Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Canada Reads Jeff Lemire's Essex County!

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wasteland: Enjoying the apocolypse, as much as I can

Wasteland by Antony Johnson and Christopher Mitten

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Blacksad - finally.

Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarrido

In my new quest to read less superhero based comic book fare I’ve turned to the vaunted shores of Europe and picked up the recent Dark Horse English translation of Blacksad. The long and short of it are that this is an incredibly beautiful book that is superb cartooning which captures a time, place and genre almost letter perfect. The bad, is that ever since Chris Butcher saw the item in the Previews catalogue he’s placed the furries idea in my head and it tainted the experience (oh relax, I’m not pissed at him or anything). I know that this is just fiction and all, but I’m glad I never had to explain why I’m reading a book with the naked cat people having the sex.

Regardless, this is a great companion piece to the Darwyn Cooke Parker books in that it’s another thirties-forties-fifties based noir book that must be seen to be truly appreciated. The cast is made up of humanized animals where each character is reflected by the animal he is. The cold blooded killers tend to be reptiles, professors are owls, white supremacists weasels - you get the idea. It’s a conceit that is pulled off with aplomb. I kept waiting for the moment it would feel forced, and it never does. It feels like the creators took the funny talking animals genre and recast them in a gritty noir reboot that tries to engage in a realism form, like Marvels or Ex Machina.

What I found even more engaging than the characters was the rendering of the settings and backgrounds. The draftsmanship that goes into setting the stage for these comics is simply stunning. There are shades of Eisner’s New York (the universal setting not necessaryily the book) that are coloured in a muted pallet that feels aged properly, almost water coloured to give it a time appropriate production feel. The props are all note perfect as far as I can tell, which brought me into the world and simply kept me there. It’s not often that I notice the setting, but when it’s done right, it brings me into the story and here it was done so masterfully that I couldn’t look away. When something is done right, it either fades into your memory as accepted or it confidently recognizes its own beauty.

The stories are standard noir fare. Secrets are unleashed, heads are knocked together, people are stabbed and killed. Generally the horrible underbelly of humanity is cut open and spilled on the ground. There are some great ideas presented in the plots, particularly how the creators use the conceit of the anthropomorphic cast to tackle race riots in the middle volume (Arctic Nation) but I felt most of the ideas were related to the craft rather than the actual plot. I’m a story guy through and through, but I felt my enjoyment from these stories came more from appreciated the craft of the stories rather than the fairly generic noir plots. They hit all the key notes and call back to a lot of classic noir movies so it should work but it did just feel all too familiar and expected in terms of twists, turns, and Pyrich victories.

Not having a French volume to compare, I can’t really comment on the quality of the translation but I can say that on a very few occasions the dialogue actually felt translated. It was straightforward and wasn’t broken English but it felt a bit flat and more of a literal translation that lost some of the charters’ voices. It was very few and far between, and not having a copy of the original makes it hard to know if this is an issue of translation or the original writing. There were a few times, as well, where it felt the plot just jumped forward a hell of a lot. I understand the nature of the medium but sometimes those jumps were too pronounced and it felt disjointed, as if the creators wanted to explore moments, characters and develop the plot more but were forced to cut out because of page limits. It never derailed the plot but it would have been nice to see the development or escalation of situations before seeing the setup then resolution on the next page (often in the first panel of the next page). I’m not sure that wanting more of the story is any kind of a valid criticism or not, but httre it is.

But the craft comes through in spades. Not just in the rendering I’ve already mentioned but in how the majority of situations would flow throughout a page. The creators really understand the art of the page turn with often somewhat odd panels ending an even numbered page being revealed on the page turn. It was generally handled with aplomb when moving from one character situation to other times and places. It is only occasionally that it would jump along one character’s arc and feel off. And, ending each volume with a negative black and white image of a loose plot thread was always fun and rewarding. Particularly the confused Australians. Fun stuff.

All in all, this is an easy book to recommend for anyone who likes comics and appreciates both Uncle Scrooge and the Parker books.