Category Archives: Russia

Review: LITTLE TULIP by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq

LITTLE TULIP by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq

LITTLE TULIP, a graphic novel recently reissued by Dover Publications, by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq, is definitely not something that is cooked up overnight. No, on the contrary, like anything worthwhile, this is a work that is carefully constructed with meticulous precision. It only looks effortless, and it is the sort of comics that I prefer.

Paul, the master, teaches Azami, the apprentice.

This graphic novel immerses the reader in Soviet prison tattoo culture. Within the Russian underground community, these unique tattoos formed a service record of a criminal’s transgressions. Skulls denoted a criminal authority. A cat represented a thief. And, in the case of our story, a tulip represented a young person joining the ranks of a gang. Today, these same tattoos have become fashion statements because of their mystery and fierce beauty. They were, then and now, a way to step beyond the ordinary. For our main character, Paul, they were also a way to step beyond the horrors of the gulag.

Page from LITTLE TULIP: New York City, 1970

Our present setting is New York City, 1970. There is a serial killer on the loose. Paul runs his own tattoo shop and is also a police sketch artist. His work with the police is more than just a gig but a calling, a way to seek justice. Not only does Paul have that uncanny ability to render a likeness based upon a witness’s verbal description, he also has a sixth sense about criminals. He will often act as a medium for hard to crack cases. There may be honor among thieves but, for Paul, there are crimes that compel no mercy.

Paul came from an American family that chose to live in Moscow for a while. The timing could not have been worse since this was the 1950s during the reign of Stalin and the secret police. One misunderstanding too many and the whole family gets shipped off to Siberia where they are immediately separated into a gulag. But, just as all hope may be lost, Paul, now Pavel, has inherited from his father an artistic sensibility that will help him endure the worst.

Page from LITTLE TULIP: Train Trip to Siberia

This is a story as much about one man’s journey among hardened criminals as it is a story about how life and art commingle, how art can save one’s soul. This is a multi-layered masterpiece of a script by renowned writer Jerome Charyn; and a breathtaking, bold, and completely enthralling work of art by renowned artist François Boucq. The structure of this graphic novel is just impeccable: a story told at a easy and natural pace with room enough for metaphysical musings.

More more details on LITTLE TULIP, and how to purchase, visit Dover Publications right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crime, Crime Fiction, Dover Publications, François Boucq, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jerome Charyn, New York City, Russia, Tattoos

SDCC 2016 Review: THE DEATH OF STALIN, presented by Europe Comics

"The Death of Stalin," published by Europe Comics

“The Death of Stalin,” published by Europe Comics

The Death of Stalin” is a digital graphic novel presented by Europe Comics and is one of various select titles from Europe Comics being promoted at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. This is quite an audacious, vivid, and insightful look at the strange events occurring shortly after Joseph Stalin had a stroke: the chaos and the subsequent grab for power. It is highly accessible: drops you right in, as if you were a fly on the wall, a fly that Stalin, himself, would have thought nothing of swatting and flicking away.

Who was Joseph Stalin? If you’re too young to have a frame of reference, that’s understandable. Think World War II. Think dictator. Then add to that one of the great mass murderers in history responsible for the deaths of millions. Joseph Stalin was the Soviet Union’s dictator from 1924 to 1953. And, in that time, he ordered the deaths of an estimated 50 million of his own citizens. So, you can imagine that his death would be a pretty big deal.

It once was common to find in your newspaper a grainy official photo of the Soviet leaders proudly reviewing the annual May Day parade displaying Soviet military might. That very same photo would, at a later date, pop back into those same newspapers with the latest news from the mysterious world of the Soviet Union. But the photo was altered: someone had been erased and replaced with someone else. There was plenty of doctoring of photos and executing of comrades during Stalin’s regime. While that may seem primitive by today’s standards, you can see something similar going on in North Korea. I feel like Rachel Maddow now as I hope I impress upon young readers that Kim Jong-un’s regime is a small scale throwback to what the Soviet Union was like.

