Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra preview

Richard wrote about Rutu Modan's making her debut as a children's writer with Maya Makes a Mess, set to be published by Toon Books on August 14th and it looks pretty amazing. Another of their upcoming books caught my eye- a weird-looking black and white, wonderland/fairytale comic by another debut writer- David Nytra. Seems to be a fairly standard children-meet-and-must-escape-from-strange peoples/environment, but I like his style- very creepy and it has atmosphere.  Here's a short synopsis from Toon:

When Leah and Alan awaken in an enchanted forest, they have only each other and their wits to guide them. In a world full of pet bees and giant rabbits, they befriend foppish lions and stone frogs. Learning to overcome danger, they find their way home—and their independence.

The Secret of the Stone Frog is available from Toon Books on September 11th

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Underwater Welder review

It’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts about this, as I tried to analyse why it didn’t work for me. But first, a bit about the story and premise. The Underwater Welder of the title is Jack, an English graduate on the cusp of parenthood who has returned with his wife to live  and work in the coastal town of his childhood. On his final dive before he takes paternal leave, Jack spies an old pocket-watch on the ocean bed. The pocket watch instigates a strange reaction in him – he is at once sure it is the very watch his father gave him when he was a boy and is convinced it is his father’s voice he can hear emanating thinly from it. Mesmerised and disturbed, he  fails to respond to the calls of his crew-mates over the radio and slips into unconsciousness. After being bought back to the boat, Jack is banned from diving until the cause of his blackout is established.


Jack is in no doubt about the reality of what he experienced- he returns home to his pregnant wife, adamant and determined to dive again as soon as possible. Ostensibly this is to retrieve the pocket-watch, but in fact it is so Jack can connect with his father again. Through a series of flashbacks,  Lemire shows us why Jack is so keen to hear his father’s voice again: he disappeared one Halloween after failing to turn up to take Jack trick and treating and there has been no trace og him since. An alcoholic, the common, unspoken assumption is that inebriated, the sea had eventually taken care of what was an accident waiting to happen. With Halloween and his own impending fatherhood looming, Jack’s mind is a  whirlpool of emotion, a fuse that is lit by the pocket-watch incident, bringing his father’s unresolved disappearance to the fore.

As he becomes increasingly fixated, Jack finds himself transported to a deserted, alternative version of his hometown – what appears to be a combination of another dimension and his childhood past. It’s unclear whether Jack’s plight is physical or merely a representation of his fractured mental state, but what is clear is that he can’t escape. Stuck and unable to return to his everyday reality, he must first work out his issues if he is to make his way home to his wife and unborn son.

I’m a big fan of all the Lemire books I’ve read so far- Essex County, Lost Dogs, Sweet Tooth, his take on Animal Man. This book however,  left me a bit cold. It has a strange kind of disconnect to it, part of which can be labelled as a deliberate choice and effect – it reflects the disconnect of the main character and his tribulations. The big problem I had was struggling to  find a point of entry in terms of empathising or relating to Jack in any way. Some of this may be due to personal apathy, but he’s simply not an engaging enough character – listless and almost intangible. Understandably, his father’s disappearance has defined him to some extent, but there appear to be no other facets to his personality. Jack’s obsession to find out more about his father is explicable, but doesn’t really ring true,-there’s no depth of feeling to it, perhaps because the reader is given so little time to get to know Jack.  His wife, Susie, and his mother, with much less page time, come across as more distinct personalities.

Again this may be me, but this felt very much like a male-centric book. The father/son relationship is not the same as the mother/daughter or father/daughter dynamic, so it feels as if it’s playing to a specific spectrum. The story overall failed to engross or resonate on any level. Too much of it was predictable- going exactly where you think it will, without anything of note occurring. The whole cyclical father-son-baby motif seemed forced – I’m notoriously oblivious to imagery and such, but the first thing I thought on seeing the picture below was figure in diving suit=foetus, cables=umbilical cord, once again reinforcing the idea of Jack’s abandonment and parental anxiety. Lemire’s art is a standout here- he has a very distinctive scrawly, seemingly slapdash style, which reveals its accomplishments the more you look at it. It’s a style I enjoy and it’s showcased here to great effect with splash pages and double page spreads. Sadly, it wasn’t enough for me to connect with the book as I found myself turning the pages just to get to the end.

