Friday, March 6, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

So That's How They Do It

Warren Ellis, interviewed about his new series Ignition City by Elliott Serrano at Comics Waiting Room:

ES: How did you come to settle on the artist for the project?

WE: Nothing exciting, just a case of going through samples of the artists available to Avatar. Making comics is sometimes extremely bloody boring, Elliott.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Love And Rockets #2

Let’s read Love And Rockets #2.

A huge chunk of the first issue was taken up by Gilbert’s BEM; this time it’s Jaime’s Mechanics taking a turn in the spotlight. It’s changed its name from Mechan-X, but it’s still got the sci-fi elements. Maggie, Race and co. have been sent to deepest, darkest Zymbodia to salvage a rocketship that crashed into a dinosaur. The dinosaur is still alive and has become holy to a local tribe, which is a nice, oddball touch.

Penny Century the Half-Naked Adventurer and former wrestler/globe-trotting hero Rena Titanon arrive on the scene a bit randomly to add drama. The story’s narrated by Maggie in the form of letters she writes to Hopey, which fits the hiccups in Jaime’s writing style – sometimes the clumsiness is Maggie’s and sometimes it’s Jaime’s.

There’s a nice moment where it cuts back to Hopey and her punk friends all crammed into a car and reading the letters in fascination, before returning to Maggie having the dullest day of her life, stinking hot and homesick. While there are moments of fascination in the story, there are also stretches of dull. In the issue’s introduction Gary Groth wanks on about this story being one of the few true claims to an American ‘graphic novel’, but that’s because he’s the wankiest wanker who ever wanked a wank. It has its moments, but they could happily be condensed down into something less needlessly rambling and scattershot. It does a good job at making the reader empathise with Maggie’s hopelessness and boredom, but it does that by making me hopeless and bored.

As usual, the pictures are pretty.

Mario, the third Hernandez brother, makes his first proper appearance in the next two stories. His later work is deliciously surreal, but here (helped out by Gilbert) the weirdness seems uninspired and the wordiness of the dialogue is deadening. There’s rarely a moment where the art is trusted to speak for itself and the effect is soporific, a drone that lulls me into a fugue state.

Gilbert’s short Music For Monsters closes out the issue and snaps me awake, in stark contrast to what’s gone before. The opening quote, summarised: “Bang woke up and decided to do something about the state of science fiction. After all, she had to live in it.” What Bang and Gilbert do to sci-fi is repurpose its trappings to tell a gleefully nonsensical story about aliens and snowmen that shows off his cartoonier side to its fullest. It’s a great strip and its punchiness feels so different to the rest of the issue it’s hard to believe I’m still reading the same comic.

Once again there are moments of greatness and signs of future potential in Love And Rockets, but it’s a hard slog to get to them. Next week: More slogging.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Journey Volume 2

(William Messner-Loebs)

This second volume completes the original run of William Messner-Loeb’s tales of Joshua ‘Wolverine’ MacAlistaire, a trapper and hunter in early 19th-century America. Back in volume one he was hired to deliver a package and volume two finds him still on that same Journey. As he’s travelled he’s had varied encounters – tangling with wolves and bears, getting caught up in history at Fort Miami, even meeting Bigfoot. Journey’s episodic structure and, in particular, the way it tries on different genres like an indecisive date goes through outfits, resembles Will Eisner’s work on The Spirit. The similarities with Eisner’s art accentuate that, especially the moment when Messner-Loeb kicks away the panel borders during a fight and uses the whole page, just like Eisner did in his Dropsie Avenue books.

Speaking of the art, Messner-Loeb’s faces sometimes look curiously off, as if the distance between features or the overall shape is somehow wrong. He has a neat trick of drawing innocent characters, usually children, in a more cartoony style, but he seems more at home drawing the wide open landscapes of the Michigan frontier than he does people.

Apart from Eisner, what Journey brings to mind are pulp fantasy writers who worked in the short-story form like Fritz Leiber. Journey is just another word for quest after all, and Wolverine MacAlistaire’s pastoral adventures, alternately dealing with nature, violent thugs, politics between urban folk and tribal folk, and bizarre random incursions of science fiction, could have easily slotted into the pages of Amazing Fantasy with the addition of a temple to the spider-god or some elves.

