Tag Archives: graphic novels

Review: SEVEN TO ETERNITY #1

seventoeternity-image-comics-jpg

Image Comics reports that, in order to keep up with overwhelming customer demand, it is sending SEVEN TO ETERNITY #1, written by Rick Remender, drawn by Jerome Opeña, and colored by Matt Hollingsworth, back for a second printing on the same day as the issue’s release. And that makes total sense. This is the just the sort of quirky, weird, action-packed comic that will excite many readers. This is the tale of Adam Osidis, one reluctant hero confronting, The Mud King, one scary evil ruler. Both characters are up for a fight–or perhaps a discreet understanding of some sort.

Welcome to the kingdom of Zhal, ruled by The Mud King, officially known as The God of Whispers. How this works is left sort of mysterious. Part of it has to do with The Mud King having cast a spell on all of the kingdom’s inhabitants. Much weighs upon whether or not someone will take up The Mud King’s offer, whatever that may be. Under no circumstances would Adam’s father bend his knee and accept any offer from The Mud King. That did not work out so well for Zebadiah Osidis. There is a whole village in exile hiding in the mountains because of Zebadiah Osidis’s defiance. So, maybe Adam can figure something out.

This is definitely one of those big deal titles right up there with the likes of Jonathan Hickman’s celebrated Image Comics series, EAST OF WEST. This new breakout hit reunites the creative team behind Uncanny X-Force. You have all the depth and texture of a story you can really sink your teeth into. There is so much referred to and implied here to keep a series roaring for years. That said, we have a steady and compelling narrative unfolding. We’re in good hands with Adam, our reluctant yet cunning young hero.

SEVEN TO ETERNITY #1 is available as of September 21st. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, fantasy, Image Comics, Jonathan Hickman, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Review: THE STRANGER by Jacques Ferrandez

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

It has been a number of years since I read the 1942 classic, “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus. Reading Jacques Ferrandez’s graphic novel adaptation, I was struck by all the details I had forgotten. It also helped me to appreciate the parts to this story that can be considered existential and the rest that falls more into philosophy of the absurd. The main character in “The Stranger” is a young and indifferent man, Meursault. He is in the tradition of such characters as Kafka’s meek Gregor Samsa or Melville’s nebbish Bartleby. For Meursault, there are no rules to follow and nothing really matters. That’s not to say one can’t make their way in the world and be decent about it. But there’s nothing in Meursault’s mode of living to motivate him to make any great effort. And then a calamitous chain of events deliver him his comeuppance. Ferrandez brings all this to life in a way that adds to the reading of the original novel.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

Ferrandez favors a more painterly and economical approach to creating graphic novels. Throughout the book, he has paintings floating behind the panels. Elements of the watercolor artwork are mirrored back in the panels. The drawings are quick and simplified, kept light, while also providing substance. I see a lot of interesting play with character development. Marie Cardona, Meursault’s girlfriend is depicted as lovely and ethereal but also warm and concerned about Meursault. Then there’s Raymond Sintes, the unsavory fellow who leads Meursault astray. And, finally, there’s Meursault who Ferrandez is careful to depict with just the right mix of arrogance, vacancy, and idealism. Originally published in French by Gallimard in 2013, this new 2016 edition is published by Pegasus Books. The English translation by Sandra Smith is completely in sync and offers a smooth connection to the artwork.

Jacques Ferrandez's "The Stranger," published by Pegasus Books

Jacques Ferrandez’s “The Stranger,” published by Pegasus Books

After a good long while of playing with words and pictures, a cartoonist knows how to conjure up what matters most. It is remarkable to see how Jacques Ferrandez has made this landmark novel his own, confronting its ambiguity. There’s an added sense of effortless spontaneity running throughout which is, certainly, a result of a great deal of planning and foresight. I have to hand it to him for consistently finding ways to combine his desire for pure painting, and uninterrupted imagery, within the comics narrative framework of panels. You really do need panels and/or some way to keep the story coherent. Ferrandez makes the process look easy and natural. And, again I must stress, he provides a refreshing take on our lost soul, Meursault. It is a pleasure to behold.

“The Stranger” is a 144-page full color hardcover, published by Pegasus Books.