(review originally published at Forbidden Planet International Blog)

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Monster of the Week

I'm a huuuuge X-Files fan, so these new 'Monster of the Week' online comics by Shaenon K. Garrity, celebrating the best and befuddling of the hugely popular tv show, made me laugh and feel nostalgic at the same time. If you watched The X-Files, you'll recognise the ribbing of Mulder and Scully's personalities and relationship, made all the more funnier in its accuracy. I can't think of any on-screen couple who quite emulate Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny's onscreen chemistry; it was the fulcrum of the show. It really makes me wish it was still running, despite it getting ropey in the final few seasons (it was never going to work without Mulder). And movies don't count.

Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot
Shaenon's only recently started this strip, but it's definitely one I'll be tracking. You can keep up with it here.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Star Trek Doctor Who Assimilation2 Issue 3

My (mis)adventures in issue-buying continued as Issue 3 of Assimilation2 was released on the 18th. I thought they were coming out monthly and was expecting this to drop around the 25th and so minor panic ensued in the office when we realised yes, it was on sale today and we were all at work (they sell out quickly). Luckily I work with some pretty great people, as lunchtime saw Suki kindly make a dash to the local comic store to net us a couple of copies.

Picking up the end of issue 2 with the Enterprise surrounded by the Borg/Cybermen alliance crafts, a quick space chase ensues with the Enterprise taking refuge in the murky comforts of a nebula where their assailants are reluctant to follow. With it only being a matter of time before they are drawn out or followed, Picard is eager to learn who the Cybermen are and any possible motives for their teaming up with the Borg. To everyone’s surprise, the computer brings up a result on the Captain’s log, entered 100 years earlier by one James T Kirk. As Data begins to read aloud from the entry, the Doctor experiences a sudden and painful flashback.

The change of art, from J K. Woodward’s murky painting to the bright, stylised technicolour, signifies the change of time and era. It transpires that in stardate 3368,  the Enterprise, on checking the status of a health facility with whom they had lost contact. Finding it controlled by metal beings -Cybermen- they are aided by a curly haired individual in an extremely long striped scarf and together overcome the threat. The mysterious curly haired indivdual disappears, leaving Kirk and the others no wiser as to the motives and origins of the cybermen.

It’s clear the Doctor is shaken by the flashback- he doesn’t recall meeting Kirk, or any of the events that have allegedly occurred until now. It would seem there is something very wibbly-wobbly going on with the space time continuum. Picard is also understandably unhappy with the chain of events: first an attack by the Borg with the strange Cybermen, then the Doctor coincidentally turning up on-board at the same time and to cap it all off, the emergence of a captain’s log detailing a time when both had met before. Determined to learn more about the situation before deciding on a course of action, Picard leads the Doctor to Guinan. . .


This issue seemed to zip past: it was fun and entertaining. Despite the Doctor doing his best to bring some levity to proceedings in the present, he’s struggles to break free from JK Woodward’s art, which suggest a severity of tone at odds with his dialogue. Conversely, there’s a natural banter and humour between Kirk and crew that lends itself very well to the day-glo pop art in the flashback sequence. Likewise, Tom Baker’s Doctor is a nice fit with Spock and co, who are unfazed by his quirkiness. The flashback itself is neatly constructed, simultaneously giving fans a pay-off , whilst being constructive to the story.

As much as I’m enjoying these, this issue should ideally mark the end of set-up narrative. Issue 4 will mark  the halfway point in the series and with the Cyber/Borg army yet to be faced, things have to start moving a little speedier. Lots of questions need addressing: does the Doctor and Enterprise’s previous encounter with the Cybermen tie in with the current invasion- if so, how? How is it that a Time Lord, a traveller of ALL time and space is seemingly unaware of the galaxy, planets and peoples he is currently with? Why has he been unable to recall them until now? Hopefully Guinan will help provide some answers next time. Until then, two of my favourite moments from this issue:

Spock pondering a jelly-baby:

And Kirk karate-kicking a Cyber-man (to useless effect):

(review originally published at Forbidden Planet International Blog)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Kickstarter projects: Wild Blue Yonder

It's a strange, strange, world we live in where a website asking for $250,000 makes $300,000 plus to deliver an ad-free site and a sci-fi comic project with two great creators Mike Raicht and Zach Howard has only made $5662 of a modest $12,000 goal with 16 days to go. One from which you would get an actual, real, comic in return, with hours of work been put in by the artists and writer. I honestly can't get my head around it.

