Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

I hope anyone reading this is having a very Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Mildly Informative Review - The Salon by Nick Bertozzi

It seems that I'm the last in a long line of people to praise this book, and worthy of praise it is. Not only is the story engaging (who doesn't like a good murder-mystery?) and the characters all well rendered and written (I can't think of Picasso in any other way now) but the use of colour is exceptionally striking as the panels adhere to a really structured format throughout.

I love this movement to take early twentieth century figures in Paris and turn them into a sort of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This book explores quite a few things at once, which is the essence of the art that Braque and Picasso were striving for. In one story we have the exploration, definition and construction of a new artform, multiple character interaction subplots and a surreal murder mystery. And at its core each element presented in the book is an exploration or reflection of that basic artistic idea presented via Braque and Picasso. To see something from many angles and using colour for emotional resonance allows the art to explore a new type of reality.

The comic itself, the physical object of the book, reflects this as well. The book is a landscape format often used to gather newspaper funnies, but it is vibrantly colourful in a minimalist sense with two colours used per page. And while all this fits into the idea of looking at the form slightly different, Bertozzi also manages to show how all movements that work out a final definition also become constraining in its own way. There is a rigid grid of four panels per page, that doesn't ever change. This can reflect the cubist ideas but it also shows how that movement itself, after its novelty wore off, became restrictive in its own right.

So, you can explore this book on whichever level you like, and I feel that if I had a bit more art history knowledge I'd enjoy it a bit more (or at least be able to place more of the characters easily). On it's purest level, this is a story you can just pick up and enjoy on face value. You don't have to think about the form or the ideas if you don't want to, you can simply read about a bunch of guys doing wild things in order to capture a demon sprung forth from a canvas. It is a rollicking adventure as much as it is a meditation on immortality through art.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

3rd in a series

I totally forgot I had this in my sketchbook because the course ended, and well, I got really busy the day I meant to post it. Here's my sketch of a relatively serious Chris Sims. His is one of few blogs I read on a regular basis and am always thoroughly entertained and as inconceivable as it may seem for a blog especially renowned for kicks to the face in comic books, informed. He's proof that the internet is not bereft of great writing talent.

And since that sketch looks a bit too much like a cross between Mr. Hooper and a character from The Far Side, here’s my sketchbook take of how our blogs compare to one another.

See how I spent seconds lettering and decided to forgo such artistic mainstays as head to body proportions? Yeah, I almost spent minutes on that thing.

Insert coal here

Well if Santa's list was based solely on blogging activity I'd be getting nothing a pile of coal. Not a big pile, mind you, but nothing but coal nonetheless. This has been a bit of a weird year. I was sort of thinking of doing a year in review type post but don't really have much to say except this is the year I sort of faded away from comics, not so much as burned out on them. I did find that the big two super-hero companies had changed their focus enough to lose most of my attention. A few years ago they were creating stories that brought me back in and then squandered opportunity after opportunity to really knock things out of the park. I guess it's that road paved with good intentions.

On the bright side, all that pap makes the diamonds shine all that brighter. Books like All-Star Superman or The Spirit were fantastic, if not exactly prompt in delivery. World War Hulk seems to have gone over well as far as massive cross-overs go, but to be honest I didn't read a darned thing attached to it. I did however enjoy the heck out of the Marvel Adventure titles. Particularly the Avengers and Iron Man ones.

But honestly, most of my enjoyment this year was being able to read books that did come out this year at all. I enjoyed exploring the library system a bit more and just taking random chances on a few books that I ended up loving the hell out of. I've just picked up The Salon and Laika, both of which I'm enjoying a heck of a lot. And there was that last post - man I loved that book.

So in case I don't post again, Happy Holidays all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mildly Informative Review - Essex County: Tales From the Farm

I’ve been trying to come up with a good post for this book for quite a while now but it seems that the workLIFE continuum had other plans for me. In essence I’ve read Jeff Lemire’s Essex County: Tales from the Farm and I’ve also been slowly reading Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics. In McCloud’s book he explores the notion of comics not only as art but as literature and how, at the time of publication for his book, comics were still coming to terms with this notion. That comics have yet to achieve that potential while facing the numerous challenges within and without the medium.

And then I read Essex County, which to me, is the modern of embodiment of comics as literature. This is a book that has a unique yet approachable voice, from a story that understands its audience to a look that is a departure from the superhuman copy reality blandness. Here you are presented with characters that look rough around the edges because they exist as characters that are meant to be rough around the edges while still being easily identifiable and unique. This is actually a book that looks like nothing else on the shelves, which is very welcome, but that uniqueness does not detract from its appeal or ability to convey the narrative or emotions of the characters.

The story itself is quite stark, again something I find Lemire’s character work and general layout of panels helps portray. The main characters have all suffered a loss, from a sister, to a mother, to a fabled career and possibly a son. The plot involves Lester as the boy always in a cape and mask living on his uncle’s farm as his mother, Ken’s sister, dies. While this is a generally strained relationship between two men at different points in their lives dealing with a shared loss Lester does manage to befriend the local gas station attendant Jimmy LeBoeuf. Their relationship starts because of their appreciation for the make believe worlds in comics but develops into a shared trust of one another, since they’re both cast as outsiders (amplified by comics' status as outsider entertainment)

But none of this really explains why I think this is my new example of comics as literature. No, for me it’s in Lemire’s storytelling. Whenever the characters retreat into their minds the panels have a new presentation, from Lester’s own comic book to Ken’s remembrance of his sister. When the somewhat jarring climax takes place it is never presented differently, which leaves it up to the interpretation of the audience. Did it really happen or does Lester just believe it happened? That is the open ended question being asked of the audience, and without reading it again I’m unsure I can come down on one side of the coin or the other. It works because it is so out of left field but also perfectly sensible within the story being told. That’s the moment that really sealed the deal for me, to say nothing of the reminiscent of Sling Blade relationship between the boy and man.

All in all, this is a fantastic piece of comic bookery. I think Jimmy LeBoeuf says it best.

Thanks Jimmy.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mildly Informative Review – Zombies Calling

I know, I know, what’s with the relatively current comic book review here? Well, sit right down on that comfy chair by the wood fire and let me tell you a tale. It turns out that if you forget that Volume 4 of Scott Pilgrim is coming out on a Wednesday you can’t actually get it on the Thursday. So I bought other comics, okay, I bought Zombies Calling and All Star Superman, so a brace or pair, if you like. It just looked like my kind of thing and I was looking for something new.

I’m glad I picked it up because for the most part I enjoyed the book. Yes, I used “for the most part” in that sentence. It’s not meant to be a backhanded comment or anything but there were a few things that I’ll get to at the end although nothing too discouraging I hope.

I know what you’re probably thinking as I thought it too – Another zombie book? Hasn’t that well been dipped into one too many times? Well, turns out not really, no. This is a book that is in many ways part of the self-aware zombie movement. Not that the zombies are self-aware but the story and the book acknowledges the source material not just as references and sources but blatantly by the characters. They watch zombie movies and are thus prepared for the zombie invasion moreso than pay homage to the materials they are homaging. I can appreciate that self-awareness, a lot because it helps alleviate a lot of the blasé repetitiveness that you can get when reading genre fiction.

This is a book that has a heck of a lot of charm. Faith Hicks manages to create characters that are cute but not cutesy and expressive without being over-wrought or over-rendered. In other words, pretty much what I'm looking for in pulp art. The characters lend themselves well to kinetic action scenes (like various face kickings and other zombie violence) as much as their emotional moments which comes off as feeling charming. I’m not using charming to be dismissive or belittling here, it’s a genuine compliment because it is so rare in so many comic books these days. Heck even the zombies are cute and goofy versions of the undead more so than the nightmare inducing rotting corpses one is used to.

The characters are all easily relatable if not on the verge of cliché but, hey, it’s a zombie comic and apparently there are rules. I get a bit of a Mary Sue vibe from Joss, but hey I can relate to anglophiles, zombie movie fans, Canadian student debt, and Halifax so I may be a bit biased there. There is basically the geeky leader, the attractive arty friend and the dumb as a defense guy. They’re relationship together is well balanced and I’m glad there wasn’t a bloated cast of protagonists.

This is also a funny book what with the evil professor commanding an army of zombies to some of the humor is based solely in Canadiana, which again, I’m happy to read.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the core message of the story. It is simple and yet it is highly appropriate. Basically, the current post-secondary education system in Canada is full of zombies that ensure you go through the next twenty odd years of your life as a dazed corpse. As someone who is paying off student debt until he is forty, I’m very amenable to this message. I’m a sucker for anything criticizing Canada’s delusions of grandeur.

