Monday, March 07, 2011

No Heroics - not quite comics, but still superheroes

So, this weekend I watched No Heroics and I really can't recommend this enough for any fan of superheroes and crass British comedies.  This is basically a foul mouthed version of Seinfeld who are B-list superheroes in London.  The language is much more adult, the situations a lot more out there, but all in all this is well worth checking out.

It originally broadcast on ITV2 in the UK in 2008 and as far as I know was never released in North America.  In 2009 ABC ordered a pilot that had Freddie Prinze Jr in the Superman pastiche role but it was never picked up.  And thank Christ for that as a neutered version of this show is basically The Cape: After Hours and there's enough pabalum on TV as it is.

What worked for me is that this was just a full formed world that didn't need to be set up for the viewer.  No origin stories here, although I'd love to see how they handle one.  They writers clearly know the genre as the final episode is a play on the common superhero funeral scenes.  No, this show works because the characters are charming losers and really, who does that better than the English?  Plus, they get to hang out in a pub full of beers and alcohols that are superhero and comic book puns - from Shazamstel, and Von Doomenstein beers to Grey Widow Gin and V for Vodka, this is a great world to visit.  Sadly, I don't think it was ever taken up for a second season.

I guess what I appreciated the most here is that it's actually an ironically mature take on superheroes, and it's successfully played for laughs - something so rarely found in actual superhero books, maturity and comedy.  You can get one of the other in the books, rarely both.  In fact I can't think of anything recent that fits this bill besides Nextwave (granted this show isn't exactly current at 3 years old).

Friday, February 18, 2011

This is great

I realize there's little point in having a link post for a blog with a couple dozen hits if I'm lucky, but IO9 has a great list of what to expect from summer superhero comic crossovers.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Well, crap.

I listened to the debates and encourage everyone to do the same.  Sadly, Jeff Lemire's Essex County was the first book to get the axe from Canada Reads.  In the end, I think it was a very uphill battle for Sara and the book and that it would have either gone first or gone all the way.

The reasons for dumping it were spurious at best and sort of petty and pedantic.  The reasoning was that it, basically, wasn't all words.  Which is fine, but it is also a very narrow view of fiction and what constitutes literature.  Then again, anyone reading a comics blog will likely already be coming from that point of view.

I was hoping to see a much more informed debate about the nature of fiction and literature.  Instead, I think it was simply too much work for the other panelists to learn how to read differently.  Not only that, I think they needed to discover a new way of explaining what they read.  They needed to develop a new vocabulary as readers and it was a task that was simply too tough for them.  Instead they hid behind arguments of form rather than content.

My question would to them would have been, "how is looking at an image any different than reading description?"  Or I could go further and ask whether their logic discounts most work by Kurt Vonnegut when he doodles within the plot, or something as foundationally important to the novel form as Tristram Shandy?

There was some illogical discussion about the most essential book has the widest appeal that went to getting young people to read, and well, go to a classroom and see which one of these books they'd choose.

What I find interesting is that the book voted by readersonline to be given the door, by a large margin, is the one that won the Pulitzer prize.  I have no problem with challenging work being held up as something to read but I got to say I was expecting more out of the debate. 

I am glad that Essex County has been brought to wider attention.  I'm glad that it's consider on equal footing along with the five other books.  I'm just really disappointed that the panelists couldn't see outside of a very narrow definition of what constitutes fiction and literature.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Two Generals

The Two Generals by Scott Chantler

It’s a dangerous proposition to write your thoughts on a book without having it opened beside your keyboard (or fresh in your memory, for that matter). But, that’s exactly what I’m going to do here since I find it hard enough to post on anything of a regular basis. I first came across mention of this book on Chantler’s blog and since then it’s been appearing everywhere. It was a pick on the iFanboy podcast as a gift suggestion, it was reported on by various CBC news outlets and was a focus on the CBC website during Remembrance Day. Finding comics mentioned outside of the comics media is sort of like when someone mentions Canada on an American sitcom - you feel a bit of pride when they get it right but still tell everyone about it whether or not it was useful.

This is a gorgeous book. If every trade paper back or collection of comics came packaged like this I would be a happy, happy man. The format, in that the book appears as a large moleskin notebook relates directly to the content that was developed from the journal of the creator’s grandfather. This is one case where you can actually judge the book by its cover. It pulls you in visually because it feels outside of the realm of what comics traditionally are. This package appears personal and like you are taking a glimpse into the private lives of those involved.

I’ve been a fan of Chantler’s art since I picked up Northwest Passage and I’m an even bigger fan here. I find that comics are strongest when they are stylized rather than trying to limit themselves to duplicating reality. And here, that’s how the characters are presented. They’re simple designs that allow the characters to act and emote but mixed into larger scenes that are drafted impeccably. It fits into the HergĂ© school of cartooning - well crafted, clean lined characters in a much more detailed world. The cartoonist can then exaggerate for effect but can keep the characters grounded by reality.

The limited colour palette reinforces the nature of the content as well. The whole book is rendered in a sepia toned green and a somewhat muted red. It feels like you are experiencing something from the past while the red highlights the horrific realities these men faced. These are excellent examples of showing how history is as coloured by how it is presented as much as by the available facts, which is, I believe the premise of E.H. Carr’s “What is History?” Although, I could be mis-remembering, since I read that a long while ago.

And that brings us to the narrative. This is an engrossing read and glimpse into the lives of two Canadian guys experiences during WWII. It’s not a thrilling war movie but it does present the brutal realities and absurd decisions these men were faced with. It’s a great book for anyone interested in “true stories” or non-fiction tellings of these events. This would be an amazing work for every classroom across Canada - it’s accessible, a quick read, and just chock full of information. And, I feel bad for saying this, but that’s sort of what it felt like at times to me. Just a relating of facts mixed in with a great real-life story. It doesn’t suffer too much for it though and that’s meant to be the most minor of criticisms because it’s a book I truly love.

