“Okay, this… this looks bad. Is there a plan here, Kate?”
Oh, Kate, of course you’ve no plan. You’re as bad as Clint is!
- Stephen on Hawkeye vol 3. There’s a new Blacksad below as well.
The Motherless Oven (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Rob Davis.
Never were truer words written.
“They say it’s natural for mothers to be protective of their kids. I don’t see why. They need protecting as much as we do.”
Welcome to a graphic novel that is so wickedly new and so densely inventive that comparison points virtually elude me.
Its warped reality reminds me of Gorillaz tracks with their attendant videos. There are weather clocks issuing knife-storm warnings; instead of the goggle box there’s a Daily Wheel to watch; and teenage Scarper Lee may not know his birthday but he certainly knows his deathday: it’s in three weeks time.
I shouldn’t be surprised and I’m not: THE MOTHERLESS OVEN comes from Rob Davis, the creator of THE COMPLETE DON QUIXOTE and the instigator, director and chief writer of NELSON, another all-time classic which – like the equally original THE NAO OF BROWN – won the British Comic Awards for best graphic novel of its year, deservedly.
Everything here will sound so very familiar although almost everything here has been turned on its head. Truths are often much more enlightening when seen from a fresher perspective.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, for example, that children are created by parents – not just by procreation but by osmosis as well: nature and nurture. The behaviour of parents rubs off on their progeny. But even without the following reversal, the behaviour of children must surely, similarly, rub off on their parents? Or at least wear them down. Or buoy them up. We just haven’t given that enough consideration yet.
But what if children created their parents? We might look at things differently then, and so now we do.
“We were sat on Peter Cake’s Mum as usual. Pete’s Mum used to be a dinner lady at the school. She had a breakdown in the playground a few months back and no one has come to pick her up yet. It’s funny, Pete never used to go near her when she was working.”
It is so typical of Rob Davis’ love of language that he bestows on the word “breakdown” two different meanings with identical results.
In THE MOTHERLESS OVEN, you see, children fashion their parents as paintings or mechanical objects as if made from Meccano, and Pete’s Mum had a physical breakdown like any old car and a mental breakdown like any highly stressed, under-paid, overworked parent trying to provide with a job. Now she just lies there where she fell, inert, like so much scrap metal. They sit on her.
“Turned out today is the day they tow Pete’s Mum away. They’ll take her to the Mother Ruins, unless Pete’s Dad can get permission for a permanent residence in their front garden. He wants to turn her into an ornamental fountain.”
Another play on words: Mother’s Ruin becomes Mother Ruins and wait until you see that nurseless nursing home.
Scarper Lee isn’t a misanthrope. He actually cares. He’s just very private and prefers sitting at home. He’d rather not be bothered with people.
Then along comes Vera Pike, the most bothersome girl in the world, and Scarper Lee can’t get her out of his head. She’s direct, disruptive and completely unphased by the weather. She’ll even go out in a knife storm, carrying a thick wooden table over her head like an umbrella.
“You don’t like the laughing gales, then? You do realise the wind isn’t laughing at you, don’t you? I mean, you’re not so vain and neurotic as to think that, are you, Scarper?”
I know for a fact the wind is laughing at me…
“Having said that, if the wind is laughing at you, you might as well just laugh along, right?”
Needless to say, at school she’s immediately shunted off into the deaf unit where all the kids with “special needs” go – just like Castro, whom she calls her “new toy”. Castro has “medicated interference syndrome”, with a “brain aid” to modulate his behaviour.
“Just watch him go when I turn it all the way up! Ask him a question. Go on, Scarper, ask him anything!”
“Y’alright, mate? Your nose is bleeding! D’you need a tissue?”
I told you he cared.
Scarper cares most about his Dad, a brass, land-bound boat yacht whom he polishes meticulously every Sunday, tightening his seals. He keeps his Dad chained up in the shed for his own safety, though on Saturdays he’ll sail down the pub, as you do.
Saturdays are the best!
“Saturday is the day when I feel like I can see the horizon. It’s the day that doesn’t ask for anything and is happy with what you give it.”
That’s a fabulous page: a small-town high street on a sunny day with a thrilling, open perspective. There are shops, snap-frame A boards and Scarper himself, idling along the pavement in a striped jumper and jacket and tight, black denim jeans. You might not even notice the parents being driven down the road.
Davis’ designs on the Daily Wheels are well worth studying closely, but it’s his faces and figure work I love most: lithe forms with slim legs, and Scarper’s bushy hair, bulbous bottom lip and eyebrows as thick as big, black caterpillars frowning deep over his eyes. Ian Culbard told me Mike McMahon is a huge influence on Rob and I can see that, transformed here into something a lot less angular and cheekier so I’m sticking with my Jamie Hewlett comparison. It creates a stark contrast with the sculptures, murals and trundling mechanical objects which are everyone’s parents.
The grey, pen-brush washes are warm and soft, while the knife storms – kitchen-knife storms – are stark and sharp and I’m never going to complain about hail again.