I think this book is a fantastic beginning for Ms. Hicks as she has created the most charming twenty-somethings in Canadian comics since Scott Pilgrim took up his fight. We get some raw emotion at what I can only guess if personal experience of a higher education but it’s filtered through such an approachable cast of characters that I’m really interested to see what Faith Hicks takes on next. And that’s the only slightly annoying thing with the book, that while all the pieces are strong on their own, it still feels like a first work in a few ways. I kept reading about how the rules of zombie movies would help the characters survive without ever having the characters tell me what the rules were. It’s the classic first work mistake of telling and not showing, and while it is slightly distracting it’s not a deal breaker for enjoying the heck out of this work.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Two fun things for a Snow Day

Today I am enjoying my first snow-day since I was in Grade 12. I was still a gentleman and walked my wife to work but I'm home now drinking coffee wondering if I should fire up The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker or Night of the Living Dead dvd? Decisions, decisions.

Otherwise, I did managed to watch a fantastic movie this weekend as well as read a fun, if not hard to explain its existence, comic.

I read the Hellboy Animated: Black Wedding digest. It was great Hellboy story with witches, demons, and magic book stores all taking place in Paris. It's basically the equivalent of the Batman Adventures comics only with Hellboy. There is a long explanation of the series in the introduction that is sort of a primer on how big time animation happens, and it is both and interesting story and a slightly foreboding message to anyone thinking of just breaking into the animation world.

So what you have is a slightly more cartoony version of the Hellboy characters in a fairly standard Hellboy adventure although there is still the death of an agent so I'm not entirely sold on whether this was completely censored for kids - which of course makes it awesome. I mean, really, it can't be a Hellboy comic without some BRPD agent dying. But unlike the Batman adventures which took a bloated franchise and reduced it to its core awesomeness, this is a bit unnecessary for a franchise not really flagging. I guess it can introduce a new audience, but I'm not sure a lot of parents who aren't already familiar with the character would be willing to pick up a cartoon book called Hellboy, especially when there is a blood-slug eating through the chest of a man in the middle of the story.

That being said, I really enjoyed it, but I generally like this kind of thing anyway. I have to say the Young Hellboy/Lobster Johnson backup story is pretty much worth the cover price on its own. I mean who can't love someone who replaces the word "pain" with "justice" and uses phrases like "Time to inflict some justice"? If you don't like that you pretty much don't have a soul. Or Hellboy may have used his right hand of doom on your sense of humour.

Movie wise I watched Equilibrium and it was pretty much one of the coolest movies I've seen in a long time. It's basically The Matrix without Keanu. It stars Christian Bale who does a wonderful job of acting emotionless as opposed to Keanu's inability to emote. Let's just say this movie is a mixture of 1984, ritalin, Fahrenheit 451, and Gun-fu. In order to avoid war humanity has come up with Grammaton Clerics who study the Gun-Kata in order to punish Sense Offenders in the name of the Tetragrammaton and Father. If that doesn't sound like the best movie ever then know that the big change is sparked by someone finding a puppy. Yes, a cute puppy. Then reems of unfeeling armored thugs are taken out at extreme close range by a dude with two guns in a mix of kung-fu and wild west quick draw because someone tries to kill the puppy.

It is really good and don't let my attempts at humor or flippancy deter you from giving this movie a whirl. If you are in the mood for an action movie but don't want to watch something like Live Free or Die Hard, it's because you want to watch Equilibrium. It was recommended strongly by two people at Elgin St. Video and it's the first time I put a note on the returned DVD thanking someone for their recommendation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Eternals - Briefly

So I was reading the relaunch of The Eternals by Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr when I got to the end and discovered this was only the first half/part of a bigger story. That was disappointing, even moreso than the constant shoe-horning of Iron Man and the Civil War mandated appearances. Although, having the Eternals out dickhead Tony Stark was kind of a nice touch - the did kill an eleven year-old kid afterall.

I never experienced Kirby's version so I have no reference point for comparison here, but I liked what I read which makes the random ending all the more disappointing. This is good comics that sort of ends like someone ripping a band-aid off your scraped elbow, it's just sudden and jarring and you're not too sure it was such a good idea.

Beautiful, beautiful artwork though. I could honestly just open this thing up at random and gaze at the colours on the verge of glowing themselves off the page. This book is luminescent as far as the artwork and coloring is concerned. Fantastic pairing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Eisner on Racism and History

Reading Will Eisner’s Fagin the Jew is a bit like reading three separate stories that are related via one character. If you are thinking of writing comics and have tried to read as many writing resources as you can before putting pen to paper you will have come across the three act structure more than once I can assure you. And this story is no different, however each act feels almost detached from the previous one. Of all the Eisner stuff I have read this work feels the least structured.

The majority of what I’ve read by Eisner, outside his work on The Spirit, tends to be thematically linked works that don’t necessarily equate three acts of one story. Work like The Contract with God trilogy or New York Stories tend to share a setting or some characters to achieve their ends so their multiple arcs under one banner work in their own separate ways. In Fagin the Jew, the connection between the three arcs is one character so the difference in narrative is more pronounced.

Fagin’s early life is pure Eisner comics with a run down kid living as a refugee Jew in the unforgiving streets of London. Here he quickly learns how being streetwise is what will let him survive in a city that has nothing but contempt for him. From his father’s lessons and short life, to his apprenticeship with the accepted Jews who try to lift up their brethren by collective charity or simply by deciding to be culturally Jewish but religiously Church of England. It is a fascinating exploration of an immigrant culture at a specific time that feels timeless in many respects because of the shared history of the Diaspora.

When the story moves into the plot of Dickens’ Oliver Twist it feels like a different actor has been introduced to play Fagin. Suddenly this rather sympathetic character is forced to fit into the mold cast by Dickens and I’m not sure it is completely successful as Fagin becomes a harder personality with a few moments of warmth. It feels like he is suddenly removing himself from culpability and being entirely too selfish all of a sudden in order to fit the Dickens role, when he was entirely more accessible and slightly more gullible leading up to this point. In many ways that warmness is repressed as a reaction to his previous treatment and while understandable on an intellectual level, and upon recollection, it still feels like Eisner is trying to balance his message with the plot of Oliver Twist.

And in the final arc the message comes full circle in Oliver’s treatment of Fagin. How this man we’ve come to know and understand is so easily cast aside. His life only becomes important upon recollection and as the future generations take a more generous and accepting attitude towards one another does he become a more powerful and important figure worth remembering. And in that, I think the book is success in delivering its message even when it struggles to balance the two narratives.

Eisner’s run down artwork is the perfect presentation for this story. From the sepia tones to the fuddled lines of the characters clothes it is the perfect presentation for something meant to feel historic. And what it does is make the work feel timeless. It is next to impossible to remove Eisner’s non-Spirit work from a certain period in New York and even this story looks and feels as if it could easily be displaced there rather than Victorian England.

I’m a huge fan of Eisner’s ability to give his art emotion. From the embarrassment at their position in life to their pride and joy at other moments, every emotion looks genuine. And they look genuine even through their shabby dress because the structure of each character and panel is simply masterful, that no matter how many layers of rags are heaped upon it the natural understanding of comic book art always shines through.

This is a book worth your time both as entertainment and as something of a historical document. Just reading Eisner’s own introduction makes it something worthwhile to any student of Eisner’s and the comic book medium where Eisner confronts his own creations. He speaks of creating Ebony and how looking back at it, it is obviously racist even with all the qualities the young character portrayed and Eisner explores his relationship with the character and his later attempts to fix those errors. I have to say that I think the approach that The Spirit Archives is taking is the one Eisner would have approved of, in that these stories deserve to be read, warts and all, because they are important for their content as much as for how they recorded attitudes in a specific time and place which is lost for various reasons in the Tintin removals. Eisner is aware of what he did and he realized that apologizing wouldn't simply make it go away, so in many ways this work here is both an exploration into how his own racist portray came to be as much as it is an atonement for it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Both still good

I just read book five (or six, sorry can't recall at the moment) in The Walking Dead series and the last Runaways digest. Both are still quite good, although I don't need the torture porn in The Walking Dead, but that's because I'm not a fan of the genre. I understand that The Governor is a bad man and did horrific things but that was a bit much for me, which is odd seeing as this takes place in a zombie book where the living undead constantly evicerate or are blown away with rifles and hatchets.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

This just isn't my thing

I started to read Apparat and by the time this guy vomits into his lover's vagina I figured, I got the point of the comic and decided I had enough.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What, no faking dead or uppercutting?

