Category Archives: Graphic Novel Reviews

Comics Review: Clockwork Lives: The Graphic Novel

Clockwork Lives: The Graphic Novel

Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth

–Neil Peart, RUSH – Subdivisions ( Signals Album 1982 )

Any kid growing up in the ’80s and in tune with popular music was listening to Rush in 1982. I fondly remember the single, “Subdivisions,” with its eerie biting satire. Flash forward thirty years, Rush released its 19th and final album, Clockwork Angels, in 2012. The lyrics written by Neil Pert, were adapted into a comic book mini-series by Boom Studios in 2014. And now we have a new Clockworks tale to tell, Clockwork Lives, published by Insight Comics. It is a treat for fans, new and old, promising to deliver something trippy and unusual, another ode to nonconformity.

If I were to storyboard out this narrative, I would be anticipating some really weird and fun visuals. Here’s the thing, this whole story is about dreams and telling stories where anything is possible. The premise is quite whimsical: the great clockworks conductor has passed away; if his sheltered daughter wishes to gain her inheritance, she must venture out into the world, beyond her little hamlet, and collect wonderful stories into a special book.

The Death of the Father

Be prepared to take in one intriguing image after another. It’s like Jethro Tull meets The Wizard of Oz. Or Ozzy Osborne meets Tintin. Or, better yet, steampunk meets The Canterbury Tales. So, curl up in a nice comfy chair and just take it all in. This is coming from Rush’s Neil Peart, after all. Co-writer Kevin J. Anderson worked with Peart on the original Clockwork Angels comics adaptation. As Anderson states in the Introduction, with this new tale, Peart and Anderson did not have album lyrics to guide them. This time out, the world of the Watchmaker, the Anarchist, and Albion, would be set free to develop further.

The Fortune Teller’s Tale

The art (Benjamin Rboly, GMB Chomichuk, Juan Vegas, Moy R., Tom Hodges, Tony Perna, Vic Malhotra) here is gorgeous with a true steampunk sensibility. And the cover, by the way, is designed by Hugh Syme, who did the covers and illustrations for Clockwork Angels and just about every single Rush album.

As our main character, the mellow Marinda Peake, soon learns, it’s good to strike out on one’s own. Before you know it, your life can blossom from a “mere sentence or two” to a true epic. It will prove an enjoyable journey for any reader.

Clockwork Lives: The Graphic Novel is a 176-page full color hardcover available as of June 26, 2018. For more details, visit Insight Comics.

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Comics Review: Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News

Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News

The comics I’m enjoying the most lately are coming from Insight Comics. Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News is a perfect example of their fresh and engaging content. This is an action adventure featuring 14-year-old Sophie Cooper, a red-headed Cuban-American, high school freshman.

There are quite a lot of specifics here which add up to a story with unique depth and dimension. Sophie’s dad, the kind and responsible type, has been framed and placed under house arrest for embezzlement and money laundering. It is up to Sophie to prove her father’s innocence which leads her to become an intern at a local news station. One thing leads to another, and Sophie is piecing together Cuban history that is somehow connected to some pretty crazy secret lab experiments. I can see why this is just the first volume!

Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News

A growing trend for comics publishers is to feature more diverse main characters. Within the last few years, leading the way has been the character of teenage Kamala Khan, Marvel Comics’ first Muslim character to headline her own comic book, Ms. Marvel, which debuted in February 2014. Another compelling title, in the same spirit, is the soon to be released limited series, She Could Fly, featuring Luna, a 15-year-old hispanic high school sophomore, from the Dark Horse Comics imprint, Berger Books. This brings us to Sophie Cooper.

With Sophie Cooper, writer Richard Hamilton (Dragons: Race to the Edge) gives the reader yet another authentic voice. And artist Joseph Cooper (Marvel, DC, Valiant, Dynamite, and Image) proves to be an excellent collaborator. Rounding out the creative team are colorists Peter Pantazis and Alba Cardona. Some of the best comics are the result of a finely-structured collaborative process. That is certainly the case here right down to the details in production. This is a book that is a pleasure to read and behold.

Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News

Getting back to specifics, this comic will keep the reader engaged with various added touches. As explained in the afterword, nothing was left to chance. Pantazis and Cardona were careful to find just the right skin tones and just the right shade of firebrand red for Sophie’s hair. When it comes to evoking a sense of urgency and distress, Joe Cooper was sure to depict Sophie’s cracked cell phone and chewed fingernails. And, in story that includes UFOs and alligator-men, Richard Hamilton deftly adds various historical references including the 1953 attack of the Moncada Barracks that ignited the Cuban Revolution.

The unlikely team of Hal Ritz and Sophie Cooper.

In the course of this first volume, we follow Sophie as she navigates her way as an intern for a news station that is not exactly ready for prime time. Sophie discovers she has a nose for news and ends up helping the station’s veteran reporter, Hal Ritz, who shamelessly takes credit for an implausible lineup of journalistic achievements. But Hal is no fool either and readily spots Sophie as a rising talent and someone to keep an eye on. This unlikely team will need all the help they can get as they quickly find themselves well over their heads.

The Devil is in the Details.

Paranormal mystery meets conspiracy thriller in this action-packed comic for young adults. This has a fresh and original kick to it.

Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News is a 96-page full color trade paperback available as of June 19, 2018. For more details, visit Insight Comics.

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Comics Review: H.G. WELLS: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

Indeed, the martians are coming!

There is an exciting new graphic novel adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic, The War of the Worlds, presented by Insight Comics. This version provides a vivid and immersive “present day” of 1898 that keeps the reader quite engaged. It will sneak up on you with its strange yet familiar qualities. We have seen so many different versions of this material that we cry out for ways to peel back as closely to the original to reveal something about our contemporary selves. That is what I see happening here.

A wonderful sense of pacing.

One thing is for sure, these martian creatures are relentless forces of nature–and that sort of villain never goes out of style. Writer Dobbs and artist Cifuentes do well to follow their hearts and take such an inhibited approach. I think there’s always that risk of losing one’s way in a work set in a different era. In this case, it all feels very natural. The reader accepts this natural setting and gets hooked into the suspense within context.

Part of what makes everything fit correctly in this version is the fine sense of timing. As much as things move quickly in this story, the intrinsic pace to life is relatively methodical. You want to send a message, heck, you might opt for a carrier pigeon. You want to pick up the pace, you best find a good horse. With that in mind, I cherish how that special pacing finds itself on these pages. For example, just consider the above page, our hero is slogging his way down a rough road while, steadily moving forward, the bloodthirsty martians are coming!

H.G. WELLS: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

Look closely, and this captivating work in comics will set your mind to flashes of past great moments between human and creature. The first look at the giant cylinder immediately made me think of Arrival. And the first look at the actual martians made me think of Alien. That said, it was more a recollection of a great sense of energy and not a lifting of one style onto another. Without a doubt, this book has its own unique sense of energy and it has earned its place among related work.

H.G. Wells: The War of the Worlds is a 116-page full color hardcover and available now. For more details, visit Insight Comics right here.

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Comics Review: SKINNED from Insight Comics

SKINNED from Insight Comics

If you’ve been to your local comics shop or bookstore, you may have noticed the colorful cover for Skinned, a new graphic novel and part of the Insight Editions imprint, Insight Comics. Taking a look inside, I was immediately impressed with its vivid, daring, and hip approach. Written by Tim Daniel and Jeremy Holt, illustrated by Joshua Gowdy, and lettering by Matthew Meylikhov, this is an eye-popping, sleek and fun comic that will bring to mind such comics as The Wicked + The Divine and American Gods. There is definitely a blending of sci-fi and fantasy elements with a millennial sensibility.

