Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bandes Dessinées 3: Multiple Genre Medium

 Bandes Dessinées 3
Multiple Genre Medium

European comics have an extensive selection of science fiction titles.  I have already mentioned Enrico Marni's Gipsy.  American advocates of comics as the 9th art make a big deal of comics being a medium not a genre.  Super heroes are a genre that have become exclusively linked with comics.  In fact, the two largest comic book publishers hold a joint trademark on the term.  Comic book stores are such a stange market, the are served by only one distribution company.  So you can go over Diamond Comic Distributors and confirm that over seven out of every ten comics sold in comic shops is a super hero book.  In 2011, all but about a dozen mostly horror titles of the top 500 best selling comics of 2011 were super hero books.  I should note that the graphic novel/trade paperback list is much broader and those books are also sold by book stores that do not report numbers to Diamond.  The French comic book scene is far more diverse, and even though only a small fraction of those have been translated into English it still expands our market here in the U.S.A. 

I picked up The Metabarons: Poet and Killer and The Metabarons: Alpha / Omega by Jodorowsky, Gimenez, Charest and Moebius.  I can make some observation about the series even after skipping over the second volume of these editions.  There seems to be a few things lost in translation, this is a problem because language in SF can be strange without translation.  Jodorowsky has worn a lot of hats over his lifetime.  On top of being a renowned comic book writer he is also a prose writer, occultist and film maker.  Before doing The Incal and its prequel The Metabarons he spent about half a decade trying to bring Frank Herbert's Dune to screen.  You can see how much of Herbert rubs off on this work.  It is epic and while it is slightly silly it is strangely Shakespearean.  You can find copies directly from Humanoids, the English language publisher.
A page from Ortibal

So I read, Orbital: Vol. 1  Scars by Serge Pelle and Sylvain Runberg.  Runberg has a good running start at an epic space opera but there just isn't enough in the first volume for me to make a judgment.   Serge Pelle art is amazing and the translation is very readable.  The entire series is available in print and English  This is becuse of this intresting company called Cinebook.  This U.K. company is actively trying to bring high art comics across the English Channel. You find their catalogue at, but prices are listed in  pounds. 

Last but not least, my final finds were VALERIAN spatiotemporal agent: Ambassador of the Shadows & VALERIAN spatiotemporal agent: World Wthout Stars by  Jean-Claude Mezieres & Pierre Christin.  From the 1970, VALERIAN & LUARELINE appears to be giant among the shelves of the Bandes Dessinées.  I should mention that allot of the dust jacket info highlights the connection to and influence on Star Wars.  What is more telling for me is the list of creators that praise it:  Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman and Jim Steranko all heavy hitters in and out of mainstream comics.  The praise for these first two volumes of VALERIAN spatiotemporal agent is understandable.  It really does feel like George Lucas partnered with Wally Wood to create a big sand box of a space opera.  The publisher, Dargaud International, is a division of its French publisher.  I found out that I can get ahold of the French editions here in Austin so I will return to these after I run out of English translation with Bandes Dessinées 4(or possibly 5): Enki Bilal.  Before that I will be returning to some self published work.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tommy Kovac & Andy Hirsch's The Royal Historian Of OZ

The Royal Historian Of Oz
Tommy Kovac & Andy Hirsch

The Royal Historian of Oz is one of the many comic books to build on the modern fairy tales of the turn of the last century.  Oz, Wonderland and Neverland have all become geographical back drops for comics.  Because Oz is an epic sprawling fantasy with plenty of room for interpretation while falling safely in the public domain, it is a natural enough fit for comics.

One thing that sets The Royal Historian of Oz apart is the way it actively and self-referentially  places its self in the tradition of Oz adaptions.  For example, even Kovac's title is an allusion to a tradition, started by Frank Baum, of referring to the author of Oz stories as a 'historian' of Oz.

The Royal Historian of Oz starts off in a slightly alternate near future.   Like Baker Street's London, Kovac's "broke-down weary future" allows for greater literary license and zeppelins.  The story follows Frank and his father Jasper Fizzel.  To Frank's chagrin, Jasper is persistently cranking out Oz fan fiction to the detriment of any help to the household.  Jasper is hounded by the ruthless but ridiculous fictional Official Oz Society (not the real International Wizard's of Oz Club).  The  Official Oz Society police all Frank  Baum's intellectual properties.  In a fantastic turn of events, Jasper manages to cross over into Oz in an attempt to vindicate himself.  This only manages to make more of a mess of things for everyone and leaves Frank stuck in the middle.

