Category Archives: Retrofit/Big Planet

Comics Review: THE PRINCE by Liam Cobb

Mystery and irony abound.

The Prince, a graphic novel by Liam Cobb, published by Retrofit Comics & Big Planet Comics, has an intriguing reserve about it. There is an ambiguous and messy quality at play. It takes patience to build something like this brimming with mystery and irony.

This is the story of May and she’s in love with a frog. Well, she is and she isn’t. There’s a frog and there isn’t–or it’s more than just a frog. And if the frog is more MacGuffin than frog, then it’s one of the best MacGuffin frogs I’ve seen in comics. This is the magical world of comics we’re dealing with here so there’s more than one of these MacGuffin frogs. Jim Woodring comes to mind.

Dare to be sloppy.

Like I was alluding to, this is a very strange and quirky work that, as they say, in lesser hands, would likely fail. Because, let’s face it, this is very arty–but in a good way. For instance, Cobb gets to release some angst with little subversive acts of being intentionally “bad.” This is evident in his sometimes atrocious use of digital coloring. “Atrocious” in the sense that it’s not clean. It’s clearly calling attention to itself with its smudgy application but it’s purposeful, intended to add to the tension. Of course, I could be wrong but I don’t think so. In other places, Cobb demonstrates he’s quite capable of competent, even skillful, digital coloring.

Frog or no frog, Cobb does a fine job of pushing the envelope of what is possible in the comics medium. We have May and Adrian trapped in a bad marriage. Adrian is the bread winner but is a loathsome abusive monster. May stays at home and easily drifts into long stretches of daydreaming. Our story begins with May bringing home a stray late night lover–and it’s a man, not a frog. It’s not a pretty sight but, then again, that scene, like the rest of the book, is full of wry wit.

We end up with magic.

Once you have your premise set up, a talented and adventurous cartoonist can run wild–and so does Cobb to the reader’s delight. Enjoy this artful comic for all its worth. I particularly love the extended scenes showing one or two characters leaving or entering somewhere else. Cobb is great at lingering over things long enough to pluck out other possibilities. For example, there’s an interesting passage when May and a lover are walking down a street at night that is lit up by lights. We see them walk into the circles of illumination created by the streetlamps. Then we see the same circles turn into portals and May disappears through one of them. Ah, now that’s the magic of comics–and Cobb is some magician!

THE PRINCE by Liam Cobb

The Prince is a 120-page two-color softcover graphic novel (available in print or digital), published by Retrofit Comics & Big Planet Comics. The Prince will debut at Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland. You can also find Liam Cobb on Instagram right here.

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Filed under Comics, Retrofit/Big Planet, Small Press Expo

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.


Filed under Big Planet Comics, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Karl Stevens, Retrofit Comics, Retrofit/Big Planet