I read Joe Kubert and Brian Azzarello's Sgt. Rock book, Between Hell and a Hard Place, and while I enjoyed it I also noticed how it differentiates from your standard Sgt. Rock story. Having the Vertigo imprint should be enough of a warning that this will not be your standard war comic. What they managed to get right are the supporting cast that Kubert developed for Sgt. Rock, from Wildman to the Ice-cream Soldier to Bull to Sure Shot the regular cast is all accounted for. What is different, at least for me, is that suddenly Easy Company is thrust into a specific battle and well, they all pretty much get wounded. I have to admit I haven’t read all that many Sgt. Rock comics but I’m pretty sure Easy Company always managed to get out relatively unscathed. Not here.

This is the fictional WWII setting but a specific battle and while that’s about as detailed as it gets, it seems to be a departure from the formula in itself. Well, the formula as I’m pretty much making it up, regardless. This isn’t a tale of bravery or survival so much as it is the tale of the battle and their role in it, heightened by a murder mystery.

There is bravery and there is bloodshed and while I think this was a good comic I don’t think it was a great Sgt. Rock comic. I expect Sgt. Rock to, at least once, play dead then sock a ratzi in the jaw (then blow up a tank with a bazooka). This was more a mixture of fact and fantasy, and it is successful in its own way. I don’t think any comic character should be limited to one type of story and this is an example of how changing the comfort zone of both characters and reader can still result in good comics. Here we get a different take on fictional soldiers in a real war setting, and it is quite moving because the story manages to make these characters feel a bit more realistic for their harshness and reluctant acceptance of their own bravery.

I think the characters, because of their setting, readily lend themselves to a more serious story. At the same time, the soldiers here don’t need to be the Sgt. Rock crew. And yet I applaud Azzarello and Kubert for tackling a more serious story with characters that were created to get kids believing in the superhuman good of American soldiers. In this story we’re given broken and detached men who seem to keep fighting despite the odds (which really isn’t all that new to Sgt. Rock comics) but they actually have more consequences here for all the established characters rather than just the new meat.

I was expecting an easy comic about the toughest man in comics beating up Nazis but what I got was a brilliant story using established fictional characters in an unexpected manner, and liking the story all the more for it. This is a prime example of making comics more serious and grim, but in a way that works for me, albeit mostly because of the setting.

Friday, November 16, 2007

This Comic is Good

All-Star Superman #9. Superman returns to Earth only to find a couple of Kryptonian astronauts have taken up his role only as in true Kryptonian style they decide to become petty tyrants. From their behaviour to their wonderfully alien costumes (head antennas included) they just do not seem anything like Superman. They bring a sense of hyperactive aristocracy to Earth and since they can they decide to take over and creaete New Krypton - something that happens a heck of a lot when Kryptonians other than Superman show up.

Well this Superman just doesn't stop trying to help these two even when they break the moon then stitch it up with the world's famous bridges. It's his ability to be both alien and human that rises him above the other characters here - from Clark Kent's antagonist Steve Lombard to Superman's antagonists Bar-El and Lilo. He's got the power of the aliens, which is their strength but the compassion of humans, which is their strength.

The bright colours make this feel like mainlining comic books into your system. The art is simultaneously awe inspiring, wonderfully kinetic and horribly alien and threatening. And the ending is both happy and forboding with the mini-tyrants in the Phantom Zone looking happy to take over a bunch of Kryptonian criminals but their look could be one of patience to eventually come back to trouble Superman or one of simple satisfaction because they get to do what they like (beat people into submission).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

If you are ever in Toronto - 'Zine Museum Opens

Today the 'Zine Museum at the Ontario College of Art and Design is opening. It could be a heck of a lot of fun, and I’m wondering if they have any from my friend Brian – Grape Juice Plus, or another one I remember called “You Ride a Horse Rather Less Well Than Another Horse Would.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Someday, It May Actually Change

Soooooo.... Yeah. Not much content here lately. Even less than normal it seems. It's not entirely intentional, just haven't really read any comics lately and don't actually think about them all that much to be honest. I've just burned out on superhero comic cross-overs and waiting entirely too long for the non-superhero books to come out. I do have a few books at home from the library, waiting for some free time - Will Eisner's Fagan the Jew and Warren Ellis's Apparat. I had a fire drill at work last week so I went to the library and just browsed to see what was there and, well, these caught my eye.

Now, that all being said, this is probably the first week in quite a few months that I'll actually be buying new comics. The new issues of Scott Pilgrim and All Star Superman are out so I'll be picking those up. I sort of have a feeling that I missed an issue of The Spirit somewhere along the line which I'll have to double check tomorrow.

With the holidays coming up I'll likely be picking up some new trades but I'm undecided on continuing with the Hellboy, Y: The Last Man, or The Walking Dead or simply trying another series that I never read but is meant to be fantastic like Fables, Sandman or Swamp Thing. Time and money will tell.

On a lighter note, tonight is naked model night at the drawing course. That will be odd seeing as I'm the only man and person under forty/without kids there and the community theatre is rehearsing A Christmas Carol in the gym next to our room - the wall separating us is totally windows, but there are blinds. I'm just wondering if you can see silhouettes because this might get some angry letters from parents if their children see silhouettes of a naked lady while they're learning to dance as Victorian Englishmen.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Jennings on Canada

I just heard CBC radio paraphrase Peter Jennings on what it means to be Canadian. He said, being Canadian is being proud to be Clark Kent rather than Superman.

I really like that.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Second in a Series

Here's the second comic book blogger I've sketched in about a minute or five. Mike Sterling of Progressive Ruin. I find myself reading less and less comic book blogs these days but Mr. Sterling will always have something interesting to say, and when he doesn't there is something fun. If only more actual superhero comics were like that. So what are you doing here, go read his musings on the retail side, the industry itself or something about the death of Superman.

Marvel at my inability to capture the likeness of a human being. Next time I'll just go for something completely abstract.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Don't spank that monkey, choke the life out of him.

Yesterday I picked up Zack and Wiki: The Search for Barboros' Treasure for the Wii. It is this old-school puzzle based point and click adventure game that uses just the Wii remote and treats each screen as a puzzle to be solved. The level design is amazing and each the presentation is pretty great all around except for my problems noted below. Better yet, additional Wii remotes can be used by anyone else around as a pointer onscreen to help you out. So up to four people can be involved.

It has also gotten a lot of good reviews across pretty much every online reviewing site.

But the voice acting is truly horrendous. I wanted to strangle the magical flying monkey every single time some dialogue box appeared. Seriously, mute the system and just press the A button as much as you can until you're at the first level. Reading the dialogue and dealing with the abrassive cacaphony of character cues and noise is enough to turn a saint into a video smashing child. I was ready to chuck my Wii remote at the obnoxious characters.

It's such an unfortunate contrast because the actual gameplay is a blast and just plain fun.

So get it for cheap just get ready to hate the characters before the game actually starts.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Kids love them four coloured superheroes

Yesterday me and my wife went to see Bee Movie with some friends of ours and their 3 kids. Afterwards we hung out at their place for the evening (played some Wii, watched the hockey game) and their 3 year old twin girls told me how much they love superheroes.

One just randomly told me she loved Batman and the other girl looks up and says she loves Superman.

They're three years old so I know they've never seen a comic book and wouldn't know what to do with one if they did. What they do have are some The Batman dvds that one of the girls chose. They do recognize the images of the characters and that they're superheroes. They are presented these characters in multiple other media to the point where the kids know about the characters but don't really know anything about them other than the image.

Good thing I'm in their lives. I can create little nerds and geeks. Lovely.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Good Grief

Today on CBC Radio there will be an interview with David Michealis the author of the recent Charles Schultz biography that is getting a lot of press these days, both good reviews and concern from the Schultz family. It will be streamed live at 2pm EST but should also be available via Q:The Podcast - whenever that is made available. I haven't tried it yet so I have no idea how it works.

Following a comic book fanboy thread here's a review of The Tracey Fragments starring Ellen Page who was Kitty Pryde in the last X-men movie. I'm sure this new movie will either excite or disgust the imaginations of KP fanboys. Highway 61, Road Kill and Hardcore Logo are some of my favourite movies and I'm not overly interested in challenging movies these days but I'll probably check this out if I feel like it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

I hope everyone gets a good jumpstart on their road to sugar shock today, just don't catch a cold waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin.

