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Movie Review: ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a very big deal–and deservedly so! It exceeds the expectations of the most diehard fan with a heady mix of style and substance. I am so happy to have seen it and I would gladly go see it again and again. I was hoping for something special. I went in with thoughts that this could be a like a French Star Wars, perhaps divided by Star Trek, and then multiplied by Doctor Who. Something really special–and that it is!

My concern was that there might be some culture clash for some viewers: American tastes at odds with this Euro-movie based upon a Euro-comic book series. But, I conclude, that really is such a non-issue. There is a decidedly offbeat sensibility going on with this movie but isn’t that what we all love about the Star Wars franchise, along with other loopy and irreverent entertainment?

Another worry was that I had heard that this movie was too dependent upon CGI. Well, ahem, there’s nothing wrong with CGI when it works. Just think of “Avatar.” Much like “Avatar,” the CGI in “Valerian” is simply an integral part of the experience. There are so many iconic moments in this movie that are all about the CGI. For instance, the wonderfully elaborate sequence with Valerian (Dane DeHaan) running through a multitude of dimensions. Or Laureline (Cara Delevingne) arguing with some very dim servant creatures. Or, one of my favorite moments, Bubble (Rihanna) and her beautiful dance sequences.

Dane DeHaan, Luc Besson. and Cara Delevingne

There’s a very intriguing thing going on with the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline. The two are lovers but they have a lot of work ahead of them. They are intentionally distant in how they interact with each other, in an other-worldly comic book way. This disconnection between the two lovers leaves the viewer wondering about them. When Valerian repeatedly tells Laureline that he wants to marry her, it comes across as highly ironic. It would be wrong to dismiss the acting as wooden. It is part of what director Luc Besson intentionally wants. It is part of what the script aims for. I think some critics have unfairly expected more natural performances and gleefully found fault where there is none.

Given the surreal and whimsical elements in this movie, it remains a well-built and grounded piece of work. The opening sequence brings to mind the opening scenes to “Wonder Woman” set in the idyllic Themyscira. In this case, it is an ideal world of peaceful beings. The civilization depends upon little creatures who happily produce pearls that power their world. These beings, like the young lovers, Valerian and Laureline, are quite otherly. It is this otherliness that informs this rather sophisticated narrative that gently balances irreverence and idealism. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from the very best comics.

Of course, you can’t please everyone. Americans, in particular, have become quite reliant upon extra bells and whistles, even after they’ve just been presented with a formidable visual feast. No, it doesn’t seem to matter if they’ve just viewed a masterpiece–Where’s the gag reel?! they demand. And, with that in mind, you may love the video below that includes just that sort of bonus content:

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is undoubtedly a joyride of a movie. You will love it. Visit the official Valerian movie website right here.

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Filed under Comics, Europe, European Comics, France, Movie Reviews, movies, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Wars

Review: MACARONI! by Vincent Zabus and Thomas Campi

MACARONI!

MACARONI! is a graphic novel involving three generations in conflict. And 11-year-old Romeo is caught in the middle. It seems that Romeo’s father has struggled to get to know his own father. The resolution to years of silence may be found in a week-long summer visit. Romeo’s dad wants him to hang out with his grandfather Ottavio at his rural home out in the countryside. Poor little Romeo reluctantly agrees to do it. MACARONI! is written by Vincent Zabus (Spirou et Fantasio), drawn by Thomas Campi (MAGRITTE), published by Dupuis, and available as a digital comic in French or English at izeno right here.

An agreement between father and son.

Zabus and Campi have collaborated on the one-shot “Les Petites Gens,“ published by Le Lombard, as well as “Les Larmes Du Seigneur Afghan,” written by Vincent Zabus in collaboration with the RTBF (Belgian television) reporter Pascal Bourgaux, published by Dupuis Editions and awarded the Prix Cognito for Best Graphic Novel at the Belgian Book Fair in 2014. For this story about a boy and his grandfather, you can easily sense a close connection between the writer and artist, as if they were one creator. The natural dialogue fits so well into the expressive artwork and vice versa. There’s a spontaneity running throughout, moving the story forward, embracing the reader. You instantly sympathize with Romeo.