Anyhow, whatever small radar this blog has I thought I'd help highlight the existence of the Wild Blue Yonder kickstarter. It sounds pretty fantastic:

While navigating the dangers of a post-apocalyptic society in the sky, Cola, a teenage girl fighter pilot and her family fight to protect The Dawn, their flying fortress and home. With the world in chaos, bullets dwindling, and fuel drying up, the few survivors in the sky must use anything at their disposal in order to survive. Battles rage from ship to ship as jet-pack warriors, planes, and crew members scratch and claw to claim the few crumbs society left behind. Wild Blue Yonder is a 5 issue full color, limited series. It is set to hit shelves in 2013 and is meant for an audience Teen and up. If funded, it will be published by IDW.

So if you want a great comic or simply want to support people who are trying to produce art, please do pledge here. I really hope this project makes it.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Nobrow 7: Brave New World

I got my copy of Nobrow 7 in the post a couple of weeks ago- it's a biannual publication compiled of comics and illustration, where creators are given a theme to interpret. In 7 we are given glimpses into our possible futures:

Is this our ‘Brave New World’? Have we yet to enter into it? Or are we on the brink of discovering a world entirely separate from ours: alien, parallel, internal? Inspired by the eponymous dystopian novel written by Aldous Huxley in 1931, Nobrow 7 asks 15 internationally renowned cartoonists, each contributing 4 page visual narratives, and 30 star illustrators to interpret the theme ‘Brave New World’.

It boasts a couple of great covers by Sam Vanallemeersch (comics side) and Eda Akaltun (illustration side). The illustration in Nobrow has always been of a high standard, but as with most multi-author anthologies, the comics have been a little inconsistent, although these have steadily and vastly improved in terms of hit to miss ratio.

Perhaps rather surprisingly considering the manifesto, it's not filled with dystopian futures, robot worlds and hi-tech futures, although they do feature. As much as I enjoyed The Double, Brave New World is a wowzer- it felt like there was a greater creative scope at play here. It's interesting to see different artist's interpretations: Tom Gauld pulls off an early win presenting two alternative futures- wonderful and dreadful, and the goodness continues from there, with a few people choosing to explore the juxtaposition between the past and the imagined horizon. Here's a selection of personal highlights-

Comic highlights:

Poseidon by Anders Nilson: Reminder to self- must buy Big Questions. Nilson's entry is the penultimate one in the comics section and when I came across it, I was ready to be let down. It's sparsely illustrated with bronzed shadow-cut images. Thus being forced to the words, it's a fantastic fable as Poseidon ponders the changing of times, the once reverence of him and his fellow gods and their abandonment in today's world.
Don't Touch the Floor by Hernry McCausland: In a land with sectioned off areas and polarised people, a man accidentally traverses into a no-go area and discover something unexpected. Both dystopian and dreamlike.

Don't Touch the Floor by Henry McCausland

Half-life by Jillian Tamaki: I only recently became aware of Jillian Tamaki, but everything I've seen and read has been solid gold. Her contribution touches on so many things, ageing, loss, self-significance and the way in which we are slowly diminish as there is less and less of us each day. I've made it sound pretty heavy, but it is actually quite uplifting!
New Worlds by Joseph Lambert: Three friends reminisce on their childhood and how through one another they learnt to live more fully, enriching each of their futures.
Goldilocks by Alex Spiro and Mikkel Sommer: It may sound rather romantic, but this flows beautifully, it has a poetic rhythm and quality to it. The story feels so large in breadth and yet its only told over 4 pages, as man plunders the last of Earth's resources in order to find pastures anew.