The pacing does slow a bit because of this, and I think it’s just my reading of it rather than something being poorly crafted. Chantler is intentionally letting his moments breathe and linger rather than move on to the next plot point - I’m just too haggered with exhaustion of having a small child to enjoy the peace and reflection of the moment.

I hope this book finds the audience it can and should. This is a great cross-over book for anyone interested in the history and experience of WWII. It should be an eye opener for an American reader to see these familiar events from a different perspective and it should be considered by any Canadian interested in reading more or researching D-Day.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chew - now this is good stuff!

Chew by John Layman (Author), Rob Guillory (Artist)

Ever since I first posted on this here blog I’ve been writing (off and on) about trying to find a comic that plays both to the strengths of the medium in terms of imagery and maturity in storytelling and narrative. I believe I’ve found that in Chew. I’ve read the first two trades and feel like I’ve found another comic that fits into the ideal niche for me. The characters are not drawn to look realistic and the plot is not exactly something you can do in many other forms. The structure of the stories, from the prologue to payoff to the larger underlying narrative are all masterfully created and simply fun to read.

The content is a mixture of grotesque gore and the theatrical grotesque. The characters are being asked to partake in activities that go against the very nature of what they feel is right, yet they do it because of their commitment to a greater value they hold. They want truth, justice and to do the right thing and the roadblocks they hit always play upon their actual skills (be it chibopath or police training).

The grotesquery is all mixed up together in proper proportions, like any good recipe. There is humour and there is a plot that has some real consequences for the characters playing simultaneously. This isn’t done easily or all that often in comics. It’s a bit how you can enjoy Hellboy as both a supernatural tale and because the characters approach it like any blue collar day job with the language to match. Here, it’s a boss trying to literally make an employee eat crap mixed in with a police mystery.
This is how I like my cartooning. There is a basis in reality in that the characters all behave logically within the world they find themselves. There is grim subject matter, but there is no excessive grimness in how the characters deal with their reality. They have the full range of emotions from love, hate, silly to angry - all wonderfully rendered in an unique style. But they also have talents, skills and technological upgrades that would just look silly if this was going for a realistic look. And, really, why would I want realism in a comic book? Why limit it in that manner when there is enough other media that handle it better. To me, comics are best when they go for broke and use the visuals to convey a world that can’t exist in reality, and Chew certainly achieves that. The nature of the art lets the characters act and exaggerate in ways that just doesn’t work in other media, which is why I’m reading a comic in the first place. Good stuff.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Canada Reads Jeff Lemire's Essex County!

Yay!  Jeff Lemire has made the top five for the Canada Reads contest.  I've said it before a few times and I'll say it again - this is fantastic Canadian Literature.  I really wish him the best and at the very least this work should reach a new audience.  I'm hoping this is the next Louis Riel crossover.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wasteland: Enjoying the apocolypse, as much as I can

Wasteland by Antony Johnson and Christopher Mitten

Way back when I had a lot more time and was updating this site on a daily or almost daily schedule I came across the solicitation for Wasteland. I was incredibly excited about a new post-apocalyptic book coming out from an author whose work I had already enjoyed. Heck he even posted a comment here. Then five years went by and I never found myself actually picking up the book. I didn’t get a copy of the initial release at the local comic shop so decided to wait for the trade, then a lot of life happened and I’ve ended up finally picking up the Apocalyptic Edition recently.

Boy, am I glad to have finally gotten around to this book, and this edition in particular. Now, I know if I want more issues to come out I should be buying the monthly releases as monthly books live and die by their monthly numbers, but that’s just not possible for me anymore. I don’t have the time to date a store every Wednesday. Getting this cloth bound tome onto my shelves, though, I’m more than happy to do. I’m as every bit an aesthete for the physical product as I am the content and this is one of the better looking books to grace my shelves. It’s next to my pholio versions of Ulysses(it was a gift and I’ve only managed 40 pages about 10 years ago) and 1066 and All That because it just looks like it fits in there. I’m always happy to have a comic book that looks as attractive as anything else I may have lining my shelves.

As for the content, yeah, it matches the presentation spot on. This is both familiar and new at once, something that can either work incredibly well or fail spectacularly. When disparate ideas are mashed together to add new flavour to a genre I’m half reading to see if the writer and artist can pull it off as much as I just enjoy the plot and action. The influences I see here are the Mad Max films and Charlton Heston’s religious epics.

Adding the religious persecution to a wasteland desert is one of those ideas that are so wonderfully apt that it amazes you that you’ve never seen it before. The Sunners are building infrastructure in the same way that the Jews in the Old Testament were building pyramids. They’re slave labour for a pharaoh who has bigger problems than religious intolerance and labour unrest. Add to that a diesel powered caravan and some post apocalyptic city dwelling mutants and you’ve got a corker of a wasteland romp.

There’s a bigger mystery at play here, and it’s mired within religious politics and brutal survival in an unforgiving climate. The mystery gets slowly revealed, piece by piece without ever losing sight of the main characters, Abi and Michael. They’re really the heart of the story, with a few sub-plots amongst city politicians, watchmen and Abi’s friends (current and former). There’s a lot of subterfuge, harsh-realities and mixed in there is unending hope and optimism for something greater that may or may not exist. Is their fabled land of milk and honey real, and if so is it a blessing or a curse? I’ll be there to find out, and I’m planning to take less than five years to find out.