Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review: Local

written by Brian Wood, illustrated by Ryan Kelly,
2008, Oni Press, 394 pages, $29.99

This is a difficult book to write about, because it is clear that it is a very personal, important work to its creators. And I'm not saying that because of some interview that I read; I got this feeling from the comic book itself. It's not some tossed-off mindless superhero book or a too-cool-for-school indie work. Brian Wood had something that he needed to say, and Ryan Kelly put his heart into drawing it. But while the book is an admirable piece of work, and worth reading, it has some flaws that keep it from being a truly great comic.

The book is a collection of twelve stories, mostly about a young woman named Megan, each chapter set a year after the previous one. With each new year, Megan has moved to a different city. We follow Megan across North America as she bounces between jobs, boyfriends, and hairstyles, searching for a place where she feels at home.

I enjoy Brian Wood's comics; his DMZ and Northlanders rank among my recent favorites. His protagonists are often young people like Megan who are trying to figure out their lives and their place in the world. I'll admit that I was somewhat put off by Megan for the first few issues, and I wasn't sure if I was going to come around on her even though I knew Wood was just setting her up to learn and change as a person. She seemed just too naive, too stubborn, too young and stupid. But by the time I got to the last issue, Wood and Kelly had succeeded in making me care about her.

(click to enlarge)

Ryan Kelly turns out some excellent artwork that gets stronger over the course of the book. He works hard to put the reader in each of the locations -- I particularly enjoyed seeing Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood -- so we get to go on a little tour of the continent along with Megan. But Kelly's real strength, I think, are the faces of his characters, which are wonderful to look at: expressive, interesting, human. In one of the essays included in the back of the book, he mentions how much time he spent trying to get everyone to look right, and you can tell.

Like I said, though, I had some problems with the book. One of the early chapters ignores Megan's story altogether and spends its time showing us the members of a once-popular, now-defunct music band, and how they are dealing with their lives. We never see these people again, and I didn't think the story said anything new about art, music, love, or any of the other things it was aiming for. It just feels like a misstep, and I get the feeling that the creators thought it might have been a misstep too, as the remainder of the book is much more focused on Megan and her family. Another problem, as I mentioned above, is that Megan's personality really grated on me in those early issues.

Overall, though, the work has some power and heart, and it does a good job of creating a real person and showing her grow and learn. When Megan's story was over, I regretted not being able to continue reading about her.

You can buy the book at the publisher's website here or on Amazon here: Local

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Neato Webcomic: Weird Fishes

Thanks to a mention in Robot 6, I recently discovered Jamaica Dyer's webcomic Weird Fishes, which started back in March 2008.

The watercolor art is gorgeous, as you can see from the image to the right (click to enlarge). The story still feels like it is just getting going, but the characters and relationships that have been established are interesting, and I really like the magical daydreamy tone.

Go check it out here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Neato Upcoming Comic: Howling Commandos #1

I guess I have a thing for seeing Marvel characters beat up Nazis (as evidenced here), because this is the comic from Marvel's May solicitations that caught my eye:

Nothing less than the fate of the free world is at stake as Sgt. Nick Fury leads the Howling Commandos on their most dangerous mission ever! SHOTGUN OPERA sets the stage for the harrowing events of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's best-selling CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE. After parachuting deep into enemy-held Yugoslavia, Fury, Dum Dum, Izzy, Reb, Gabe, and Pinky Pinkerton need every bullet and grenade in the Allied armory as they are chased by Tiger tanks, strafed by screaming Stukas, betrayed by beautiful babes, and forced into gladiatorial combat against Baron Strucker's diabolical war machine: PANZER MAX! Brought to you by the team of Jesse Alexander (HEROES, LOST, ALIAS) and John Paul Leon (EARTH X), HOWLING COMMANDOES [sic] is a must-have for all Fury Fans, Cap Completists, and anyone who likes war comics that take no prisoners, show no mercy, and cry havoc! WA-HOO!