“You’ll be fine.”

Romeo’s father assures him that he’ll be fine. And, in little time, Romeo knows visiting his grandfather is the best thing that could have happened to him. It won’t be easy. The old man is gruff and secretive. With a little help from Lucie, a neighbor girl Romeo’s age, Ottavio shares tales of his tumultuous life going all the way back to fighting in World War II. Peppered with insightful facts, the reader cannot help but get caught up in the emotional recollection.

Ottavio has a lifetime to share.

MACARONI! takes on the full breadth of a stage play as three generations come to terms with each other. The reader comes to see just how much of a burden Ottavio has had to bear: from learning why he lost his thumb to seeing what a struggle it was for Italian immigrants to start a new life in Belgium. This is an exceptional narrative that will appeal to any reader of any age.

MACARONI! is a 145-page full color graphic novel. You can read a digital version at izneo right here.

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Filed under Comics, Dupuis, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, izneo, Thomas Campi, Vincent Zabus

A New European Batman Graphic Novel: ‘The Dark Prince Charming’ by Enrico Marini

MARINI’s BATMAN!

French publisher Dargaud caused plenty of buzz when it announced last month a two-volume Batman graphic novel by legendary European comics creator Enrico Marini (Le Scorpion, Eagles of Rome, Gipsy). By itself, that is exciting news. But there was no news about a simultaneously published English version. Perhaps that was a secret that can only now be revealed. DC has just announced that it will be publishing this work, entitled, “Batman: The Dark Prince Charming.” Now, that’s some Batman news!

MARINI’s CATWOMAN!

With this work, Enrico Marini will make his American comics and mainstream superhero debut. If you’ve seen his work for “Le Scorpion,” for instance, you can expect some cool swagger. And Batman will need all his confidence for this new story as he confronts his arch-nemesis The Joker. According to the DC press release, what distinguishes this story from other Batman tales is that this time, “it’s personal!” When has it not been personal when it comes to these two characters? Whatever the case, this time, Batman is…European! And let’s not lose sight of another character in this tale: Catwoman! I will have more to say about Catwoman in an upcoming post.

MARINI’s BATCAVE!

Here is the official description of the story according to DC:

What secret connection do both Batman and The Joker share with a strange and mysterious young girl? After she’s kidnapped by The Joker, Batman must plunge deep into the underworld of Gotham City and race against time to find out where she’s being held. The stakes are high, and for Batman, it’s personal!

MARINI’s GOTHAM CITY!

Pretty cool news however you spin it! Book one of Batman: The Dark Prince Charming will be in stores on November 1, 2017. Look for book two coming in spring 2018!

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Filed under Batman, Catwoman, Comics, Dargaud, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Enrico Marini

Kickstarter: VIRGIN WOLF Collection: The Hunt is Underway!

The Collected VIRGIN WOLF

Alverne Bell is a rising talent in comics, graphic novels, and prose fiction. He has proven himself many times over with such work as ONE NATION and VIRGIN WOLF. Now is a great opportunity to dive into the highly creative mind of Alverne Bell and experience a collection of his werewolf series, VIRGIN WOLF. A Kickstarter campaign is going on now, by July 15th, in support of collecting the first eight issues into trade paperback, hardcover, and PDF. To learn more, and join the campaign, go right here.

Don’t mess with Virgin!

***

A young woman and her Native American mentor are hunting the father of all werewolves in 1605 France!

Virgin Wolf is the tale of a woman struggling to put an end to her nightmares. With the help of Hania, her Native American guide. She has tracked her prey to France. Though little does she know the extent they have gone to or will go to see the world dominated by the Wolfen.

This book is the collection of the first 8 issues, plus a rarely seen in print prologue. The book totals 208 pages in full-color. Printed on a sturdy glossy paper it is available in both soft and hard bound.