Those random incursions of sci-fi are toned down from the first volume, which contained some very odd crossovers with other characters being published by Aardvark-Vanaheim back in the day. Weird things happen in the wilderness though, and this volume isn’t without its share of strangeness. Two of the first volume’s odder characters reappear: Pere Winter, who talks to dead people, and Jemmy Acorn, a mad hermit who hears angels by channelling tunes from the future, including ad jingles. Acorn is a welcomely strange recurring character, helping to lighten the dour mood of straight-faced wilderness man MacAlistaire.

MacAlistaire may be a hardened and competent civilisation-hating woodsy hero, but Messner-Loebs isn’t afraid to let him look like an idiot, which humanises him greatly. He still fits the American archetype of the rough, unexpressive Man Who Is Always Right, but he’s occasionally foolish enough to be believable. His life of constant struggle against the random destructiveness of nature and the wanton stupidity of humankind is inspiring, a never-give-up story lightened with enough humour to keep it from getting grim.

The difference between Messner-Loebs and other tellers of pioneer tales is made plain when MacAlistaire talks to one of his many temporary travelling companions, Craft, who plans to write a book about their experiences. After telling Craft to make the native Huron out to be either “real stupid or real smart” and to dispense with the “sweat an’ crap an’ blood” he sums up Messner-Loebs’ attitude towards traditional frontier stories:

Journey does none of those things. There’s no sneering, just honest, straight-forward, and hardworking storytelling with added doses of well-researched authenticity that make even the most mundane activities – whether building a shelter for the winter or trekking across Michigan to deliver a parcel – into fascinating reading.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Dear Oni Press,

If you would like to send me a review copy of the new Scott Pilgrim I would be totally fine with that.

Hugs and kisses,
Edgar Allan Moore.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Doctor Who: The Forgotten #6

(Tony Lee, Kelly Yates)

That Ben Templesmith picture is the best cover any issue of this series has had. On the inside Kelly Yates is handling the art; I miss Pia Guerra’s work from the earlier issues and would happily have waited months for this ending if it had meant seeing more of it. Yates isn’t bad, it’s just that Guerra’s mix of richly detailed backgrounds and simpler, cartoonishly iconic renditions of the familiar characters that perfectly captured their mannerisms was something extra-special and beyond what you expect from a tie-in book.

The Forgotten has been a bit of a fanboy story in which all 10 of The Doctor’s incarnations appear. I’ve seen a decent chunk of Doctor Who – a random smattering of the older episodes when I was a kid and all of the new series – so I know who all of these Doctors are and catch enough of the references to get by, but certainly not all of them. I’m in the weird position of both being annoyed by the references I get (I know the ninth Doctor said “Fantastic!” a lot, give it a rest) and those I don’t (who or what is The Valeyard? Do I really have to go to Wikipedia just to follow this?). While a degree of this stuff is to be expected, especially in the mostly enjoyable flashbacks to previous incarnations, this issue is really the tipping point where it goes too referential, too clearly becomes all about tapping into nostalgia rather than doing anything really interesting with these characters.

What clinched it was the sequence where several of The Doctor’s companions we hadn’t seen yet showed up one by one to pull out their signature shtick – Leela’s violent and thinks everyone else is a coward, Adric’s good at maths and doomed – before vanishing again. Too many of the characters are reduced to catchphrases and I get the feeling I’m reading bad fanfiction. The only difference between this and fan-comic The Ten Doctors is that this shows a less nuanced view of the characters and people got paid for it. When Tony Lee’s writing the 10th Doctor he gets the quirks of his dialogue right and you can imagine David Tennant speaking the lines, but when he’s got less space the other characters devolve into caricatures of themselves.

The early issues had a lot of promise, joyfully romping back and forth through the timeline of a show that’s changed pretty radically over the years, and the way the flashback to Doctor Number One was drawn to look not black and white, but the authentically fuzzy grey of 1960’s television was a neat touch. Only the most hardcore of fanboys will appreciate this conclusion though, and that’s the audience most likely to get sick of the one-note versions of their beloved heroes.

It’s a lovely cover, though.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Love And Rockets #1

I’ve read the Hernandez brothers’ stuff sporadically and in a very haphazard way. Some Love And Rockets here, a bit of Sloth there, that Speak Of The Devil series last year – and though I’ve enjoyed some of it, other parts have left me going, “Is that it?” If I’m going to give these guys the proper appraisal their reputation demands, I’m going to have to stop being a dilettante about it and do this seriously. Love And Rockets from the start, one issue a week with time to consider them in between. And at the end I’ll I have an answer for “What do you think about the Hernandez brothers?” when I'm asked at all the secret critics’ parties where we laugh about how we make people watch boring French movies and then Roger Ebert gets drunk and dips his scrunchy old-man balls in the punch again.