In other news, I've finally gotten around to reading Dan Curtis, JH Williams and Seth Fisher's Batman tale Snow. I just couldn't bring myself to reading it during the summer months.

I always find it incredibly hard not to compare any re-examined Batman villain origin story to the animated series (the 90s Bruce Timm series, not The Batman that's currently on). They did such a great job, especially with Mr. Freeze that it is pretty much impossible not to think of the character as anything other than the animated presentation. He was such a tragic villain with a great motivation and they really managed to play up his cold heart and his inability to love while it was love that made him do what he does. The terrible movie put the Governator into the role and the decline of Mr. Freeze hit full speed. Since then the comic books have tended to simply make him a psychotic cold villain who just smashed people. In many ways the motivation was removed from the character and replaced with psychotic cold dude with armour.

Then comes this story which essentially mixes the two ideas (Governator is, thankfully, forgotten). There is a bit of the warmth at the centre but the psychotic tendencies are also there in large force. Mr. Freeze does have some decent emotional motivation but at times it still feels a bit forced, such as his insistance on non-violent use of his project although he's working for a military contract. The character just seems more deluded than conflicted.

Batman, on the other hand, is creating a sort of strike team that doesn't really end up working out all that great. It works fine against your average criminal gangster but against something like Mr. Freeze the group just wasn't prepared. They manage to get some small victories but for the most part they realize when they are out of their league.

And then there is the reason I bought this thing. The Seth Fisher artwork. Man, it is simply amazing how I can just sit there and look at this book all day long. I love the day-glo colours and how each panel just bursts with fun. Heck, Batman has earmuffs on when he skis through Gotham - when was the last time you saw that and didn't think it was lame? This is kinetic and solid work here that is just stylized enough to feel like Moebius edited the art but with enough retro-funk in the design to make it unlike any other Batman story I've happened to read.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I’ve finally read the third Animal Man trade (Deus ex machina) by Grant Morrison and it is just as wonderfully inventive as the rest of the series has been. This one does contain a lot of what is remembered most from the series. Two stories in particular – Animal Man takes peyote, breaks the fourth wall and can see the reader; and the last issue where Animal Man meets Grant Morrison. They are wonderfully inventive and it feels like you’re reading a high water mark in superhero comics when you’re reading these for the first time.

The trouble with reading something so good is that it makes you want to do something similar and I have a feeling that the approach taken in Animal Man influenced a bunch of less successful superhero stories. Heck, the current Superboy Prime feels a bit like a poorly executed idea from Animal Man but that’s a whole other kettle of fish that really doesn’t have anything to do with the book at hand, so let’s gloss over it and move on.

What works here is that the stories approach the material as it is set up within itself and its relation to a wider genre. There is a lot of reflection upon the medium as well as the universe presented within the panels. It is a fun meditation on comics as well as a decent meditation by the character upon his own reality. It made me a bit sad to read it to a conclusion, but I also feel the better for having read it because it really is a novel approach to the character genre. Because of how original it is, it is that much more memorable and that much harder to borrow from, or imitate outright, which is both helpful and a hindrance. Should all superhero comics that break the fourth wall be written off as cheap Animal Man clones? – probably not, but it is extremely likely that the comparison will be made. It’s too bad that breaking the fourth wall is almost taboo because I don’t think everything has been said that can be said. I don’t think anyone should be afraid to use it to their own ends for fear of the sacred cow that it Animal Man.

What I would suggest to anyone yet to read the series, is to get all three trades and read them as one longer story. I had too much time between books and there is a lot of interaction between the stories as the narrative progresses. I really do want to sit down and read it all end to end now, and that is a good thing. I usually don’t want to reread anything.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dead Robin

I read the last Gotham Central trade and liked it just as much as the rest of the series. I love the down on the streets of Gotham point of view and the art is just superb for the series. I like the characters and the use of the DC universe as a spectacular aspect that gets thrown in every now and again to remind the reader why these average joes are always wound a bit tighter than they should be.

It's as good as any cop drama, although the Dead Robins storyline did pull a bit of a cheat as to who was guilty and why. I don't completely hate that but I'm not a huge fan of it either because it feels like a cheat, moreso if it is used too much in a series.

What I love most about this series is that it can only really work as a comic book. It simply wouldn't work in any other media because the spectacular superhero aspects would just be too jarring or look too incongruous with the man-on-the-street presentation. In comics, it doesn't matter because nobody is real. I'm a bit sorry that the characters had to leave all too soon because this was a fantastic set of comics.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Deceptively Simple

I've just returned from a few days at the Chateau Montebello to celebrate my first anniversary. I feel so unbelievably chilled out. It's amazing what three days in one of the biggest log cabins with a six sided, three story fireplace will do for your. I managed to read a whole bunch of stuff as it rained for most of our time there but chilling with my wife on an interior balcony or by a roaring wood fire really takes one towards what is actually important in life.

I took the title for this post from Randy Lander's review of this book on the now defunct and much mourned Fourth Rail.

Doug TenNapel’s Creature Tech is a story about the brilliant Dr. Ong who is working for the US government in a hidden underground base in small-town America. His job is to go through all the boxes in the research facility and find out what all the unexplained technology does. Their entrance is a large venus-flytrap that swallows them down to the lower levels. He decided this was a good career move when he dropped out of the seminary. The only down side to his job are the small-town locals. Then the ghost of Dr. Jameson, who replaced his left hand with the hand of the demon Hellcat to avoid going to Hell, returns to steal the real Shroud of Turin and unleashes a space slug that fights with the only competent local (who got the job because of the hiring stipulations) and kills Dr. Ong. Not to worry because the space-slug had this symbiote that attaches itself to Dr. Ong. Meanwhile Dr. Jameson raises himself from the dead and sets a whole bunch of demon cats on the loose to distract and dismember the locals while he searches out the giant space eel he called to Earth many years ago that he plans to resurrect with the shroud. At the same time Dr. Ong starts a romance with Katie who has a shrivelled up hand and a bum eye, has to deal with a church picnic that doesn’t like his freakish alien chestplate with extra mandible arms, as well as come to terms with a violent praying mantis hybrid bodyguard. The praying mantis hybrid gets fired for trying to kill Dr. Ong, who got peed on by a cat demon, and the mantis gets taken in by some gun-totin’ hillbillies. Oh yeah, Dr. Ong learns kung-fu when the symbiote watches a kung-fu movie and they all end up saving the day so Dr. Ong regains his faith in Christ.

Yeah, that last bit was sort of weird to me as well.

If you think this is a manic description, you should try reading the book. TenNapel is best known for Earthworm Jim, and a lot of the same hectically beautiful creation seen in that cartoon is also on display in Creature Tech. What I really like is his ability to simply introduce characters that shouldn’t really work together into a story that does manage to hold itself together. There is a lot of ideas from the full spectrum of ideas mashed together and somehow it remains consistently whole. There are aliens, science, religion, government plots, love stories, and random gun violence that seem like they should all be in separate genres or stories, but somehow with all this happening there is an inherent charm and appeal to the characters here.

That would be mostly due to his wonderful artwork. TenNapel is able to breathe a lot of life into these characters which isn’t surprising considering his animation background. The characters act for him whether they’re being thrown over tables, embarrassed in public, or riding a giant electric space eel while trying to destroy a small town. But it’s not just the characters that come to life, there are a lot of panels that really use silhouette and the black and white format to their fullest. There are a few panels that seem rushed or unfinished to me, but for each of those there are these wonderful action panels that allow TenNapel the artist to cut loose and really go for the action of the moment – be it Dr. Ong and Blue rushing to a graveyard on a motorcycle or some hillbillies shooting cat demons from their truck. What I love about TenNapel’s characters is that they manage to fit their world. There are cartoony characters but the protagonist has a bit of The Spirit about him, in that he’s sort of a simplified realistic whereas there are much more representative and abstract characters.

While I do think the story works in its own way, I also feel like I’m reading more of a first draft than a finished product. I love that we’ve got a single new story in the format it was intended for rather than a collection of individual issues. (Unless someone can correct me on that). The religion feels like it was an idea that was either the basis for conflict but got overshadowed by the resulting action, and therefore feels somewhat tacked on because of how the story developed or it was actually tacked on at some point. It feels really underdeveloped to me, and while I can see how it works it doesn’t really work with what is presented and could have easily been dropped altogether.

This book reminds me of silver age comics written for adults. There is a lot of action and a cartoony presentation but there is also a lot of violence and a bit of swearing. It’s sort of the best of both worlds in that respect. It doesn’t talk down or pretend to be something it isn’t – it is comic books for the modern audience, which is most likely older. I really do love the look of it, and if you like aliens kung-fu fighting demon cats or praying-mantis hybrids shooting shotguns and watching monster truck rallies then this is worth a look.