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Page from VIRGIN WOLF

This is a werewolf tale like you’ve never read before. Among the wide array of comics that I look over on a daily basis, this one definitely has gotten my attention. The title, VIRGIN WOLF, sticks in my mind, and it does not matter whether or not there is any tangible connection in this comic to Virginia Woolf. Alverne Ball is an award-winning writer who has built an impressive career. He knows how to tell stories. He holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College in Chicago, which includes a Semester in Los Angeles, an intensive program focusing on adaptation of material to the screen. His writing runs the gamut from television and film to graphic novels and prose fiction. For VIRGIN WOLF, he has teamed up with Douglas Felix and Adriana de los Santos who both provide the artwork that makes this project a pleasure to read.

Cover from VIRGIN WOLF series

The collected VIRGIN WOLF will be published by Phoenix Dreams Publishing. Founded by Noel Burns, Phoenix Dreams Publishing is an indie comic publisher based out of Iowa. As an indie comic publisher, Phoenix Dreams Publishing hopes to help indie artists make a living through their creations and dreams.

Be sure to visit the VIRGIN WOLF Kickstarter campaign, on thru June 15th, right here.

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Filed under Alverne Bell, Comics, graphic novels, Horror, Kickstarter, Phoenix Dreams Publishing, Werewolves

Review: ‘Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point’ by Danny Hellman

Harry’s Comeuppance Over Manhattan

Harry Homburg was a porn magazine mogul. His life was not poetic or refined. But he could always rely upon making money and getting laid. That’s all that seemed to matter. And then the bottom fell out of the traditional porn industry. This is the basis for Danny Hellman’s new book that follows one man’s attempts to claw his way back to the top. I believe Danny Hellman to be one of the hardest working illustrators in the business. He has secured his place in his chosen field of illustration with a singular style and sense of humor. “Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point” is his first long-form work in comics.

Is there more to life than sex and money?

I’ve seen various short comics narratives from Hellman and I’ve always enjoyed them. I do appreciate his often ribald and provocative stuff and this new book about a fading porn publisher fits right in with his jaded big city tough guy brand. The book is set up at one panel per page. The introductory remarks attached to the book state that it is “one scene per page, like a series of smartphone screens.” The premise is that, in order to save his failing Harlot magazine, Harry will do anything–except change with the times. And why should he? As far as he’s concerned, the typical Harlot reader not only is tech clueless but can’t even afford a computer. This comic itself, interestingly enough, mirrors Harry’s cynical view. Like a really goofy skit on SNL, you just roll it and Hellman has the balls and the skill to get away with it.

Almost like father and son.

There’s a moment in the story where Harry Homburg is preparing to have dinner with his elderly business partner. Harry calls over the waiter: “Jimmy, listen. This guy is macrobionic. No menu. Just bring him a bowl of moss.” It’s a sharp and funny little moment. And I could very well see Hellman writing the whole book just to include it. The book really feels like a wiseguy giving everyone the finger and that’s not easy to do well, and with style. If you’re a fan of Howard Stern (and, at this point, who isn’t?) then you’ll relate and rejoice to the humor found here. If you’re looking for the next cutting-edge work in graphic novels, this is not that kind of gem. That said, it is a gem, all the same.

A night out at Papageno.

Much of our story takes place in Lower Manhattan at Restaurant Papageno. There is excitement in the air with the anticipation of Homburg’s publishing exclusive photos of a sex scandal involving a US President. Add Homburg’s struggles with the digital age and it all feels circa 1998. But that’s neither here nor there. Basically, Hellman would tell you, it’s the present–deal with it. And, you know, I can deal with it. If you’re someone who has explored NYC with any depth, you know there is plenty of activity lost in a time warp. This is all fun and gritty stuff that rings true. And, sure, I’d be happy to see people reading this comic on their smartphones. As of this writing, this book is only available as a hardcover. A Kindle version will be available as of June 1, 2017. This is part of a series so I am eager to see how things develop with this project.

“Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point” by Danny Hellman

“Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point” is a 112-page hardcover, in full color, published by Dirty Danny Press. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Amazon, Comics, Comics Reviews, Danny Hellman, Illustration, Kindle, New York City

Review: ‘Läskimooses’ by Matti Hagelberg

Panel excerpt from “Läskimooses” by Matti Hagelberg

“Läskimooses,” by Matti Hagelberg, has got to be one of the most unusual of comics. It comes out in single issues and the plan is for the complete collected work to be an epic over 1,000 pages. Currently, this art/sci-fi comic book totals around 700 pages, is published 7 issues per year, and is the longest single comics story ever to be produced in Finland.

Hagelberg is best known for his scratchboard technique that he has used in most of his works, published by L’association and Le Dernier Cri in France (Raw Vision 83). It is a wonderfully obsessive vision, part parody and part stream of consciousness. Hagelberg is on an adventure to find the meaning of life and the secrets to the universe byway of conspiracy theories. Only a determined artist like Hagelberg can sustain such a quest. It makes for fascinating results.

Artist Matti Hagelberg

It’s not uncommon for an artist to keep to one theme or one universe in their body of work. Hagelberg has always drawn stories set in the same universe. His epic Läskimooses comics are quite a dramatic example of focused work harkening back to classic comic strips. His theme of exploring the universe is broad enough to sustain a lifetime’s work. The energy and enthusiasm comes across the page. He has set up some fun devices to keep the narrative flowing like an ongoing conversation between characters discussing cosmic subjects. You don’t need to know how to read Finnish to enjoy it either.

Läskimooses #28

I always enjoy writing about comics from outside the United States. Sometimes, I am not sure how to hook into a work and I find it is better to let it simmer and then I come back to it. So is the case with “Läskimooses.” You can now enjoy an issue of the comic book with a handy translation sheet in English. That will certainly clear up any questions about why you’re seeing a bunch of monkeys or what’s going on regarding a volcanic eruption.

Page from Läskimooses #28

Again, let me emphasize that the visuals are pretty stunning all by themselves. Some issues, like #28 above, are only images, no text at all. Basically, all you need to know to begin with is that Läskimooses and Ohto are both planets and figure prominently in the narrative. The two ongoing characters have their own ideas on existential matters that they’re working through. It’s interesting that Hagelberg’s initial idea was to set his story on the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He had a spectacle in mind right from the start. Anyway, we’re all working through our own existential issues, right? It’s fun to see an artist with such an unabashed and audacious attitude share with us his vision of the sublime and the profound. I look forward to what develops next with this intriguing and unusual project.

To get an issue of “Läskimooses,” with an English translation sheet included, go to Printed Matter right here.

For a closer look at the artist at work, check out this video right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Europe, European Comics, Finland, Matti Hagelberg, Scandinavia, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Superheroes and Other Media

by Bob Gunn

Comics are a medium unlike any other as they merge visuals with the written word to tell a story. The closest form they have is film and television, but even then, they differ. Comic books are the masters of detail and controlling a reader’s movement. You can put in huge amounts of detail when necessary into a panel to convey information and a reader can look at this for as long as they like and take in as much as they desire. This doesn’t work in a novel, as it would have to be a long paragraph that would be boring to read and is tough to go over the details again and again. A movie can freeze on a screen but it can’t linger too long though. With a comic, however, you can take as much time with each panel as you think it needs and go back and forth with ease to things you may have missed. These are a comic book’s strengths.

Ever since the 1930s we have seen comics grow and grow as a medium. We’ve seen people try new ideas and formats in order to create fresh styles and concepts. Whether it’s monthly single issues, graphic novels, page a day webcomics or whatever, you can present them in different ways to further your story or hook a reader. Despite comics being popular entertainment for many years, they have never quite been as loved as their contemporaries. These characters and stories remain fashionable though and have a strong following, and this has allowed people to adapt them in new ways.

Superheroes are a great example of this. Today you can find many costumed heroes who fight villains in any form you can think of. You can go to the cinema right now and enjoy classic comic book characters and obscure ones, all with a big budget. This has brought comic heroes to a wider audience than ever. Most would know about Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. but now Deadpool, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Cyborg and even Rocket Raccoon have become pop culture icons.

