Review: REVENGER & THE FOG by Charles Forsman

REVENGER & THE FOG by Charles Forsman

A vast and desolate wasteland, suitable for any action or exploitation movie, serves as the magnificent backdrop for REVENGER & THE FOG, the second collected volume of the ongoing Revenger comic book series by Charles Forsman. What I readily come away with is this: a horror schlock genre opens up a wide field for comics but it’s not so easy to get it right. You need a strong narrative backbone to keep all the flesh and blood moving along. Forsman jiggles it all into place with a masterful touch.

An instant taxicab ride.

Quentin Tarantino easily comes to mind as a practitioner of the type of movie terror that Forsman is channeling. Everything and everyone is cast in a pale yellow light of sheer desperation. We know from the get-go that the characters that dwell within mostly, or exclusively, eat raw meat…perhaps drink blood too. It is nothing to them to humiliate, mutilate,…well, you get the picture. A little goes a long way. Not my preferred cup of tea but, then again, it all depends upon the writing. Forsman is sensitive to those proper modulations of gore.

No one messes with Revenger!

As I understand it, Reggie, aka Revenger, is a one-woman force of nature, easily the lone wolf but open to companionship from time to time. For this collection, we follow Revenger when she belonged to a vigilante gang known as The Fog in Los Angeles in the late ’70s. This is a most unlikely assembling of brute force and cunning not seen since the A-Team. Revenger has fallen head over heels for Jenny, aka Dynarat. It is a love affair fraught with danger and ill-fated beyond words. Billy, aka Slim, offers some crude technical skill. Tara, aka Scalpel, is a martial arts guru.

The basic story here is a goofy nihilist joy ride. Dynarat is kidnapped by her abusive movie mogul father. Revenger must find a way to rescue her. The story dares you to take it seriously. Within context, it works its magic, much in the same way as other forms of parody and good obsessive autobio can sway the reader. The intriguing thing about this comic is that Forsman, like Tarantino, is intimately involved with his subject matter, both playfully satirizing it as well as paying it respect. There is irony but it’s not all irony. It’s a joke but it’s not all a joke. Essentially, Forsman works from a platform that provides exhilarating freedom for a cartoonist to take big risks: the arena of pure artifice, pure entertainment.

Revenger tells it like it is.

Forsman has an admirable control over some pretty weird proceedings and keeps to a steady pace, mindful of the distinct journey each character is on. It is one thing to create a scene with some impressive slicing and dicing of body parts. But your story will never truly succeed if no one cares. We care about all the characters in this story, even the most repulsive ones. We don’t wish the villains well but we do get caught up in them.

Well, you get caught up in everyone’s business as much as you please. This is a deliciously artificial world we are navigating through. No wonder this gritty pumped up terrain, this hyperreal wasteland, attracts some of the most creative minds. You can mix and match an endless sea of possibilities: the inane headbutts the profound.

Forsman, much like his contemporary Michel Fiffe (COPRA), has the admirable distinction of tackling all aspects of his work: the writing, the drawing, and even the coloring. While pretty common in indie circles, this kind of involvement is nearly unheard of within corporate comic book publishers. In the case of Forsman, he does quite well in serving his cryptic vision alone. His wiry characters get bathed in just the right quirky color schemes. Tongues can stick out and be painted a bright fire engine red! It all makes sense: perfectly oddball and compelling story, art, and colors.

The world of action B-movies, it turns out, is just another world, with as much to offer as any wonderland or netherworld. And, as I suggested early, it is a satisfying and quite apt playground for comics. There is a thread from Herriman’s Krazy Kat to Kaz’s Underworld to Forsman’s Revenger comics. A final thought: After you complete the main story, you have an extra feature which is Revenger lost, appropriately enough, in a hell hole. It is a fitting end to a most intriguing collection of work.

REVENGER & THE FOG, the second volume of Revenger comics, is a 160-page full color trade paperback, published by Bergen Street Press. For more details, and how to purchase the work of both Charles Forsman and Michel Fiffe, visit Bergen Street Press right here. Visit Charles Forsman right here. And be sure to stop by and consider becoming a patron of Charles Forsman at his Patreon right here.

