Category Archives: Graphic Novel Reviews

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

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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Filed under China, Comics, Gene Yang, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Guest Column

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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Review: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON by Blutch

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON by Blutch

Blutch is one of the greatest cartoonists working today. You may not be familiar with him but, once you see his work, you can’t help but fall in love with his fluid line and worldly narrative. This guy is simply brilliant. At 49, he is relatively young. All of us cartoonists seem to age well. Part of it has to do with a bit of arrested development. Just a touch of Peter Pan can go a long way in a youth-oriented industry. If only all could be counted on to go well, then a true artist-cartoonist could enjoy a most meaningful, productive, and youthful life. But things rarely go according to plan. That is part of what the great Blutch confronts in his new graphic novel, “Dark Side of the Moon,” available in French and English at izneo.

All in a day’s work.

Now, one more thing, keep in mind that American cartoonist greats like Paul Pope and Craig Thompson turn to France and worship at the altar of Blutch. This is the time for all the great work in French by Blutch to be translated into English. And, believe me, that is currently happening. Take a look at a recent English version of “Peplum,” published by The New York Review of Books. This is also time for the master to reach ever new heights with ambitious and complex bildungsromans and roman-a-clefs. He does just that sort of thing with this new book which has a cartoonist satirizing his lot in life in a similar vein as Fellini satirizing his. We begin with a dream, an ideal, and how it fares when it dukes it out with cold harsh reality.

Much has been said about Blutch’s expressive line. It seems as if he conjures up the most lively and vivid figures from head to toe. Well, that ability does not come from being showered with likes on Facebook over knocking off a quickie sketch. In Blutch’s youth, and in mine, to be liked was a hard won endeavor that really meant something between two human beings, if it happened at all. And for someone to like your work, well, that meant you must have torn your heart out with elbow grease. Oh, the nostalgia can weigh so heavy as to floor me. In the case of this book, we go back and forth between Lantz, the cartoonist in the bloom of youth and in the pit of middle age. Lantz is on a journey where memory and desire conflate the truth.

Liebling at her easel.

Perhaps sweet and dewy Liebling holds the key to happiness, to perpetual youth. It is this lovely young woman who begins our tale. From her, we find all the energy and promise of youth fully intact. But, alas, Liebling has certainly come of age to go out and get a job and so off she goes to give up her soul to the nearest employment agency. Blutch mercifully sweetens things by setting it all in a fanciful world of the not too distant future. All Liebling seems to have to do at her new job is stick both of her hands in a big blob. Yes, a blob, not a blog. It is a goopy half-sentient network that keeps things running smoothly at Mediamondia, the mega-publisher-content-provider. Okay, you can see the easy segue to Lantz, a master content provider, er, cartoonist.

Pips tells it like it is.

Imagine your favorite pop culture franchise. Okay, that’s what our hero, Lantz, has a pivotal role in. Lantz is responsible for churning out the next installment of The Brand New Testament. The only problem is that Lantz is losing his mind. The passing of time is making Lantz sad again. It’s a whole new world. It’s not like the old days and it’s hardly like it was in the heyday of Pips.

No one appreciates all the toil involved with creating a work of such epic proportions…and all done by hand. Hint: Blutch speaks of his own work and the relative indifference he must confront. There are people who want what he can make but do they really know him or love him?

You will bow down to Cuckoo Puff!

Blutch triples down by giving himself three alter egos. There is a young Lantz and an oldish Lantz. Plus, there is a shrewd youngish character named Blutch, a corporate jester who knows how to play the game. It is this character who needles Lantz and convinces him that, if he refuses to go on with The Brand New Testament, then he damn well better be content to churn out the very next installment of the popular, but decidedly subpar, Cuckoo Puff series.

Nothing goes according to plan.

Lantz will either avoid reaching a breaking point or Blutch will happily dance on his grave. And then there’s the ethereal Liebling. Surely, she must hold a key. This is an utterly mesmerizing work. If you are new to Blutch, consider this an excellent introduction.

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON is a 56-page full color graphic novel and available in a digital format at izneo.

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Filed under Bande Dessinée, BD, Blutch, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Humor, Satire

Review: ‘Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: The Stone Cold Age’

“Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: The Stone Cold Age” by Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown has the uncanny ability to get in touch with his inner tween. He has all the snarky put-downs and sulky sighs down pat. It all adds up to a lot of fun for young readers with his latest graphic novel, “Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: The Stone Cold Age,” published by Crown Books. If you have patience and a sense of humor, you too can appreciate the angst of the pre-teen. For starters, nothing goes to plan in this world. Then set your pre-teen story 40,000 years ago during the Ice Age, and you’re set.

Andy can’t get a break!