This comic is pretty awesome.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Analogous Supermen

Oh Supreme, you were so fun to read. How can I possibly describe you to someone who hasn’t ever really read superhero comics before? Basically, it’s Alan Moore exploring Superman’s history. In some ways it’s a glimpse of what the man would have done if he was given the title to write. There is an exploration of the history of the superhero both in terms of continuity and the medium of comic books as a whole.

It uses comic books as both the medium and the message. Yes, I’m aware that the medium is the message, but here it acts as both delivery mechanism or product that the audience experiences as well as a metaphor and storytelling element in itself. It’s a story about superhero continuity as much as it is about Supreme himself. And yet using it as both structure and subject makes the book more than it is. This isn’t just about being introduced to a character or the not-so-hidden history of Superman and DC. It is proof that in the hands of a good writer and artist, anything can be a good superhero comic book. As much as superheroes can get bogged down in silliness and grim rewrites they are still capable of being a story telling medium that is as well crafted and meaningful as anything else. This book is proof that comics are best when they are being comics – not comic book movies, or true to life, etc etc.

The first issue sets this idea in motion with Supreme being introduced to all the alternate iterations of himself in the Supremacy. As reality gets rewritten, new characters and supporting cast continue to show up each with different base powers and specific details changed. It's a brilliant idea that I was a bit sorry to see not used as much as its potential allows. It does clue the reader into the underlying idea of the story though.

I’m a true believer that comics are best when they work on their own terms and Supreme is proof of that. That, and the fact that superheroes have their own mythology that can be redone, reimagined, reintroduced and reworked to a form that is just as effective as using themes, stories and mythologies from outside superheroes. Yes, this is a very comic book geek comic in that knowing what the book is referencing helps in understanding the comic on a certain level, however, I suspect that someone can enjoy the book on it’s own terms as well. You don’t need to know the specifics to enjoy the ideas but knowing them can help get the joke or the idea on a bit more intimate terms.

This isn’t Tom Strong, but it sort of feels like they are related. Whereas Tom Strong was more an abstracted idea Supreme is a very specific avatar. It’s close but not really the same because where Tom Strong explores the pulp hero basis of comic heroes and sort of creates its own internal logic of adventure comics, Supreme is very much about Superman and DC as much as its own story. Kind of the same idea used in Watchmen of using analogous characters in a vastly different story.

In some way, I sort of get a sense of sadness when reading Supreme. Not in the stories themselves but in the notion that if Moore was offered (and willing) to write Superman this could have been an incredible run. Akin to what Morrison is going for in Batman or All-Star Superman these days – using the past to weave exciting adventures today but not explaining away their silliness (including the silliness of the grim avenger).

Again, I’ve managed to get a book that is somehow connected to a creator making comic book internet headlines recently (as much as there is such a thing).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Such a weird time warp

So I just read an older trade paperback called Spider-man Visionaries Volume 1: Todd MacFarlane and it’s a real head trip. The thing is, I really only read Spider-man comics in passing back when he was on the title so going back to them with pretty much no expectations or introduction is, jarring to say the least.

And it’s not the art or the quality of the colour that is weird. I can accept the different aesthetic from the time period, I mean the silly cut offs and the Corey Hart bangs on all the men is kind of emblematic of the time and MacFarlane’s art. What’s odd is that underneath all the proto-Spawn costume designs, silly character origins, overly complex roboticesque costumes and the fact that MacFarlane seems to have removed Peter Parker’s spine you see hints at a self-deprecating artist. There’s this great scene with Spidey waiting to consult with some people and there’s newspaper or magazine articles about the Hulk smashing MacFarlane and a few other jabs at the profession and the job he was doing throughout the comics. It’s just such a contrast from what people assume about the guy these days.

What is also really freaky is that Venom is introduced and attacks MJ in their apartment and what actually happens is never explained. There is sort of an implied rape and we’re given an MJ that does what she can to leave the place when she’s discovered by Peter and she just wants to forget about it and not discuss what happened. The way the characters all handle the situation looks like the story was heading to very dark territory but unlike what happened to Dr. Light this situation is all the more creepy and foreboding. You know something horrid happened to MJ and never knowing exactly what it was makes it all the worse in the mind of the reader. Because it is left unsaid, I jumped to conclusions and filled in the blanks – doesn’t mean I’m right here but you can sort of see a situation unfolding and editorial mandates as well as different sensibilities of how much to rock the boat taking something out of the story that was maybe never intended to be there. I think it makes the story stronger and makes the characters more understandable and believable, especially in this day and age where our superhero comics show and tell us everything leaving nothing unsaid.

It’s weird how a more restrictive time can give a greater sense of evil rather than showing us every horrid detail of what happened when Venom is trying to show his power of Spider-man.

Then there is the guy who was bitten by a radioactive Jack Rabbit and could run really fast but didn’t want his family to know in order to save them from super-villains and stuff.

Looking at this book as an artifact of the time you can see this superhero comic trying to come to terms with itself. The stories are still mostly done in one, and do a good job of bringing the reader up to speed but they also have multiple issue stories. There are goofy superheroics at the same time as these much more grim characters and story elements appear. All in all I enjoyed it a heck of a lot more than I thought I would, in part for being reminded that even the most self-aggrandizing people are capable of really good things when there’s a bit of restraint involved – the stories and art can be better when some things are left unsaid. Imagine what Identity Crisis or Civil War could have been if more things were implied and the characters tried to avoid discussing things while still being super-heroes and dealing with their fundamentally silly situations? Then again, it requires a certain something to make characters appear to be implying things and look like they’re acting as people would act, it’s not just making photorealistic art and extended conversations. There is still invention here and new characters showing up rather than rewrites for the simple sake of shock and artificial change which is something that I don’t hate but am growing tired of in today’s modern-retro superhero comic book retreds.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Heeeeeerrrre's Bully!

I'm in the middle of reading more of The Spirit collection and Alan Moore's Supreme. What more can I say about Eisner's Spirit comics that hasn't been covered? And what will I say about Supreme? Well, nothing today because I don't really have much more to cover in The Spirit and I want to actually finish Supreme before I go into any sort of detail (false or otherwise).

Be that as it may, here's a sketch I did for my drawing class of everyone's favourite miniature stuffed bull comic book blogger. Of course, I mean Bully. In fact, go read his blog today rather than spend any more time here.

Hmmm, maybe this will be my running sketch book joke. Nothing but comic book blogger avatars because, hey, there's only so many times I can sketch things in my office.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Well the intro was like a road to perdition, the rest was good

Hmm, crazy busy day today but I wanted to get something posted. The crazy cavelcade of comic reviews continues. And next time I promise to spell Casanova correctly!

I read Road to Perdition last week and really enjoyed it. I like gangster stories and the noir genre (most of the time). I’m also a sucker for characters who aren’t superheroes but named things like “Angel of Death” but aren’t like super-goth kewl musclemen with many spike-tipped articles of clothing.

Nope this is about Irish Catholic gangsters and it is a great bildungsromans where a boy is thrown into the adult world or his immigrant father. At the same time, the story is a simple tale of revenge with comments on religion, belief, honour and the American dream. It’s straightforward and well executed but not one of my favourite presentations I’ve come across recently.

I like the ideas behind the format, with the black and white manga format and artwork, but the artwork was hit and miss for me. Sometimes it was great while others it just didn’t seem “on” if that makes sense. It looked to be artificially made to look computerized. I guess the other way of saying that is I didn’t like the crosshatching at times. But the action was always clearly presented and kinetic when required and delicate when it was supposed to be. The art was capable of portraying the action, which is the number one job of comic art whether or not I share the same esthetic on details is pretty minor. Basically, just because I didn’t like the look of a few panels didn’t mean it took away from the action or story. Heck, it never made anything muddled and unclear so it does its job in that respect.

Although, the version I read had about as much author introduction as actual comics. I usually read the introduction but I didn’t manage all of this one because, well, I don’t really care about all the minutia of the author’s life and times. I enjoy anecdotes not autobiography as intros.

So well worth the read, I just can’t picture Tom Hanks in the lead role.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Every now and again I’m big enough to admit I was totally wrong about something. This time I’m wondering why the bloody hell I gave up on Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba’s Cassanova after the first issue? That there is some GOOD comics. All the problems I had with the first issue work out for the best if you give it time. I guess it just goes to show that your personal mood can affect how you see a work of art and experience something. At this point all my reservations seem completely unfounded.

