Sunday, 30 September 2012

Star Trek/ Doctor Who Assimilation 2 Issue 5

It's getting more difficult to muster enthusiasm for these reviews as it becomes clear the series isn't headed anywhere particularly new or interesting. Add to this the frankly awful decline in the art and you find yourself in the horrible position where something you love- reading comics- is becoming a chore. But I've started so I'm determined to see it through to it's no doubt predictable end. It's easy to dismiss comics springing from TV shows as gimmicky and generally poor, but I was willing to give this a go, because the opportunity was there, like it often is, to do something special wit the material. I mean, here you have the unprecedented collision of two hugely popular, prolific, arguably seminal sci-fi shows, surely you wouldn't attempt to patronise their respective fandoms by giving them a cliched, tropey story, with the assumption that the crossover in itself is a pleasurable end. Oh, you would. You have Cybermen and Borg together: do something with it. The Doctor and Captain Picard on the same page: think of the possibilities. The TARDIS and the Enterprise- but no, those words and concepts alone are supposed to merit geek-gasms without producing anything of substance. Its a shameful essay in laziness.
Anyway, back to the comics: after learning of the Cybermen's double cross of the Borg, in the last issue, Captain Picard decided to leave the Borg to their fate, refusing to come to their aid even when they sent a request for assistance. The Doctor, never one to stand aside and watch the obliteration of a species, however bad, was not pleased. The rhetorical question was, ould he be able to change Picard's mind? He begins his attempts at persuasion by informing Picard of the Cybermen's long and bloody history, but the Captain remains unmoved. It soon becomes clear there is a deeper reason behind Picard's refusal of help than countless attacks and general enmity. His reluctance is rooted in past personal experience: of a time when he was captured by the Borj and controlled by them, as he used his knowledge of Starfleet to invade and attack Federation planets and ships, until he was finally stopped by Commander Riker and Data, who freed him from the Borj's mind-control. The art in Picard's black and white flashback sequences is probably the best in the book.
Whilst sympathetic to the Captain's experience, the Doctor again stresses the cold relentlessness of the Cybermen to no avail. Unable to persuade Picard through his words, he takes him for a little trip in the TARDIS. It seems even Picard with all the things he has seen, is susceptible to surprise on the TARDIS being bigger on the inside. A quick whizz into the future shows him what will come to pass if he refuses to intervene in the Cyber-Borg battle now. Quite simply, these scenes just didn't work: I can easily imagine them being powerful and resonant on television as Picard sees the people he works to protect and his friends enslaved and his planets ravaged by war, but they're just not strong enough here, as he gazes dispassionately from the doors of the TARDIS. Actors of Stewart and Smith's calibre help to carry weak scenes- it's why it is so important to make the right casting choice as so much depends and revolves around them. To state the obvious- comics are not TV- you need a strong story in which characters can function.
By the end of his sojourn into the future, Picard is ready to side with the Doctor in looking for a solution to end the Cybermen's terror. No doubt the final two issues will deal with how this is done. If the purpose of this series was to have the Enterprise crew, the Doctor and the Ponds on the same page, it's succeeded wildly. Anything else is up for grabs.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Chisato Tamabayashi: pop-out and cut-work art books

My friend Andy is opening a art book/journals/gift shop in Leeds in (fingers crossed) November, which means he's basically looking at a whole load of very cool stuff and deciding what to stock. One of these fantastic people is a Japanese lady called Chisato Tamabayashi, who makes the most incredible, beautiful, intricate and downright amazing pop-out and cut-out books. Here are a couple of my favourites- this first one is called 'Queue' and features a 3D pop-up car, bus, or van on each page. The pages then magically fold out to form a queue of vehicles. Tamabayashi also makes greeting cards which have a single car or bus pop out.


And the second, which I will hopefully own once Andy is up and running, is called '9-5'. This book has gorgeous cut-out tree pages, which slowly change colour as the seasons transform, with the cut-work moving from the leaves to the branches. It also contains 6 mini-books with little close up details of the trees, like a bird nesting. It is just awesome work.


You can visit Chisato's site here.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

In praise of. . . Corinne Mucha

A recent discovery: Corinne Mucha is the bee's knees. It began with the Ignatz-nominated 'The Monkey in the Basement and other Delusions' and continued with 'It Doesn't Exist' and 'My Every Single Thought'. Ostensibly these come under the umbrella of 'mini-comics', but where even the best mini-comics often feel slight, Mucha packs so much into these pages, pictures brimming off the edges and words, words, everywhere (an unfashionable and dying art in comics), that you never feel you've read anything other than a full, dense and enriching narrative. Her shining quality is her ability to combine irreverent humour with more serious ruminations in a manner that's honest and contemplative without being overly earnest or preachy. Her mini-comics are one of the best uses of the format I've come across, her narratives layered and rewarding.

I confess to a little snobbishness of auto-bio comics, specifically the indulgent, singularly affected, 'sad-boy' type which seem to have become prevalent in the medium. They always seem a fraught endeavour, as you're presuming that your life, problems, dreams are of enough interest to engage and be cared about by others. Mucha overcomes this by giving her experiences a fictional bent, veering off into imagined territories, interpolating diagrams, charts, comics, humorous shorts in support of her narrative ideologies. 'My Every Single Thought' in particular, written after the ending of one of Mucha's own relationships, is a dizzying , thorough exploration of the connotations of the word as a label when applied to women who aren't in a relationship.