As to the inventiveness, it’s thoroughly organic. Davis doesn’t just drop a pun and run. He rolls an idea out, rolls it around in his mind, follows it through then sits it spinning in yours, whether it’s nature, billboard newspapers, circular history, Castro’s Mum or the secret of the Motherless Oven itself. Here’s my favourite exchange, Scarper being “reassured” by his headmaster about his impending deathday:
“When I was your age, a classmate of mine faced his deathday in year eleven, just like you. And, just like yours, his deathday was on a Wednesday. I saw him on the morning of his death, stood at the bus stop. His mother was beside him, leaking everywhere. His father, it turned out, was hiding in his pocket…
“He did all his lessons that day and afterwards played for the school football team against the local girls’ school. Thirty minutes in, a big girl with an eye patch stood on his leg and snapped his shin. The poor fellow bled to death on the halfway line.
“The boy’s father remained in the lost property box for years. The mother went quite doolally, I’m sad to say.
“She had a propeller hairstyle, all the rage in those days – damn thing went into a hysterical spin cycle. Ripped her head off her shoulders. It flew around the school for weeks before the groundsman shot it down.”
So with his deathday approaching and the clock ticking inexorably on, what will Scarper Lee do with the little time left? Momentum doesn’t seem to be something he’s ever built up. He’ll probably just stay at home with his Mum and Dad.
Ah. And then that happens…
Blacksad: Amarillo h/c (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido.
Did you know that Walt Disney’s Bambi was originally a flop? It’s hard to believe these days, but the only thing that saved the studio was the Pentagon hiring it for propaganda purposes during WWII.
I mention this because we have a long love of anthropomorphism and most unused to comics usually associate the genre with childhood pleasures like Alice Through The Looking Glass or Winnie The Pooh. But don’t be deceived: like so much anthropomorphism in comics (MAUS!), BLACKSAD is decidedly adult in nature.
All the characters are bipedal animals working, living and loving like we do and they can be equally vicious and flawed. BLACKSAD VOL 1 contained one particularly powerful story involving racism, segregation and lynching using each creature’s colour to clever effect, while its star, P.I. John Blacksad, is a big black cat… with a patch of white on his chin. What I inferred from that is here – for the first time, I think – expressly explored when a hitch-hiking John is forced to endure the charmless verbal diarrhoea of a truck-driving macaw.
Yeah, don’t worry: it has been translated – the book is in English!
BLACKSAD books are all period pieces: the Cadillac on the cover isn’t a classic yet, it’s current. One glance at the glorious, dark grey spread preceding the story itself instantly reminds one of Will Eisner works like A CONTRACT WITH GOD set fairly and squarely in a bustling, fully functioning, very specific environment.
The level of craft on Disney-trained Guarnido’s part is mesmerising. When it comes to architecture, both exterior and interior, Guarnido is on a par with animator Hayao Miyazaki for detail. His line is seductive – both sharp and smooth – making it impossible not to linger on the curves of wood, the folds in bunched drapes, the intricately patterned rugs or even the general desk clutter which you’d normally not even register.
In BLACKSAD: A SILENT HELL there was a sunlit courtyard cafe dappled in leafy shadow, a funereal street scene populated by dozens more mourners than you’d think you could fit on a page, and even a thirty-page art class in the back, Guarnido explaining his compositional decisions through preparatory sketches and paintings – enlightening for aspiring artists of any genre, not just anthropomorphism. Here there’s a sunny, open airport, a grand old railway station foyer and one hell of a motorbike for Blacksad to stand astride on.
His clothes are so slick, sleek and attractive that you could actively consider them well pressed, and the expressions on each of these creatures are exquisitely realised each and every time – animal versions of our own, exaggerated with such energy that you’ll be grinning from cover to cover.
It begins with a moment of bravado by the private swimming pool of author Chad Lowell, a lion who’s spent two years on his latest manuscript in the days when there often was only one – no back-ups. His supposed friend and fellow writer, poet Abraham Greenberg, ducks then holds Chad’s head underwater, then sets fire to his own poetry before lobbing Chad’s scroll at the pool. The red-check-shirted Bison thinks this is funny.
“No guts, no glory, Chad. Give your story a happy ending for once, and leave that roll of paper in some toilet, where people can put it to good use.”
Chad catches the script – just – but the expression under his mane, dripping with water, says it all.
John Blacksad, meanwhile, is considering a change of career when his sharp eyes and act of kindness at an airport earn him the respect and trust of a wealthy, outbound bull. He needs someone to drive his expensive yellow Cadillac back to his house in Tulsa, so hands John its keys.
“Ya seem like a straight shooter, son – the kind who stays outta trouble.”
And he does seem that but we, by now, know differently. Blacksad’s a trouble-magnet, his sense of fair play his undoing, and the raw iron filings heading his way are those loose-cannon writers. Bloody writers, eh?
Hawkeye vol 3: L.A. Woman s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Javier Pulido, Annie Wu.
Oh, Kate, of course you’ve no plan. You’re as bad as Clint is!
Much of the mirth in HAWKEYE has been watching Kate Bishop, the younger, female and infinitely more clued-up Hawkeye, pick up the pieces of her mentor Clint Barton’s balls-ups. They have been manifold, and Kate has been constantly peering over her sunglasses at the archer / Avenger with a mixture of recrimination and resignation. Now it transpires that our equally impetuous Ms Bishop is equally prone to pratfalls.
I’ve described HAWKEYE as being a book about helping people starring the one guy who cannot help himself. We’ve now swapped coasts – New York for Los Angeles – as well as sharp-shooters’ perspectives, but hilariously nothing has changed except the age and gender of the dive-in-first and wonder-what-on-earth-went-wrong wrong-righter.