OZprint020In researching this review, I found a copy of Wonderland.  It utilizes the writing talents of Kovac and the illustrations of Sonny Liew.  Kovac clearly has an understanding of the inner-workings of the modern fairy tale.  He also has a glibness that is contemporary without being anachronistic.  He keeps The Royal Historian of Oz accessible to readers whose knowledge of Oz is limited to passing familiarity with Scarecrow, Dorothy and Ozma.  Nevertheless Kovac does spend a little time geeking out on less known members of the Oz pantheon like Button Bright and the Glass Cat.  Tommy Kovac also has a pretty comprehensive web page and a highly entertaining blog.

For me, Andy Hirsch steals the show.  There isn't as much multi-panel motion as his self produced Varmints.  In The Royal Historian of Oz panel breakdown would be most dictated by Kovac's script.   Hirsch's talent mostly shines through in his panel composition.  When talking about panel composition it is easier to talk about it in terms of camera angles.   Hirsch shoots up, down and off to the sides that allow for a sense of motion in static single panel.  Take a look at the fourth panel of page above.  There is a minimum of action in the page as dialogue goes back and forth.   The over head angled shot gives the impression that you actually saw the steps as Frank pivots and points.  Another thing to check out is all of the chewy scenery.  The level of detail in the first two panels is a mainstay of the book.  To give him feed back or check out what he is currently working on, visit A is for Andy or darnvarmints

Jasper brings a flying monkey named Zik back from Oz.  Zik is monosyllabic with a noticeably inhuman face.  Zik's ability to emote and his comic timing really highlight the strength of Kovac and Hirsch's collaboration.  Both men are capable of stealing a scene.  For example note some of Jasper's monologues or the visual funkiness of Patchwork Girl at the end of issue four.  But I feel that there is an equilibrium on the character of Zik that shows off what both men bring to the work.

You can buy the individual issues or the pocket sized trade paper back from Slave Labor Graphics.  The first three issues are also for sale from the Comixology smart phone application. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


So it's been five weeks without a cigarette, and  it's been more or less successful.  I will be dropping the patch in the next few days.  I am writing to apologize for missing this weeks post.  I have been working six day weeks but have a mini vacation over the horizon.  I do have a review that I am looking forward to.   I am close to finishing it but I want to do some more research.  I'll be back next week.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Robert Venditti & Mike Huddleston's The Homeland Directive

The Homeland Directive
Robert Venditti & Mike Huddleston

The Homeland Directive is one of my favorite conspiracy thrillers of any medium.  As a genre, original thrillers have been under represented in comics.  I've mentioned Pierre Christin and Enki Bilal's The Hunting Party.  Also of note is Brian Azzarello and Eduadrdo Risso's 100 Bullets.  They are the exceptions that prove the rule.  The Homeland Directive is not just a  magnificent comic book.  Before diging into how it takes advantage of comics as a medium I want to say a few things about the writer and the story.

Robert Venditti has mostly worked for Top Shelf.  Apparently he started out as a volunteer in the mail room.  His first and continuing  series The Surrogates was a runaway success for Venditti and Top Shelf.   What made that series so enjoyable for me was not its glimpse into a wildly innovative dystopia nor was it the wonderful collaboration between writer and artist.  Rather it is Venditti's talent for telling stories squarely in the realm of genre fiction that take unpredictable but unforced twists with three dimensional characters.

These twists and dimensionality shine through in The Homeland Directive.  Without giving too much away, by page 24 you find out that the main character is caught betwean a conspiracy and a counter-conspiracy.  Venditti uses this to side step some genre tropes which I always had as pet-peeves.  The conspiracies are not global with unlimited  and unrealistic resources brought down by a sequences of deus ex machinas.  Rather it is the missteps and overlooked facts that create the dramatic tension between the two conspiracies.  Unrealistic villains are always frustrating but the idea that a person or persons capable of manipulating multiple levels of governmental jurisdictions who need to stoop to melodramatic world domination is a bridge too far.  Venditti characters all have realistic and mixed motives behind their actions.   While there are clearly villains there are many levels of grey between them and the heroes.

As you can see in this page, Mike Huddleston uses lines very sparingly and his figure drawing is far simpler and more abstract than his work on Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker.  It is the coloring that really stands out in this book.  For most of the book the colors are light and lay on top of the heavier inks.  Unlike mainstream coloring this highlights the line work rather than completing or obscuring it.  The collaboration between Venditti and Huddleston results in some truly excellent storytelling.  They shift not just the color palette but color techniques as the narrative shifts between the perspectives of different players in the conspiracies.  It creates this wonderful and almost unique pacing and I strongly suggest you go check it out if you are a fan of the genera or the medium.
You can buy a hard or digital copy from Top Self. Also check out Robert Venditti bio-page.

Warning, possible spoiler alert.

I will moderate commitments for civility, but if people would rather use this blog as a chances to discuses the book amount folks that have already read the book, I am great with that.  So If you haven't read the book hold off on reading the comments until you have.