Goldilocks by Alex Spirro and Mikkel Sommer

Illustration highlights:
Adrien Demont
Angie Wang
Aurelien Cantou
Celine Desrumaux
Rapahel Urwiller
Idir Davaine
Julianna Brion

By Julianna Brion

Lotta Nieminen
Sergi Solons

And some more pictures of other efforts (all good)

Overall consensus: you need to buy this. And look you can do it here
Click the pictures tab for more peeks

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Anne Emond's Comiques

With so many online outlets for creators online, it took me a while to realise that Anne Emond has a Tumblr. And rather great it is, too. Here's a sample of some of the comics she posts on there:

That last one really made me laugh; I really love her sense of humour. You can see more of Anne's work over at her site, where she also has a shop selling her Comiques- a 40 page book collecting her strips. If you want one, you should get it quick, as they never last very long- her first one is already sold out.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Another reason to grab a copy of The Furry Trap

If you need another reason to buy Josh Simmons' Furry Trap, Matt Seneca over at Robot 6 has just provided one. Matt's been doing a series called The Greatest Comic of All Time, where he highlights overlooked, under-appreciated and personal favourites for the title.This week, he's done a great write-up of Josh's Batman story, Mark of the Bat, which has had many people lamenting that they cant' get hold of a copy. Well good news- Josh's new anthology of twisted and horrific short stories, The Furry Trap, published by Fantagraphics, includes his 2006-7 bootleg take on Batman. So if you want to read the Batman story, grab a copy while you can. I'm looking forward to reading this even more now- bah to international shipping!

UPDATE: Came home from work to book package: I now have a copy of The Furry Trap thanks to the lovely Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics. I'm going to reviewfor FPI soon, but here are some pictures of Mark of the Bat:

Thursday, 19 July 2012

What Hellboy thinks of librarians

Hellboy's attitude to the Dewey is pretty much my attitude to the Dewey. I'm starting my MA in Librarianship in September and I can't say I'm particularly looking forward to returning to academia. I didn't learn much the first time round and I don't expect things to be that much different this time. But, you know, you need the qualification if you want to get into the field, so I'm preparing to submerge myself. I'd really like to work abroad once it's all done, so I'm trying to keep the end goal in sight.

The above illustration was done by Duncan Fegredo for Mark Kardwell and it's included in the new fifth volume of the Hellboy Library collections.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Noir double: Blacksad: A Silent Hell & Parker: The Score

Oh happy day. Or week, should I say. I'm a noir crime and comic fan, so the release of the new Blacksad and Parker books was like both Eids come at once. I thought it would be nice to do a mini-review of both books in one post seeing as they're of the same genre, have absolutely gorgeous art and feature fast talking, hard-boiled, dance to my own rhythm types. Here we go:

Blacksad: A Silent Hell
Juan Diaz Canales, Juanjo Guarnido: Dark Horse

Blacksad returns on a new case, this time with Weekly the journalist fox in fully-fledged side-kick mode. The pairing is good to see; Blacksad was getting a bit introspective for a while there and Weekly nicely offsets the darker edges of his personality. Whilst doing a piece on old music producer called Faust, who specialises in managing incarcerated musicians, Weekly is asked by him to enlist Blacksad's services. Dying of cancer, Faust wants Blacksad to find his hugely talented but drug addicted pianist, Sebastian, so he can say his final goodbyes. Needless to say this doesn't prove to be a straight-forward task.

 The great thing about Blacksad stories is that they manage to incorporate serious issues with a bit of depth as well as being an entertaining genre read, without it ever feeling as if things have been shoe-horned in for the sake of weight or meaning. A Silent Hell is a story about fathers and sons (seem to be reading a few of those lately- just finished Jeff Lemire's Underwater Welder) and attempting to rectify the mistakes of ones past whilst living under the burden of it; the bid to escape and start afresh and the things that drag you back. I also like that Canales doesn't lead his finishes to your typical comic book denouement, he's able to resist flash flourishes and still deliver a satisfying conclusion.

I didn't think it possible, but Juanjo Guarnido's art has definitely gotten even more beautiful. He explains in the notes and sketches section at the end of the book how he's changed his watercolour painting technique. You can tell why it takes so long to produce a Blacksad comic, Guarnido doesn't scrimp on backgrounds, each page beautifully painted with so much to look at. I know I'm always banging on about anthropomorphic characterisation and design, but I just love to see it when its done well and the different ways in which it's interpreted. For example, the rooster in the page below: the way his comb is draped droopily over the side of his face and his wattles, making him look sinister and menacing- little interpretations like that. Or when Faust and his son are stood together on the yacht, Faust's face thin and drawn with long, tapering horns and the ram's face full and round with strong, elaborate coiled horns. By merely looking at them, you can read the story of age and personality of their characters.

So yes, Blacksad is still brilliant and if you haven't bought your copy yet, I declare you a fool.