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Filed under Albert Camus, Comics, Existentialism, French Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jacques Ferrandez, Pegasus Books

Review: THE BOYS OF SHERIFF STREET by Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal

High Noon on Delancey Street.

High Noon on Delancey Street.

Jerome Charyn is one of our great American writers. I had the pleasure to review, “The Magician’s Wife,” a graphic novel illustrated by François Boucq and written by Jerome Charyn. Thanks to Dover Graphic Novels, a number of lost gems are finding their way back into print. For this review, we look at “The Boys of Sheriff Street,” illustrated by Jacques de Loustal and written by Jerome Charyn. This is a beautifully tragic love story–at an exquisitely high level of artistry.

Ida, ready to devour the world.

Ida, ready to devour the world.

Graphic novels are not always what some people may expect, not even aspiring cartoonists. One misconception is that they need to be unruly massive things which, outside of manga, is more the exception than the norm. While there are no set rules to this, a book that clocks in at roughly 100 pages is very likely to make for a satisfying experience. And so it is with this book which is 80 pages. That’s perhaps more of a European standard–but it works so well. Consider this work quite the treat with its theatrical and painterly flourish.

The emperor has returned.

The emperor has returned.

Our story revolves around twin brothers Max and Morris. This is New York City’s underworld during the 1930s, on the Lower East Side. And Max and Morris belong to the Sheriff Street gang. Morris is tall and jovial. Max is the brains and the head of the operation. He is shorter and has a hunchback. The dynamic between the two brothers, and the whole gang for that matter, is severely tested when Morris introduces everyone to Ida, his new love and fiancé. This proves to be a fascinating study in character. Is Ida really a femme fatale or is she simply trying to assert her position as best she can?

The size and scope of Charyn’s story leaves me thinking of what a great movie it could make. That said, everything adds up to a perfect graphic novel. Loustal has created a fully realized world that the characters smoothly move through. This all works flawlessly as classic tragedy with a noir bite. At any point, Max, Morris, and even Ida, could prevent the inevitable. But sometimes blood must spill no matter how careful the players.

"The Boys of Sherrif Street," by Jerome Charyn and .......

“The Boys of Sheriff Street,” by Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal

“The Boys of Sheriff Street,” by Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal, is an 80-page full color trade paperback, published by Dover Publications. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Dover Publications, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jacques de Loustal, Jerome Charyn

Review: EQUINOXES by Cyril Pedrosa

Marion lost in art.

Marion lost in art.

Cyril Pedrosa is an ideal cartoonist: very observant, with a compulsive need to comment on what he observes, along with a compulsive need to collect and process everything he may need to depict and comment upon in his work. Pedrosa must take it all in. He has a true cartoonist’s need to absorb, like a sponge, like an overstimulated genius infant still fresh and new. Ah, this is just the way to come at such an ambitious work as “Equinoxes,” published by NBM Graphic Novels. With this graphic novel, the master cartoonist lays it all bare.

A true cartoonist's need to collect and process everything around him.

A true cartoonist’s need to collect and process everything around him.

Pedrosa is living and breathing what he’s setting down on paper at a delicious level. He has an extensive background in animation, which certainly helps, but he takes it even further. He knows how to speed up work. He knows when he can ease up on the details and when to add an extra coat of polish. And to do that well with both his artwork and his writing is definitely remarkable.

We all need a good recurring motif.

We all need a good recurring motif.

This book is comparable in America to, for example, “Asterios Polyp,” by David Mazzucchelli. Other examples of this type of commentary in comics are the work of Gabrielle Bell and Tom Hart, both of who will take part in panels during Pedrosa’s North American tour. For the Europeans, there’s more of a tradition for expansive work like this exploring the meaning of life and such things. Even within that milieu, Pedrosa rises to the top, among the best. Something unique that Pedrosa is doing here is to so effortlessly depict a world according to the author in all its glorious detail. A pretty tall order any way you look at it.

"Equinoxes" by Cyril Pedrosa

“Equinoxes” by Cyril Pedrosa

Divided into the four seasons, we follow the lives of various characters, all searching for answers, crossing each other’s paths in odd and random ways. The question arises as to whether or not there is any order or purpose for any of them. Perhaps everyone is just making it up as they go.

