Monday, March 07, 2011

No Heroics - not quite comics, but still superheroes

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 18, 2011

This is great

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

Monday, February 07, 2011

Well, crap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Two Generals

The Two Generals by Scott Chantler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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