One-Shot/Parental Advisory …$3.99

IN STORES: May 6, 2009
I know that John Paul Leon did some well-received work in The Winter Men (and I am hoping there will be a collected edition of that, since it started before I got back into comics), and the premise of this comic sounds pretty great.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Review: Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story

by Ari Folman and David Polonsky, 2009, Metropolitan Books, 128 pages, $18.00

During the 1982 Lebanon War, Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen entered two Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of West Beirut and massacred the men, women, and children living there. The Israeli army, which had invaded Lebanon as a response to an assassination attempt on one of its ambassadors, permitted the Phalangists to enter the camps and maintained a perimeter during the massacre. Ari Folman was one of the Israeli soldiers on that perimeter, but until 2006 he had suppressed his memories of the event. After a conversation with a fellow veteran triggered a vision of the massacre, Folman set out to rediscover his memories. The movie Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary of his efforts, and Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story is a graphic novel created from that project.

I thought the book was quite good, although I have some reservations about it that I'll talk about in a minute. It plays out like a mystery, with Folman slowly regaining fragments of memories as he talks to the people who were with him during the war, until he finally gets the crucial piece of the puzzle and his memory returns. Don't expect any subplots -- Folman has a single-minded focus on uncovering his own history and does not detour from his path. And don't look for deep characterization, either, as the people that Folman meets primarily serve to provide more exposition. But the writing is terrific in other aspects: the plot deftly builds the suspense and dread as it moves switfly along, and it really imparts the feeling to the reader that young soldiers are scared sh*tless during battles and completely overwhelmed with confusion.

David Polonsky was the art director and chief illustrator for the movie, and the book's art appears to be stills from the film. I initially thought the animation was created using rotoscoping, but our friends at Wikipedia tell me the film used a unique style of animation that is "often confused with rotoscoping, an animation style that uses drawings over live footage, but is actually a combination of Flash cutouts and classic animation." However it was created, it is quite interesting, with strong figures imposed over computery backgrounds. Polonsky does a good job of choosing the moments to use in each panel, and the storytelling flow strengthens the overall mood and feel of the work.

(this image actually comes from the movie,
although a similar image appears in the book)

As I said, it is a good comic book, but I hesitate to recommend it solely because I wonder why it exists when there is another version of the story already out there in movie form. The film recently won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and has been nominated for an Academy Award; from what I have seen, it looks incredible. Although the creators say that they made both works simultaneously, this story clearly needed to be told as a movie. Furthermore, it looks to me like the animation -- not just the drawings but the movement of the drawings -- is the real "art" of this project.

That said, for those people who want to be able to study the images, have some control over the pace of the story, or perhaps just enjoy reading a solid graphic novel more than watching a movie, by all means go and get the book. You won't be disappointed. The story is powerful and the art is remarkable.

But hey, don't just take my word for it, you can decide for yourself how you want to spend your time and money: read the first twenty-five pages here, and watch the trailer from the movie below:

You can buy the book from the publisher here or from Amazon here: Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Hulk Does Not Lie

My three-year-old son received a great Spider-man Valentine's Day card from my mom/his grandmother, complete with a Spider-man temporary tattoo. When I thanked my mom for sending him the card, she mentioned that she had wanted to get him an Incredible Hulk tattoo, because of a drawing that I did when I was little.

Before I tell you about the drawing, though, I need to give you some more information about my drawings as a young kid. When I got past the "random scribbles" stage of my drawing and progressed to drawing representations of people, I would draw people without bodies, so that their arms and legs came straight out of their heads. I could be wrong, but I don't think that this is unusual.

I, however, made the interesting artistic decision to draw foreheads on my people. To do so, I would draw a large oval-shaped mass on their faces. I don't know why I chose to do this; possibly I just knew that the forehead was a part of the face, and so it should be in my pictures of people. I have never seen this in drawings made by any other child.

So my mom told me today that I once drew a picture of the Hulk in this manner, complete with forehead. That's pretty cool, I think, but the real capper is what I wrote underneath the Hulk.

