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.