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Filed under Bergen Street Press, Charles Forsman, Comics, Comics Reviews, Dash Shaw, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, Michel Fiffe, Satire

Review: SPILL ZONE by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

SPILL ZONE by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

A young adventurous woman, her pro camera, her motorcycle, and a most top secret site bursting with supernatural activity. All these elements come together nicely in the new graphic novel thriller, “Spill Zone,” written by Scott Westerfeld, drawn by Alex Puvilland, colors by Hilary Sycamore, published by First Second Books.

You can’t stop a girl and her Canon camera.

One thing I do want to tuck in here: you rarely see a brand name in a graphic novel. But no harm in showing one on occasion. In this case, our main character relies upon a Canon camera. I say to that, bravo. You can’t stop a girl and her Canon camera.

Back to our story: something really weird happened to the little town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Was it an accident involving nano technology and the local nuclear power plant? Are space aliens involved? No one dares to enter the Spill Zone, except for the local thrill-seeking artist, Addison Merritt. She sneaks past checkpoints, takes photos, and sneaks back home.

Rules of the Game.

It’s now just Addie and her younger sister, Lexa, ever since the accident took the lives of their parents. Westerfeld’s script seamlessly brings in various details. Puvilland’s lean style sets the tone. Sycamore’s colors dazzle the eye as they match the story’s mood.

The best thing about this graphic novel is that it successfully takes a lot of crazy fun ideas and lets them run wild. For a while, we don’t know why Addie keeps risking her life to take photos within a toxic spill zone. A big part of it has to do with her stumbling upon a way to support herself and her sister. She sells her photography for top dollar to art collectors. But it gets more complex than that.

Addie and some toxic rats.

Both Addie and her troubled little sis Lex are being lured into something far more dark and sinister. By the end of this book, we have gotten to know these two girls fairly well. We have also gotten to know Verpertine, the doll that talks only to Lex. Vespertine dials up the creepy factor whenever she appears and is one of the compelling reasons to look forward to the next volume to this series.

SPILL ZONE is a full color 224-page hardcover available as of May 2nd. For more details, and how to purchase, go to the Spill Zone website right here.

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Filed under Canon cameras, Comics, First Second, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Photography

Review: THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

I still remember the sting and utter humiliation during an improv class when I was asked to tell a joke and I froze. I thought I knew what to expect from acting and improv but I wasn’t ready that night to tell a simple joke! Now, I have discovered a fine book that I wish I had with me all long: THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK! This book will save your comedic bacon no matter what your age and is published by Downtown Bookworks.

Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

There are more than 600 puns, knock-knocks, one-liners, riddles, gags, and tongue twisters! Use it at parties. Use it on dates, depending on the date, of course. And definitely use it to bring a smile to anyone’s face. How about a way to get a rambunctious kid’s attention? Everyone loves a good joke. This book is chock full of them in an eye-popping colorful presentation.

Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

As you can see from the samples, these are smart and funny jokes. A little here about the authors: Noah Smith is a comedy writer who has worked for Saturday Night Live; Sarah Parvis is a children’s book author; and Michael Robin is an author and librarian.

THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK is a full color 176-page trade paperback for ages 6 and up, published by Downtown Bookworks. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comedy, Comics, DC Comics, Downtown Bookworks, Humor, Jokes, Super Heroes

Kickstarter: FAMILY MAN by Jerome Charyn & Joe Staton

FAMILY MAN by Jerome Charyn & Joe Staton

The story begins in New York City…one hour into the future. Crime runs rampant, rogue cops patrol the rubble-strewn streets, predatory gangs steal anything that isn’t nailed down, and the once powerful mafia dons cower in fear in their tenement prisons. Someone is killing the mob chieftains one by one, and the last survivors call on Alonzo, The Family Man, to hunt down the murderer. But it won’t be easy – not when Alonzo’s own brother Charles, the gun-toting Monsignor of the corruption-ridden New York City police department, is a prime suspect.

Full page of original art by Joe Staton

Jerome Charyn (The Magician’s Wife) is one of my favorite writers. He is a one-of-a-kind visionary. Charyn has worked with some of the best cartoonists in the world and his work with Joe Staton (Dick Tracy) is no exception. Take a look at the examples in this post and it will give you a taste of the hard-boiled, multi-layered tale that is FAMILY MAN. A Kickstarter campaign is on now thru May 21st in support of releasing, for the first time, a collected graphic novel of this classic work. Visit it right here.