Okay, no, the artists have changed as well. While Aja will return along with Clint Barton in HAWKEYE VOL 4, Kate’s West Coast sabbatical is introduced by Javier Pulido who will delight Darwyn Cooke fans with a fine line in fashion coloured by Matt Hollingsworth as if L.A. was the brightest, most beautiful city with the freshest air in the world.
As Annie Wu takes the driving seat things grow much darker, though the body language – both broken and indefatigable – can rarely be beaten along with the facial ticks which reveal exactly what our Kate’s thinking long before she’s uttered a word.
Kate Bishop has set off for L.A. in a very flash car after finally losing patience with Clint as well as her cash-rich father.
“Kate, let your mother get you a little something to drink.”
“She’s not my mother.”
“Well, no, but I hope, maybe with time, you’ll begin to think of me as –“
“You’re three years older than me. We were literally in school together, Heather.”
“That was a nice time. Diazepam?”
Lovely touch with the Jack Kirby Sue Storm portrait in the background there!
Unfortunately before she even turned her ignition key Madame Masque had Kate in her revenge-seeking sights and arranged for her credit card to be bled, her stuff to be stolen and that car won’t last long, either. Broke and homeless, Kate is determined to reverse her misfortune by taking on taking on jobs as a Private Investigator. Alas, she has no knowledge of the law and absolutely no knack for investigating privately. She’s spotted within seconds. Also, swimming pools aside, L.A. isn’t all it’s cracked up to be:
“People can be so mean to each other and out here you can take bus tours to get better views of it all.”
But, as I say, this book at its heart is about helping people and, oh, it has so much heart!
There’s the tragic case of the Bryson Brothers who essentially were The Sixties to some. But the musical one, Will, became so absorbed in his masterpiece ‘Wish’ that he could never complete it to his own satisfaction so his production-orientated brother, Grey, could never release it. They’re now old, ill, and at odds in a sequestered mansion.
“It’s like if Mike Brady designed the Bates Motel. If I had to live here for 60 years I bet I’d have gone full Syd Barrett m’self…”
Fraction fills every page with these pop culture references both contemporary (which Kate mostly gets) and less so (mostly not, but please see above). It’s a completely different approach to writing a superhero comic that this isn’t one. Never has been. It’s an action-adventure comedy of manners.
Back to the heart of this book, and the first case Miss Bishop chances on involves her neighbours Marcus and Finch who, after waiting so long to be married, find their perfect day in danger of being ruined when the orchids of Marcus’ dream-vision are stolen. You won’t believe how fast that escalates and where it eventually leads to. Nor will Kate, but it all comes beautifully – yet appallingly – full circle.
Before then, however, there’s plenty of time to exasperate the L.A.P.D.’s Detective Caudle, infuriate Flynt Ward The Weed Lord (it is all legal there) and throw in a great many cat jokes while the mysterious man in the market aisle, a certain Harold H. Harold (you’ll never guess his middle name), offers words of encouragement at every wrong turn. Will our couple ever get their orchids back and their wedding on track? Regardless:
“Oh honey. You are my happily ever after.”
Jacques Tardi World War One Box Set: It Was The War Of The Trenches h/c & Goddamn This War! h/c (£29-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi with Jean-Pierre Verney…
Of volume 1 I wrote…
“Joyful, despite their grief, are those families whose blood flows for their country.”
- General Rebillot December 13th, 1914
“Bastards, bastards, miserable fucking bastards! Fuck the army! France can kiss my ass!”
- Private Jean Desbois, 3rd Company of the 115th French Infantry November 27th 1916
Very powerful collection of short stories from the trenches of WWI which certainly will appeal to aficionados of CHARLEY’S WAR. Start with the premise that no one is actually going to get out alive – well, maybe one or two but they’re certainly not intact – and you’ll understand the approach Tardi is taking here. Not that it’s overly gratuitous, far from it; it’s merely realistic. Many a story actually starts with the knowledge that the protagonist ends up dead or disfigured and then lets things unfold so we can see exactly how inescapable their fates are in the wasteland of battlefields and trenches.
Possibly my favourite story (entirely the wrong word to use, really) involves the man who somehow survives all night in a shell crater in No Man’s Land wearing his gas mask after being gut-shot in the midst of yet another suicidal, failed attack. First light sees the maskless stretcher bearers coming towards him and, thinking he’s going to be evacuated home for certain with his wounds, he takes off his gas mask. Unfortunately for him, as he immediately remembers, mustard gas is heavier than air and the shell crater he’s laid up in is in fact a pocket of the undispersed toxin which instantly decimates his lungs and eyes. Tardi always approaches the stories from the most human of perspectives, which of course makes the inevitable bleak endings even harder to bear. I think that’s probably why most of the stories do start off with the denouement revealed to us, so that we’re already steeling ourselves for what’s to come.
The neo-’clear line’ art is classic Tardi, conveying significant details with apparent minimal effort and a certain distinctive rotundity of style that I really like. Something that suddenly hit me was the frequent lack of complexity in the structure of certain peoples’ faces throughout the book, and then you realise in fact he’s making their faces look almost skull-like as they approach their deaths. It’s powerful, shocking, and truly manages to capture the almost unbelievably hellish landscapes that were the battlefields of Western Europe in World War I.