Our title characters prove to be two highly mercurial tweens. Lucy seems nice but she is prone to not participate and let the team down. Andy seems capable but he is prone to self-serving behavior and hurtful naysaying–not admirable qualities when trying to live with others. Neither Lucy nor Andy appear to possess even one valuable character trait needed to survive the severe conditions in this story. These two characters are not particularly likable nor admirable and that’s part of the humor that Brown likes to play with.

Learning through humor.

Brown really doesn’t sweat over having things tidy and proper. His artwork, and his script, have a very casual vibe. In fact, it is a clever mix of irreverence and thoughtful planning. While it feels like one of the young characters created this book, clearly there is a well-crafted structure. Alternating between the Ice Age story is a contemporary story that follows Pam and Eric, a couple of intrepid young paleontologists. From Pam and Eric we learn such things as the climate has been consistently warming up for the last 12,000 years. And, intertwined within the narrative, Brown provides all sorts of educational goodies like Timeline of Key Discoveries, Ice Age Fact vs. Fiction, Silly Cavemen Myths, and more.

This book is intended for an age range of 8 to 12 years-old. This will definitely appeal to fans of Big Nate, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The Terrible Two. “Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: The Stone Cold Age” is a 224-page hardcover, the second in a series, published by Crown Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It will be available as of August 29, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

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Filed under Comics, Education, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jeffrey Brown, Teachers

Review: JURASSIC by Ted Rechlin

JURASSIC by Ted Rechlin

Dinosaurs fascinate us on a level all its own. Over a hundred years ago, when Winsor McKay was looking for a way to wow the public with his animation, he turned to a brontosaurus, Gertie the Dinosaur. Beyond that wow factor, there is a need to know what these creatures were really like. And that is where the work of writer/artist Ted Rechlin is so important for young readers…and even older readers. In a series of books that use a comic book format, Rechlin brings to life a fascinating assortment of facts about dinosaurs. Rechlin’s approach evokes the best in wildlife documentaries with the unique storytelling qualities of comics. Rechlin’s latest book is simply entitled, “Jurassic,” published by Rextooth Studios, and distributed by Farcountry Press.

The mighty Supersaurus!

“Jurassic” is the new graphic novel from Ted Rechlin (Tyrannosaurs Rex, Bears). Printed in a hardbound, comic-book style, “Jurassic” is a thrilling prehistoric adventure for all ages. Featuring epic action, stunning artwork, and the return of the Brontosaurus. Ted Rechlin is a phenomenal Montana artist who has worked for DC Comics and Dover Publication and currently runs Rextooth Studios. He also just released Dinosaurs Live! (coloring book, Farcountry Press). “Jurassic” is part nature documentary, part action epic, and follows a brontosaurs calf navigating through the perilous age of the dinosaurs.

Allosaurus vs. Torvosaurus

Author and Illustrator Ted Rechlin is becoming a king of the dinosaurs. “I just keep drawing them” says Rechlin. “I love getting the chance to show them as living, breathing creatures. I love knowing that people will read this and imagine how they might have behaved.” Having already published Tyrannosaurus Rex and just recently completed Dinosaurs Live! The Ultimate Coloring Book, Rechlin’s love and knowledge of the Mesozoic world shines in all his work.

Allosaurus wins!

His newest release, “Jurassic,” is a primeval adventure in animal behavior. Part nature documentary, part action epic, Rechlin welcomes readers of all ages to experience the golden age of dinosaurs. “One of my favorite parts of this time period is the sheer scale of these creatures,” Rechlin says, “We have mega-carnivores like the Torvosaurus hunting prey alongside the massive and whale-sized Camarasaurus.”

Allosaurus rests.

One of these giant-sized herbivores, and the central protagonist in “Jurassic,” Brontosaurus, has just recently come back into prominence thanks to new scientific discoveries. Years ago, the species had been downgraded and grouped as a subspecies of Apatosaurus, but recent findings confirmed that it was a distinct and valid species of sauropod. “Brontosaurus was one of my favorite dinosaurs as a kid,” says Rechlin. “After paleontologists reconfirmed its existence as a species, I knew I wanted the book to feature a young brontosaurs’ journey to become the ‘thunder lizard’ he was born to be.”

Beautifully illustrated, packed with thrilling action sequences, the most up-to-date science, and a passion for the prehistoric world, “Jurassic” (ISBN: 978-1-59152-203-4, $19.95, Sweetgrass Books, 2017) is available at local bookstores and gift shops, through online retailers, or from Farcountry Press right here. And be sure to visit Ted Rechlin right here.