Jerome Charyn & Joe Staton

This is a project that Mr. Charyn and Mr. Staton worked on in 1994, during the heyday of Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics. Take a closer look at the artwork and marvel over the distinctive shading made possible with the Craft Tint duotone process. These special bristol boards were coated with shading underneath the surface. The artist exposed the shading as needed. Back in 1994, FAMILY MAN ended up as a three-part comic book series of 96-pages each. Thanks to IT’S ALIVE! Press, this stunning work of comics can now be given the best possible presentation as a graphic novel. That includes displaying each page as it originally appeared on the art board

Close-up view of Joe Staton artwork

I really can’t say enough about the remarkable talent of novelist Jerome Charyn. We will pursue that further in subsequent posts. What I’ll say now is that he was way ahead of his time, at least in American circles, by taking his literary skills to the comics medium. In Europe, for example, that has been well understood for decades. In America, we’ve had time to catch up. If you read a Charyn work in comics, you are treated to a vast world of intrigue with characters that will get under your skin. For FAMILY MAN, Charyn and Staton serve up a nice pulpy noir tale set in New York City “one hour into the future.” It is a story about two brothers on separate sides of the law caught in a dystopia they understand all too well and which will pit them in a bloody conflict.

It’s not too late to join in and reserve your copy of FAMILY MAN. This is a wonderful opportunity to own a shining example of comics at its best. Check out the Kickstarter and learn more about rewards, including original art by Joe Staton, right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crime Fiction, Dick Tracy, Drew Ford, graphic novels, IT’S ALIVE! Press, Jerome Charyn, Joe Staton, Kickstarter, New York City, Noir

Book Review: ‘Day for Night’ by Stacey E. Bryan

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Damien Hirst, the bad boy of art famous for displaying sharks in art galleries, once asked his 6-year-old son which he would prefer in his bed, a girl or a zombie. The boy instantly replied, “Zombie!” That is a crude and random example, I know. But perhaps it makes a bigger point about our collective fascination with the macabre, the unknown…and sometimes that is made most clear from a child’s point of view. That brings me to “Day For Night,” a new novel by Stacey E. Bryan. It has zombies of a sort. And it even has a shark! Like my example, there’s a fine-tuned crude and random vibe to this book.

This is very much a Los Angeles tale. Bryan indicates any pause as a “beat,” reminding us we’re in Tinseltown, full of daily theatrics and scripts coming out of everyone’s ears. We also get a lot of local flavor with characters living out in Brentwood, Culver City, and Marina Del Rey. There’s much talk about the well-hidden Toluca Lake. Everything seems to converge for a time at Sepulveda Boulevard. Plus numerous movie references not the least of which is Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night.” An old tattered poster for the film decorates the apartment laundry room our main character, Rae, finds herself in at the start of the book.

At first, we don’t know if Rae is caught in the throes of an anxiety attack but she readily declares she is experiencing the end of the world. Is she perhaps an aspiring actress? Yes, she is. But what she describes next leaves much room for further speculation. Rae witnesses her neighbor Annie levitate up above the tile floor. Annie blacks out just as Rae throws her yellow bra at the glowing force surrounding her friend. By the time that Annie wakes up, it’s too late to rationally explain to her that something most supernatural (thwarted alien abduction?) has just occurred. Annie completely missed it. Rae experienced the whole thing!

And so our story unfolds alternating between typical Angeleno angst and unexplained phenomena. It’s a wonderful balancing act that Bryan maintains. Basically, half the novel favors events more grounded in reality and then, as the weird stuff pushes its way to the foreground, you get a more mature version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Rae is in her thirties and, like her counterparts has had time to become more hardened and jaded than Buffy. Rae is a tough cookie recovering from quite a lot of rough scrapes, especially the day a tiger shark got too close and chomped off some of Rae’s fingers.

Bryan is totally in command of her story and has fun teasing out moments for her main character, Rae. Funny internal monologues give way to sudden outbursts followed by the latest development in Rae’s bumpy journey. Along the way, she encounters romance ranging from comical to intense. Throughout, Rae discovers a tapestry of connections that sustain her and help her grow ranging from the mundane to the sublime.

“Day for Night,” a novel by Stacey E. Bryan

Bryan has mastered that same melding of the everyday with the supernatural that has appealed to legions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. The pithy exchanges between Bryan’s characters crackle with hard-won insight. It is insight mixed with harsh reality…and the movies. This is L.A., after all. It’s a mix of gumption that just might be enough to take on vampires and space aliens.

