Category Archives: Graphic Novel Reviews

Book Review: ALPHA: ABIDJAN TO PARIS by Bessora and Barroux

Our hero: Alpha, an Everyman for Today’s Immigrant.

The plight of the immigrant has never been easy and, currently, their fate could not be more dangerous. Many, fighting to leave threatening circumstances, stand no chance of finding the freedom they seek. This brings me to another unique work in comics that defies our expectations of the more traditional graphic novel format. The artwork here is not exactly in panels and there are no word balloons for the characters to speak from. Alpha: Abidjan to Paris is published by Bellevue Literary Press and written by Bessora, illustrated by Barroux, and translated from the French by Sarah Abizzone. Alpha, our main character, while symbolic of all immigrants struggling against the odds, readily engages the reader with his own set of specifics. In this way, the creative team truly gives a face to a problem demanding our attention.

Page excerpt from ALPHA

It was never an easy dream to fulfill but our hero, Alpha, finds he has no choice. Like so many others before him, Alpha is compelled to flee his homeland in search of a better life. In his particular case, he is leaving his home in Côte d’Ivoire to reunite with his wife and son who fled ahead of him and are supposed to be living in Paris with his sister-in-law. Alpha joins a vast number of Africans from varied regions united in plans to outwit ever-tighter border security, and find the right port of exit along the northern coast.

There are a number of detours that Alpha must take on his journey. Each side trip suggests the end of the road. But Alpha is quite persistent and his hopes never dampen even when he ends up in the role of the much despised human smuggler. At least, he fully appreciates that he is part of an necessary evil. That said, whenever he confronts a dilemma in his work, he can’t help but side with the migrant. He simply lacks that killer instinct to make that maximum or, in some cases, only profit. Many of his clients have been accepted on credit that he is unlikely to ever collect on.

ALPHA: ABIDJAN TO PARIS by Bessora and Barroux

Thanks to Barroux’s highly emotive artwork, the reader is quickly hooked in to what reads as a series of diary entries. The frenetic quality of the art is matched by the conversational tone in Bessora’s writing. Adding another layer is Sarah Ardizzone’s translation from the French which further unites the sensibilities of illustrator and writer. All in all, the results, with their raw sense of urgency, are quite captivating. Alpha has gone on to become an international award–winning graphic novel supported by Amnesty International and Le Korsa, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving human lives in Senegal.

A migrant once stood a much better chance of crossing a border to safer ground but not now. Once, a migrant could have a reasonable chance at mercy but not now. The fate of the immigrant is in crisis across the globe, including in the United States of America. Books like Alpha help to educate the public and help to build toward a safer and more merciful world.

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris is a 128-page, full color, hardcover now available. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Bellevue Literary Press.

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Filed under Africa, Amnesty International, Bellevue Literary Press, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Human Rights, Human trafficking, Immigration

Book Review: THE DEAD EYE AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Vannak Anan Prum

THE DEAD EYE AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Vannak Anan Prum

There are more slaves today, well over 40 million, than at any time in human history. A new book, a graphic memoir, by Vannak Anan Prum provides a most vivid and compelling testimony, through luscious watercolors and the author’s honest oral account, transcribed and composed to meld with Prum’s artwork. The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a 256-page hardcover, in full color, published by Seven Stories Press.

First and foremost, this is a unique and remarkable book that readers will quickly find themselves immersed in. Human trafficking is not an obvious subject matter for the casual reader but Mr. Prum handles the subject with great dignity, never delivering a false note, and even maintaining a sense of hope throughout.

Teamwork equals survival.

This is not a conventional graphic novel/memoir. But, in the process of reading it, I found myself open to seeing this book as functioning as comics–even if it forgoes many of the building blocks of the comics medium. Was Prum ever really intending to create a work in comics, per se? I think Prum is working on a pure level, one that takes the tools required to get a job done. So, given his background and his harrowing experience, I’m sure that he wasn’t mulling over whether he might end up creating a book that would be deemed one of the hippest graphic novels of the year by the A.V. Club, The Comics Journal, etc. No, this man was in dire straits, as serious as a heart attack, and he was most interested in documenting his experience. Surely, he was thinking of working as an artist in some general sense but, even more so, Prum required his work to align with the accuracy of a top notch courtroom sketch artist. Get the facts out, first. Then take care of the artistry and poetry.