SKINNED from Insight Comics

And, if you love a good twist on sci-fi tropes, I believe you’ll be pleased with this story that gives us a delicious take on how easily humans are overwhelmed by their own technology. This is a wonderful satire that does not get bogged down by its targets: artificial intelligence, virtual reality and human folly. Instead, it jumps right in and brings the story and art up to a high level of excitement and urgency. You’ll get a psychedelic jolt along the lines of The Wizard of Oz and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and, in that spirit, one you’ll want to come back to it.

SKINNED from Insight Comics

The big thing that captivates everyone in this story is iRIS, enhanced-reality contact lenses that provide users with their own unique take on reality. You no longer have to dread another day with its randomness and challenges. Why not give everything a nice fuzzy fun beach theme or some other calming fantasy? Do it enough, and you’ll never miss reality again, right? Sounds like too much of a good thing and, as we come to see, it is. But thanks to two star-crossed lovers, Aldair and Bouy, humanity may find a way out of its voluntary enslavement. This is quite a fun book with a lot of energy and originality to spare.

Aldair and Bouy might just save the day!

Skinned is a 128-page full color hardcover and is available now. For more details, visit Insight Comics right here.

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Comics Review: M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder

M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder

This week we will look at the new line of original comics coming from the Insight Editions imprint, Insight Comics. I have been meaning to get to some of these titles and I’ve hesitated since I really wanted to process them and have something worthwhile to say! Well, enough waiting. In fact, I interviewed Nilah Magruder a few months back at Emerald City Comic Con and so I’m overdue. The first comic to kick off this new line of comics is “M.F.K.” by Nilah Magruder. Now, you may wonder what M.F.K. stands for but that will remain a mystery. It’s quite fitting considering this is one of the most unusual and mysterious comics I’ve ever read.

A small in humble village is the jumping off point for an epic adventure.

I swear, more and more of us are collectively going to look at comics as this most stimulating alternative form of entertainment. I know that sounds stupid to say that, especially if you already appreciate comics at a higher level. I guess I mean that it seems that the vast majority are still okay with comics serving a more basic service, simply acting as a simple vehicle for action and entertainment. When people like myself lecture about how it can be so much more than that we are referring to quite a colossal amount of comics that somehow manage to keep a relatively low profile. Does that make sense? There are a lot of, say, niche comics out there but, with each passing year, the audience grows, is more accepting, and remembers specific titles and creators. Just look at how long it has taken for names like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to pretty much enter the mainstream. Okay, I know, I am digressing down a deep rabbit hole here. I just say this because I’m excited to see such a quirky and remarkable comic as M.F.K. getting a lot of love and respect.

It all begins with a sandstorm!

People often compare comics to movies. And prose novels. Sometimes paintings. And I would definitely have to add music. I think I found myself processing M.F.K. best as a stimulating and unpredictable piece of music. Sure, there is a narrative to follow but, as is the case with a lot of more eccentric work, the narrative is almost besides the point. Not totally but to some extent. There are a lot of atmospherics going on in this comic, okay? Amazing sandstorms and we begin with some strange scene involving a struggle to collect and process the sand. I really do not understand what the characters are doing with all this sand–but that’s okay. So, you see, in that respect, it’s like music. I am experiencing beautiful and intriguing interludes. But, again, that’s not to say there isn’t a compelling story going on because there is.

Abbie, the outsider.

Abbie is a tough kid. We don’t get her story right away but, basically, she’s this young woman with a Wookie-like bird. Abbie is carrying a urn with her mother’s remains. Her goal is to find a proper place for the ashes. But then things happen. Abbie is worn down. Her bird, or moa, is worn down. And there’s all this sand swirling around. Next thing you know, Jaime, a young man, becomes entangled in a fight with Abbie that leads to Abbie and the moa both being stabbed by Jaime. This leads to Abbie being taken in by Jaime’s family who tend to her wounds although reluctantly since she’s an outsider. A lot more stuff goes on, including a much better understanding of who or what Abbie really is, and we come full circle in this first installment with Abbie back on the road with her urn. But she no longer has a moa. Now she has Jaime as a sidekick.