Yep, last night I read the first trade, Luxuria, and man that is a hefty read. It’s a thin book but man-oh-man is it jam-packed with comic book goodness. The super-sexy super-spy guy doing the multiple universe space-time double agent thing is as good as you think it should be. I know I use, and hear, the term “throwing ideas at the page and seeing what sticks” a lot but in this case it’s a more refined process. There is a lot of crazy ideas not just in each story but in each panel and they don’t feel crazy just for the sake of crazy or seeing what works. They feel more like added bonus material. Kind of like a reduced sauce to concentrate the flavor of adventure comic books.

And each month it is only 16 stinkin’ pages?! I had to remind myself that this is actually produced in a shorter format in the floppies because it certainly doesn’t read like that. This book may be small on the page count but it is dense on the content. It’s this little book that has managed to simply cut the crap and it sits now on my shelf, basically mocking other comics for being in need of editing.

And it’s not just the ideas and the stories that are dense. The artwork is kinetic enough to keep you grasped. The minimal use of colour is used to good effect here to remind you that this is comics concentrated. It still uses all the flavors and ingredients of regular comics, like colouring but here it simply doesn’t need all of them to taste amazing. The character designs have an edgy-cartoon feel to me in that they aren’t trying to be photorealistic but a bit blocky in order to allow the characters to exaggerate their behaviours. They are super-fast, super-crack-shots, super-sexy, super-cool and well you can just present that a bit better when you’re not constrained to photo realistic human anatomy. Their design gives them as much character as any of their dialogue and that combination is what makes this story what it is.

So while there may be mathematically less page count and less colours used to dazzle the eye Cassanova reminds me that comics are at their strongest when they are trying to be comic books and not movies on paper. These creators have managed to limit themselves in a way that makes the comic sturdier. There are exaggerated plots and convoluted storylines but they never feel bloated in anything but action. It really is like mainlining modern adventure comics, but be careful, you may not be ready for it on your first try.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Akira - finally

I realize that my post on Sin City has probably the greatest idea for a comic book mash up in its title. Sin City vs. For Better or Worse. That would wreck your consciousness.

So last week has been a bit of a crazy one. I’ve been trying to get my thoughts organized on Akira but was distracted by drawing class, joining an rpg (yes, I’m reverting to major geekdom), watching hockey, trying to get some Wii-time, making apple-pie for Thanksgiving (it’s the past weekend up here), and generally feeling like crap.

That being said, Akira is a bit of a mind trip, especially for someone like me who has seen the movie a few times but generally can’t remember how it goes. I remember a lot of the imagery but not a heck of a lot of what happened. The same thing happens with Princess Mononoke and Ghost in the Shell. This isn’t limited to only anime movies but for some reason these are the only examples I can think of at the moment. Weird.

So for someone who has only ever seen the animated movie this was one heck of an epic read. You know how people say the book is always much better than the movie because it goes into more detail? Well that is certainly the case here. I don’t mean to claim it is any better than the movie because I think the movie is a solid piece in its own right. What I mean is that the comic is entirely more epic in scale than the movie could hope to accomplish in its timeframe. So if you’ve seen the flick, you certainly haven’t experienced the comic.

I don’t want to compare and contrast the two mediums much beyond what I’ve already said but I’m finding it a bit hard not to talk about one without mentioning the other, since the movie is so iconic of the genre.

I was surprised at just how much more story there was here. At first I found it a bit difficult to follow the action. I’m not sure why either. I’m thinking it was that I’m just not used to the style or there was something lost in translation as it were. It was a bit difficult to follow some of the dialogue in that I didn’t always know what dialogue was attributed to which character. I suspect that is one of the problems in translating from pages that are laid out to accommodate an entirely different reading style. I also found it hard to differentiate between a few characters, but as the death toll mounted it became less of a problem.

The action is non-stop and gets ever more desperate as the story continues. And if you ever wanted to know why learning perspective is important you’ll know why once you see a few of these panels. They are immaculately done. The trouble with so many panels that are filled with perspective drawings is that they start to look like technical exercises. But that’s never the case here because for all the clean and precise lines of the buildings they are covered in the filth of humanity from garbage to graffiti.

Then the destruction starts. And then the destruction continues. No punches are pulled in this story as far as how humanity values human life. Humanity is smashed and destroyed but when they should be fighting to stop this and try to gather together in an effort to survive they instead fight over the scraps. Power and land is much more important than ending human suffering. In many ways this entire story is a meditation on how power corrupts. Human life is cheap especially when those who can do so much good simply don’t.

Where the artwork starts out with pristine lines covered by human dirt it becomes much more beautiful with the destruction. Suddenly the straight lines of the buildings hovering on collapse aren’t beautiful but extremely threatening. The undeniable technique is still present in the oft-destroyed Tokyo but it simply isn’t orderly by the end of the book. Everything is chipped, broken and generally bombed out and the art is better for it. It suddenly feels less like a technical exercise and more like a post-apocalyptic landscape that it is meant to be.

I was amazed by the sprawl of the story and the underlying sadness to it all. You want love to conquer the day but it almost happens by accident. You bang your head against the wall wanting these characters to wake up and realize how utterly selfish they are being – only when they aren’t does some peace enter into the proceedings, however they are never left to it. It’s a warning against isolationism as much as it is a warning against leaving your fate up to others to decide for you. It is a fascinating tour de force, even if you get a bit lost in translation from time to time.

Stan the Man

Is on CBC radio later today - 2pm on the show "Q." I quite like this show since it's basically a radio version of a blog. I mean, how many shows are hosted by former members of Moxy Fruvous?

It will be podcasted as well as broadcasted online. Heck, since CBC is doing all the work for me today, here's a video of Peter Gzowski vs. Stan Lee. Wonder if today's chat will be any different?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sin City: For Better or For Worse

First of all, sorry about the last post. What the bloody hell was THAT all about? I’ve been a bit disenchanted with comics and thinking critically about them. For the moment I’ve gotten over it and hope to entertain, bewilder, possibly inform and did I mention entertain?

So, over the last few weeks I’ve been reading the collected works of Sin City and Akira. Today I’ll be discussing Sin City. I finally got this written up after reading Chris Mautner's post, so I guess I should have proofread this thing to make sure it's sensible and all. Ah, hell, I spent too much time doing that in university, you're getting first draft stuff here - hey, it's the internet.

My understanding of the comic can be summed up like this: The less you know, the better it is.

Whenever you read about Sin City you’ll get mentions of Frank Miller’s noir vision and how he’s turned the volume of noir fiction way beyond levels safe for human consumption. That’s not a bad thing in a comic book. It’s loud, it’s brash, it’s tougher than tough and sexier than sex. Everything is rough around the edges and as hard as the lines of the black and white artwork. Sure, it’s black and white but there isn’t a whole lot of lightness here. It’s the black, the noir, that takes centre stage in these stories. The guys with the white hats aren’t exactly the shining paladins of fairy tales. Nope, just like it’s the black ink that creates meaning when added to white paper, it’s the dark imagery of the Sin City comics that give it its voice and place in comics.

There is good here, but it isn’t done with a pure virtuousness. The good guys are just as brutal as the villains, they just stand up for something that isn’t totally selfish. They’re gullible, they’re heroic, but they’re not any less brutal. This is a milieu full of hard characters living hard lives and not apologizing for it. And that, along with the contrast based artwork, is what makes this comic seem to stand out from countless other tough guy morally ambiguous badass comics. These guys aren’t totally morally ambiguous, they are doing the right thing but are just brutal in their methods. They are the holy warriors on a righteous quest, unafraid to spill blood for their virtuous cause. They are the soldiers in the muck doing the brutal work of killing bad men and putting their own lives on the line – sometimes because they need to, sometimes because they just happen to be there. There is a real sense of duty in the white hats.

That being said, I found the more I read, the less I liked the Sin City comics. For me, they worked better when you didn’t know much about the place or the characters. Marv in The Hard Goodbye is one of the most memorable characters in comics. From his silhouette to his actions and dialogue to his motivations and how the story is drawn all contribute to that. I’ve been trying to distill what it is that makes Marv such a great character, and I keep coming back to the fact that it’s pretty much everything about him and the story. He’s not human in his actions or his look, which is what allows Miller to amp up all the action and dialogue in his story. Marv works because he simply doesn’t need to have any reasons for his actions which means he doesn’t need to be explained as a character thus freeing him to just get on with the story. And what a story it is. It’s horrific, it’s got the blackest of black humour, and it’s got the darkest of satisfying endings. In the end, it all works because all the elements reflect one another both writing and art-wise. The story has an internal logic and that is all it needs. When the story starts tying into outside elements, even other stories in the Sin City oeuvre they don’t work as well for me.