Death on a slave owner’s whim.

Even after the experience and with time for contemplation, Prum is driven to document, much in the artist tradition of, say, Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer, or Charles Fritz. And, I believe, the initial collection of Prum watercolors gave way, somewhere in the process (through the translating and transcribing of his oral testimony) to having this all adhere more to a graphic novel/memoir framework. And, as you progress from page to page, alternating between artwork and text, you can’t help but totally empathize with Prum, from his stumbling into danger to his dogged perseverance. So, yes, ultimately it does feel and read like a work of comics.

Prum begins his journey as a newlywed with a child on the way living in a tiny poverty-stricken village in Cambodia. Without any prospects, no education, no employment opportunities to speak of, Prum is one very desperate and vulnerable young man. Like so many others like him in similar situations, Prum is lured into a too-good-to-be-true offer of a good job with good money. It is just a matter of one footstep into a truck, and overwhelming desperation, that leads Prum and a band of other victims onto a fishing vessel–followed by years of toil and torture, at the mercy of his overseers.

“I want everyone to know about this. Through my pictures, I want to warn all cross-border migrant workers to be careful. Even if they do not keep my own story in mind, they will at least have an idea of what life is like for people trafficked onto boats for forced labor.” Vannak Anan Prum is an artist who was held captive as a slave for four years on a Thai fishing boat before being sold into slavery on a Malaysian plantation for another year. He has since escaped and now lives with his family in Cambodia. Read his story here: http://tiny.cc/deadeye Vannak’s store is run by a handful of English speaking friends. 100% of the royalties earned from this store go directly to Vannak. Feel free to email us if you have any questions or would like to commission a work directly from Vannak.

–from Vannak Anan Prum’s Twitter

It is to the credit of Prum’s own natural artistic and poetic inclinations that his story never turns maudlin. It is also to Prum’s credit that, despite the grim circumstances, his narrative never grows too dark, as if the reader can rely upon Prum to find a way, to rise above, while also not suggesting he was some sort of hero. What Prum turned out to be is an authentic artist/journalist. While I’ve stressed that Prum’s main goal is accuracy, there is no denying that he also managed to remain faithful to artistry. He has a keen sense for pacing, composition, and for color. Life is back to the normal for him now, back with his wife and little daughter. While he continues to heal from his past, Prum can take solace that his voice has been heard and that his contributions are greatly appreciated. No doubt, this book will have readers wondering about where their last seafood meal came from.

A tattoo artist emerges.

As I say, this is a tough subject to deal with, but it is essential that we educate ourselves on human trafficking and this book is invaluable in that process. Personally, I am very inspired by Prum’s story, made up of so many nuanced moments. I wondered, as I read, how he would make a life for himself after having been forced into slavery. What will freedom look like for him? I think this book will make a difference, not only to educate others but, hopefully, to help Prum and his family rise up to where they belong. I can see him developing further as a fine artist. And, as the book demonstrates, I can also see him doing quite well as a renowned tattoo artist. I look forward to whatever he does next.

Prum’s artwork saves his family.

The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a 256-page hardcover, in full color, published by Seven Stories Press. To learn more about Vannak Anan Prum, and purchase his art, visit him here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Human trafficking, Seven Stories Press, Vannak Anan Prum

Comics Review: THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

A most engaging muse.

Karl Stevens is quite an impressive artist. Now, he does let himself get tripped up over labels. Stevens confides this with the reader, along with a bunch of other juicy and fun things, in his new autobiographical graphic novel, The Winner, published by Retrofit/Big Planet. Just who is Karl Stevens to think you, the reader, are going to care one way or another as to how he sees himself as an artist and/or cartoonist? Well, he’ll readily admit that he’s confronting the artist’s lot in life of fighting off overwhelming indifference but that’s just the thing. Mr. Stevens is engaging in the fine old tradition of presenting a portrait of the artist and having the reader take of it what they will. In this case, there is much to take and much to celebrate.

THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

I, for one, celebrate the work of Karl Stevens–and I’m sure you will too! I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing his work in the past. I really enjoyed, Failure. This new book carries on that same level of excellent auto-bio along with a foray into other themes. I see here an evolving sense of humor mixing sharp self-deprecation with the wildly absurd. It’s as if Stevens is still too close to the real world gripes that he needs to play with different genres in order to cut loose. Stevens inserts a few segments of sci-fi, fantasy, and even horror, into his auto-bio narrative. These segments are experimental compared to his far more measured and earnest social commentary. Taken as a whole, the reader seems to get to know Stevens through all these various samples of the artist’s life, working process, and work resulting from sources other than direct observation.

THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

Stevens plays up his anti-social and elitist tendencies for the reader. Whether or not the Stevens on the page is the same as the Stevens in private is one of those games that can make you crazy. It doesn’t help that Stevens has such a deliciously realistic style that lures the reader in. The writing is crisp, the dialogue is sharp and natural. So, sure, you can easily lose yourself in these wonderful scenes of Steven ranting about the mindless masses while his wife, Alex, nudges him into a reality check. I suspect that there’s more truth to these scenes than fiction and that’s totally okay, better than okay! Stevens knows how to kid. For someone who can so consistently conjure up such exquisite work, the man has earned himself the right to complain as much as he wants about the dire state of affairs and us less than noble humans.

Getting back to the genre-hopping going on here, I think Stevens is still figuring out what he wants from this. Right now, I see an artist/writer of high caliber flexing his muscles and testing things out. That said, his work can be quite visually appealing. And his humor is wry, dry, and often silly. As it stands right now, I think Stevens is heading in a very interesting direction. I am curious to see how Stevens continues to intertwine his real world with the supernatural.

THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

The Winner is a 104-page full cover trade paperback, now available. For more information and how to purchase, visit Retrofit/Big Planet right here.

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Comics Review: THE FURNACE by Prentis Rollins

THE FURNACE by Prentis Rollins

It is an honor and a pleasure to share with you, The Furnace, the new book by Prentis Rollins, a veteran in the comics industry (Marvel and DC), published by Tor Books. I will jump in with a quick way to hook into this book and say outright that this work does indeed compare favorably with the best of the original Twilight Zone. That’s a tall order but this is an exceptionally unique work. I don’t take such comparisons lightly and I have no problem striking down false claims that occur quite often. So, yes, this is the real deal with its finely modulated pace and attention to detail. It delivers that ethereal sensation that leaves you in a deliciously questioning mood. And, with its sophisticated flair, it will have strong appeal to adult readers while still appropriate for any age.

Much like an excellent episode of The Twilight Zone, every detail is accounted for right down to the title, The Furnace. What sort of furnace could this be? Well, as in any existential tale such as this, there’s a good deal of nihilism. This furnace first comes into view as a parent tries to explain to a child a highly complex (and compromised) adult endeavor. The explanation takes on grand metaphysical proportions while also clearly playing the role of an augury of sinister things to come. Just what is this parent trying to tell this child? A machine that keeps cookies locked away?


Witness the worry in the mesmerizing patterns in the sky.

We take so much for granted when it comes to comics. I digest quite a lot of comics, coming from a myriad of genres, publishers, and niches. A work like this is the Holy Grail of comics, to try to put it as plainly as possible. With a work like this, you are experiencing comics, both in art and in writing, at an extraordinary level. I’m sorry but work at this level is not for hobbyists. And I strongly believe that work at this level needs to be acknowledged as often as possible. It’s not only that Mr. Rollins can draw at an exquisite level. That alone will get you only so far. And the same can be said for nicely-paced prose. What stands out is a level of dedication and professionalism that results in astonishingly honest work. You view an episode of Twilight Zone running on all four cylinders and you see exactly what I mean. No one who just happens to love comics is going to crank this out overnight. No, sir. It doesn’t work that way. Here is someone who wrote and drew and colored a significant and highly-polished graphic novel all by himself. It happens–but not quite as often as you might think. And not nearly as good as this book!