Parker: The Score
Darwyn Cooke: IDW

From a cop to a robber- Parker is back with his new face and a possible new job. This one involves robbing a whole town. Said town is located in a canyon with only one way in and out. Calling it tricky would be an understatement; it will involve hiring a lot more men than on a normal score, with much greater risk, but men of Parker's ilk aren't what they are through the working of practicality and sense, and so he puts the necessary machinations into gear. The thing with large scale swindles that encompass weeks of planning and many people, is the absolute need to know you have covered every angle possible, and it seems as though Parker may well have forgotten one. Or a few...

Darwyn Cooke's art and my love for the crime noir genre pre-ascertained my feelings for this, but objectively it is a pretty straightforward tale- man hires robbers, something goes awry (and not in a huge twisty way), they deal with it and on you go. The book can be divided into 3 sections- preparation, job and aftermath. The team assembling scenes are fun, but the nature of the job and town means scoping rather than infiltrating, even though the latter may have been more interesting. Of course, the convention of the hard boiled hero is that he's not allowed much character development, or he would no longer fit his remit and I felt that slightly in this volume. Parker is a different beast from Blacksad, being essentially a bad guy with a few rules, whilst Blacksad is a tough good guy struggling with constancy in a sea of dirt and deceit. Ironically, Parker is the one with room for growth, but doing so would nullify his USP.

There's not much I can say about Darwyn's art that hasn't been said before; his retro style fits these stories and characters like a glove. In this third Parker outing, he uses an orange hued colour wash which mirrors the desert ambiance and heat. Minor quibbles aside, The Score is still pretty damn super- once the gang get in the town, you're just waiting for the mounting tension to break and it has you turning the pages as fast as possible: it's pure comics at its best.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Seo Kim's subway conversations

Loved this little comic by illustrator Seo Kim of a recent, randomly struck-up subway converstaion:

'This older Indian man was a good balance of charming, friendly, and highly irritating. He continued making conversation way past what I’ve shown here but I didnt want to make a 3 page comic. The dialogue is pretty much exactly as it happened.
I’m usually receptive to strangers talking to me but i wasn’t particularly in the mood that time and really just wanted to draw…'

Via Seo's tumblr blog, which you should really have a look at- great fun.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Zine watch: Yo!ville

Another great zine curated by the Good Press Gallery- this time Yo!ville by Yo!fest. It has a quirky little concept:

Yo!Ville is a town in South Bygone. It had a population of 100 at the last great census. The town has an Ivory Tower, a skate shop, and a Turkish restaurant / hairdresser's." This book documents Yo!Ville and its inhabitants from 2007-2008.

Some fantastic patterns and illustration here, both hand-drawn and digital. As you can see from the photos, the most outstanding feature of Yo!ville is the use of colour: it's bold and there's a lot of it, but it never feels random or clashing somehow.

There's also a detachable mini-zine in the middle, where the story continues. Loved this.

Friday, 13 July 2012

A deluge of books

On Wednesday I popped into Travelling Man to pick up the new Blacksad. I say new, but it was released in 2010, this is the English language translation FINALLY hitting shops and shelves. The second volume of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from IDW was there and I couldn't resist buying it. I read this last night and it looks like this 're-boot' of TMNT is still sticking pretty closely to the first original Turtle story. It's basically a re-telling of that with a few minor changes. This volume is where the space aliens get involved- always the derailing element for me.

Today I came home after a pretty miserable day to this:

Which immediately cheered me up. The best thing in the world after food is getting packages in the post. First envelope contained Dan Berry's comics Cat Island and After We Shot the Grizzly. Dan's drawings are just beautiful; really looking forward to reading these and his new book The Suitcase, which is to be published by Blank Slate Books later this Autumn.

A couple of books from Dave at Accent UK Comics, these look interesting:

The nice people at Jonathan Cape sent some books to for me to have a look at. Days of the Bagnold Summer about a mother/son relationship, which I requested and they also sent Julian Hanshaw's I'm Never Coming Back, which I've seen in a few bookshops. These both look great:

Two books most comic fans have been looking forward to all year- Darwyn Cooke's new Parker: The Score and Locke and Key volume 5 by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.

Finally, Richard kindly sent these Yoshihiro Tatsumi Drawn and Quarterly paperbacks over, I'm a growing fan of Tatsumi so really pleased to be able to get the chance to read them all.

Should keep me busy for a while. . .