EQUINOXES by Cyril Pedrosa is a 336-page hardcover in full color, published by NBM Graphic Novels. Visit NBM, for more details, right here. You can also find the book at Amazon right here.

Pedrosa will be making the following appearances during his North American tour:

Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore
211 Rue Bernard O, Montréal, QC

September 7th, 7:00 PM

Albertine Bookstore at the French Cultural Services
972 5th Avenue, New York 

September 12th, 7:00 PM

Talk with Gabrielle Bell moderated by Bill Kartolopoulos

Small Press Expo (SPX)
Bethesda, Maryland

September 17th 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM

Special Guest; signing at our booth #W51-52

Signing schedule:

• 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
• 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Brooklyn Book Festival
209 Joralemon St, Brooklyn, NY

September 18th, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Guest of the show; signing at our booth, #135

Signing schedule:

• 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
• 1:30 PM -2:30 PM
• 4:00 PM-5:30 PM

Panel: 3:00pm Can You Draw the Meaning of Life?

Location: Brooklyn Historical Society Auditorium (128 Pierrepont St.)

Three comics creators take on big questions–philosophical, scientific, spiritual. Lauren Redniss (Thunder & Lightning) explores the past, present, and controversial future of our world through weather phenomenons. Best-selling French creator Cyril Pedrosa (Equinoxes) reflects on the connections made between people over time and space. And Tom Hart (Rosalie Lightning) asks in a tragic yet beautiful memoir about his young daughter’s death: can you capture the meaning of a life, as you mourn its loss? Moderated by cartoonist and choreographer Kriota Willberg ((No) Pain!).

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Filed under Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Cyril Pedrosa, Gabrielle Bell, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, NBM Publishing, Small Press Expo, SPX, Tom Hart

Review: PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa

Evoking a Quiet Moment

A quiet moment.

Evoking a quiet moment is one of the most natural and satisfying things to do as a cartoonist. A story takes shape. A conflict. A conversation. Before long, a compelling story unfolds like Cyril Pedrosa’s “Portugal,” published by Europe Comics. Sometimes what is not said is as important as what is said. Pedrosa plays with the spaces in between words. This is the story of Simon, a young man struggling to find his place in the world despite the fact it would appear that he has everything in place: a loving mate to share a life with, a promising future in his chosen career, and the potential for lifelong stability. But Simon does not see it that way at all.

A conflict. Simon is a man who still feels he is only a boy–or a young man with much to learn. Simon is at that age when life has taken root from all directions but he is not ready to settle down. He must either break free or reassess his current state–do something instead of just vacillate. Pedrosa has created a perfect depiction of a Peter Pan syndrome: Simon refuses to grow up. Of course, Simon must grow up in some sense since he’s miserable. Claire, his longtime girlfriend, has been beyond patient with him. The clock is ticking but nothing is moving forward for Simon. Not the most inspiring or likable of main characters, right? Ah, but this is the stuff of life. This is a compelling story told in words and pictures by a master cartoonist. It also happens to be loosely based upon the author’s own self-journey. In 2006, at age 33, Pedrosa had his own reassessing to do.

A conflict.

A conflict.

A conversation. And then another. Pedrosa does a beautiful job of exploring Simon’s struggle even when his main character is the least cooperative, either hovering or drowning. There seems to always be someone open to pursuing a conversation with him not the least of which is Claire, Simon’s beautiful but beleaguered girlfriend. Nothing seems to get through to Simon. In one scene, Claire literally spells it out for Simon. If only he were to say that he wishes her to stay, she would stay with him. Simon has perfected his way of coping with the world: as little movement as possible; as few words as possible. In this case, with Claire, he chooses to remain silent. It is a moment that rings so true during the process of a breakup. Sometimes, one must read between the lines–or no lines.

A conversation.

A conversation.

Another conversation. And then another. If there is one thing Simon needs most, it is to talk and Pedrosa throws his main character into numerous opportunities to do just that. In fact, Simon, stumbles upon what will save him during a visit to a comics festival in Lisbon, Portugal. It is an chance for Simon to socialize with his fellow cartoonists as well as with the public. The interaction invigorates Simon.

PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa

PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa

It takes Simon a while to put two and two together. The reason that his Portugal visit enlivened him was that it gave him time to consider his Portuguese roots on his father’s side of the family. The third act to this graphic novel finds Simon finally turning to family after having remained in his own isolated bubble for so many years. While being around family alone won’t solve his problems, and may cause new ones, it does help Simon find some answers. With some luck and a new will to live, Simon may very well find himself no longer the boy in the bubble. Pedrosa provides you with an exquisitely paced narrative able to pause for quiet moments and sustain the delicate rhythms of human interaction.

Here is a trailer for the book:

Sometimes, as Pedrosa puts it, a story’s journey must go through a labyrinth. Pedrosa, in his own words, shares the process of making the book:

If you are going to the Small Press Expo in Maryland, the Brooklyn Book Festival, or are in New York City, be sure to catch Cyril Pedrosa during his North American book tour in support of PORTUGAL, published by Europe Comics, and EQUINOXES, published by NBM. On Monday, September 12th, you can see Pedrosa in conversation with Bill Kartalopoulos and Gabrielle Bell at Albertine bookstore. For details, click the image below:

U.S. Book Tour for Cyril Pedrosa

U.S. Book Tour for Cyril Pedrosa

PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa is a 261-page hardcover in full color. For more details, visit Europe Comics right here. You can also find PORTUGAL at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Cyril Pedrosa, Europe Comics, European Comics, Gabrielle Bell, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, NBM, NBM Publishing, Small Press Expo, SPX

Review: ‘Pocahontas: Princess of the New World’ by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

"Pocahontas: Princess of the New World" by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

“Pocahontas: Princess of the New World” by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

Here is a story that will greatly resonate with anyone struggling with issues of Otherness. There is so much to love about the graphic novel, “Pocahontas: Princess of the New World.” If you are looking for a powerful and accessible way to talk about race and tolerance, here is a compelling new addition to that discussion. Depicted in a direct and straightforward manner, here is the story of Pocahontas and John Smith as you’ve never seen it before. This is truly a unique gift for young and older readers alike. Originally published in French by Sarbacane in 2014, this spirited and quite informative graphic novel by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky is now available in an English translation by Pegasus Books.

Truth is stranger than fiction. Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky plays with that concept by mining closer to the known facts, at least much closer than a Disney animated feature could. Pocahontas was around eleven years-old in 1607 when she was supposed to have famously saved Jamestown settler John Smith from being executed by the Powhatans. The rest is a bit of history and myth. This graphic novel interpretation has Pocahontas in the role of vigilant defender and protector of John Smith and the English colonists. Originally named, Matoaka, there is some dispute as to how and why she became known as “Pocahontas.” Some versions of the story say the name meant “playful one.” But in this version, the Powhatans feel betrayed and the nickname is supposed to simply mean, “shameless whore.”

Young Matoaka

Young Matoaka

Matoaka, later to be known as Pocahontas, would be baptized by the English as, Rebecca. The Biblical reference suggested a healer to two separate cultures. That myth would blossom in the 19th century as she was portrayed as an emblem of the potential of Native Americans to be assimilated into European society. Keeping close to the facts gives way to some poetic speculation as Locatelli-Kournwsky explores the inner world of his celebrated main character. In a number of key scenes, we see that the the clash of cultures is quite overwhelming for Pocahontas. Even once married to John Rolfe and dressed in the best fashion, English society around her does not really embrace her. She is forever seen as part of the wilderness and best suited to remain there. The die is cast, for better or worse, once Pocahontas, always Pocahontas.

Readers will be pleasantly surprised to read a more enlightened account of such a celebrated figure in history. Locatelli-Kournwsky’s artwork is just the right mix of lightness and precision. And the new English translation by Sandra Smith provides a smooth and accessible path to this most engaging story.

“Pocahontas: Princess of the New World” is a 128-page hardcover, published by Pegasus Books and available as of September 6, 2016. Visit Pegasus Books right here.