From GODDAM THIS WAR:
This work is a fine starting point for people unfamiliar with Tardi and will almost certainly make you want to have a look at his WEST COAST BLUES about a depressive Parisian who accidentally witnesses a murder and is subsequently hunted by a pair of hit men who just happen to be lovers. It’s something which all noir fans out there really, really should be picking up and just aren’t for some reason. If you’re looking for a different creator to try, I sincerely suggest you try some Tardi.
For more, please see my GODDAMN THIS WAR! review with interior art.
Hip Hop Family Tree Box Set: 1975-1983 (£45-00, Fantagraphics) by Ed Piskor…
If it were not enough that this box set collects both volumes of Ed Piskor’s epic chronology of the music form that first shook the South Bronx then the rest of the world, in a robust and bombastically designed slipcase (and you can read my reviews of both volumes below), there is the added ‘bonus’ of the exclusive ‘Milestone, Variant, Limited, Ashcan Edition’ Hip Hop Family Tree #300 with its gold-embossed Cable-esque flashing-eyed Rob Liefeld on the cover.
Featuring the story as Ed so aptly describes it, of an ‘unconventional pairing of David Bowie / Bing Crosby proportions’, when Spike Lee picked up-and-coming comics creator Liefeld out of 700,000 entries in 1990 to feature in the next Levis Jeans commercial. I don’t think it ever aired in the UK, I certainly don’t remember it, so for those of you that have never seen it just click on the following link and marvel that someone could actually make such an epically awful advertisement… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJhoa2SVGNA
I am particularly amused by the part where Rob is asked if he has any formal art training…
Of volume 1 of Hip Hop Family Tree I wrote…
“DJ Kool Herc is already a legend in the borough, but this doesn’t stop him from constantly practicing and experimenting to make his shows as enjoyable as possible. Using 2 copies of the same record he discovers that he can loop the instrumental breaks in his favourite music ad infinitum, if he chooses so. Tinkering in his apartment with the window open, he realises he’s on to something. Mixing one break into the break of a different song, a term he calls “merry-go-round,” becomes a part of Kool Herc’s arsenal. Adding such complexity to his performance, he makes the decision to enlist a friend to emcee and handle duties on the microphone.”
One of the most comprehensively researched examinations of the beginnings of hip hop I think I’ve ever read, and I have read a few, the prose work It’s Not About a Salary… Rap, Race and Resistance in Los Angeles by Brian Cross being a firm favourite though that obviously only takes in a West Coast perspective, and a slightly different time period. This work looks at the true beginnings of the scene in mid-‘70s downtown New York from parties in parks and baseball courts, DJ and MC battles in dancehalls, through to the eventual wider public recognition due to radio exposure and the early vinyl releases, and the evolution of the music itself into what we would understand as the modern day rap genre.
The ability of comics to transport you to a time and place in a manner that prose works just cannot match is demonstrated here as Ed perfectly captures the nature of street life and the crazy characters at that time. I did also like the fact that in one of the after pieces, he explains how you can dissemble hip hop considerably further back, but obviously you have to say there was a definitive point in time where hip hop as we know it began, and Kool Herc discovering the concept of mixing will do nicely for me. I can well imagine it was a transcendental moment for the good DJ!
It’s all the little anecdotal facts Ed just continually slips in that blew me away though, my absolute favourite being that Afrika Bambaataa was a massive fan of Kraftwerk! It shouldn’t surprise me really that such a muso would appreciate a not entirely dissimilar branch of music, it’s I just had never thought that the leader of the hardcore Black Spades gang would be chilling out to Trans Europe Express!
Fans of hip hop need this work, everyone else just won’t be bothered probably, but that’s fine. Ed seems far more interested in taking on projects that interest him personally like this one and WHIZZYWIG, and when he is doing it so brilliantly it is clearly all about reality and not the salary for him. Sorry, couldn’t resist slipping in one lyrical gag. Must just mention the gallery of artists at the end, which other creators have contributed to too, Jeffrey Brown’s Beastie Boys looking like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. You can scarcely credit the Daily Mail tried to have them banned from ever entering the UK all those years ago, being such a threat to the morals of the nation’s youth and all…
Of volume 2 I wrote…
“Why you lookin’ at me like that, Russell?”
Ha! I do love Ed’s portrayal of Russell Simmons, and I am pleased he gets the props here – to use the street parlance – that he so richly deserves, for his huge part in the explosion of Hip-Hop and its subsequent introduction to the club-going and record buying masses. He remains a fascinating bloke to this day, actually: a staunch vegan, transcendental meditation practitioner, and long-time supporter of gay rights, inter-faith dialogue and social activism. But, back in the day, his interests were somewhat more focused on getting paid by finding new musical talent, and having a good time.
That he kept his younger brother out of the studio for so long, despite his ever more vocal protests, is all the more amusing when you know his brother is Joseph Simmons, or as he soon became far better known, Rev. Run of iconic hip-hop grandmasters Run-D.M.C. When he finally let his brother and his mate into the studio, ostensibly to shut them up, Russell quickly realised he had struck not just gold, but multi-platinum. Their first few gigs as a lyrical duo, though, were something of a trial by fire, getting ridiculed for their check jackets and flares stage outfits. Cue one typical flash of Russell Simmons’ genius later, as he spied a casually dressed, hat wearing, sneaker pimped, ghetto blaster toting Jason “Jazzy Jase” Mizell entering the studios whilst debriefing the boys, and the fresh and fly trio of Run-D.M.C. that we know and love today were born. In an era of ever more surreal and outlandish performers’ costumes, their laidback street attire was exactly what was required to appeal to the masses.