I’ve always enjoyed guest appearances in comic books, and it could simply be that today it’s not something special but a standard operating policy for superhero books, but in Sin City it works against the stories. It works against them because you’re suddenly drawn out of the story into something greater. Yes, seeing the other characters reminds you that this is all happening in one place but it also feels like continuity is being shoehorned into the story, and continuity doesn’t belong in any of the stories. Sin City doesn’t need to be a shared universe other than having one character show up as a guest. When we start having multiple takes on the same scene it makes the reader think about the last time the scene occurred and to start trying to place the current story into the timeline of the previous one, which is really a long way of stating that it takes the reader out of the story.

So the more I read, the less I appreciated the work. I find it hard to say I enjoyed the Sin City books. They’re just too violent and horrific to be considered light fun to me. I enjoyed reading them in the sense that I could appreciate aspects of the work. The more the stories started to connect, the less their internal logic held together. Marv doesn’t look human so it’s easier to accept the inhuman nature of his adventures, but Dwight, Hartigan and the other characters are all more normal looking, and thus make it harder to suspend disbelief, for me.

In addition to the character design, I felt that after a while I was becoming numbed to the excessive violence and the stark contrast of the work. Whereas there are countless pages from The Hard Goodbye that can be used as emblematic of Sin City the other stories tend to start to feel as if they are repeating themselves. There are only so many sexy lady silhouettes, slashing rain pages, or cars jumping over hills that I can see before they stop feeling like visual cues and start feeling like crutches to fall back onto. But I do have to say, the use of negative space is unbelievable and quite frankly, unforgettable. I find the hard lines and use of contrast inspiring me in my own approach to artwork. Simply put, I never really grasped the use of negative space until Sin City blew my mind with it.

I guess where the stories started to lose their interest for me was the MacGuffin ending to Family Values. On top of that the use of Miho as Robin from The Dark Knight Returns but with more decapitations and impalements felt like the story was simply phoned in, and there were suddenly pages in the text that weren’t using the high contrast style but simply line drawings, which made it feel more like a few pages from a sketch book rather than a completed work. Now, I did like some of the collected one shots and the comic book homages throughout some of the works but by the time I finished Hell and Back, I couldn’t think of a better title to describe my feelings of reading the story. At this point, it just felt like Sin City was too much a victim of its own success. The only thing left for it to do was to use full color, and in doing this it loses its unique voice. Contrasting black and white is what made Sin City work as a whole. The judicious use of a single tone of color (yellow, red, blue) helped focus attention and at times add to the contrast found within the dark stories, but when the only place left to push the boundaries places you back to what you were working against in the first place – your project has lost its purpose.

Sin City is a memorable place, just don’t overstay your welcome because you may just get a bit too familiar with the jaded citizenry.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Last night I had my first drawing course in years. It's at the local community centre and it's me and a bunch of older women. I'm treating it as time I can actually sit down and draw as opposed to my vague promises of doing it at home after work - that never works. I'm hoping to use this to develop a project a bit more coherently so I can bore you all with images in the near future.

I won't scan anything yet since it's a bunch of exercise stuff and not all that interesting. I did realize I could have probably taught the course though, so at least I haven't completely lost all my skill.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Better Said Than Here

Don MacPherson says it better than I can. Yes, more about currencies and market economies - plus go to the comments section to see more griping about the high price of comics around the world. It really is a bit painful to see how inflated some prices get, but honestly, I don't have a solution, just more griping to add to the pot.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Darned radio

So this morning CBC radio had a little news segment about the Canadian dollar going on par with the American dollar and how the big consumer product that is getting screwed right now is books. It looked into it as much as a minute news clip could (probably more in the in-depth news hour) and explained the whole publishing process takes time thing and how books are unique for having their price printed directly on the book (problemo numero uno). In essence, any new book price cuts will only be seen some time in 2008.

Then they went to the Silver Snail in Toronto and talked about how you could buy your comics there at the American cover price. I stand corrected. I should go to the two local comic shops I pass on the way home and actually ask them if they've decided to do this as well (one is a Silver Snail branch).

I guess I'm guilty of falling prey to that internet affliction of being the dude alone in the dark room making pronouncements that have no basis in reality. Damn it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I'm still reading through Sin City and Akira these days. It's a bit of a slow process because of my schedule and the library books' availability. It's an interesting process because Akira goes for an ever increasing payoff while Sin City seems to be about dimishing returns the more you read.

But what's getting me these days is that the Canadian dollar is now on parity with the American dollar yet our comics are still sold for a dollar more and trades at about $10 more, more or less.

I know markets are volatile and all that, but seriously, if shipping wasn't a killer I'd be getting my books from Amazon. Comics simply aren't affordable in Canada at the moment unless they are sold at the American cover price. For every 3 comics I buy, I could be buying four if I crossed the border. This makes me even less likely to buy floppies no matter how much I like the guys at the local comic shop. Same for trades. The online retailers are just offering the books at the prices closest to American prices for it to be worthwhile to buy locally as much as I would rather support the community.

Unless local shops can afford to sell at American cover price it's the hugely discounted online retailers who will make the most of this current situation, and their offered prices aren't anywhere close to the hugely discounted online prices on Amazon. Okay, some books are kind of close but if I buy $35 worth of books from Chapters online, shipping is free. If I buy from Amazon, shipping removes any saving I would have had.

Sucks to be north of the border if you want cheap kicks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beta Ray Bill

So Beta Ray Bill seems to be appearing on a few of these comic book internet weblogs today (or rather recently anyway). I'm wondering if he will be the next Blue Beetle?

You know what I mean right? People go on about how awesome he is but don't actually buy his comics because (shock, horror) they could actually be poorly written so the company that owns him kills him off and everyone cries "Foul!"

Probably won't happen but it would be kind of neat.

Although Marvel would just clone him or make him a Skrull or something. Maybe they'd make him the new Spider-man.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pascal Blanchet on CBC

The CBC has a photo collection of artwork by Pascal Blanchet on their website. His new book White Rapids is coming out in English from Drawn and Quarterly in October. This looks like a fascinating story about a town build by a hydro company in a beautiful pure colour retro type of design. By pure colour I mean art without outlines, that comic book and cartoon mainstay. Reminds me of the influences seen throughout the Animated Batman series with Art Deco seemlessly blended within a modern art style.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Not Comics: Die Macher

So this past Saturday I busted out my copy of Die Macher and four of us got together for the first marathon session. For those of you significantly less geeky than me, or more discerning in your geekery, Die Macher is a board game where each player is a German political party fighting it out in seven provincial elections.

It is a heavy beast of a game that becomes incredibly involved and a heck of a lot of fun once you get past the suffering. It is a bit of a bitch to learn and you will totally screw yourself on the first decision you make in the first game you play. That’s really my only complaint here, it’s that you need to already know how to play before you start to play. So the first game is only ever a learning session and should be considered as such.

So what’s it actually like? Well, it certainly helps if you have an interest in politics. Not specific politics but the ideas and notions behind political systems because this deals with the essential mechanics of an election campaign. Upon reflection, it is incredibly cynical in this regard because you don’t get to choose your platform to reflect your values, it is generated somewhat randomly. You do try to convince local voters to choose your position on issues, but only if you have media control.

Then you can buy public opinion polls and possibly pay a lot of money to find out bad news, which isn’t too far from the truth. You can take money from outside contributors and lose a few members or refuse the money and attract more members for your principled stance. There’s a lot going on, but it is a cyclical game so once you do the cycle a few times you understand it. Like they say, we learn through repetition.

I guess in a few ways I’m a bit lucky. I have a group of friends that I met through working for the Green Party of Canada so we’re all interested in politics. It’s also fun to play with aspects of politics we never had a chance to with such a small party. It was a heck of a lot of fun to make unscrupulous choices and have a lot of money to spend on opinion polls or media influence. Again, it was long but you’re constantly involved so it doesn’t feel like you’re playing forever. Only the first election and most of the second feel entirely too long if this is the first time you’ve played the game.

So for us, we all screwed ourselves in the first election when we made out start-up choices. It’s sort of like funding capital to make the first election set-ups a bit more like the rest of the game where you’ve had the chance to plan ahead. We messed up a few calculations and forgot to take in outside contributions after the first round but we soldiered on, and just played the last election like a regular election rather than the different end-game that it’s supposed to be. We had extra cash cards, so why not?