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Filed under American History, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, Native Americans, Pocahontas

Review: THE OSAMU TEZUKA STORY by Toshio Ban

Osamu Tezuka, as a boy, shows promise.

Osamu Tezuka, as a boy, shows promise.

“The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime,” by Toshio Ban, published by Stone Bridge Press, is a work in manga fit for one of the greatest manga artists ever, Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989). Manga is a very particular experience and much can get lost in translation. One key trait to manga is that time constraints often go out the window, the format embraces extended scenes. I like this approach and find it can be quite effective in setting a mood. Like any other technique, it can be overdone. I thought this to myself as I began to undertake this behemoth of book clocking in at 928 pages. Could it have benefited from some restraint? Well, yes and no. Overall, I highly recommend it on many levels. It provides much needed context and general information. And, in the end, there is an enthusiastic spark throughout that lifts the reader.

Manga is inextricably linked to a different world view, as opposed to most Western comics. We Americans, even the most seasoned readers among us, have been conditioned to more tightly edited work. You just need to come into reading this biography with the same spirit you would approach a gloriously sprawling foreign film. Yes, expect to find many detailed scenes with the little boy Osamu. And, yes, expect various detailed scenes of Osamu, the man, at his drafting table.

Osamu Tezuka in his prime.

Osamu Tezuka in his prime.

Who exactly was Osamu Tezuka? you may ask. In the United States, Osamu Tezuka is not as well known as he could be. But, in Japan, he ranks as high as, say, Charles M. Schulz does in America. There is every reason to believe that Tezuka could become as beloved an artist as Schulz. And that adds to the importance of this biography. In America, a certain number of enthusiasts know Tezuka for his landmark Buddha series. In Japan, Tezuka is also celebrated for Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Black Jack. Also covered in this book is Tezuka’s trailblazing work in animation. It is no exaggeration to say that Japan’s manga and anime owes greatly to the work of Osamu Tezuka.

Working for Osamu Tezuka

Working for Osamu Tezuka proves challenging.

Among the memorable detailed accounts: Tezuka, up to his ears in work, is literally fleeing anxious editors from various publications hounding him to meet his deadlines. The King of Manga, hiding out in hotel rooms from publishers, with the press not far behind, became a veritable cause célèbre. At the height of so many conflicting deadlines piling up on him, Tezuka had to devise various systems to cut down the time-consuming process of creating manga. This included hiring a team of assistants. The poor devils were left to do various bits of piece work without a clue as to what would ultimately go where. This would be just a taste of what it would be like once Tezuka began to work in his own anime studio.

You are in for a treat. Yes, here you are dealing with a mammoth book. Take it bit by bit and you will be rewarded. Frederik L. Schodt’s translation works smoothly with Toshio Ban’s original script and artwork which greatly emulates Tezuka’s own artwork. This is indeed a treasure trove. The original work was published in 1992, three years after Tezuka’s death. It originally came out as three books: Osamu to Osamushi (1928-1945), Dreams of Manga (1945-1959), and Dreams of Anime (1960-1989). With that in mind, it is more reasonable to see how we ended up with such a big book. I think a graphic novel should be as long as it needs to be. Some 300-pagers could easily be half as long. But, in this case, here is a story that is well justified in spreading out as much as it needed to.

"The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime," by Toshio Ban

“The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime,” by Toshio Ban

THE OSAMU TEZUKA STORY is a 928-page trade paperback, published by Stone Bridge Press. Visit them right here. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under animation, Anime, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Japan, Manga, Osamu Tezuka

Review: LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

Julia Gfrörer‘s ethereal comics are a perfect counterbalance to our world of memes and jittery nonsense. There are certainly a number of notable artists and writers who have carved out for themselves an intriguing landscape, an answer or a retreat from the everyday. Julia Gfrörer is one such person. What she does astonishes and resonates: those blank stares from eyes without pupils; all the delicious longing and despair; and that distinctive haunting feeling running throughout. Well, if you dig that, then you are going to be head over heels for her latest work, “Laid Waste,” published by Fantagraphics Books.

