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

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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Book Review: ABRIDGED CLASSICS by John Atkinson

ABRIDGED CLASSICS by John Atkinson

We can all use a laugh and cartoonist John Atkinson has a unique way to provide that for you with his new book, “Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t.” This would make a great gift for Father’s Day or just about any occasion. Atkinson is known for his comic strip, “Wrong Hands,” where he distills things down to their hilarious essence. You have probably read his funnies in Time Magazine. Well, he takes no prisoners as he distills over a hundred works of literature down to a few mere words! Very funny stuff.

“The world of the one panel comics gag shares a lot in common with the world of stand-up comedy. Either the joke works or it doesn’t. Welcome to Wrong Hands, the world of John Atkinson, where jokes make impacts.” I said that as part of my introduction to an interview I did with John Atkinson five years ago. That was long before his gig with Time Magazine. I just happened to enjoy his ongoing work that all began, and continues to take place, on a blog at WordPress. I love that Atkinson keeps it all simple and real, down to maintaining his no frills free blog just like so many of us out here in the blogosphere.

There is a lot going on in Atkinson’s deceptively simple cartoons. There’s the joke, which can unpack in your mind on a deeper level. And there’s the pared-down art, free of ego-centric expressive lines. You end up with a very zen experience. Atkinson has a lot he wants to say in his work and the magic is in how he achieves the maximum impact with as little as possible. So, it makes total sense for Atkinson to tackle some of the most celebrated books–with hilarious results.

I highly recommend that you pick yourself up a copy. It’s a fun book that you’ll want to come back to. The little hardcover book has a nice look and feel to it. But, by all means, enjoy it on your phone too, especially since Atkinson’s format fits perfectly on any screen.

“Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t” is a 157-page full color hardcover, published by HarperCollins.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Cartoons, Comics, Humor, John Atkinson

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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Illustrator Focus: Devan Fowler

Devan Fowler character design

Comics Grinder has a long history of supporting exciting new talent. In that spirit, welcome to illustrator Devan Fowler! She is a recent graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design.

Devan Fowler character design

What I like about Devan’s work is that it shows a lot of care and dedication. At this early stage in her career, Devan has got a strong foundation to work from. There’s a whimsical quality to her work as well as an overall strength. You believe these characters have lives and can hold their own.

Devan Fowler comics

“As an artist I strive to create cute and relatable characters, while giving them unique and diverse personalities and characteristics.”
— Devan Fowler

Devan Fowler illustration

The future looks bright for Devan Fowler. I think she has great potential as a cartoonist and she certainly shines at character design. She definitely has the skill set. And I’m sure that she will succeed with whatever she puts her mind to accomplishing.

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Filed under Art, Character Design, Comics, Illustration, Illustrators, Savannah College of Art and Design, SCAD

Book Review: GEEK INK

“Geek Ink: The World’s Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists, and Intellectuals”

GEEK INK is much more than just a book about tattoos or a collection of way cool tattoos. This is truly exceptional first-rate work from some of the best talent working today around the world. GEEK INK is a book that showcases tattoos artists from Inkstinct, the world’s largest online tattoo studio directory and app. GEEK INK is published by Race Point Publishing, an imprint of The Quarto Group.

New York City tattoo artist Emrah Ozhan

Here you will find exquisite work like that of Emrah Ozhan, an artist from Istanbul, based in New York City. Ozhan is a multidisciplinary artist celebrated for his tattoo work. His portfolio includes tattoo work, graphic and fashion design, music, collaborations, and fine art.

L.A. tattoo artist Lustandconsume aka Phil Tworavens

Way across to the U.S. west coast, you can find L.A. tattoo artist Lustandconsume aka Phil Tworavens. This is very trippy and very impressive work. No wonder he’s a legend of blackwork tattooing.

The book is split into two sections. The first section covers profiles of tattoo master artists while the second provides galleries of work divided into categories. Every artist here is part of Inkstinct. There are twenty-five artists featured in lengthy features which are, I kid you not, like chatting with master tattoo artists and having them share tips and secrets. I have done a lot of research on tattoos. I am a huge fan. I simply adore tattoos and embrace the community. This book will fit right in for those new to tattoos and for longtime connoisseurs.

Examples of Fantasy Tattoo Art

The second half of the book takes just as meticulous care as the previous profiles and presents tattoo artwork in sixteen categories. This includes work in the fantasy category that includes the above example: from clockwise: Maleficent-inspired tattoo by Maria Fernandez; City in The Clouds by Jessica Svartvit; and Unicorn tattoo by Rob Carvalho, inspired by My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

For me, tattoos have been on my radar for quite a long time and I’m always on the lookout for resource material. I am gradually getting inked and, who knows, I may need to actually pursue being a tattoo artist myself down the road. There are a ton of books on tattoos but GEEK INK truly stands out for its high quality presentation and genuine insight. You won’t learn how to tattoo from this book. This is the sort of book that people turn to for gems of insight and inspiration. For casual observers too, this will prove a handy all-in-one guidebook on what’s hot today in tattoos.

“Geek Ink: The World’s Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists, and Intellectuals” is a 224-page hardcover in full color and is available now. For more details, visit The Quarto Group.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Geek Culture, Geeks, Hipsters, pop culture, Tattoos, The Quarto Group

George’s Run Update: We Keep Moving Forward

Pencils with some ink.

GEORGE’S RUN, my graphic novel work-in-progress, is humming along. These sort of hand-made-with-care items take time, especially since I’m doing everything. People who know and understand, they understand. What I dearly wish is, in fact, to get this work not only completed but uploaded, printed, and hard-wired onto as many minds as possible.

Hand-drawn lettering completed on this page.

I can do a number of things. I can start showing this to the world as a webcomic, either here and/or at a separate venue. A show of hands for everyone who supports that move. Okay. I can also self-publish, which is certainly an attractive option. And I can also make just the right love match with that certain publisher I might click with.

Always studying pages as they progress.

Anyway, folks have asked, and I just wanted to provide an update. I hope you like this small batch of teaser images. I also just got a pedicure and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to show that off too. Why not, right?

Always looking at work from different vantage points.

I’ve learned quite a lot from this and I don’t regret one moment. Next year will be the 60th anniversary of the very first episode to be broadcast of “The Twilight Zone,” on October 2, 1959. That was “Where Is Everybody?” That is a very good question to ask as I seek to stoke interest in what should be a very worthwhile project.

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Filed under Comics, George Clayton Johnson, graphic novels, Henry Chamberlain, Webcomics