The little nugget I have just described above takes up barely a couple of pages of this magnificent second volume, which explores 1981-1983, detailing the continuing, burgeoning public acclaim of the early pioneers like Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel and Arika Bambaataa, whilst revealing the childhoods and very early days of future legends like Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and NWA. This series of books, for I assume Ed is going to continue onwards past 1983 which is where this volume concludes, is vital reading for anyone wanting to know more about this era of music. His knowledge of his subject is truly encyclopaedic, but the piecing together of all the various insane anecdotes to produce a coherent and engaging narrative is magnificent craft, and he captures the raw charisma and sheer chutzpah that many of the performers, who had polished their skills on the mean streets the hard way, possessed in abundance. Confidence, usually, was the one area they were not lacking in. Naivety in dealing with record labels, on the other hand…
Just going back to sartorial elegance, or the lack thereof, it takes some believing these days, the outfits some of the early pioneers used to wear. There is a great little scene where someone gets extremely excited over Ice T’s first proto-single simply because he looks like he is straight out of Mad Max. And I am talking Beyond Thunderdome, not Road Warrior… In fact when you look at how Afrika Bambaataa and his acolytes dressed around this period, you can perhaps understand how it wasn’t that big a stretch to someone coming up with the Village People…
I think the connections and friendships Ed details, between various apparently very disparate elements of the wider music and arts scene, particularly in New York, are absolutely paramount to understanding the fast-moving morphology of music at a time where public exposure was also exploding exponentially through MTV, which launched in August 1981. There are some bizarre friendships, occasionally of complete convenience, which you would never expect, yet in retrospect make perfect sense, both musically and indeed fiscally. So when a certain ginger, wild-haired chancer called Malcolm McLaren starts to take an interest in how he can export Hip-Hop to the UK, he insinuates himself into the scene like the veritable social and musical chameleon we now know he was, glad-handing and appropriating everything he needed for his next sonic experiment. Whether the tracks Buffalo Gals and Double Dutch deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the canon of truly great hip-hop records isn’t for me to decide, but we can’t dispute they certainly played their dancefloor-filling part in helping to bring hip-hop to the UK.
I really do hope Ed continues with this work, not least because his still has a few years to go before hitting my own personal era of getting into rap and hip hop, circa 1988. That all began with catching the Public Enemy video for Don’t Believe The Hype on Top Of The Pops one Thursday night and simply thinking, “What on earth is this?” I did already like a bit of Chicago House at that point, probably had heard some of the Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel stuff, but one purchase of “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” later the following Saturday and a lifelong love with that genre had well and truly begun.
Explorer vol 3: The Hidden Doors (£8-50, Scholastic) by Kazu Kibuishi, Jason Caffoe, Jen Wang, Faith Erin Hicks, Johanne Matte, Jen Breach, Steve Hamaker, Douglas Holgate…
Another volume in the Kazu AMULET Kibuishi-curated anthology series where the seven completely different stories are only tenuously linked by the barest titular premise, in this case the hidden doors. So, the doors in the respective stories lead to: hidden parts of a patient’s mind, a giant’s kitchen, the person the opener really wants to be, a grand adventure but it requires two people to walk through together, a very unusual munitions bunker, a haunted tomb in a pyramid, where monsters are. Right, I think that last sentence just about makes grammatical sense.
As before the stories are all-ages fun, ranging from the all-out comedic through to some speculative fiction, with some great twists thrown in along the way. The key word is fun, though, and the contributors without exception all produce the goods. I think my favourite this time around is ‘Two-Person Door’ by FRIENDS WITH BOYS’ Faith Erin Hicks, due to its thought-provoking nature. I can imagine it giving a few kids some pause for thought as they think the potential ramifications through.
Definitely worth picking up if you’ve finished your copy of AMULET VOL 6 already…
Costume Quest: Invasion Of The Candy Snatchers h/c (£18-99, Oni Press) by Zac Gorman…
I want candy. Which, I mention for no other reason than to amuse myself reminiscing about the classic Bow Wow Wow single. Well, maybe not the only reason, for our cast of lil’ monsters, or Grubbins as they are known, want candy too. Lots of it. But there is a nationwide shortage in their home dimension of Repugia, so whatever can they do? Well, it’s fast approaching Halloween, so they hatch the crazy idea of hopping through a magical portal into the human world to gatecrash the time-honoured tradition of trick or treating. Given that they already look like they are in costume, they expect it’ll be just like stealing candy from errr… dim-witted adults.
In fact there will be more sweet-pilfering going on than in the much-missed pick n’ mix departments of Woolworths (even as honest a child as myself couldn’t stop purloining the odd fizzy cola bottle as I went to peruse the latest singles and drool over Annabella Lwin…) as Klem and his sidekicks find themselves assailed by older, sugar-hungry bullies on both sides of the portal. Then there is the ‘slight’ added danger that once the portal closes at midnight on Halloween, it won’t open again for a whole year! It’s going to take all Klem’s considerable cunning for the friends to make it back to Repugia at all, never mind with their haul of goodies intact.