“Day for Night” is published by Vagabondage Press. You can find it on Amazon right here. And you can find Stacey at her website right here.

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Filed under Aliens, Book Reviews, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Horror, Los Angeles, Satire, Supernatural, Vampires

Interview: Mike Capozzola and ‘Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters!’

Mike Capozzola and “Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters!”

Mike Capozzola is a unique hybrid, a cartoonist and a stand-up comedian. He’s a professional in both for over 20 years. In fact, the two passions are inextricably linked. I enjoyed his set this last Saturday at Seattle’s Comedy Underground. Mike is based out of San Francisco and maintains a busy schedule so it was a real treat to get to catch his act while he was in town. I asked him about his process, specifically about a bit where he describes weird yet appealing movie scenarios, ending each description with, “Yeah, I’d see that.” I came to find out that this movie routine originated as a drawn-out cartoon. The concept as a cartoon did not seem to work. But, when he performed the material on stage, Mike found what he was looking for.

Mike kicked off his first night at Comedy Underground with his ongoing pop culture extravaganza, Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters. This is a multimedia show featuring all the things that us geeks enjoy: sci-fi, superheroes, and monsters. As Mike said during our talk, geek culture is everywhere today but it was a hard-won identity for kids growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. It wasn’t so cool to be a geek back then. That said, we can all freely celebrate being a geek now, like we kids from yesteryear could only dream of.

Mike Capozzola at the Comedy Underground in Seattle

The last time I had one of these free-for-all chats with Mike, I offered up the topic of leaf blowers. He had no problem with them. I took the opposing view. Sure, it’s an honest job but, to my mind, the art of leaf blowing can be overdone. I contend that rakes make for a sensible and quiet alternative for much of these tasks. Anyway, I tried a different tack this time and brought to the table the intrinsic character of Seattle. Given that it’s my hometown, I felt it fair for me to say that there’s some truth to stereotypes regarding a certain coolness and reserve to the natives. Capozzola, based upon is observations, took the opposing view.

Is Seattle Sweet, Bitter, or Just Right? That’s what I’d call our lighthearted search for Seattle’s soul. Overall, I think that my friend here was picking up some strong frontier vibes. And I can’t deny him that joy. Seattle does offer the comforts of urban living in close proximity to an abundance of natural wonder. Mike wanted to take the more sunny view of things too. And it was challenging for me to pursue my case that Seattle is too prim and proper while we were chatting outside in Pioneer Square, hands down the rowdiest part of town. Ongoing hijinks near us just played into Mike’s hands.

We had time to dissect a few other things too, namely Trump. Mike had this to say: “The day after the election, so many people felt defeated. Many thought they could turn to art. For comedians, this meant war. I remember Trump for the last thirty years as being treated as a punchline by the tri-state area media. To see it come to this is wild. It’s like the local screw-up, or Ronald McDonald, or a sled has suddenly become president. He’s given voice to a fringe element in the same way that you’d unlock a mystical box and unleash an ancient curse.” That, my friends, says it all. We chatted about how those of us in the Gen X demographic feel unfairly sandwiched between the mighty Baby Boomers and the Millennials. We were misfits to begin with so it figures. And we decried the overall lowering or lack of standards we live with today. Maybe America deserves a pro wrestler or Mark Wahlberg as their next president.

Contact Mike Capozzola with any questions, such as doing commissioned work or presenting his Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters show, at his website right here.

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Filed under Comedians, Comedy, Comedy Underground, Comics, Donald Trump, Geeks, Mike Capozzola, Monsters, pop culture, Seattle, Stand-up Comedy, Superheroes

Interview and Review: Donny Cates and REDNECK

Donny Cates

Donny Cates (GOD COUNTRY) is a writer to watch. His new comic book series, REDNECK, comes out this Wednesday, April 19th, and it is a highly imaginative mashup of vampires and good ole boy Texan tall tale storytelling. There’s a lot going on here that raises this comic to the level of exceptional work. And that certainly includes the masterful inks by Lisandro Estherren and colors by Dee Cunniffe. You can find it at Skybound, an imprint of Image Comics.

