Tuesday, July 24, 2012

21 days without a cigarette

I am not sure about this post but I am kind of twitching from withdrawal and not ready to finish with either of the proper reviews I am working on.  What I was was doing with money before I started smoking was buying comics.  My mom sent me this link thought that brought it all back.

This video is kind of sad or the funniest thing ever.  Between the ages of elevan and fourteen I owned about 2 out of 3 of those books.  He must be a little younger than me or also a late bloomer.

Those books are from the early nineties.  The joke is that those comics were marketed as collectibles, so subsequently, were overproduced junk.

The sad or possibly ironic thing about this video is that it highlights the worse side effects of the false scarcity of the comic book market.  In the nineties there were literally thousands of comic books that were being sold to people who would never open them.   Which meant there were issues where five books were sold for every three that were read.   This excess production of never opened comics subsequently drove down the scarcity of each copy.

There was a silver, or at least limited addition foil lining, to all this speculation.  Because so many of these books were never opened, the cover art didn't just have to sell the book, at times it was the only thing being sold.   So there was a high premium on the art and many of the artists who were just getting name recognition in the late eighties became the selling points for the books they worked on.   This in turn allowed for a group of them to break off and start Image Comics the first really profitable high-profile creator owned publisher.

I am not claiming Image didn't have a lot of its own problems.  Back then it wasn't really offering much that Marvel or DC hadn't already offered.  Sam Keith's Maxx being the exception that proved the rule.  As it has sort of become it own thing, it largely did so by allowing that some of the more derivative aspects to re-enter the corporately controlled intellectual property driven industry of mainstream comics. 

While this was going on Karen Berger at DC was poaching all this crazy writing talent from Great Britain and starting up the Vertigo imprint of DC.   I feel (this may just be auto-biographical), that the backlash against comics that were not for reading collided with Vertigo's track record of having books whose writers and not illustrators were the big selling point.

That was over a decade ago and I really don't have my hand any where near the pulse of main stream comics but I hope this had lead to some equilibrium.  I guess I can use that hope as transaction because the two reviews I am working on are writer/artist teams.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bandes Dessinées 2

So, I wanted to do a quick survey of all the English translations of French Comics that I could get my hands on.  My first thought was to pick up some Richard Corben.  His work was all over France and I had seen plenty of his stuff here in the standard Bandes Dessinées album size.  Lately he  has been publishing a lot of stuff through Dark Horse that you can check it out here.    Thing is, I am embarrassed to have just discovered, Richard Corben is an American who has been working on comics in America for over 40 years.  I sort of became familiar with his work as a well established artist who was filling in on Hellboy.  Apparently his first really big break was in Metal Hurlant the French anthology founded by Mœbius that is the precursor to the trans-Atlantic Heavy Metal.  From what I gather Mœbius is the Akira Kurosawa of comic books.  So here are five books and four series that have found so far.

I picked up the first two albums of Massimiliano Frezzato's Keepers of the Maser Series.  He is Italian, of Heavy Metal fame, and his work was everywhere in France.  Unsurprisingly it is gorgeous.  English translations can be bought from Heavy Metal.  From my quick survey of these first two albums, the story is reminiscent of darker more sexual  Castle in the Sky or Nausiccaa.

The Hunting Party - Hardcover Album : The Hunting Party
I took a look at the first volume Enrico Marni's Gipsy.  From the 61 pages it seems to be a near future action romp.  It's fun genera fiction.  I didn't feel there was enough to make a judgement but there is a longer collection put out by Heavy Metal

The artist Enki Bilal, who is also a veteran of Metal Hurlgeant, is in fact a French citizen.  Pierre Christin and Enki Bilal's The Hunting Party is exactly what I feel is missing from the American comic book marcket.  It is a political thriller between Eastern Block political operatives set towards the end of the cold war.   It is published by Humanoids,  which has an impressive line up of Franco/Belgian comics.

I haven't found any Mœbius books yet.  The Metabarons: Path of the Warrior by Jodorowsky and Gimenez is a prequel to a a set of books called Incal by Jodorowsky and Mœbius.  Like Frezzato and Bilal's work, The Metabarons is painfully pretty.  This edition is strange. They reformatted it to fit the standard American comic book format.  This means there are next to no left or right margins but larger blank space at the top and bottom of the page.  It looks like this collection is the first one and a half albums that can be found here from Humanoids.

That is it for now.  I am going to go back to American creator-controled work for a while, but I will be back to the European scene shortly.  I also need to delve into some of Richard Corben's work.

Monday, July 9, 2012

David McKean & Neil Gaiman's Signal to Noise

David McKean & Neil Gaiman's Signal To Noise 

Signal To Noise follows the middle-aged film director as he discovers and deals with late stage cancer while working on a script about the 999AD apocalypse that wasn't.  The narrative shifts between him and the lives of the midevil villagers of his script he is writing for and audience of one.  Appropriately Signal To Noise is short on resolution.  The story does throw the reader into the division of between the intended and received work of of art.

Signal To Noise came out in the early nineties.  I came across it latter in decade back before I started smoking when I was still visiting comic book stores weekly.  I think of it as part of trilogy falling in between Violent Cases and The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch. At 48 to 96 pages, all three are relatively short for bound American collection but long for stapled comic books.  They are much closer to Bandes Dessinées format. 

The McKean's artwork in all three is unreal.  It is closer to mix media and collage work he did for covers for comic books and CDs.  But the simple but elegant line work he used in Cages occasionally peaks trough.  His color pallet creates a depth to the page without overwhelming the narrative flow.