I am a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to trick and treating, I must confess. I find the concept of myriad kids hammering on my door all night a total pain in the arse, to be frank, and I am dreading the day when my daughter is old enough to want to go out doing it herself. With me in tow, no doubt. Though bizarrely, last year was the first time we had got sufficiently organised to get shed loads of sweets in preparation, and there was not a single knock on our door… The wife and I kept looking out of the upstairs window wondering why on earth all these costumed kids (and adults) were avoiding us, wondering if the preceding ten years of closing the curtains and blatantly ignoring the door knocking had finally had the desired effect. But no, apparently you have to have a lantern in the window now, or some such, to indicate you are happy to be visited by junior ghouls and spooks. Which is a good thing, I guess, as it avoids the kids getting upset when people don’t answer the door, and the curmudgeons can just get on with doing whatever it is they do behind their curtains.
I seem to have digressed. I really enjoyed this work. It was funny. The art is a fizzing, colourful treat too, with the antics of the young Grubbins garishly illustrated in a manner that suggests the artist had consumed rather a lot of E numbers himself. The older bully Grubbins being just monsterly enough too, without being too scary for the youngest readers or listener / viewer in my daughter’s case. This was definitely a hit with her, and me, there being enough story and jokes to hold my marginally more demanding adult attention too.
Manga Dogs vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ema Toyama…
Sometimes you can look at a manga and see precisely which recent high-selling title has ‘inspired’ it. Without a shadow of a doubt this has been conceived following BAKUMAN, an intriguing story by the creators of DEATH NOTE, following two high school students wanting to be manga masters. There were some romance elements thrown in the mix but, by and large, it was a fascinating look behind the scenes of the insane workload that goes into creating, then sustaining, a hit manga series, the whole process of getting published, initially in Shonan Jump magazine, then in book form, and if you’re particularly lucky, the anime spin-off. They also do frequently mention the well used concept of, shall we say, emulating a premise whilst transplanting it into a different genre, to try and come up with a hit…
This work is neither as serious nor remotely realistic as BAKUMAN, but it does have the same relentless energy and sense of fun to it. Kanna Tezuka is a fifteen-year-old manga prodigy. She has already achieved the near-impossible feat of getting something published in a Shoujo magazine, but is concerned enough about maintaining the popularity of her series to enrol on a new manga-drawing course at her high school. Thus neatly introducing the most ubiquitous trope in manga as the setting for our yarn. I really don’t understand the Japanese fascination with manga set at high schools, the pupils being ghosts, witches, vampires, zombies and indeed even normal children, indeed sometimes a mixture of all of those, but it clearly works as the setting for many a yarn.
What there is also in abundance in these high school works is romance, and make no mistake this is a Shōjo (sometimes spelt shoujo) manga aimed squarely at teenage girls. Which probably explains why the three other manga class members, all boys, become completely obsessed with Kanna. Once they realise who she is, they’re demanding that she becomes their manga sensei and teach them all she knows, which appears to be considerably more than the teacher. Kanna, meanwhile, somewhat unused to any male attention, let alone the close proximity of three rapt, attentive, and rather dishy males hanging on her every word, competing for her attention, and no doubt in the not too distant future, her affections as well, is unsurprisingly finding it rather difficult to even focus on drawing a straight line.
If you approach this type of work – and Yaoi as well for that matter – with the right attitude, and it is as well written as this, then it is rather difficult not to be amused by the comedy of manners and farcical humour of it all. In addition, I would even go as far as to say this title does have some genuine satirical points to make about the manga-creating industry, much like BAKUMAN does.
Crossed vol 10 (£14-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Christian Zanier…
“Look, Harry, et me walk you out. There’s something I need to talk to you about. We’re having to cut our losses for the time being. Senior government personnel and their families are being moved to installations like this one, from which… well, hopefully we’ll be able to regain some measure of control, at least in the long term. Doctor Chopra is here. If anyone has a chance of finding an answer to this, it’s her and her team. But if we can’t… this is a location, along with details how to gain access. It should be seen only as a last resort.”
“Thank you. It was… sort of over before it began in a way, wasn’t it?”
“The way events unfolded, since they brought that poor bugger in here. It felt like we never had a chance. I mean, you think about other times the country’s been threatened… what they had to cope with… Churchill. He had all the time in the world. How does it go? We shall not flag or fail… We shall move into broad sunlit uplands… We shall go on to the end, and so bear ourselves…
“You’re actually combining two separate speeches, Prime Minister.”
“This is where I leave you.”
“Well, good luck to you, Harry. Thank you for everything.”
“You too, Prime Minister.”
“It’s been an honour.”
It’s a funny old series, CROSSED. Every time I think I have had enough of it, I just think, well, I’ll read the next volume, and I get dragged back in. I thought the slow-burning spin-off series CROSSED: WISH YOU WERE HERE by Si Spurrier was exceptionally well written horror from start to finish, with some extremely gory moments, certainly, but it never overpowered the storytelling.
Whereas with this main title, passed from writer to writer, hopping from plot idea to plot idea as it does, there have been some suspenseful, gripping story arcs, and then some that were just pure gore trash. The best arcs, frankly, have all been penned by series originator Garth Ennis, though I did also very much enjoy the one by Jamie Delano, and here Ennis has returned to a previous set of characters from the ‘The Fatal Englishman’ arc in CROSSED VOL 6, to write a prequel for them co-starring none other than Gordon Brown in his time as Prime Minister.
Yes, it’s not enough that Tony Blair left him in the shit with the economy, he’s managed to swerve Armageddon as well, a fact that doesn’t escape poor old Gordon, which did make me smile. The Prime Minister as he is written actually comes out of this with a lot of credit, unlike his weaselly sidekick Alastair – wonder who that is meant to be – but it certainly makes for a great story, seeing the beginnings of the outbreak in the UK from his unique perspective, hunkered down inside a secure bunker.