Cates comes across as a natural born storyteller. He’s got a passion for bringing the reader into his world. In this case, it’s a motley crew of vampires holed up in a little patch of Texas hill country. These are good folk. Don’t mean no harm. Just want to live out their endless lives in peace, you see what I’m saying here, pardner?

It ain’t easy bein’ a vampire.

First off, you need to know that this is a real tasty twist on vampires. Cates suggests that this is a reverse image of The Walking Dead where it’s humans surrounded by monsters. In the case of Redneck, it’s monsters surrounded by humans–which can be a lot more dangerous as humans can get organized about their violence. The Bowman vampire clan would much rather be left alone to run the local barbecue joint while surviving all these years on just plain old cow’s blood.

Inks by Lisandro Estherren; Colors by Dee Cunniffe

Our main character is Bartlett. He’s a lanky old fella who is constantly being spooked by Perry, his young niece who reads his thoughts. We begin with Uncle Bartlett reminiscing over his time in the Civil War. Perry insists on knowing which side he was on. Bartlett gives a gruff but worldly response: Live long enough, and you learn not to take sides. But that level of tolerance is lost on the boys in the family who are restless and want to stir up a little trouble. Mind you, “the boys” are in their sixties. But it’s all relative when you’re talking vampire years.

What Cates envisions for this comic book series is an exploration of Southern culture through an entertaining story. You get to know these vampires on a deep generational level. There’s the boys, and Uncle Bartlett and his niece, Perry. Then there’s the patriarch, J.V., leading the pack. And there’s also Granpa who is God only knows how old. Best to keep him locked up in the attic. He makes a brief and cryptic appearance in this first issue.

I asked Cates about a moment in the story when J.V. complains about these “pincheways” the young people use. What the heck is that? Cates did not miss a beat and provides a window into the authentic flavor to this story. Pincheways are a name an old Texan friend of Cates’s uses for cell phones. Seeing a new generation and their rapid-fire texting sort of disgusts him. That’s one of the many quirky cultural gaps you’ll find in this first issue. The combination of quirky script and art definitely makes this a welcome twist to the vampire genre.

REDNECK #1 is available as of April 19, 2017. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Horror, Image Comics, Interviews, Skybound Entertainment, Texas, Vampires

Review: ‘Ville avoisinant la Terre’ by Jorj A. Mhaya

Our hero

Taking a global view, there’s isn’t a hotter book right now than “Ville avoisinant la Terre,” by Jorj A. Mhaya. It was originally published in Arabic in 2011 by Dar Onboz. And it has been recently translated into French by Éditions Denoël. This is a gorgeous book and it is only a matter of time before there is an English translation. In the meantime, I would encourage you to seek it out now and get ahead of the pack. If you enjoy the convenience of Amazon, you can find it right here. Let’s take a closer look.

The setting: Beirut, Lebanon

Over years, I’ve enjoyed a number of comics in languages I don’t know well or at all. For example, you don’t have to know French to enjoy the artwork of Blutch or Tardi. And so it is with the artwork of Mhaya. He has a wonderfully sensitive and expressive line punctuated by his use of China black ink wash.

A map for some context.

You will get much of the gist of the narrative by simply following along our main character, Farid Tawill, a typical office worker from Beirut. It may be evident from what you see but, just in case, this man’s world has been turned upside down. On his way home from the office, he finds that the apartment building where he lives with his family has disappeared. Further along his search, he finds his whole city as become alien to him. Like a character out of Kafka, or from an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” our hero appears to be in an alternate reality.

Front cover of “Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

Alienation is a favorite subject in art. Edvard Munch’s “Scream” series, first begun in 1893, is the most famous example. And it comes as no surprise that, over a hundred years later, we find Munch quite relevant–feel compelled to add more to the discourse on disconnection–and see how the world has forged some pretty heavy links. It’s not lost on Mhaya from his vantage point in Beirut.

Back cover of “Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

Mhaya wants you to feel the surreal quality to his homeland. He has stated that he gained a lot of insight from the photojournalism he grew up with: the urgent black & white news photos during the Beirut civil war in the ’70s and ’80s help to inform his moody ink wash artwork.

Page excerpt from VLAT

How much more absurd can life seem to be than to live in a perpetual war zone? No wonder Mhaya has an obese Batman character chasing our hero down the streets.