What I really enjoy about The Furnace is that Mr. Rollins seems to not give a fig about all the time and effort required to tell his tale. He just does it–and he makes it look so easy. As a cartoonist who both writes and draws, I can tell you that this is quite labor-intensive stuff, especially if you do it all by hand, the old-fashioned way. Based upon the endnotes, where Mr. Rollins shares his process, he did indeed do it all by hand. And here’s the irony. While it is devilishly hard work, if you stop and think about it too much, it can be a very satisfactory activity. You reach a point, towards the end of such a project, when your skills are at a well-oiled level, that you simply don’t want to stop. You actually want to do more and so, if you’re fortunate, you simply jump on to the next project.

“I’m having a ball!”

Each character in this book is quite palpable, a true living and breathing entity. The key bone of contention is between two ambitious young men who find themselves at the precipice of a watershed moment with staggering consequences. Marc holds the key to what comes next and also has the power to stop it, if he were so inclined. Walton, while very capable in his own right, is stuck with being in Marc’s shadow. Walton is the guy that a genius goes to for some assistance, not for collaboration. Our story is told in various pieces looking back from the perspective of a middle-aged, and bitter, Walton. He tells this tale to himself and, oddly enough, in a sanitized form, to Clara, his six-year-old daughter. To add to the tension, Clara’s face and demeanor often resemble a much older girl or woman. It doesn’t help that Clara keeps pushing the envelope for her age. For example, she insists upon calling her father by his first name. Walton’s wife sees no problem with this as she declares, matter-of-factly, that Clara simply doesn’t see Walton as her father.

You reach a point in a work when you either ease up a bit or you dive deeper. Mr. Rollins takes each dive and goes deeper. Thankfully, he is a writer who relishes in well-placed, finely-articulated dialogue and action. And, as happens deep in the process of making a work of comics such as this, the level of writing somehow blends and interlaces with the artwork. Your characters might be pensive or caught in the throes of a crisis and, akin to the background in a painting, character and environment meld together. The skies take on an eerie neurotic energy which is accomplished with crosshatching and patterning above and beyond what would satisfy a typical panel or page. And, thus, a remarkable moment is experienced…followed by another and another.

The best rendered ears in the business!

I sort of want to skirt around the issue of the actual plot because I don’t want to give too much away. In some respects, this is as much a character-driven narrative as anything else. It has a lot to do with the great distance we can create between our fellow humans, a recurring theme on The Twilight Zone. And the storytelling has a lot to do with evoking a certain state of mind, an ongoing concern, for sure, on The Twilight Zone. The Rollins touch is there in every way possible, right down to arguably the best rendered ears in the business! Yep, that little sample above of a finely-rendered Rollins ear speaks volumes. I honestly believe that the complexity and beauty of this work ranks up there with such landmark work as Watchmen, albeit on a smaller scale.

A utopian scene

It was indeed a pleasure for me to review another work by Prentis Rollins a while back. This was his magnificent guide to drawing comics, How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias: Create the Futuristic Humans, Aliens, Robots, Vehicles, and Cities of Your Dreams and Nightmares, published by Monacelli Studio. In fact, the image above is a working drawing related to The Furnace. This particular image did not make it into the book but I thought it might make a nice treat to include here. Obviously, this book is a visual delight–and, without a doubt, a literary delight.

The Furnace is a 208-page full color trade paperback, available as of July 10, 2018. For more details, visit Tor Books right here. And be sure to visit Prentis Rollins at his website right here.

File this book under “Awesome Titles Near Level with Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.”

Rating: 10/10

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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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Filed under Comics, Cuba, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Insight Comics, Insight Editions, mystery, Paranormal, Supernatural, Thriller, Young Adult

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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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Insight Comics, Insight Editions, Nilah Magruder

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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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, Neil Gibson, TPub Comics