Sadly, the original drawing has been lost, but I've re-created it here based on my mom's description:

That's right. He's "The Credible Hulk." You stick that guy on the witness stand, and the jury will totally believe him.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Review: Three Shadows

by Cyril Pedrosa, 2008, First Second, 272 pages, $15.95

I caught quite a one-two punch this week when I followed up Gilbert Hernandez's Chance in Hell with Cyril Pedrosa's Three Shadows. As you can see from my short review of Chance in Hell, I was pretty much knocked on my ass by its relentless depiction of cruelty and depravity. Here, I had a better idea of what I was getting into -- I knew that Three Shadows was about a family dealing with their child's terminal illness -- but it left me feeling almost as desperate.

It's almost uncanny, actually, how the two books dovetail to scare the sh*t out of a parent. One is a nightmarish vision of what can befall an innocent child living in the world, the other is the dreamlike journey of a parent trying in vain to prevent the death of his child. Either way, your greatest fears as a parent get a good working over.

The two books contrast in other interesting ways. One is a tightly-focused and structured story while the other is a wandering tale of adventure. One has simple, straight-forward art that wastes no ink, the other is sumptuously illustrated with loosey-goosey lines that veer from gorgeous cartoony detail to almost abstract expressionism. And yet both succeed in telling compelling stories and getting the reader to connect on a visceral level with the characters.

(click to enlarge)

Three Shadows is a beautifully-drawn book and Pedrosa is clearly someone to watch. But man, after reading these two suckers back-to-back, I'm in need of a happy fun puffball of a superhero story.

You can read an eleven-page excerpt here or buy it from Amazon here: Three Shadows

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Short Review: Chance in Hell

by Gilbert Hernandez, 2007, Fantagraphics, 120 pages, $16.95

Last night, I blew through Gilbert Hernandez's Chance in Hell in well under two hours. I think that if I had been stuck in that horrific world for a minute longer I would have lost it. I challenge anyone to read this thing over the course of more than one sitting.

I'm not saying you shouldn't read it. It is bravura comic book work. But be prepared for a visceral, stomach-turning assault -- I really didn't understand what I was getting into and got caught completely off-guard. Mind = reeling.

And yeah, now I pretty much have to hunt down Hernandez's Speak of the Devil asap. This guy is still swinging for the fences and hitting grand slams, several decades into his career. Astonishing.

Read a twenty-page preview here, if you dare.

You can buy it from Fantagraphics here or from Amazon here: Chance In Hell

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Review: Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #1

I dug Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #1, a cyberpunk Ghostbusters written and illustrated by Steve Pugh from a story by Warren Ellis. It's good spooky fun.

The story is set in a near-future where the dead have returned as "blue-lights": ghosts that feed off electromagnetic waste. Alice Hotwire, a "Detective Exorcist," hunts down problematic blue-lights. Her newest case involves a powerful ghost that somehow overrode a "suppressor tower" and got into an area reserved for the living. She's also facing non-paranormal problems: her fellow cops think she leaked a video of police brutality to the public, causing widespread rioting.

Ellis came up with this idea for Pugh several years ago, but it was left unfinished when the original publisher went under. Pugh continued to tinker with the character and story until hooking up with relatively-new publisher Radical Comics to put out this four-issue mini-series. Perhaps because of this history, the book feels like more thought has gone into it than most genre comics. The creators have done an excellent job building and fleshing out this world, Hotwire has a fully-developed personality, complete with flaws that help drive the action along, and there are multiple conflicts set up between Hotwire and her new partner, her boss, the other cops, the ghosts, and the rioters that create an opportunity for a lot of good drama and action.

(click to enlarge)

Steve Pugh's art is pretty terrific. It's creepy and techno-y, with nice character designs and fancy special effects that are appropriate for the story. He does a particularly good job depicting the blue-lights, for instance:

(click to enlarge)

I liked this book, and look forward to reading the rest of the series. You can see a six-page preview at Heavy Ink here.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.