Like many a great cartoonist, Gfrörer takes what she does seriously, takes it to heart. I dare say that we see her inhabit her own comics more often than not. And that’s perfectly fine. When one undertakes a longer work, even a short piece, one needs to establish some hooks. Nothing is more natural than to include one’s self. So, that said, I suspect that Gfrörer is Agnès, our main character, a young woman at odds with circumstance and fate. She is in a medieval hamlet as she watches everyone around her succumb to the plague. She has supernatural powers but seems at a loss as to what to do with them.

Panels from LAID WASTE

Panels from LAID WASTE

Gfrörer has established herself over a relatively short time as a masterful storyteller with a distinctive gothic style. I have followed her work with great admiration. She is following in the footsteps of a select group of cartoonists with similar sensibilities. Edward Gorey comes to mind. A contemporary for Gfrörer would be the equally bookish visionary, Kate Beaton.

Along with a gothic vision, Gfrörer is quick to emphasize the theme of pain. In her new book, Agnès suffers greatly. She only sees gloom ahead. Only a brief sexual respite provides some relief. It is one of the more compelling unions I’ve seen in a good while. It is not explicit, per se. We only see the tip of a penis. There is room to explore and she strikes the right balance: a heady mix of passion and angst. For that moment, all the surrounding darkness can just go to hell. Afterwards, once alone again, the pain returns.

This book has been categorized as a “graphic novella.” Sure, you can call it that. The page count of about 80 pages would safely keep it within the range of a proper “graphic novel,” especially by European standards. What takes place within this story might have it qualify more as a vignette than a full-bodied narrative. It is certainly possible to pull together decades of activity, bring in generations of characters, from far-flung locales–all within 80 pages–and have that more in line with the idea of a graphic novel. In the case of this story, we are concentrating on a very special character with remarkable traits in a severe and desolate place with questions of life and death before her. Sounds like a great story no matter what category you place it in. For my money, go ahead and call it a graphic novel, for God’s sake.

Page from LAID WASTE

Page from LAID WASTE

Julia Gfrörer has poised Agnès, who I am suggesting is her alter-ego, in the position of a saint, or at least a heroine. It’s a gutsy move. But the risk is worth taking. As a cartoonist myself, I can fully appreciate the desire to take control of the hero’s journey. Let the cartoonist be the hero! Why not? I see it as a totally organic process. If it works, you go with it. In this story, while seeming to be modest in scope, we find a main character engaged in a full arc of growth. It is, at times cryptic, and, to be sure, heroic.

There is a relentless energy to Gfrörer’s light line work. It is delicate, determined and well-balanced. She keeps to a steady pace. She aspires to poetic heights and reaches them. The narrative does well within a four panel grid per page. This consistent framework complements the story and has a way of catching subtle shifts. There are moments like an abrupt appearance by Death that get a extra magical pop from taking place within this four panel system that can act as a stage. Gfrörer’s work can be called dramatic but it is never merely theatrical. That said, I would surely welcome a play, or maybe a set design, by Julia Gfrörer.

“Laid Waste” is an 80-page trade paperback, published by Fantagraphics Books, available as of November 1st. You can pre-order now at Fantagraphics Books right here. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Julia Gfrörer

Review: MAN-SHRIMP LIVES! (On Kickstarter thru 9/8)

MAN-SHRIMP LIVES! by Wesley Dickson

MAN-SHRIMP LIVES! by Wesley Dickson

Here is a special review of “Man-Shrimp Lives!” A Kickstarter campaign in support of this 74-page full color graphic novel is going on thru 9/8. You can find it right here.

This is a very silly comic on a very twisted existential jag. I have to hand it to writer/artist Wesley Dickson for stoking the fires to his absurd and surreal work. We begin with a Man-Shrimp in search of new souls to eat him in order for him to live through them. One misadventure leads to another as we make our way through the whole animal kingdom. Yes, rest assured, there is also a Man-Gorilla, a Man-Lion, a Man-Giraffe, and so on.

Strange creatures, besieged heroes, undersea adventures, ramen noodle soup, and TENTACLES!!

Strange creatures, besieged heroes, undersea adventures, ramen noodle soup, and TENTACLES!!