All in all, a decent way to kill a cold rainy Saturday before a house party.

Friday, September 07, 2007


What is it about this time of year? I love it and yet it wipes the floor with my energy. There is something in the light that makes the air seem clearer and crisp even though the days get shorter.

I've got a bunch of trades at home waiting to be read, yet all I want to do is switch on my Nintendo Wii and rage through a few more levels of Resident Evil 4. I also picked up Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Super Mario Sunshine. All are solid Game Cube recommendations and when all those plus a controller cost the same as a new Wii game I'm feeling I have my money's worth and enough games to last me the rest of winter.

It's funny, my wife asked if Wedge is in the Rogue Squadron game. She plays her geek card for having read most, if not all, of the Rogue Squadron books as well as a bunch of the post Jedi books.

I don't know why but the thought of sitting down and playing Nintendo is probably the most appealing thing in the world to me right now. That and a nice scotch. A nice scotch and watching England win the next to Euro qualifying games. Yup. That's what I want.

After that I'll be back to comics.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Akira and Sin City

I've been reading the Sin City books recently. Some are a second or third reading, some I'm reading for the first time. It's been an interesting summer where I've been getting into a lot of noir fiction. And, it's quite interesting to see a lot of recurring themes and scenes then to see them all amped up to roid-rage levels in Sin City. I'll have more thoughts when I'm done the whole thing.

But to make up for both Promethea and Tom Strong ending an issue early because of the Ottawa Library's collection, as well as my attempt to read Ultimate Spider-man in trades being thwarted by the library's only copy of volume 6 (the Venom story) being in repair since sometime last winter I've decided to take on Akira. I've only ever read one of the books and it was more to steal an idea for perspective in an art class during my undergrad. I know it was cheap but I was really busy that week.

Anyway, what strikes me the most when reading Akira is how a book whose artwork is so technically proficient is also exceptionally inviting and interesting. It isn't just an exercise in perspective and straight lines, although on some levels it really is. The way every environment is so precisely created is simply awe inspiring. But what makes it work is that for every pristine line there is an equally grimy aspect rubbed into the scene to make it look lived in by humans. Much like Blade Runner had these technical marvels the characters were also in the middle of a grimy city. Same goes here. It has the clean lines and straight edges of futurism tempered by the waste products of people.

I've never read the comics before but I've seen the movie a few times. I'm liking the extended story and the more intricate plotting but I also think the movie sythesized things a bit better and made things slightly more coherent in its forced brevity. But hey, more of a good thing so no complaints really.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Huzzah! I've lived another year

On Sunday I turned 31. I then proceeded to drink entirely too much and lose horribly at the pool table. However I did managed to snag 3 Nintendo Game Cube games super cheap to play on the Wii and promise myself to never step foot inside a Catholic Church again. All in all one of my better birthdays.

No comic book news. I'm still sad about Darwyn Cooke leaving The Spirit. I really liked that book.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Putting the Strong in Super-Strong

Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse, with multiple other creators at different points.

There’s something weird going on with The Ottawa Library and Alan Moore collections. Both Promethea and Tom Strong are available, except for the last book. This may have meant that I missed a return to form in Promethea but ending Tom Strong on book five wasn’t exactly great either, albeit for different reasons. The last story in book five is a decent cut off point but I simply want more of the character and the world Alan Moore created for him. Regardless, I’ve requested that the library system add both books to their collection, so if you’re in Ottawa, please do the same.

What did I think about the Tom Strong stories? Simply put, I loved them. This is basically the superhero comics I wish I had more of. And it’s not simply that Alan Moore is writing them, I love the stories in book five (and I believe some of the other volumes) that were written by others just as much. If you don’t know, Tom Strong is basically the combination of Superman and Mr. Fantastic. The stories are not just great four coloured superhero action but also act as a meditation on how superhero comics evolved from pulp heroes through the golden age, the silver age and the extreme age to become something of their own.

These stories are as much a history lesson of the medium as they are just plain old ripping yarns.

Chris Sprouse does an amazing job on the characters here. Tom is just realistic enough to be convincing as a person but also stylized enough to be a fictional superhero. Looking at each panel was making me start to really dislike Mr. Sprouse because the art just looks so neat and easy. The characters are presented with an almost absence of detail and Tom, in particular, looks all the better for it. Like the stories themselves, the characters are only drawn to focus on the important aspects and that in itself makes them look and feel like they should for this work.

Characters aside, the rest of the world is populated by everything you could possibly imagine. Old-timey science gadgets, retro-sci-fi space suits and flying saucers, cable cars, and a city that reaches higher into the sky than anything modern could ever hope to. This is a perfect mix of the idealized past and idealized future presented for us in the here and now. If you’ve made the connection in your head once about pretty much anything in comic books then it’s probably here in a story and it looks better than you could imagine.

I love how the hero tends to find amicable solutions to problems but isn't afraid to duke it out either. He manages to fight Nazis, time travellers, shape shifters, and he fights villains with his wife and daughter, a robot, and a talking gorilla.

So yeah, I liked it. A lot. So much I’ll be buying the series even though I’ve read it all through the library. From what I can gather the original release schedule was kind of All-Star Batman and Robin like and I can’t imagine I’d have enjoyed the series as much reading it in that manner. Maybe it’s just my general malaise with monthly floppies at the moment but I’m really glad I read this series in the trade. My attention span is long enough to sustain it and there is more than enough hope and joy in these stories to come out the other end feeling better for having read it. Now, to find copies of the last book and to start the Terrific Tales and the rest of the America’s Best line…

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Comics I didn't really like

Okay time to go all negative on your butts. These aren't recent comics but I did try to read them recently.

Goodbye Chunky Rice
I thought the character design was interesting but I found this book almost unreadable. I freely admit it could be my unwillingness to try to understand it but it just didn't relate to anything or have any sort of point or theme that creates a point for mediation or whatever. I tried but couldn't read it.

This one I actually wanted to like since Kubert's Tarzan stuff was so enjoyable. While I didn't mind the actual Tor stuff, I just liked the idea of the additional material more than the actual material itself. Sort of how I feel about a lot of the black and white reprint books. I want to like them more than I actually do, even on a pure sugar rush of insanity level but this just didn't work for me. I guess I'm just not a big fan of comedic sidekick animals.

Monday, August 27, 2007

This book is good.

Kings in Disguise
James Vance and Dan Burr

Okay, honesty time. I read this book a while back. Not years ago, mind you, but a few weeks if not a month or so ago. So my assessment doesn’t involve any notes I may have made or having the book next to me so I can flip through it and remember points I wanted to make. Also, I pretty much forget all the character names except The King of Spain, Jesse James and Joker. I love that they’ve named a character Joker and I’m hoping it was just the creators wearing their comic book villain fandom on their sleeves. After all, the Joker in this book is a demented man and while not prone to themed villainy is pretty creepy.

This book is about hoboes. It is a tale about a young man fighting through that time in America that has managed to span almost as much tales as the cowboy era. The stories we get now or that are written now and set during the depression all tend to be tales. The common thread isn’t the setting or the hardships suffered but how cleverness in the face of desperation is what has helped Americans, and America itself, survive and grow into the nation it is now.

The book deals with a lot of subjects, such as the role of a man in society to notions of masculinity itself, as well as why the idea of a social safety net was never something agreed upon by citizens when one was so desperately needed, but at the basic level it’s a bildungsromans. It shows how a boy starts out looking for an ideal of adventure but needs to grow up to become a man. The boy is constantly pulled between his needs and his desires and, at times, his escape into the unknown becomes his exile from home.

All this is found in addition to the beautiful Dan Burr artwork. It’s black and white but again, this just helps set the scene all that much more. The characters are presented with a feel for the underground sixties comic. It’s not a direct correlation or anything but the art feels like it needs to evoke the same feeling that spawned the hidden artwork of sixties underground comics to portray the hidden underground men of the depression. Some men seem interchangeable but the more you know them the more they become individuals. It’s all done to masterful effect and with just enough precision in the lines to instantly know when the characters are in wide plains, dirty cities, falsely clean suburbs, and various shanty towns.

Plus you get a lot of hobo fights. I think that was an unfortunate internet fad about five years ago, wasn't it?

This is a great book that I’m surprised I never heard of before I just randomly picked it up at the library. It’s now a recommendation I’ll be making for the more serious friends I have – the ones who don’t find Sgt. Rock punching a Nazi to be a high watermark in their entertainment choices.