Who Will Take Over After Stalin?

Who Will Take Over After Stalin?

To best convey the inner workings of the Kremlin during the last days of Stalin requires a dedication to characters. Go back to that grainy photo of politburo leaders at the May Day reviewing stand. How do you give those ghostly figures some life? Now, that must have been a challenge. This book is up to the task thanks to both a lively script by Fabien Nury and compelling art by Thierry Robin. Without a doubt, you are that fly on the wall. We are told that truth is stranger than fiction. Did Stalin, the night before he had his fatal stroke, really force the national symphony to replay a concert they had just performed just for the benefit of his own personal recording? I would not be surprised.

This two part story will thrill political junkies as well as history buffs. We see a relatively young Nikita Khrushchev as he maneuvers for power. In 1953, he was a mere 59 years-old! That’s “young” for Soviet leaders. In a matter of days, the tide would turn in his favor and he would replace Stalin. But not before a chaoic, bloody, and sometimes comical, turn of events. That said, this intriguing story will prove insightful and entertaining for any reader of any age.

The Death of Stalin” is now available at Europe Comics, which launched in November 2015 by a coalition of nine comics publishers, two rights agents, and an audio-visual company, from eight different European countries. Europe Comics is working towards the creation of a pan-European comics catalog, available in English and digital format, a website with comics information for readers and professionals, and a series of author tours and events across Europe and the USA.

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Filed under Comic-Con, Comic-Con 2016, Comics, Europe Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, Russia

Review: DIVINITY II #3 (of 4)

Divinity II #3 variant cover by Carmen Carnero

Divinity II #3 variant cover by Carmen Carnero

DIVINITY II is a satisfying time travel thriller. I love a good time travel tale and this series from Valiant takes us to some very interesting places. You can well imagine that if Vladimir Putin was ruling over the only superpower on the planet that he’d be quite alright with that. A chilling thought but just the right frame of mind to enjoy this comic. Great script by Matt Kindt and a very kinetic style to the artwork by Trevor Hairsine.

A whisper in Gorby's ear.

A whisper in Gorby’s ear.

We have one rogue character, cosmonaut Myshka, with the potential to shift the balance of power in favor of the Soviet Union that she so dearly misses. Hey, you learn quick that changing history is not exactly a piece of cake. You can’t just whisper into a world leader’s ear, suggest a change of course, and then expect to de-wrinkle a moment in time. Just not gonna happen. Of course, you need a very persistent sort to keep trying and that’s our Myshka. She’s set to give pep talks to everyone from Stalin to Gorbachev. Stay resolute, dudes, Communism is here to stay!

Fun stuff! We’ve seen way too many time travel tales about killing Hitler and saving JFK. That said, I wouldn’t mind a whole series, at least a one-shot issue, dedicated to Jeb Bush going back in time to kill baby Hitler. You remember Jeb Bush, right? Oh, how time flies!

Awesome variant cover by Carmen Carnero.

DIVINITY II #3 is available as of June 22nd. For more details, visit Valiant Entertainment right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Communism, History, Matt Kindt, Russia, Time Travel, Valiant Entertainment

Putin leans in. Will only vodka spill, instead of bloodshed?

Illustration by Otto Dettmer, The New York Times

Illustration by Otto Dettmer, The New York Times

Here at the Comics Grinder news desk, things move along at whatever pace seems right. My friend, and editorial assistant, Roy, will occasionally drop off a book or some notes for consideration. One never knows what to expect. But you can always rely upon it being something interesting.

This time around, Roy dropped off a copy of “Vodka Politics” by Mark Lawrence Schrad. It’s one of those refreshingly readable and provocative academic books that he favors.

Before Roy was off to his next adventure, I asked him if he’d gotten the news that Putin is signaling that he’s open to a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine.