Page excerpt from VLAT

What Mhaya has done with this book is set up a vehicle upon which to comment upon the absurdity of life, weaving back and forth from the specifics (his own experiences, views, and concepts) and the general human condition. This is what any great novelist, filmmaker, painter, etc. does on some level: set the stage and then perform. It is certainly a process well suited for a graphic novelist.

Page excerpt from VLAT

So, you can see that you can do very well from just reading the images. Yes, you do want the text. In fact, you do need the text. But we can live with just the images. We see the little hooks that motivate the artist: everything from a close-up of a mangy dog to a close-up of a woman’s pretty feet. This or that panel do not just appear out of nowhere. The dog is a symbol of isolation. The feet are a symbol of release.

Page excerpt from VLAT

It appears that our hero is forced to confront his life in every which way possible: philosophical, emotional, sexual, intellectual. He is not just in an alternate reality. He is in a place that forces him to experience a heightened sense of reality. His choices, what he learns, what he survives, will determine his fate.

“Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

And here I am commenting up a storm and I’m only relying upon the pictures! Well, it makes total sense that this book went first with a French translation in order to make the natural progression to being part of the prestigious Angoulême Comics Festival. And now English readers can’t wait to join in. The loose translation in English to this book is “City Neighboring the Earth.” I look forward to that title in the near future.

“Ville avoisinant la Terre,” by Jorj A. Mhaya, is an 88-page hardcover, black & white with tones, translated into French by Éditions Denoël. Find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Angoulême, Angoulême Comics Festival, Éditions Denoël, Beirut, Comics, France, Franz Kafka, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jorj A. Mhaya, Lebanon, Middle East

Review: ‘Cousin Joseph: A Graphic Novel’ by Jules Feiffer

Panel: Where Did America Go?

Jules Feiffer tackles drawing a page of comics much in the way that a painter tackles a canvas. He gets in there with a muscular expressive line and then it’s all, wow, Feiffer has landed another punch, all with such graceful fluidity. You most likely know Jules Feiffer as the writer of one of your favorite books from childhood, 1961’s “The Phantom Tollbooth.” Well, Mr. Feiffer maintains quite an output of stories both drawn and written or strictly in prose. One of his most celebrated plays, and a favorite of mine, is the 1967 dark comedy, “Little Murders.”

I’ve always admired Feiffer’s work and his quirky style of drawing. When he said in an interview that he is only now mastering the art of drawing, I could understand the modesty. It was similar to Akira Kurosawa making a similar comment about filmmaking. Feiffer was adamant about it. Kurosawa was just as humble. Great artists are their own worst critics. Feiffer was saying this in regards to his entry into the world of graphic novels. With the recently released “Cousin Joseph,” Feiffer is midway through a noir trilogy with a spirited plot and a gritty vibe reminiscent of the work of Milton Caniff. I can assure you, the master is doing a fine job here.

Sam out on a job.

What you need to keep in mind about Feiffer is that he is equal parts writer and artist. Perhaps, if he had to choose, he would only be a writer. That’s just to say that his writing is of a caliber that it can certainly stand alone. However, the drawings cannot be denied. A graphic novel, at least a good one, results when the attraction between the words and images becomes so overwhelming that a union is inevitable, essential. That’s what I conclude from reading “Cousin Joseph.” I can see that Feiffer’s narrative is bubbling with ideas. Sometimes an extended prose passage needs proper venting. But, for the most part, this is a dance between word and image.

Calm before the storm.

Feiffer is an artist in his eighties in good health and still creating marvelous work. Much like his dear friend and fellow cartooning legend, Edward Sorel, he continues to gain strength and joy from his work. Cartoonists, like many other artists, tend to live long lives. Cartoonists, in particular, seem to have really got it figured out. But getting back to the book, the story makes for a great stand alone, no prior knowledge of the first volume is needed. The main character is Sam, a police detective who seems alright with skirting the law in favor of working for a mysterious client.

All in a day’s work.

The mysterious client that Sam works for is simply known as, “Cousin Joseph.” He has a murky agenda that Sam has never questioned. In fact, as far as Sam’s concerned, the big guy in the mansion was actually doing some good, instilling solid American values. It’s America in the 1930s. Bread lines blur into persistent threats of Communists lurking in the shadows. Somebody’s gotta do something, right? That notion seems to stick for a while. Gradually, it dawns on Sam that the big guy is not the patriot he makes out to be. Feiffer paints a compelling portrait of Sam, a man with his own dark side.