You can imagine all the music coming from this comic, can’t you? I’m sure you can. Nilah Magruder has written and drawn some sort of epic opera in the form of a quirky, funny, and most engaging work of comics. The first book in the M.F.K. saga is now out. For more details, visit Insight Comics right here.

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Comics Review: TWISTED DARK by Neil Gibson

TWISTED DARK, Cover art by Caspar Wijngaard

TWISTED DARK, published by TPub Comics, has the face of a battered woman as its brand and permanent logo. The story of a woman who wants to be beaten by a man is the flagship story to its TWISTED DARK universe. What to say on this? Where to begin? This logo has been around for many years now. I suspect that a lot of people who have actually bought the comic have not actually read the comic. That would partly explain how this has remained under the radar.

How about #NoAbuseToWomenInComics as a response? I know, some comics fans would cry foul and bring up the old Comics Code Authority. I am not advocating censorship. Hey, I am willing to see what this series attempted to accomplish. The least that I can do is to bring it up here to your attention. The least that TPub Comics can do, moving forward, is place a sticker on such books that states, FOR MATURE READERS. Now, let’s see, I’d say that CREEPY magazine is pretty much the closest work I can compare this to in attempts at offbeat horror–but CREEPY never beat up on women. If you like gritty and grim, that is the audience that Neil Gibson, the creator, writer, and publisher, seeks to attract.

I’m getting quite a late start with this series, which recently ended with Volume 6. I can clearly see from the first volume that this is a collection of depictions of misery. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, similar to The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, as Mr. Gibson would hope for. That’s unfortunate. I can imagine how he would like to be associated with that but his work falls considerably short. Before I was even aware of the battered woman cover (as it is an extreme close-up) I went into reading this as I would any comic. As I progressed from one story to the next, I kept giving the book the benefit of the doubt. By the end, I found this to be not only dark and twisted–but misguided. Overall, I would say it is very misconceived. It may have been a case of persistence getting the better of good writing and judgement. I don’t enjoy saying this but that’s what I get from this. The solution is to phase out the false start and do a rebrand. There is potential there if corrections are made.

“A Lighter Note” Art by Heru Prasetyo Djalal

Here, you can see for yourself what is in this first volume. Each story involves a tale of dread and despair. There’s the story of a man who regularly asks his dead son for forgiveness for the way he abused him. Not exactly cheery, right? And it goes on from there getting more and more disturbing. There’s one story that begins with the compelling fact that we presently have more people living in slavery around the world than in any other time. I applaud bringing out that fact. The actual story is intriguing, if not depressing. It follows a man in utter poverty who rises to become an Islamic terrorist.

“The Pushman” Art by Jan Wijngaard

Another story about a failed life depicts a young Japanese man with crushed dreams of becoming an architect. Instead, he is a subway “pushman.” His job is to literally push crowds into subway cars to insure efficiency. However, this man, due to his troubled and frustrated existence, abuses the passengers by pushing and punching whoever he can.

“Munchausen’s Little Poxy” Art by Jan Wijngaard

The book rounds out with its final big story, “Munchausen’s Little Poxy.” All stories are written by Neil Gibson. Many of the stories, including this one, are illustrated by Jan Wijngaard. This is the story of Ulara, a troubled young woman facing issues of self-abuse. Ulara comes from a very wealthy family. It would stand to reason that Ulara would have, at some point, gotten the help she needed–with or without vast sums of money. Gibson paints a picture of a poor little rich girl who gets what’s coming to her since all her troubles are schemes to get attention. Her cutting is just a scheme. Her eating disorder is just a scheme. And so on down to her getting beat up by men. No one should feel sorry for Ulara since she deserves her pain. End of story. This is most assuredly not something that Rod Serling would ever have written. But it is a point of pride for Neil Gibson.