Except, except, the other co-star of this tale, who may or may not be the mysterious patient zero and originator of the virus, is brought to the very same bunker for observation by the scientists on hand. Maybe not the best idea Alastair has ever had to help out the Prime Minister…
Ennis is also planning to write a sequel to ‘The Fatal Englishman’ for issue 100 of the title, which I am already intrigued about giving how that arc ended. But in the meanwhile Kieron Gillen is up next on writing duties, and is apparently going to look at previous historical outbreaks, thus neatly counterpointing Uncle Alan Moore’s tale in the forthcoming CROSSED +100, which obviously is going to look at how humanity is coping 100 years after this current outbreak started. I think Avatar have finally got the idea that people are actually more interested in the characters and stories associated with the CROSSED, rather than the gore per se, which in my opinion is best used, as here, for ridiculous comedic relief. If so, I’ll keep reading.
America‘s Got Powers s/c (£13-50, Image) by Jonathan Ross & Bryan Hitch.
A) My favourite superhero artist of all time, THE ULTIMATES’ Bryan Hitch.
B) That Jonathan Ross, much more at home than on TURF.
C) Sarah Palin lookalike (actalike too!)
D) Something to say.
E) Effectively said.
F) Funny in places to boot.
This is spectacular stuff set in San Francisco seventeen years after a giant blue stone lands there, and every pregnant mother within a five mile radius successfully gives birth. No matter how pregnant, they all give birth at exactly the same time. To children with gifts. With powers. Every single one except Tommy Watts, brother to Bobby, the boy who burned out on TV.
See, there’s a TV show called America’s Got Powers which is a bit like Gladiators but without the – no, which is exactly like Gladiators: preposterous posturing, rabid crowds and its most popular star is the biggest dick.
So anyway, Bobby Watts won all his battles but it cost him too much and he died.
Which was absolutely fantastic for ratings! Hurrah!
Reacting accordingly, the producers of the new season of America’s Got Powers have lifted all limits on the level of violence permissible: the mechanical Paladins will be bigger, operating at maximum force, and the combatants can use all the power they’ve got. That there may be more military motivation behind the rule changes, nobody has thought about yet…
There’s so much merely hinted from the start: the San Francisco Power Riots that prompted the development of these TV tournaments in order to channel the children’s attention and give them a controlled outlet for their potentially destructive gifts; the military’s beef with the project’s head scientist Professor Syell (David Tennant); and Syell’s latest discovery which does sound ominous, doesn’t it?
I can assure you it’s all going to go to hell in a helicarrier with poor Tommy Watts the pawn they’d make king. Well, dauphin, perhaps.
Some of the best bits initially, visually, are set high above the stadium (which I note is adjacent to Alcatraz); also in the cash-cow gift shops of the super-mall surrounding the arena, which may sound odd when one considers Hitch’s gift for hyper-dynamic fist-fights which are indeed stunning here, but I’ve always loved his architecture, his everyday faces and civilian clothing even more. New artists would do well to study his emphasis on storytelling in BRYAN HITCH’S ULTIMATE COMIC STUDIO.
It’s the quiet moments later on which bring the biggest heart and make the big, big moments explosive. Conversely it’s the gargantuan moments – on a scale with will make your eyes blister – that make the soft scenes so much more tender.
Jonathan Ross has relaxed and really thought this through: the chirpy commentators’ blithe blood-thirstiness as combat goes disastrously wrong is perfect and far from overplayed – the key being “blithe”, oblivious to their own crass, crowd-pleasing cretinicity and indifference to everyone’s healthy and safety including innocent bystanders.
Tommy is spontaneously iconoclastic without being a relentlessly rebellious smart-arse and – given the reputation of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury – I love that the teenagers who received their gifts from that big blue stone are called “Stoners”.
When the military powerplay escalates, dividing the kids into two blood-thirsty tribes with another caught in their middle, it is hair-tearingly tense. Also, I concede, somewhat dense with recrimination after recrimination and almost no hope for anything than a blood-bath solution. There will be nuclear missiles aimed at San Francisco by America’s own military with the threat of an equal and opposite reaction.
At this point you might consider this over-thought through, but I’d disagree. I abhor simplistic superhero series where one side is wrong from smacking people upside the head and the other is supposed right for doing exactly the same. Here it is clearly demonstrated that just as there are three sides to every coin, there are at least three sides to every argument – it’s just that the third side (a coin’s edge) is far more difficult to keep balanced and upright so why even bother when dogma is easier?
No, it’s not over until Ross and Hitch say it’s over and Senator Hindler (that Sarah Palin substitute) won’t take “No” for an answer. She’s tenacious and she’s got balls – you’ve got to give her that. She’s also as callous and egomaniacal as her original. Unfortunately for everyone, she isn’t an iota as stupid.
“What about his family?”
Captain Marvel vol 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & David Lopez.
That’s right, Kelly Sue DeConnick, as in the gothic western PRETTY DEADLY. The cadence of that comic was perfect.
So, isn’t that a lovely cover? It’s fairly indicative of what lies within: softer than usual superheroic art for a softer than usual superheroic saga but make no mistake: Carol Danvers is a very naughty lady. You can see it the mischievous smile and the I-know-what-I’m-doing smile.