This isn’t the only form we’ve seen superhero style characters, as video games have also been able to successfully adapt them. Comic book style characters having amazing abilities, great villains and interesting locals and gimmicks makes them prime content to adapt for a game and this has been done in many ways. The Batman Arkham series have enabled people to immerse themselves in Batman’s world and fight like he does. Telltales’ Wolf Among Us puts you in more direct control of the cast of Fables and enables you to shape the story. Other games can be wild takes, such as Ladylucks’ Ghostbusters game. The Marvel vs. Capcom and Injustice games abandon the story of comic book characters and instead focus on their abilities and designs, taking a hyperactive and direct approach.

Comic books as a medium will likely be around forever in some form or another. They may find new popularity or become more obscure but it’s safe to say that the characters and stories they contain will be loved forever.

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Filed under Comics, Media, Superheroes

Review: NOT MY SMALL DIARY #19

NOT MY SMALL DIARY #19

For a sampling of some of the best independent cartoonists today, one great source is the NOT MY SMALL DIARY anthology, edited by Delaine Derry Green. Cartoonist John Porcellino, known for his “King Cat” comics, has called Delaine’s anthology, “One of the most important comic-zines in history.” Here is a look at Issue 19: Unexplained Events, which showcases the work from 43 talented artists.

Panel excerpt from Kevin Van Hyning’s “The Curse of Macbeth”

So, the theme of “unexplained events” leaves open a wide field of opportunities from things that go bump in the night and beyond. One of the most inventive, jarring, and downright entertaining pieces comes from Kevin Van Hyning. It’s a pretty messed up misadventure and I hope and pray that nothing close to this actually happened to Kevin. Like a lot of creative people, myself included, Kevin has many outlets, like performing on stage. In “The Curse of Macbeth,” we see what can happen when an actor confronts the age-old superstition of daring to say “Macbeth” before a show. It’s supposed to be very bad luck! And, as it turns out in this comic, it’s the sort of bad luck that can knock your teeth out! Inspired work! A big takeaway for me is learning of this curse as I don’t believe I’d ever heard of it before. But it has a long tradition dating back to the very first time it was performed in 1606. Teeth kept being knocked out and worse!

David Lasky’s “Mothman”

As a cartoonist myself, who has observed and commented upon the comics scene for many years, I am delighted to see page after page of inspired work from familiar and new talent. What you find in this book is a treasure trove of comics experimentation. Each creator is working within their own special confines, powered by their own personal engine. This is a fascinating book and a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary comics. Each artist you visit here is like a little island onto itself. We paddle ashore and reach the Isle of David Lasky. Here we find enigmatic work giving out a melancholic howl. In the one-page “Mothman,” we find the distinctive Lasky poetic comic. Relax your shoulders and linger over it.

Panel excerpt from “My ‘Unsual’ Sighting’ by James Burns

The universal symbol for the unexplained seems to always go back to UFOs. And so I close with a piece by James Burns, “My ‘Unusual’ Sighting.” The most eerie and creepy incidents are beautifully underscored by the mundane. Often the most profound things must compete with the most banal and so it is in this comic. It is 1966 and a bunch of kids innocently look up in the sky and seem to be watching their favorite sci-fi show in the clouds–but they’re not. Or what are they seeing? Ten years later, Burns is eighteen and has an opportunity to possibly confirm his most wildest speculation. But he’s still a kid–and what is he supposed to do if his suspicions are correct? Nicely done and a fitting example to a most impressive collection of work in comics.

Be sure to keep up with Not My Small Diary at Delaine Derry Green’s My Small Web Page right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Anthologies, Comics, Humor, Independent Comics, Indie, Not My Small Diary

Review: WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (of 4)

WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (of 4)

It’s that touch of strange that the best writers and artists tap into that makes all the difference. Writer Steve Niles says that his already odd story took some more twists and turns after he viewed what artist Alison Sampson had done with the first issue of their new limited-run comic book series, WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD. Soon, you’ll be able to see the results for yourself. This is an advance review so a word to the wise (comic book retailers stock up!) and mark your calendar for this Image Comics release on June 14th.