Neil Gibson’s overall motivation with his stories, to be generous, is to push limits. But simply pushing limits does not guarantee sound storytelling. His stories lack the perspective required for good horror. I think he has skill and I hope he learns from his mistakes. One of the challenging things about comics is that they take a considerably long time to create, especially at the scrappy indie level. So, it is possible for a misfit concept to power through to completion simply because too much effort has been put into it to abandon it. That certainly happens with the big publishers too but they can afford to cover one misstep after another, year after year. Indie publishers, all publishers, need to think twice about any project they undertake.

TPub Comics describes Twisted Dark as “a series of interconnected psychological thrillers, perfect for fans of twist endings and comics that reveal more on the second reading. Each story stands alone, but the more you read, the more connections you see between the characters.” I’m not here to burst anyone’s bubble. But, fair is fair, a closer look does not favor this work. Some high profile reviewers, and even a celebrity or two, have supported this series–but I seriously doubt they gave it a close reading, if any. Clearly, TPub Comics is persistent and maintains a presence at comic book conventions. If you view the video below, you see Richard Johnston mostly praising TPub and TWISTED DARK for its tenacity. “They challenge you to ignore them!” How about this: Now is the time to look inward. Mr. Gibson, please place stickers on your remaining stock that read FOR MATURE READERS.

So, maybe you should visit TPub Comics and let them know what you think.

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Comics Review: SHAKE THE LAKE

Trouble in Paradise

“Shake The Lake” is such an audacious work of comics with such an uninhibited and unflinching depiction of frenzied youth–it is truly a hell of a lot of fun and mesmerizing. These are a bunch of out-of-control kids, the sort you’ve seen in numerous teenploitation horror and summer movies. They all, at first, seem to lack any redeeming character but you get hooked into their little nefarious activities and you just can’t look away. But who ever heard of a graphic novel devoted to wakeboarding (think skateboarding on water)? Am I supposed to know about wakeboarding? That level of specificity is part of the subversive fun. You need to check out this wonderfully oddball badass series right here.

Cal in his element. It’s an endless summer, dude!

Of course, wakeboarding is important–especially for those in the wakeboarding scene, which all of these kids are totally into. And some people are fully aware of wakeboarding but to the other extreme like Zeke and Dalton, these two highly obnoxious park rangers hot on the trail of all fun-loving youth. Leave it to them and they will spoil everyone’s fun, particularly anything remotely hedonistic. Hey, it’s the summer and a bunch of young rebels are determined to make their mark. Cal is the lead instigator. He’s already 23, but it is still a life of beautiful teen summers for him and his fellow dreamers. If they could just stir things up at the ole marina, put on a wakeboarding festival to be remembered in their collective old age, then all this arrested development will have been worth it!

Party!

Brothers Zach and Machi Block’s script rings true. The Block brothers invest in their ragtag characters a level of integrity that lures you into wanting to know more about this subculture. The artwork by brother and sister team Diego and Andrea Lopez Mata are true to the Block vision bringing out all the crude and raw beauty of this motley crew of wakeboarding fanatics. If you go in not knowing a thing about wakeboarding, after reading this work, you’ll be glad to leave it to the experts and just enjoy the ride. Visit the “Shake The Lake” site right here.

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Comics Review: American Born Chinese

“American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang

Guest column by Master Mix Movies

“American Born Chinese” is my favorite non-superhero graphic novel. I’m genuinely surprised that it hasn’t received a movie or TV adaptation yet. I first read it as part of a school assignment in my Freshman Reading class. After reading, we were supposed to make a cereal box based on the book. American Born Chinese is a 2006 graphic novel created by cartoonist Gene Luen Yang. Yang drew from his own past experiences as a Chinese boy living in America as well as Chinese fables he grew up with. In 2007, it won the Michael L. Printz Award. The book is separated into three seemingly unconnected tales.