Except that Carol’s never quite known what she’s doing: not in the wider scheme of things, anyway. Once she was lost to alcoholism and became ultra-defensive to boot. Now she’s having a tryst with Rhodey, former pilot of War Machine now Iron Patriot. They seem pretty well matched.
“Tony Stark just tried to play me with the suggestion that you’re a better pilot than me.”
“In your dreams.”
“Let’s talk more about my dreams. I’m seeing you in a little black lace number –“
“Careful. Your heart.”
“A cocktail dress. Colonel Danvers. Who’s the one with the dirty mind here?”
“I am. I thought we established that.”
Alas, the subject which Stark was trying to play her on was the opportunity to head into space as part of a formal, rotating Avengers presence and it’s seems the perfect opportunity during which to find herself.
Fast-forward to the first page and Colonel Danvers (who in costume appears to accept demotion) has accepted and gathered a personal posse of intriguing individuals one of whom nearly crash-landed on Earth in an escape pod six weeks earlier. This is very much a space-faring saga and an appearance by the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is guaranteed!
The ever-competitive exchange between Stark and Danvers takes place while they nonchalantly deal with a couple of lowlifes, killing two narrative birds with one rolling stone and thereby keeping the whole thing popping along at a bright and breezy pace.
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?
Expecting To Fly #1 (£3-00, Scary Go Round Comics) by John Allison
Hellblazer vol 9: Critical Mass (£14-99, Vertigo) by Eddie Campbell, Paul Jenkins, Jamie Delano & Sean Phillips, Pat McEown
The Collector h/c (£25-99, Archaia) by Sergio Toppi
Action Philosophers h/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey
The Art Of Princess Mononoke h/c (£25-99, Viz) by Hayo Miyazaki
Adventure Time vol 5 (UK Edition) s/c (£8-99, Titan Books) by Ryan North & Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb
Doomboy vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Magnetic Press) by Tony Sandoval
Kick-Ass vol 3 h/c (£22-99, Titan Books) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.
Locke & Key vol 6: Alpha & Omega s/c (£18-99, IDW) by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
Satellite Sam vol 2 (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Howard Chaykin
All-New Ultimates vol 1: Power For Power s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Michel Fiffe & Amilcar Pinna
Amazing Spider-Man vol 1: Parker Luck s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Humberto Ramos
Daredevil vol 1: Devil At Bay s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee, Javier Rodriguez
Deadpool: Dracula’s Gauntlet h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan, Brian Posehn & Reilly Brown, Scott Koblish
Iron Man vol 5: Rings Of The Mandarin (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Luke Ross, Joe Bennet, Scott Hannah, Cliff Richards
Ms. Marvel vol 1: No Normal s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona
Powers vol 1: Who Killed Retro Girl? (£11-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming
Uncanny X-Men vol 4: Vs. SHIELD (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo, Kris Anka
Ranma 1/2 2-in-1 vols 7 & 8 (£10-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi
Usagi Yojimbo Saga vol 1 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai
ITEM! Gary Spencer Millidge’s STRANGEHAVEN returns in the pages of MEANWHILE and debuts at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Some beautiful interior art there, plus the anthology also features Sally-Jane Thompson.
Page 45 will have copies, of course, on sale on October 17th, which is a slightly special date for us…! All three previous STRANGEHAVEN volumes in stock now! Read why it’s a favourite of Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, JH Williams III and Bryan Talbot!
ITEM! Leeds Film Festival is showing a documentary on comicbook creator Seth for free! We love Seth and I write about that town constructed from cardboard in PALOOKAVILLE #20!
And lastly… pretty obviously…
ITEM! Page 45 Celebrates its 20th Anniversary on 17th October 2014 at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.
Don’t forget our Friday night Page 45 20th Anniversay Boozebash at Ruskins in Kendal transformed – I kid you not – into The Batcave!
All the weekend’s details in the blog linked to above.
I’m going to try to write something new for the website in time for Friday, but if not you’ll just have to wait until our 21st Birthday Booze on Saturday 17th October 2015 in Nottingham. There will be speeches, for sure!
Thank you for everything. It’s been the most remarkable twenty years and I’m honoured to have spent them with you!
Page 45 Signings Schedule in Georgian Room, Comics Clock Tower
Saturday 18 October 2014:
10am – 12pm Scott McCloud
2pm – 4pm Glyn Dillon
10am – 2pm Dan Berry & Kristyna Backzynski
2pm – 6pm Lizz Lunney & Joe List
10am – 2pm Jack Teagle & Joe Decie
2pm – 6pm Jade Sarson & Donya Todd
10am – 2pm Sarah McIntyre & Warwick Johnson – Cadwell
2pm – 6pm Fumio Obata & Dan Berry
Sunday 19 October:
2pm: arrival of 24 hour comic marathon limited edition comics and all creators available
10.30am – 2pm Liz Lunney & Donya Todd
2.30pm – 5pm Fumio Obata & Joe Decie
10.30am – 2pm Sarah McIntyre & Dan Berry
2.30pm – 5pm Warwick Johnson Cadwell & Joe List
10.30am – 2pm Jack Teagle & Kristyna Backzynski
2.30pm – 5pm Jade Sarson & Donya Todd
Please see Page 45 20th Anniversary At The Lakes International Comic Art Festival blog for more details including our own show-and-tell times and The Art Of Selling Comics talk.