Isn’t it spooky when you thought you saw something out of the corner of your eye? That particularly creepy feeling, the mixing of the banal with the terrifying, keeps building in this first issue in a most satisfying way. We begin in the small American Southwestern town of Acton, one minute after midnight. There’s an orgy of violence with a Satanic ceremony that climaxes with the emergence of a portly and banal naked man declaring his return from the dead. Who is this portly banal man? All we know is that he stepped right out of the body of one of that night’s victims to sacrifice.

This disturbing uneven feeling of disconnection and terror is quite pleasing, and the credit all goes to the team of writer Steve Niles and artist Alison Sampson. With dynamic and moody colors by Stéphane Paitreau. And lyrically placed lettering by Aditya Bidikar. Our story seamlessly rolls along a nightmarish landscape with characters nearly oblivious to what’s going on. It’s more of that delicious disconnection at play.

Winnebago Graveyard!

For, you see, the Winnebago from this comic’s title symbolizes a slice of normal that gets caught in this big fat wedge of crazy. It’s your all-American family, full of equal amounts of wanderlust and dysfunction, that find themselves way off course, all too close to Satan’s country. But are they aware of what’s going on? Sampson depicts them as utterly disconnected in such a masterful way. After spending a whole day in what amounts to an abandoned amusement park, they seem to be getting a clue that they’re very much out of their element. For now, it all seems like a sleepy nightmare.

I was mesmerized by Sampson’s artwork in GENESIS, a one-shot with Image Comics, and wrote a review of that you can read here. This latest comic lives up to what I expected to see next in her work. This is a smashing first issue. You will also want to check out the two essays at the end of this comic. One is on horror movies set in the American Southwest by Sarah Horrocks and it focuses on the 1987 horror classic, “Near Dark.” The other essay is about Satanism in the real world by Casey Gilly and it focuses on Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan and the potential motivations of its followers.

Both essays are part of a series that will run throughout all four issues. I am so glad to see these essays, which compliment the comic and, in fact, become part of the comic. As I like to point out to my readers, we do not live by comics alone. I make a point of writing about all sorts of things and they usually have a relationship to comics, even a quite meaningful connection, like my in-depth interview with novelist Jerome Charyn. Maybe I do things a little differently here but I’m not changing and I believe my readers appreciate that.

And let’s hold on just a bit. Yes, I would take issue with anyone who thinks a discussion about comics takes place in a vacuum. I don’t think anyone really believes that since, even the most so-called comics purist will veer off being strictly on topic. Life, the culture-at-large, bigger and brighter things, exist out there in the world. So, again, I say that the isolated prose, the two essays, in this comic becomes part of the comic. Gilly, in her essay, even directly refers back to the comic and asks the reader to question what the character Chrissie was really seeing. And Horrocks, in her essay, riffs so smoothly on the desert motif running throughout the comic. What a literate and artful comic! Buy it!

WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (Of 4) is published by Image Comics and is available as of June 14, 2017. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Alison Sampson, Comics, Comics Reviews, Horror, Image Comics, Jerome Charyn, Satan, Steve Niles, Supernatural

Great Review of ‘Alice in New York’ by Henry Chamberlain

I really appreciate the insightful review by Stacey E. Bryan of my graphic novel, “Alice in New York.” Stacey is the author of the humorous supernatural thriller, “Day for Night.” Her review is a wonderful boost of acknowledgement. All of us writers and artists strive for just this sort of connection.

The Big Apple. For a lot of people, those four words would mean little or nothing. But for me personally, it means a lot, because I was living there in 1989. The Twin Towers were still intact. Our country hadn’t turned that strange corner yet and started accelerating down a slippery slope into the 24-7 fear-mongering which has left us in the mess we’re in today.

When you’re in a mess, there’s no room for magic. But in 1989, in New York City, the old gods, the old ways, were still intact, and this is the year and the setting where Henry Chamberlain captured that feeling tenderly and bravely with his graphic novel “Alice in New York.” […]

via Alice In New York: A graphic novel by Henry Chamberlain — Laughter Over Tears

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Filed under Alice in New York, Alice in Wonderland, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Henry Chamberlain, New York City, Supernatural