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Filed under Books, Commentary, politics, Russia

NEVSKY: A HERO OF THE PEOPLE Review

If I had one question to ask writer Ben McCool, I would ask him why he chose to write a graphic novel about the 13th Century Russian Hero-Prince Alexander Nevsky. But then I think I can come up with some good reasons why. One good reason is a somewhat similar venture: “300,” a successful 1998 graphic novel, also about a David versus Goliath type of battle, written and drawn by Frank Miller, inspired by the 1962 film, “The 300 Spartans.” Miller’s graphic novel went on to become, “300,” a successful movie in 2006.

In the case of “Nevsky: A Hero of the People,” McCool says his inspiration is the 1938 film, “Alexander Nevsky,” by the great Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein. And that’s all well and good but it is not a film that will ring bells with anyone. If you were to mention to staff at any comics shop, Eisenstein’s most well known scene in his body of work, the “Odessa steps” sequence in “Battleship Potemkin,” it would be met with blank stares. So, in that respect, it is a curious and hard sell. However, if you mention that the 1938 “Nevsky” film influenced George Lucas in some way, namely Darth Vader’s hat, then you’ve got sort of a viable hook.

Part of this is a waiting game. There is always the possibility that the relatively unknown  “Nevsky” graphic novel will indeed lead to a new “Nevsky” major motion picture. You can read all about those details at the L.A. Times’s Hero Complex site. And then it’s a whole other playing field.

Everyone loves an underdog. And an action story with a great battle. And a true story is a good thing too. Alexander Nevsky is one of the great heroes of Russian history as he was there to fend off the Mongol invaders to his territory of Mother Rus and then he went on to join a significant neighboring territory and, with a hope and a prayer, was able to lead a victory over the marauding Teutonic Knights. This is truly the stuff of legend. It was just the sort of legend that Stalin needed to associate himself with when he put Eisenstein to work. The end result, the 1938 film, “Alexander Nevsky,” satisfied Stalin’s ends but, as for artistic integrity, not so much. Like “Star Wars,” this film does well with the epic battle scenes, muddles through human interaction, and is blunt without a hint of subtlety.

The best thing about the original film is how Eisenstein was able to work with another legend, the composer Sergei Prokofiev. They achieved a magnificent synchronizing of action and musical score with the rushing into battle of the Teutonic Knights.

What McCool set out to do was work with the film company, Mosfilm, that owns the original film, and create a companion graphic novel. You can think of it as you would any other graphic novel that supplements a major motion picture. It is not at all a, frame by frame, tribute to the original film or really an interpretation of the film. It is a retelling of the basic script: Nevsky, against all odds, finds a way to defeat the German invaders in what was then a collective of states coming into their own as Russia, in the 13th century. In that regard, this graphic novel does an excellent job of providing a quick read of a significant period in Russian history. It would also serve to inspire readers to view the original film.

As a graphic novel on its own merits, the story is well paced. It is the art, and the role it plays in this story, that is really interesting. The artwork by Mario Guevara is a curious mix of mystery and understatement. I think that style worked really well in “Victorian Undead.” And it works in “Nevsky” too in an unconventional way. Whereas Frank Miller’s style is ballsy, Guevara’s is contemplative. You get a sense that all the characters, including the hero, are making it up as they go. They are not larger-than-life, none of them are. In fact, the characters rather blend into each other. So, in an odd way, it is leaning more toward realism and not evoking a hero’s tale. There are exquistely drawn scenes throughout to be sure. Overall, it’s the mood that is dialed down and that’s actually an improvement over the original film.

Given the desire to be flexible and experiment with having any and all subjects open to a graphic novel treatment, “Nevsky” is a welcome addition on the shelves. “Nevsky: A Hero of the People” is a 110-page graphic novel published by IDW. You can order your own copy through Amazon and you can check out the Nevsky site here.

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Filed under Ben McCool, Comics, Comics Reviews, graphic novels, IDW Publishing, Mario Guevara, movies, Russia, Sergei Eisenstein, Stalin