“The Cartoon Picayune” has hit its stride with its latest issue and is poised to become a leading voice in comics journalism. These things take time and I’m sure that has not been lost on its editor, Josh Kramer. He began by himself, covering local stories in Vermont and New Hampshire. And now he has contributors from around the world. This is a unique anthology that lives up to spirit of what used to be called literary journalism. And we have reached a point now that finds comics journalism to be more readily accepted and understood. It is a subset of comics that has been steadily developing over the years and The Cartoon Picayune can be relied upon to add to this tradition. Issue Five features two full length stories and two brief stories, each exploring the theme of work.
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“How I Made The World” is a Xeric Award-winning comic that follows the misadventures of Liz, a college student and aspiring writer. From her vantage point, just about everything in her life is epic. And so we begin in this first issue with not just a midterm art project deadline on the horizon. No, this is fodder for our first big story, “The Monster.”
When we last checked in on WORTH, we took the first issue for a spin (review here). Now, let’s take a look at the first full length graphic novel of WORTH. As you’ll see, we have a whole new kind of hero we’re dealing with here. Grant Worth is a new “old school” kind of hero. The print edition of the WORTH graphic novel is available now.
How do we connect? We do it, or try to do it, in a variety a ways. It’s not always easy but it’s far better than its opposite, to disconnect. I aspire to connect with you. I make this preface because I am genuinely inspired by my latest subject for review, Joel Craig’s graphic memoir, WELCOME TO NURSING HELLo.
“Vietnam Journal,” by Vietnam veteran, Don Lomax, is one of the great examples of what can be done with comics beyond superheroes. Thanks to dedicated supporters, like Gary Reed, the publisher of Caliber Comics, this is a comic that has secured its place in history. But there are always new readers to reach and new ways to reach them. Caliber Comics is releasing the entire run of this Harvey Award nominated series starting with “Vietnam Journal Vol. 1: Indian Country” With a very special thanks to comiXology, this work will reach an even bigger audience. You can find the first volume of Vietnam Journal at comiXology here.
“Haunted” is a result of a 24-hour comics marathon and it retains that energy. Often, a comic created during one of these all-nighters is part hot mess and part mad genius. They sometimes come out fine as is. Usually, refinements are made. For “Haunted,” it looks to me that Zahler kept much of the original by keeping to a minimal line. Lettering, coloring, and some other adjustments later, I believe he has come out smelling like a rose. The stars must have been shining down on him. That makes sense to me since this comic is full of star-gazing whimsy.
If you like your humor raw and uncooked, you may have found your match with this comic book, “Sock It To Me #1.” It’s about a sock. And this sock has an attitude. Von Gorman has an attitude. You should too if you really want to get into this.
MOZART IN THE JUNGLE
If I could only pick one of the current crop of Amazon TV pilots, amid comedies and dramas, it would have to be “Mozart in the Jungle.” After having given it a try, along with the four other pilots, it stays with me the most. That’s not to say the other shows aren’t quality items. In fact, this whole roster has a lot to offer and I’ll say a little about them too. What I find to be most appealing about this particular show is that you have compelling conflict evenly distributed amongst compelling characters. You have the main character, Hailey, who is likable and someone to root for. Lola Kirke brings something of the appeal of “Girls” to the show and that’s not just because she’s the sister of one of its stars, Jemima Kirke. She does not seem to be an especially strong character but you get the sense that she’s growing and will strike when she needs to. Other characters already know how to strike all too well and it will be fun to see just how far they will go. This is the world of classical music but it’s a jungle too.
Like a lightning strike, Gene Luen Yang’s new graphic novel, “Boxers & Saints,” is charged with energy. It is pure comics in the sense that it is immersive, dynamic, and holds you with a powerfully consistent pace. Much in the way that Jeff Smith’s comics command the page, you enter a very animated and colorful world when you read the work of Gene Luen Yang. And speaking of colors, Lark Pien provides a palette with an artist’s sensitivity. This is a most remarkable hero’s journey that, at once, is familiar and quite different and specific.
This is a story about China being thrown into the modern age with all its bloody consequences. It is told in two volumes. The first volume is the main story focusing on the Boxer Rebellion as seen from the vantage point of a rebel leader, Little Bao. The second volume is a look at those Chinese citizens who accepted the Christian faith as seen from the vantage point of an average young woman with grand aspirations, Vibiana. You can place both books facing up and you have half a portrait of Bao and half a portrait of Vibiana that together provide a full picture to a complex story. These two characters never get to know each other. Their lives only briefly touch. The reader gets to see how they connect in a profound way.
“Boxers & Saints” takes graphic novels to a new level. It’s that good. While we hear endless theorizing on the potential of the comics medium and what has yet to be surveyed in this new art frontier, here we have a work that is grounded in the best comics tradition of precision and consistency and, as a bonus, seems to effortlessly break new ground. You have two stories, of different scope yet equal in their impact. They can be read separately but, together, prove to be a powerful whole. This is something of a first: two volumes, one ostensibly the main story at 325 pages; and the second volume that fills in some essential gaps as a parallel story. And, at 170 pages, it carries a similar impact as the first volume. I have not seen anything quite like this before. Maybe you have. But at such an exceptional level? No, I don’t think so.