This comic truly makes one’s head spin but that’s Dickson’s intention. There are some nice extended moments like a detailed ode to the contents of ramen. And there is a logical plot at play here too. For me, however, I enjoy this comic most in the spirit of the work of such entertainers as Andy Kaufman and Sacha Baron Cohen where the joke or point of the story is elusive or irrelevant. What matters most is that you can’t help but stick around. This is wacky weird fun stuff.

I hear Man-Shrimp is pretty good in a nice gumbo. Give it a try. You may come back for seconds. Catch the Kickstarter campaign going on thru 9/8 right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Humor, Kickstarter

Review: KRAMERS ERGOT 9

From Steven Weissman's "Silver Medicine Horse"

From Steven Weissman’s “Silver Medicine Horse”

As I stated in my previous review for “The Outside Circle,” about an Aboriginal’s journey, you get to that point in the process where you say your work is more like A than B or C. In the case of the comics anthology, “Kramers Ergot,” it is, without a doubt, totally in the fine arts camp. This is where anything goes with subversion ruling the day. The shifts can be jarring but the payoffs can be great too.

It’s perfect timing for me to start off with the first entry to the latest KE, volume 9. We can do a little bit of comparing to my previous review dealing with Aboriginal people. “The Outside Circle” is a very sincere work with more of an earnest tone. Its goal is clarity of purpose and to deliver compelling facts much like a documentary. Steven Weissman has a different take in keeping with the goals of Kramers Ergot. In his story, the Native American character seems to have been stripped of any significance. He feels more like just a guy and flawed in a low-key sort of way. No great drama. This guy is a little jerk (a favorite comics trope): basically selfish and inconsiderate. The simplicity and Zen-like quality to this comic can be deceiving too. As we see, he might be on a quest, per se. But he is petty narrow-minded and that kills off any mystery. In the end, the animals will eventually pull rank on him. He is no hero but the story itself is magical. There is plenty of irony in this short work as opposed to a more earnest approach with the last book I reviewed.

Panels from Michael DeForge's "Computer"

Panels from Michael DeForge’s “Computer”

For something more in line with pushing the limits as far as you can go, we can turn to Michael DeForge‘s totally ironic, “Computer.” This is a commentary on gorging on the internet and too much social media. The computer and college student love each other and they engage in unabashed sex. The acts they engage in are joyous and depicted in a relatively tasteful manner. It is what it is. That’s the limits that DeForge seems most interested in pushing. And, sure enough, it will offend some readers and helps to place this book in a teen and up category. The artwork is spare and crisp. Each reader will need to make their own value judgment on this one. Is it too crass? But, then again, hasn’t the internet made us all more crass or crass-tolerant?

Panel from Gabrielle Bell's "Windows"

Panel from Gabrielle Bell’s “Windows”

Among the excerpts on display to works-in-progress are pages from “Windows” by Gabrielle Bell. And, all I can say here is that Bell keeps getting better and better. If someone could get Bell to take her comics and adapt them into a series on HBO, that would be something! Certainly, Bell loves the medium she’s working in already. But, I’m just saying. What makes Bell’s work resonate? I’d say it is all about its honesty and consistent vision. For those of you unfamiliar with Gabrielle Bell’s work, you can think of it as autobio with a touch of magical realism. In the case of “Windows,” we follow Bell and her mom as they shop for a tiny house. You know, a tiny house, they’re all the rage. And pretty darn inexpensive. I’d love a tiny house of my own! Well, imagine a really good episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and then tweak in more dry wit and there you have it. Bell’s drawing style is as droll as her writing and that is no easy feat.

From Dash Shaw's "Discipline"

Page from Dash Shaw’s “Discipline”

“Discipline,” by Dash Shaw, is another notable excerpt included here. Shaw and Bell, along with a number of other artists in this book, belong to the same tribe, as Peter Schjeldahl has put it regarding certain artists from a certain time and place. And, what I say about Bell, also holds true for Shaw albeit in a different sort of way special to him. I admire Dash Shaw’s uninhibited process, as I see it. He’s the kind of artist who will draw, and draw, and draw. And the sheer power of persistence will carry him over to a higher level. He’s imaginative, brave, and always interesting. From looking at the pages from “Discipline,” I like how the ambiguity keeps the reader at some distance. And I really like the more refined handling of the artwork compared to some work in the past. And, whatever Shaw is up to with a Civil War theme is okay by me!

