Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Sorry this is the second late post in a row. I have a very addictive personality. I realized that I am getting old and rapidly running out of time to quit smoking and still be able to say that I smoked for less than half of my life. I have been cutting my cigarette intake in half and am officially going to transfer to the patch just after the next post. Now that I am back from vacation I want to get back in the swing of regular posting.

The next post will be looking at one of my all time favorite comics and should be on time. That will be my sixth review. For my seventh, I think its time to review a book in color and should be publishing it on July 9th.

After that I will be returning to the European scene. There is a vast number of comics being produced all over Europe, and only a tiny fraction are translated into a English. I am looking forward to writing about the variety, larger and slightly wider format along with the focus on quality that is being produced across the Atlantic.

Obliviously the quitting smoking is important and I will have to figure out how to write without smoke breaks. But the really big news that by getting this monkey off my back means I will be able to afford make new comic book Wednesday a semi regular thing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bandes Dessinées

Sorry this was late I was on vacation.
Did a lot more than comics in France, but ...
the comic scene is amazing.

This was the start of a street with over seven comic book storefronts less than half kilometer from out hotel in Paris.
Three of the stores belonged to a company called 'Album'

 Another two where exclusively selling English language comics.


 The eleventh store-front was closed.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Jeremy Bastian's Cursed Pirate Girl

Cursed Pirate Girl is an all-ages, fantastic, slightly creepy comic that follows the adventures of a dock urchin between the stratified world of colonial Caribbean society and the magical Omerta Seas in search of her father a pirate captain.

This review could be difficult for two reasons. On the one hand, much ink has already been spilled praising Jeremy Bastian for his truly magical creation that there is a question of what can be add. On the other hand, as wonderful as Cursed Pirate Girl is it does not neatly fit into the critical categories. Largely, I am as interested in what happens in the gutters (the space between panels) as the panels themselves.  Looking to see how the story is created through the creation of a narrative space filled with motion out of static two dimensional images.

The first thing that must be mentioned is that every page in Cursed Pirate Girl is so pretty it makes your eyes hurt. Mr. Bastian's panels pull a totality out of an expansive disordered much like Guy Davis only with a surgical precision of line. He also has a great sense of page as canvas.

His story is also truly remarkable. While clearly in the vein of the classic modern fable like Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan, it threads a needle between homage and post-modernism. There are modern fairy tails that are clearly products of this century but have the traditional fairy tale atmosphere and tropes for example Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Conversely there are post-modern fairy tales like Bill Willingham's Fables. Mr. Bastian's work is has the clear wonder of the classic fairy tale but is the product of post-modernism.

There are two terms that need to definition. Mimesis and diegesis can be summed up as the show and tell of art. In prose the straightforward narration works mostly as diegesis while dialogue and poetic and symbolic narration operates more as mimesis. While visual representation is by definition mimesis, It has an axis of diegesis. Blueprints or a photo of a church are more in the realm of diegesis than a Van Gogh painting of a church.

So as a work of prose and illustration, Cursed Pirate Girl is an undeniable success. But there is a third sense of mimesis in comics. Comics, as collections of static two dimensional images, have the unique ability to show space and motion without spelling them out. My first reaction to Cursed Pirate Girl was that it wasn't as successful as some the books I have discussed here. At times the panel and scene transitions seem choppy.  Bastian's establishing panels can be so epic and detailed that the information they convey about spatial relations of individual characters can get lost in his mastery of detail. He also pulls off these amazing page layouts that tie all of the individual panels into a grand composition. At first glance there seems to be a jump over the gutter.

On further reflection two things have occurred to me. One is the lasting effects of John Tenniel's illustrators in Alice In Wonderland. The other is the narrative timing in the work of Edward St. John Gorey.

In the interplay between words and images there is a duration to powerful images that continues after the page is turned. A good example of this is how John Tenniel's images are so iconic that dwell and shape the text. Mr. Bastian bolder compositions don't overshadow the narrative they set the tone. Their grand weirdness lingers through his more traditional pages.

Mimesis and diegesis Edward Gorey work is strange. Specifically how Gorey would use the discontent between words and illustration to create a kind of motion through the double take. The text would tell one thing, the image would show you something slightly different, that would in turn cause you to reevaluate a double meaning in the text. What I will call the “Gorey effect” is how a single panel can show (as apposed to tell) motion and causation backwards by the readers unpacking of the relation between the images and text. It is the kind of eureka moment that you get from dealing on the massive amount of information contained in the pages of Cursed Pirate Girl.

In closing you should pick this book up. It remains rewarding read after read. You won't find a lot of Eisner/Kirby showy cuts on action or McKean/Mack collage as narrative space. Rather Mr. Bastian uses his penn like a scalpel and carvers the gutters into your frontal cortex.

You can follow Jeremy Bastian's blog here and should be able be able to buy or pre-order it form its new publisher Archaia.

His listed upcoming appearances are...

July 11th-15th- San Diego Comic Con San Diego, CA.
Sept. 8th-9th- Baltimore Comic-Con Baltimore, MD.
Oct. 26th-28th Detroit Fanfare Dearborn, MI. 
Nov. 17th and 18th- NC Comicon Durham, NC. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

David McKean's Cages

Cages centers on a apartment populated with a jazz musician, a novelist and a painter. In orbit of the building is a cat, a cray man, a homeless man and a Demiurge. The ten issue arch is both tribute and performance of the trials and rewards of the creative process.

Cages, like McCloud's Understanding Comics and Moore/Campbell's From Hell, is alumni Tundra Publishing. It shares in, and is partly responsible for, the mystique of excellence around that short lived publishing house. Cages is still a contender for being the high watermark of art house comics even after being in print for almost a generation. While it isn't a breeze read I found it flowed pretty smoothly once I committed to sitting down and giving it my full attention. It can be challenging but it never sacrifices the simple joy of storytelling for its well deserved reputation as a avant-garde comic book narrative.

McCloud lays out his theory of the 'four tribes' in the third essay of chapter six of Making Comics.  Here is a short article from The Guardian on the subject. I want to focus on the relationship between Animists and Formalists which from the less subjective of his two sets of opposed artistic preference among the comic book community. Jeff Smith and (early) Jack Kirby are excellent examples of Animist. Their mastery of form and style intentionally and seamlessly obscures itself in their devotion to story and content. McCloud singles out Cages as the perfect example of the junction between the Formalist and Classicist tribes.

The juxtaposition between the preferences of the Animists that use the techniques of comic book composition to tell a story by concealing those techniques and what McKean offers us is telling. Mckean shows off his skills in his composition and editorial decisions. He weds the artistic showiness of his form to content as his story pulls the reader deeper and deeper into the drama of the creative lives of characters.

Cages has been in and out of print and shifted publishers 4 times. Currently Dark Horse is keeping it in print and has a well-priced paper back edition. His web-site isn't live yet, but its going to be gorgeous.