
“It’s 1927 in the town of Chatterlee, Mississippi, drowned by heavy rains. The Mississippi River is rising, threatening to break open not only the levees, but also the racial and social divisions of this former plantation town.”
So many prejudices are given a fetid airing here, balanced by acts of bravery and if you thought you already loved WANTED’s J.G. Jones art, you will weep in adoration at the glory within.
The first few pages I have for you here are meticulously painted and ever so lambent they are too, but even they are completely outclassed by the thrilling compositions of the final nine pages and their raw, physical beauty. On top of the impeccable, muscular neo-classical physique, the weight of a hefty tree trunk, the folds in the robes of the Ku Klux Klan and a purple stormy sky crackling with lightning, there are two perspectives of phenomenal power shot from below then a double-page spread split into radial panels worthy of Neal Adams (except these actually work better – *cough*) to present a monumental sense of movement.
Think I’m laying it on a bit thick? I really am not.
What you might infer from the above is a distinct change of pace and perhaps even genre within, for this wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting straight historical fiction, and I’m trying to imply that there’s more than one reason why fans of Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ KINGDOM COME will love this.
My first clue was the comet streaking across the sky.
La la la… leaving it there…
Four Eyes vol 1: Forged In Flames s/c (£7-50, Image) by Joe Kelly & Max Fiumara.
If we harbour so much love for creatures long lost – the giant lizards of yore whose haunting, hollow, excavated skeletons loom so impressively over our heads in natural history museums, catalysing the human imagination and a deep-seated regret – how much more romantic is our notion of the winged beasties which never existed?
Freed from the confines of both biology and physics, these dazzlingly hued, fire-breathing, multiformed majesties have taken wing in our hearts and minds since mythologies began. However ferocious their threat, they’ve often been imbued with a certain nobility – hence perhaps the designated rank and heroic calibre of their various nemeses, and their pride of place on the Welsh national flag. There’s also an aspect of tragedy involved, perfectly evoked here.
There aren’t enough decent dragon comics. Fewer still are those that do something different with them, like this, and it’s full of heart right to the very last page.
Speaking of “different”, I applaud the aesthetic decision to bleach this book of its former colour which throws focus onto its intricate line work and the gigantic forms which fill so many pages with their tough and rough hide. It’s certainly not a commercial decision. Some customers are so averse to black and white graphic novels that I have to sell them with a set of coloured pencils. The grey tone is gorgeously warm, as is the bronze effect reserved for two specific elements: the young lad’s thick leather handling gloves… and the dragon he handles.
It’s set firmly in New York of the 1930s during The Great Depression when on both sides of the Atlantic the economies fell apart, welfare was slashed, unemployment rocketed and what employment there was could often be described as slave labour given the wage cuts and individuals’ desperation for any way to pay for their next meal. FOUR EYES manages to reflect its social setting with power and compassion.
Ten-year-old Enrico is enjoying a rare day on the beach with both his parents. If you could find work you certainly didn’t shirk it, so for his dad to be there, towering above his sandcastles, that means the world to him.
“We have had a good year. I know because Mama has stopped crying so much. Papa found new work. Steady work. With real pay. “The Lord provides,” he says, always with a smile, like he’s telling a joke. I don’t know what his work is. When I ask, he always says “Taking care of you and Mama is my job.” Then he tickles me and we laugh. Mama doesn’t laugh with us.”
That’s because she knows what her husband’s work is, and who he works for. Enrico is about to find out too, and then his job will be looking after Mama because he makes a terrible mistake he couldn’t possibly recognise as the mistake that it is, and his world comes crashing down around him.
I liked Enrico, and I understood where he was coming from: his burning desire to provide for a mother who is far too beholden to others for comfort. Also, his fear of the enormous beasts, nesting in their subterranean lairs – they’re terrifying to behold and Joe Kelly does a cracking job of building your trepidation in advance through their handler’s stern warnings of what to do and what not to do if you start to smell methane.
But there’s a newspaper page in the back of the book which is worth reading quite early on, convincingly explaining the relationship between the human population and the rarely spotted, rarely threatening but brutally treated dragons, used and abused in the same we as we do other animals, by making them fight for sport and gambling. Enrico has a lot of learning to do, and the final issue here was the clincher for me. There better be more.
Through The Woods (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Faber & Faber) by Emily Carroll.
Emily Carroll has a thing for teeth. I wish she didn’t. It’s very upsetting.
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.
Baddawi (£14-99, Just World Books) by Leila Abdelrazaq…
No, not a biography of the ground-breaking television and radio journalist Zeinab Badawi, but a coming of age biography about a Palestinian boy called Ahmad raised in a refugee camp in northern Lebanon. This work has been compared to the likes of PERSEPOLIS, MUNNU: A BOY FROM KASHMIR and FORGET SORROW: AN ANCESTRAL TALE. It’s good, but I certainly wouldn’t put it on a par with those works.
Much like FORGET SORROW: AN ANCESTRAL TALE, this story is recounted by the protagonist’s daughter, young Ahmad being creator Leila Abdelrazaq’s father. His story, of life growing up effectively in exile in Lebanon, displaced from Palestine and unable to return, is undoubtedly one of hardship, certainly. But also of the adaptability and ingenuity of children forced to grow up fast under those tough conditions. Ahmad and his school chums still managed to have fun, despite the deprivation. Part one spans 1959-1969 and covers his time in the camps.