The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) is the focus here. And while this is also a story of self-discovery, it is very much a valuable, and highly accessible, history lesson. Take a look at the Boxer Rebellion and you get a deeper sense of the heart and soul of China and where it’s coming from today. If not for this event, the superpowers of that time, on a path to take over China, would have had no motivation to pause and control their urge to plunder. Considering such a volatile topic, Yang manages to immerse himself in the subject and pluck out gems of wisdom.
The way Yang sees it, there’s something to be said for the Boxer rebels mirroring today’s geek culture. The Boxer youth learned about the Chinese gods through opera, which was the pop culture of the day. That is precisely what we see our main character, Little Bao, wrapped up in. He loves opera! He can’t read or write and is essentially ignorant, like all his peers in the village he lives in. However, he has a window into culture and the rest of the world. It is through regular viewing of these popular street performances that he learns about Chinese gods, much in the same way that comic books provide a window into the world of myth. And it is this passion that leads Little Bao to want to be like his heroes, similar to the passion demonstrated by today’s cosplay.
It’s that deep love of Chinese gods that gives Little Bao his sense of identity and the inner strength to fight for his country as a Boxer rebel leader against the “foreign devils” with their various interests and agendas. Christian indoctrination is the key point of conflict.
But things are never that simple. Once you’ve seen one imperialist, you’ve seen them all, but Yang asks the reader to consider another point of view. While any Chinese citizen who embraces the Westerner’s Christianity is looked upon by the Boxers as nothing but disloyal to the people’s cause, we read the story of one Chinese girl’s Christian faith in volume two. With as much sincerity as Little Bao, the girl only known as Four Girl finds her place in life. It’s not with her abusive family. It’s among the Christians. She joins the faith and becomes Vibiana.
There’s a fleeting moment early in volume one when Little Bao sees this girl and instantly senses some connection. He spots her while she is making a devilish grimace of her face. He has no idea what it all means and concludes that he is destined to see her again. It is one of many perfectly timed moments in this book. What Yang does to briefly connect these two precious lives coming from opposite ends is magical and powerful. Together, Little Bao and Vibiana provide us with a whole story, a face to China, and a window for the reader.
Below is a quick video recap:
There’s a very cool, even flawless, indie movie, inside of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” This is a major motion picture, so the beautiful moments in this film must allow for the tentpole to go up and lure in the biggest audience. The CGI effects are great but they can get carried away as in one extended scene involving Walter Mitty and his boss duking it out, moving as if powered by jets, down midtown Manhattan. CGI is notorious for providing mixed results or downright duds in the humor department. There’s also a crowd pleaser daydream sequence involving a parody of “Benjamin Button” that, while funny, is jarring in its being out of place. But not to worry because, at its heart, this is a movie full of exquisite comedic timing, led by Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty, the ultimate daydreamer, and Kristen Wig as Cheryl Melhoff, his coworker and the object of his affection.
The secret to this movie’s success is in all its fine understated moments. There are many of them. And they’re very funny and touching. Those first opening shots of Walter at the subway platform on the phone with a rep from eHarmony are some of the best moments of comedy you’ll find anywhere. Audiences have already seen them in trailers and laugh each time they see them. And when they see them again in the movie, they laugh that hearty laugh from anticipating something they know to be good. By the time we reach the conflict between Walter and his boss, Ted Hendricks (played by Adam Scott), the plot has tightened up and has to ride out some unfunny edge. Mitty has been a longtime employee at Life Magazine. But the venerable magazine has reached its last print issue. The cover will be graced by a photo from its most legendary photographer, the mysterious Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn). That is if Mitty can find the missing negative.
At this point, once the chase is on to find the missing negative, the movie is entering its most dangerous territory, predictability. Based on James Thurber’s classic short story, the script by Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness) leans heavily in the feel good camp but there are ways to have your cake and eat it too. Cake, now that I mention it, plays an important role in this movie. It’s Walter’s mom, played by Shirley MacLaine, that makes the best pineapple upside-down cake in the world. It’s so good that it can charm Afghan warlords. If that sounds like a plot out of an old Flintstones cartoon, that would be a fair assessment. But as syrupy as this hero’s journey can get, the actors can ride out those rough spots. Stiller and Wig together carry this comedy in for a safe and funny landing.
As with any worthwhile comedy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has a meaningful core, once you pare away the big budget excess. Stiller is compelling as a man trying to find himself. On his journey of self-discovery, he must track down a larger-than-life enigma in order to find the answers he seeks. If Stiller and company had wanted to edit down their way to a more precise expression of what Walter Mitty meant to them, they could have done it. For a movie that takes a more substantial route with a somewhat similar plot, you’ll want to check out Steeve Coogan and Judi Dench in “Philomena.” But that’s comparing apples to oranges. Mr. Coogan made exactly the sort of movie he was after. And Mr. Stiller made exactly the sort of movie he was after.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty goes into wide release on Christmas Day.