So: Love And Rockets volume one, issue one.

The cover. This is a cover that I want to think says this is going to be a series about strong, varied women. I can’t help but think that what it’s really telling me is I’m going to see a lot more big tits. Perhaps this is because I’m a bad person.

Stretched over the whole issue, broken up by the other strips, is Gilbert’s BEM, in which a variety of characters try to track down horrible monsters. Detective Castle Radium is hunting BEM (I guess Bug-Eyed Monster?), who has just escaped from jail and is the subject of the prophetic dreams of Leonore (later Lenore). Meanwhile, several characters are gathered on an island where a giant insect-monster is headed, each planning to take control of the creature for their own ends.

I was right about the tits.

The overwrought dialogue reads like badly translated manga and at first I’m not sure if it’s parody or amateurishness. According to Gary Groth, “The strip is an attempt to satirize pop culture icons through a wilful distortion of traditional narrative devices that have since become cliches in comic books.” I’m not sure what that actually means, but the competing girls all trying to play Ann Darrow to the monster’s Kong and the ha-ha named Harold Penis suggest parody. The relative lack of humour – okay, the bit where the monologuing detective reminisces about his lost love’s cooking and dedicates his capture of BEM to the memory of her curry is pretty funny – makes me question that. It isn’t helped by dialogue like this, from an overexcited newsreader:

Officials in the matter have stated that it took the lives of several guards and inmates before its glide into freedom. It was reported last seen highballing it north toward Cape Kitsch! The judge and jury responsible have been already flown to a secret hideaway for their assured safety.”

It’s trying to send up a stock sci-fi character, but it’s still just badly written. Also not helping are the moments when the art fails at communicating the story – there’s a fight scene between Detective Radium and someone who may be BEM in which Radium’s shirt gets torn off too suddenly and without explanation a few panels before the villain collapses, again too suddenly and without explanation.

The ending when it comes comes out of nowhere, but since everything else came out of nowhere it does kind of fit. The flow of BEM can’t be ruined by a sudden, pat ending because there is no flow. Things happen, the end.

I feel like I’m harshing on someone’s juvenilia here because I know that Gilbert does better work later in his career, so I’ll move on to Jaime’s work, namely: Mechan-X starring Maggie and Hopey. Now, I know these characters from some of the later stories, when they’re ordinary Hispanic lesbians living ordinary lives and making occasional jokey references to their old dreams about weird shit. These early stories are the weird shit that was rationalised into dreams, where Maggie rides a hover cycle to her job as a mechanic in a Speed Racer sci-fi world where ProSolar Mechanics are celebrities. The Rockets part of the title really meant something back in issue one.

Jaime’s art takes maybe two panels to get into gear and is gorgeous from there on out. His characters have this distinctive Archie-for-adults look to them, retaining the occasional cartoonish pose for effect, and his heavy black inks are well-balanced. Lovely to look at, sure, but not so fantastic to read. Maggie is shown up by a ProSolar mechanic named Rand Race who is the dullest piece of white bread in the issue. Then the story ends out of nowhere and is followed up by a one-row strip that’s either in Spanish or Nonsense, I’m not fluent in either, and I suspect exists just to fill the bottom of the page and give Jaime another chance to draw one of the huge-uddered women both Hernandez brothers are so fond of.

Jaime also does a few self-contained shorts throughout the issue, including one starring Penny Century. A minor character introduced at the end of Mechan-X, here she’s dreaming of being a superhero and being able to fly, but not even a horned devilish figure who offers her the world can make that dream come true. Just when she realises that, she opens the window and:

The flying bastards are everywhere. This is the one moment of pure, unadulterated joy the issue gave me. Even without reading it as a comment about the ubiquity of superheroes in comic books it’s just a nice piece of dream-shattering whimsy that nevertheless reads like a dream. Jaime draws another, druggier dream-like strip called How To Kill A, but that one didn’t hit the mark nearly so well.

Am I being too harsh on this issue? Is this the equivalent of digging through somebody’s teenage notebooks and judging them? Come back next week when I read issue two and maybe find out or maybe just nitpick for a bit.