The first story is about the fabled Monkey King. A character I would later find out is part of a well-known Chinese folklore tale called, “Journey to the West.” This story takes place in Heaven, where Gods, Goddesses, Demons, and Spirits reign supreme. The Monkey King is a powerful, if not stubborn ruler of the Flower Mountain who nobody in Heaven takes seriously, because of his lack of shoes. Despite his mastery of four major heavenly disciplines. In order to prove himself, he orders all his monkey subjects to wear shoes and he meditates. He also learns four major disciplines of invulnerability and bodily form. Of course all this power goes to his head and the creator of the universe has to teach him a valuable lesson. What I like most about this story is how cool it is. Chinese folklore is actually very fascinating. Seeing a monkey flying on a cloud is just as funny as it is awesome.

The second story is about the titular “American Born Chinese” boy, Jin Wang. A Chinese kid who loves Transformers. His experiences include moving to America with his family, trying to fit in, and befriending the only Asian kids in class. This story starts when Jin Wang is a child and ends when he’s a teenager. As any other teenager would, Jin falls for one of the girls in his class. An American girl that Jin becomes desperate to talk to. He even goes so far as to perm his hair to look more American. Eventually his friend convinces him to ask her out and he goes on a date with her. Even when everything seems to be going well, it doesn’t end up lasting very long. Unfortunately, underlying racism keeps Jin from continuing the relationship. What I like most about this story is how relatable it is for anybody who’s ever been a new kid or the only minority in your class. I’m also a big fan of teen drama, so I found Jin’s high school experience to be very interesting.

The third story is about average all American teenager Danny. He’s embarrassed because his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee is coming over for one of his annual visits. Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotypes. Literally every stereotype is represented here. He has a round face, a queue hairstyle, a servant outfit, literal yellow skin, buck teeth, squinty line eyes, he speaks in thick broken English, he’s academic, he makes funny’s, he eats cats, his travel bags are Chinese take-out boxes, he sings karaoke, he knows Kung Fu, the list goes on. His behavior is so embarrassing that Danny has to change schools every time he visits. What I like most about this story is how absurd it is. It’s done in a sitcom style with a laugh track and everything. The title of this story is actually “Everybody Ruvs Chin-Kee.” This is also the story where everything is revealed and the whole graphic novel is tied together.

Overall, “American Born Chinese” is a cool, relatable, and hilarious graphic novel. The art style is clean and simple in a Chinese art sort of way, with rounded curves and edges. Each story feels like a love letter to Chinese culture. A culture that I’ve come to love ever since I’ve read this story. If nobody adapts “American Born Chinese,” I would be shocked. I’m not Chinese, but I might even try to adapt it myself. The only question is, is whether it more suited for a movie or a TV show. Either way, “American Born Chinese” is a clever graphic novel that anyone will enjoy.

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Graphic Novel Review: ‘The Old Geezers: Book 3: The One Who Got Away’

OLD GEEZERS: BOOK III

Writer Wilfrid Lupano and artist Paul Cauuet offer up the intricately plotted Old Geezers graphic novel series. You can easily jump into the latest Book 3, “The One Who Got Away,” and enjoy a tale involving family, mystery, and more than a touch of whimsy. It is also a grand ole tale of comeuppance. Could that be for the Old Geezers themselves? Ah, time will tell since this is very much a story about how time can heal some wounds while allowing others to fester.

Antoine and Milsey trying to get along.

If you enjoy quirky humor, especially the sort led by a group of offbeat seniors, then this is the book for you. The Old Geezers are: Antoine, a buttoned-down patrician; Milsey, a old seaman who misses the sea; and Pierrot, a boisterous activist who is lively beyond his years. These guys have chosen different paths but, in the end, each seeks out the other. The one person who helps keep them on track is Sophie, Antoine’s granddaughter. Sophie must look after these guys and, in no small way, look after her little hamlet of Dourdouille. After all, there are sinister forces at play lurking in the shadows.

Pierrot, Fifi, and Baba take a stand!