Another flawed character is Valerie, the teenaged daughter of the owner of a factory who is none too keen on unionizing. Valeries’s weakness is a sex addiction. She can’t help herself from preying upon any underage boy she can get her hands on. Later, she turns to any man who she can entice. While a little older than the boys she lures into her web, Valerie is nothing more than a child herself. She, and the boys, provide an opportunity for Feiffer to do what he does so well, to speak to the often betrayed and wounded heart of childhood. The story, as a whole, speaks to betrayed and wounded hearts everywhere.

‘Cousin Joseph: A Graphic Novel’ is a 128-page hardcover, black & white with tones, published by the Liveright imprint. For more details, visit W.W. Norton & Co. right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crime Fiction, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jules Feiffer, Noir

Interview and Review: David Pepose and SPENCER & LOCKE

SPENCER & LOCKE #1

One thing that you need to know about David Pepose is that he’s energetic and dedicated to his work. I know David from the time we both contributed to Newsarama. That was a good time. David was in New York and actually working at the home office. It was a full fledged job for him. He began as an intern at DC Comics, then came Newsarama, and other positions followed. All the while, David was considering what he wanted to do with his very own comics project. As he stated to me, “Writing is a skill that everyone has a chance at learning. In a lot of ways, it’s just like building a chair. You go out and do it.” Ultimately, what David did was create a noir mashup tribute to the work of Frank Miller and Bill Watterson. Okay, the “Calvin and Hobbes” influence is unmistakable. But just one page in, and the Dark Knight Miller influence is quite evident as well.

A subversive mashup!

Let’s take a look at the comic in question. The first issue of SPENCER & LOCKE is available at your local comics shop as of April 12th. What can you expect? Well, as I began to say, this is definitely a mashup of two distinct and very different sensibilities. Going back to that first page, I think it’s safe to say that it will be emotionally jarring for some loyal readers of the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip. Here you have a similar little boy and his stuffed animal (alive and real companion only to him) but they are trapped in a dysfunctional hell! The mom in the Pepose comic book doesn’t cuddle up to her son at all. No, she smacks him across the room! That’s pretty subversive to say the least. It does get our attention, and deservedly so. Onto the very next page, and that little boy, Locke, is all grown up. So is his stuffed animal, Spencer, a very much alive blue panther, at least in Locke’s eyes.

On the case.

So, you get the conceit. Now, where does it go from there? Well, that’s the beauty of this comic. As David told me during our chat, this is a wonderful opportunity to deconstruct what is going on in a dynamic involving a person who relies upon an inanimate object for support. Our hero, Locke, is a young man who has chosen a career as a police detective. He’s got that hard-boiled swagger about him, a la Dashiell Hammett. And yet he also carries around a stuffed animal toy. It’s PTSD. Locke has got it bad. And it goes back to not having a mom who cuddled with him but, instead, smacked him across the room. It’s this experience that gives Locke a sixth sense about others who have been abused and actually helps him on his way to solving cases.

Something about gumshoes and greasy spoons.

The title of this arc is “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Maybe you can’t go home again. But why is it that the past can still come back and haunt you? Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Returning home? Nope. No way. Haunted by the past? Yeah, that one you get to play with whether you care to or not. And so it is in this comic. Locke is on a case that forces him in confront his past big time: the murder of Sophie Jenkins, his childhood sweetheart. You can’t get much more cruel in a mashup of Sin City with Calvin Hobbes!

David Pepose is our creator and writer for this four-issue comic book series published by Action Lab Entertainment. As David told me, he sees the role of the creator/writer as a leadership role. It’s up to him to keep the project moving forward and finding the best talent to jump on board. David is very excited about the creative team he has assembled. David says it was a long search to find just the right artist. Once he saw his portfolio, David knew he’d found the perfect match with Jorge Santiago Jr. Another long search finally led to just the right colorist, Jasen Smith. And, of course, a spot on letterer, Colin Bell, rounds out the team. Well worth the search indeed! Overall, readers will find this comic to be that something different they’ve been looking for: a tribute to comics in general and a solid story with compelling characters.

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Filed under Action Lab Entertainment, Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime Fiction, Dashiell Hammett, David Pepose, Newsarama, Noir