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Filed under Comics, Dinosaurs, Education, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Ted Rechlin

Review: THE BLOODY CARDINAL by Richard Sala

THE BLOODY CARDINAL by Richard Sala

Everything is always perfectly distilled in a work of comics by Richard Sala. Everything from a dramatically constricted pupil to a young woman’s dainty feet. Sala has a way of cutting to the chase: he knows that he wants thrilling motifs and pretty girls–and he does a beautiful job of it. Sala is in fine form with his latest graphic novel, “The Bloody Cardinal,” published by Fantagraphics.

This new Sala villain makes quite an entrance and certainly looks pretty menacing. The Bloody Cardinal is no slouch, either, when it comes to murder. Clara Clarette, a charming young woman who had just purchased a mysterious book, is killed by the bird fiend. Enter Inspector Coronet, and his trusty compatriot, Dr. Sun. The good doctor has a mystical quality about him. He senses a malevolent bird-like creature is responsible for this crime. Sala does not miss a beat and paves the way for the reader to be undeniably hooked.

If you’re new to Sala, you are definitely in for a treat, especially if you enjoy a devilishly good mystery. At its heart, this is a good tightly-wound mystery. The narrative keeps popping along at a brisk pace. Each panel is a wonderfully rendered watercolor. Some cartoonists, like Sala, also happen to be painters at an accomplished level. You can’t help but appreciate how Sala distills scenes and characters to their essence.

The evil eye.

“The Bloody Cardinal” is an online serial, which follows in the tradition of his early classics, “The Chuckling Whatsit” and “Mad Night.” Perhaps it was one of these previous titles that was your introduction to his work. Sala has enjoyed a career spanning over thirty years with no signs of letting up. He has perfected a vision that, inspired by Gahan Wilson, Edward Gorey, and Charles Addams, he can safely call his own.

There is an undeniably sexy aspect to Sala’s work, as evidenced by all the compelling and voluptuous female characters in this book. The key distinction is that these are sexy, but not sexist, depictions in the service of a bigger picture. You get a worldly sense of the world from Sala: a world of books, mystery, the supernatural, and compelling young women to keep one on one’s toes. It is sophisticated fare accessible to general readers much in the same way that Hitchcock provided that special kind of entertainment in film. You could indeed say that Richard Sala is to comics what Alfred Hitchcock is to film. All those little details add up: apprehensive rats, a demonic puppet hung from a string, obsessive note-taking. The journey we take with Hitchcock as well as with Sala, with its Mcguffins and moody atmosphere, is as important as the destination, even more so.

A harbinger of doom.

In an interview last year with Tim Hodler, for The Comics Journal, Sala provides a window into the motivation behind his work: “What has always appealed to me over everything else, beyond horror or comedy or whatever, is a sense of the absurd. I think I got that from reading Kafka in high school and feeling a shock of recognition. I felt a kinship with absurd humor and black humor. Having an appreciation of the absurd – along with my childhood love of monsters – helped me survive in what was a dysfunctional (that is, crazy) household. I was drawn to the surreal and the expressionistic and the unreal, which is where I felt at home.”

“The Bloody Cardinal” is a 96-page full color trade paperback. This is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers: anyone, say, 13 and up. For more details, visit Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, mystery, Richard Sala, Supernatural

Review: EDUCATION by John Hankiewicz

EDUCATION by John Hankiewicz

I enjoy note-taking when I prepare reviews. It’s part of the process that usually remains behind the scenes but this review begs for it. For this book, I write things like, “on page 63 is a perfect example of how the stream of consciousness pays off: giant head of greyhound leading big beam from train headlight.” That is the image I need to highlight for my review of “Education” by John Hankiewicz, published by Fantagraphics, part of their imprint, Fantagraphics Underground.

That head of a greyhound!

Yes, this is a very arty book but it avoids becoming an academic hot mess. Much to enjoy in simply accepting a greyhound head as a beam of light. Much to enjoy in a disjointed narrative if done right. There is certainly a long tradition of artists using text that doesn’t really seem to match the adjacent imagery. Think of Magritte and his play with text and image. Ever mindful of that, no doubt, Hankiewicz seems to relish his playing with text and image, and delightfully recontextualizing images, just like playing improvisational jazz.

Rest assured, it is not a spoiler to say that this book has no plot, at least not a conventional one. There is plenty of connective tissue here with heart and depth, especially the thing about the stars. We begin with stars signaling the return of someone’s father, and then stars getting caught on a young man’s shirt and other places. In fact, the stars force this same young man to later go naked for a while in order to better detach himself from these pesky stars. Of course, stars are very symbolic. It seems like a cruel joke to have all these stars descending upon our hero with no promise of love or treasure. Lots to enjoy with these pesky stars.

Education, by John Hankiewicz, is a 136-page trade paperback. For more details, visit Fantagraphics right here. And, when in Seattle, be sure to visit the Fantagraphics Bookstore And Gallery right here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Fantagraphics Bookstore And Gallery, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, John Hankiewicz