The most sinister villain in this tale is Garan-Servier Pharmaceuticals. It holds sway over the growth or decline of Dourdouille. And, as Pierrot has found out, Garan-Servier is lobbying the European Union countries to ease up on restrictions on its pesticides. This, in turn, kills millions of bees, wreaking havoc on biodiversity and the environment. The relationship between the pesticide lobby and the EU is an inconvenient truth that, in reality, is all too real. It’s great to see this issue in a graphic novel that both entertains and informs. Readers won’t forget ole Pierrot, in his bee costume, speaking truth to power.

The weight of the world on Sophie’s shoulders.

Paul Cauuet’s light and warm style makes all the characters all the more accessible and compliments Wilfred Lupano’s script. This is a very character-driven tale that is masterfully crafted by this remarkable team. The color by Cauuet and GOM has a uplifting quality to it that rounds out and adds to the story’s pacing. There are a number of twists and turns here and Lupano and Cauuet give themselves the time to explore and to develop. Like a favorite TV show, you can delight in this episodic storytelling. You will want to go back to the previous books as well as await more to come.

“The Old Geezers: Book 3: The One Who Got Away,” is presented by Europe Comics and is available in English thru izneo digital comics right here.

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Review: ‘Chinatown Bus’ by M. Jacob Alvarez

Page from “Chinatown Bus”

Look in the About section to his website and M. Jacob Alvarez says of himself: “M. Jacob Alvarez is a cartoonist, comedian, and chemical engineer (seriously dude, silly drawings and conspiracy theory jokes don’t pay many bills…)” How true! Well, being a chemical engineer is an astonishingly good place to be if you want to create a graphic novel. Less to worry about or more room to worry about other things–since there’s always something. How about if you’re young and vulnerable? That is exactly the subject matter Alvarez tackles in his new graphic novel, “Chinatown Bus.” It is a heart-felt exploration of hipsterdom–and Alvarez’s irreverence serves him well here.

There’s a certain time in your life when you will not only tolerate, but even revel, in drinking cheap beer from a Solo plastic cup, sold to you at a premium price since you’re in a chic nightclub (which ain’t so chic). There you are under a low ceiling packed in a little sweatbox with a bunch of other scenesters pretending to like a really bad band. So intense! The aim of Alvarez’s 84-page graphic novel is not so much to satirize. More like to bear witness. While not an autobio comic, Alvarez admits in his forward to being very familiar with the struggles of his young characters.

“Chinatown Bus” by M. Jacob Alvarez

Alvarez has a wonderfully energetic and cartoony style that is accessible and inspires empathy with his characters. Lyn is a guy from Philly taking the Chinatown Bus to New York City. He is in a long distance relationship and is sort of feeling stuck. All it takes is a text miscommunication from Kelly, his girlfriend, and Lyn is ready to call it quits. To his credit, Lyn is certain that Kelly has just dumped him. There is a cute passenger he’s been eying and so he decides to confide in her. Jane, flattered to have Lyn open up to her, invites him to hang out with her.

Panel from “Chinatown Bus”

It turns out that Kelly did not really dump Lyn, at least not outright. Alvarez really enjoys setting things up and then lighting the fuse. A fine example is once all three of these characters meet. Jane ends up knocking Kelly out cold. Lyn explodes and unleashes his fury upon Jane. He chastises her. Turn the page and Jane is full-on outraged for being called a drama queen. Three more pages, and we see Lyn’s steady descent, completely alone and deflated.

Page from “Chinatown Bus”

Any reader will enjoy a gritty urban tale about young people trying to find themselves. These characters definitely have their flaws and are prone to hide behind caustic remarks but Alvarez presents it all with a human touch that will resonate with the reader. This is a great example of a cartoonist’s debut graphic novel. Alvarez has successfully followed through on a specific theme and vision.

“Chinatown Bus” is available at multiple comics shops including Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Columbus, Ohio. For more details, visit M. Jacob Alvarez right here.

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