I ended up putting this review off until the last minute I hope to come back to these three books.  I had planed to review another book from Top Shelf but couldn't get a hold of it.  I picked a copy of Signal to Noise one off my book case I think I lent Violent Cases out.  Dark Horse has released a a new edition that appears to have some interesting bonus material.  I hope to get a weak or two ahead over the next few days as a way taking my mind over the withdraw.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Andy Hirsch's Varmints

“A girl with a broken gun, and her overeager kid brother
pursue their dead beat pa, the criminal king of the west.”

There are two reasons why Andy Hirsch's Varmints is a must read: Varmints is a great companion to Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art, and is an all-ages accessible romp of a narrative. It is a western following Opie and Ned, young siblings on the hunt for their infamous father. So far each issue is a standalone tale as they travel from saloon to bandit-ravaged town to train headed for disaster.  They overcome obstacles through a combination of their native with, the incompetence of adults,  Ned's positive outlook, and Opie's worldly cynicism.

Hirsch makes  look unforced and almost invisible. For those of you who love the art form as much as I do, I want to point out 5 things that stand out in theses books. 

  1. Maintaining depth in black and white composition is tricky, yet in issue after issue, impressively crowded spacial relations are clearly defined between fore, middle and background and explored in panel and page as action seamlessly travels though surprising direction and angle.
  2. The motion--that is so important to this work--is made smoother by using action to action panel transitions. Liveliness is accentuated by the daring shifts of angle from panel to panel.
  3. The expressiveness of the work comes from the synchronization in Mr. Hirsch's art. His lines create a fully fleshed out world with highly stylized character illustrations, reminiscent of Jeff Smith's work. This contrast with work like Tin-tin or Cerebus, where you have very stylized characters in very realistic backgrounds. I'm think of chapter two of Understanding Comics. Worlds that Smith and Hirsch create feel like the worlds that those characters belong in, not the real world. The lines are simple and playful, nevertheless, the objects are really objects (not just images of objects). It is a style that works beautifully for an all-ages action comedy.
  4. I'm a fan of experimentation. Weird, innovative page layouts even if they get in the way of smooth narrative. Hirch is innovative, but without sacrificing story telling. It works so seamlessly that you may even miss it on the first read.
  5. Varmints is in dialogue with the history of the art form by reflecting and accentuating under appreciated aspects of the cannon. There are strong parallels to Will Eisner and Jack Cole. Another fun homage is callbacks to the house style of the early Mad comics in issue three.

Varmints is simply fun and heart warming.

Opie and Ned are easy for any reader, young or old, to cheer for and identify with. They have the basic dialectic personalities. Opie is a young girl who serious concern comes from having too grow up to quick. While Ned's unflappable optimism is neither out of ignorance nor pollyannaish chirpiness. The art style allows the characters to be hyper expressive and a “vacuum into which our identity and awareness (is) pulled (into)” as Scott McCloud puts it.

The book's tag-line points to an epic simplicity that it shares with Bone. I grew up with the Hobit and I always found Bilbo's memoir title the punch-line of the book. There and Back Again is all you need to know, but it is not all you want to know. Varmints premise is simple, it could be finished in a few more issues or become the backbone of a 1,317 page illustrate masterwork like Bone. The thing that makes it so accessible at this stage is that every issue stands solidly on its own and as piece of larger puzzle. 

This book is a great way to jump in and start supporting creator-owned work.  It is only a few dollars for a digital copy from the artist at his website. This is the a chance to get in and follow and support an amazing project at the start.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Guy Davis & Gary Reed's Honour Among Punks

Guy Davis & Gary Reed's Honour Among Punks:
The Complete Baker Street Graphic Novel

When I started this review I had 10 cigarettes left. I wrote with the jittery knowledge that I can't allow cigarette breaks. As I posted I have one left. I've been saving the review of this collection because Baker Street makes me ridiculously happy. I would have difficulty listing my top fifty favorite books let alone ranking them but Baker Street would easily be at the top of that list. 

The stories are set in a vaguely steampunk alternate London, allowing for the collision of something authentically Victorian in Conan Doyle with the punk ethics and aesthetics of the book's protagonists Sharon and Sam.  It is through the eyes of the Susan, an American medical student, that we are brought into the world of Sharon.  Quickly we learn that Sharon splits her time between the role of the great consulting detective by day and as keeper of the peace between the rival punk gangs at night,

The two runs of Baker Street where published and collected by Reed's company Caliber Comics.  Caliber merits a review of its own.  Caliber rode the late 80s black and white comic book explosions, publishing Brian Michael Bendis' Jinx and Goldfish, David Mack Kabuki and J O'Barr's The Crow

At the time Guy Davis was a self-taught illustrator in his early twenties.  One of the truly wonderful things about this collocation is that you can see his early development.  There is a notable shift from the first two issues of the Honour Among Punks storyline to the third issue.  In the third and fourth issues he  embraces the wild line work and intense compositions that have made him famous.  In the second storyline, Children Of The Night, his work is fully mature an as vibrant and proffesional as the work he has done for DC and Marvel.  
Davis is mostly working with Dark Horse these days.  His work with Mike Mignola on B.P.R.D. in the world of Hellboy has been amazing.  Dark Horse has all been publishing The Marquis which is shipping up to be Davis' magnum opus.  You can track his progress and some awesome Marquis fan art on his blog.