Panel from Anya Davidson's "Hypatia's Last Hours"

Panel from Anya Davidson’s “Hypatia’s Last Hours”

Another challenging work is “Hypatia’s Last Hours,” by Anya Davidson, which could be disturbing for some readers but is certainly one of the most compelling pieces here. It is Alexandria, Egypt, circa 415 CE. We find Hypatia, a young woman who is trying her best to tutor Anaxis, a wayward and lusty young man. She leaves him frustrated and in a rush to present a lecture on the algebraic equations of Diophantus. But, before she gets too far, she is forcefully detained. She has been sentenced to death for crimes against the bishop. I admire Davidson’s simple rather geometric drawing style, and her use of bold primary colors. This is a story that quickly builds up to its dramatic and abrupt ending.

Panel from Matthew Thurber's "Kill Thurber"

Panel from Matthew Thurber’s “Kill Thurber”

One piece that comes across as quite refreshing, so full of a joie de vivre, is Matthew Thurber‘s “Kill Thurber,” a hilarious time travel jaunt. Yes, Matthew Thurber is sick and tired of being associated with James Thurber. Sure, it was cute at first, but it’s really a drag when you find yourself on sort of a similar career path. Then it really sucks! Why did there ever have to be a James Thurber in the first place?! And then, as fate would have it, Matthew Thurber stumbles upon a plot by the writers who once held court at the fabled Algonquin Round Table. You know the bunch. People like Dorothy Parker and S. J. Perelman. Well, they would all like to see Thurber dead too! Utterly hilarious and drawn in a wry and witty style. Hooray for Matthew Thurber, no relation to James Thurber.

Panels from John Pham's "Scared Silly"

Panels from John Pham’s “Scared Silly”

Another piece with a playful vibe is John Pham‘s “Scared Silly.” This piece follows two young friends, Kay and Jay, as they search for Kay’s “baby,” Bacne. It seems that the little one got lost in Holy Lake Cemetery. This is an excellent immersive narrative playing off more traditional comics storytelling. While invested with a lighthearted and whimsical quality, in the same spirit as the best comics of yesteryear, a dark wisdom prevails.

"The Kanibul Ball" by Lale Westvind

Panel from Lale Westvind’s “The Kanibul Ball”

We come full circle with “The Kanibul Ball,” by Lale Westvind, with a decidedly existential bent. This is neither earnest or ironic. It’s a fantastical hybrid. Really, quite beautiful. We follow a woman who seems, at first, of no significance, more like a kook who would use tin foil to pick up signals from Mars. But the kooks shall inherit the Earth, right? It turns out that she has tapped into something cosmic. We then jump to the frantic anticipation of a huge animal gathering that will result in an orgy of feasting upon each other’s flesh. Our main character, in turn, is engaging in a gathering of beings from various interstellar origins. They are all gathered to feast upon each other, mind, body, and soul. The goal is to share in each other’s pain. It is a goal beyond our heroine’s understanding. However, the animals seem to understand these dark secrets all too well.

Kramers Ergot 9

Kramers Ergot 9

This is a book full of A-list cartoonists. These are the sort of comics artists for whom it is a point of pride to be squarely in the alternative comics camp. That means comics that are an alternative to genre, especially the superhero genre. Would they be at all interested in a corporate gig? No, not in general but do give them a call. They are mostly interested in the art. For these cartoonists, I dare say, they can take the art for art’s sake credo as far, even further, than some other artists in other art forms are willing to go. It’s a fascinating time to be part of comics at this level as the whole shooting match, comics as art and comics art criticism, is still so relatively new and in flux. A lot of these cartoonists are willing to only ask for some legitimacy and maybe even a taste of immortality. That is where a book such as Kramers Ergot gains its strength and integrity.

“Kramers Ergot 9” is a 288-page hardcover, compiled by cartoonist Sammy Harkham, with black and white and full color pages. It is published by Fantagraphics Books.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Comics, Gabrielle Bell, Kramers Ergot, Sammy Harkham