In part two from 1970-1975, the family moved to Beirut as Ahmad’s father got a job managing an apartment building, and this period of Ahmad’s life was, by and large, relatively content and comfortable, despite the rising political tensions that would eventually break out into a brutal fifteen-year civil war in 1975. The third part of the book covers the first five years of the war as Ahmad gradually came to the conclusion that to create any sort of future for himself he needed to get out of Lebanon and go and study overseas. The ever-present danger of bombings and shootings punctuated these times, as friends and family were lost to the escalating sectarian conflict.
Where this work does succeed is in raising awareness of the human cost of this period to a very put-upon community, the Palestinians, something which obviously continues to this day. But I have to say, I didn’t feel anywhere as engaged as with PERSEPOLIS, MUNNU: A BOY FROM KASHMIR and FORGET SORROW: AN ANCESTRAL TALE. It might be because it felt a little disjointed at times, in comparison to some of those other works. In places it felt more like a collection of anecdotes than a seamless narrative, though I appreciate it is extremely difficult when compiling a biographical work, also referencing historical events, of what to put in and what to leave out. Similarly the art is nice enough, if relatively basic. The closest comparison that springs to mind is it looks a little bit like David B, though not as good.
I’m glad Leila Abdelrazaq has taken the time to create this memoir, because I do personally believe that anything which help maintains general public awareness of what the Palestinian diaspora has been, and is going through, is a very good thing. But I don’t believe this work will achieve the widespread acclaim of PERSEPOLIS.
Adventure Time: Graybles Schmaybles s/c (£7-99, Titan) by Danielle Corsetto & Bridget Underwood…
Ha, I was wondering if Cuber was going to turn up! This is by far the closest any ADVENTURE TIME comics material has come to feeling exactly like an episode of the cartoon phenomenon of a generation. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll exactly know what a grayble is, why there are always five of them, and how indeed there is always a connecting theme. I didn’t guess what the theme was either, until Cuber revealed all, which made me smile. It’s a tricky one!
For those of you who have absolutely no idea what I’m going on about, a grayble is a short story. There have been several episodes of Adventure Time presented by Cuber (who is from the future) where he pulls out a holo-pyramid, presents five stories from ‘days of old’, and breaks the fourth wall by inviting us, the audience, to try and guess the theme.
Why Cuber calls stories graybles, your guess is as good as mine, but much like the graybles TV episodes, this OGN was great fun featuring most of our usual favourites: Finn, Jake, Ice King, BMO, LSP, Tree Trunks, and also a rare appearance from a personal fave, Party God, who is a huge floating Alsatian head wearing a baseball cap perched at a jaunty angle and howls about partying hard a lot. It all makes no sense, it really doesn’t, but that doesn’t matter one iota.
I wonder how long Adventure Time can continue to feel fresh and fun, I just know after six seasons of the show I’m still utterly hooked, and if the comics material continues to be of this high standard, which is entirely down to employing the writers who work on the show to do the comics – always a good idea – then I’ll keep reading them too!
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.
Fante Bukowski (£9-99, Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver
Sunny vol 5 h/c (£16-99, Viz) by Taiyo Matsumoto
The Motorcycle Samurai vol 1: A Fiery Demise s/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Chris Sheridan
Tim Ginger (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Julian Hanshaw
A Quick Dip Into Deep Thinking: The Growing Of Dreams (£6-50) by Dori Kirchmair
Fables vol 22: Farewell (£13-50, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham, various
William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh h/c (£11-99, Quirk) by Ian Doescher
Zenith Phase Four h/c (£20-00, Rebellion) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest h/c (£22-50, Vertigo) by Stieg Larsson, Denise Mina & Andrea Mutti, Antonio Fuso
Batman: Arkham Manor vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Gerry Duggan & Shawn Crystal
Batwoman vol 6: The Unknowns s/c (£12-99, DC) by Marc Andreyko & Georges Jeanty, various
Daredevil vol 3: The Daredevil You Know s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee
Deadpool Classic vol 12 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by various
Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 3: Guardians Disassembled s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, various & Nick Bradshaw, various
Thor vol 2: Who Holds The Hammer? (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Noelle Stevenson, Don Glut, C.M. Punk & various
ITEM! 8HOUSE ARCLIGHT’s Marian Churchland is interviewed with co-writer Claire Gibson and artist Sloane Leong about their new comic FROM UNDER MOUNTAINS. Interior art there too. What a cover!
ITEM! From the creator of shiver-fest ADAMTIME (you will never take the last train home again – never!) and oh-so-British comedy BRITTEN AND BRULIGHTLY, Hannah Berry presents a substantial preview of her next graphic novel, LIVESTOCK!
ITEM! Substantial preview of Jennifer Hayden’s graphic memoir about breast cancer, gamely titled THE STORY OF MY TITS. Simone Lia agrees with me that, under these circumstances, this is possibly the best title ever.
Page 45 Reviews written by Stephen & Jonathan then edited by a cock-eyed chameleon which is probably a tautology, I know.