There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with being single. Yet it's a tag that carries a world of largely negative association for women, the absurd implication being that surely no woman would be  on her own through choice. It is, unfortunately, an ideology so deeply and widely ingrained in society's standards and expectations that even a rational, intelligent woman who is aware of its construct cannot always remain unaffected, as Mucha shows. She honestly depicts the full spectrum of emotions and phases she goes through at this time- she's happy to be alone, she wants to be in a relationship so she can have someone to go out with, she doesn't want a relationship as its merely conforming to social pressure. Those examples are perhaps a simplification, but she leaves no stone unturned in examining the avenues of this unique paradigm. One can be dismissive of messages and lines of thought that are forcibly or strenuously expressed, but Mucha's capability with zesty humour and what comes across as truthful contemplations, serves as the perfect instrument for such an exchange.

Something that I've noticed in both 'Monkey' and 'It Doesn't Exist' is the way she builds her themes and points gradually over the course of the stories, with the last one being the weightiest and most eloquent. The first few shorts begin with a muse-y meander and reflection, but the final one is invariably a humdinger, pulling together threads to deliver a fierce reinforcement of the issues presented. She charts a backwards course, where people go from the 'normal' to the mystic or fantastic, she begins with unicorns and and dreamscapes developing them into familiar and recognisable terrain. The whimsical vehicles and irreverent drawings are a deceptive cloaking device through which she discusses personal experiences with humour, bringing new subtleties and perspectives to the larger questions and issues that arise.

Another winning asset of Mucha's work is the way she begins in one place winding along to an unpredictable ending: it's not a mappable route but it feels organically progressive. This is demonstrated in 'It Doesn't Exist', which begins with a tale of mythical and extinct creatures gathering for a party, one that grows bigger each year as they're joined by things that have been lost over time, or consigned to fable and obsoletion . It's followed by 'The House of Worry', where a person's anxieties and stresses are extracted, removed and locked up in a heavily guarded building (to best prevent escape), and closes with 'The Modern Quest', about humanity's endless search for betterment, fulfilment and happiness. Perhaps not instantly connectable on the surface, there are definite common motifs that run through all the stories- an idea that is seeded in the opening tale and becomes clearer and more expansive by the time that final one-two is reached .

It's always pleasing to discover new favourites, and like all the best writers, Mucha's primary strength lies in the levelness of tone she is able to achieve whilst producing genuinely entertaining, humorous material that encourages further thought.

You can find Corinne's website here and buy her comics here.

Beyond Pooh: EH Sheppard

Things like this make the Internet worthwhile: the Chris Beetles Gallery has an exhibition of over 200 of EH Sheppard's illustrations, many of which are available to peruse online. Inextricably linked to AA Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, he is also best know for his drawings for Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows and Punch magazine. However, he was rather a prolific worker- also producing illustrations for various other publications- magazines, adults books and even two of his own memoirs recollecting his childhood.

You can see and read more about the exhibition here

Florence and Graham (Sheppard's wife and son)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

5 spiffy comics and panels

There's a real wealth of good and great comics on the web now (there's also a real amount of dross, but let's focus on the positive). Two days into my MA  and I am learning that librarians act as a filter for people- we're like Google, come to us with search term and we'll present you with a series of relevant results. So it's only part of my job to present to you a selection of 5 comics/panels that have caught my eye over the past few weeks. I'm particularly impressed with that beautifully superb panel from Spera 2 by Afu Chan- really gives you a feeling for the size and magnificence of the dragon. Clicking on artist/writer's name should lead you through to their blog or site.

Wtitten by Josh Tierney, illustrated by Afu Chan

The Happy Prince Craig P Russell

My resolution not to buy anything until ThoughtBubble is being severely tested. Today I discovered this is a thing in existence: one of my favourite stories ever- The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde in comic format and illustrated by none less than Craig P Russell. Released in June by NBM Publishing, it somehow passed be my. I remember reading The Happy Prince and other stories in my early teens and loving it instantly. I say reading, by which I mean I cried through most of it because Wilde's fairy tales are unbearably, achingly sad. Anderson may have done the dark, disturbing thing, but Wilde rivals him in terms of sheer utter despair. So of course, you understand why I love this book so much then. SAD.

'The Happy Prince is arguably the most famous and well loved of Oscar Wilde's nine fairy tales, rivalled only by The Selfish Giant. It is also a very timely tale at a time of controversy over the increasing chasm between rich and poor…The Happy Prince has lived a life of opulence but has died young and his soul inhabits a beautiful ruby encrusted statue covered all over in gold leaf. From his perch high above the city he is witness to all the poverty, misery, and hopelessness in which his people have been living. When a small barn swallow in flight to the warm south ahead of the approaching winter stops to rest upon the statue the Happy Prince prevails upon him to delay his travels in order to remove his gold leaf a piece at a time and shower it upon the poor citizens. Out of love for the Happy Prince the swallow does his bidding. As the days pass the Prince's beauty is stripped away and as winter sets in the bird's fate is sealed. In the spring the townspeople finding only a dull statue with a broken lead heart and a dead bird consign the worthless objects to the ash heap. Only an emissary of God recognises them as the most valuable treasures of the city and brings them to the gardens of heaven.'




Thursday, 20 September 2012

You should be reading: Black is the Colour by Julia Gfrorer

Julia Gfrorer describes her web-comic Black is the Colour as an 'Ignatz-nominated, SAW grant-winning comic about cruelty, sarcasm, loneliness, gay sailors, lactating mermaids, and salty fluids of all kinds'. I don't really think I need to sell it further, but here are a few pages for you to take a look at. It's available online for free at Study Group Comics, updating every Wednesday, but Julia's also collected the first parts together in a print edition, which you can buy at her Etsy shop for $4.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Koma by Wazem and Peeters

I really want to do justice to Pierre Wazem's and Frederik Peeters' Koma YET I don't think I can quite articulate how special this book is. I'm acutely aware that I have a lot to learn about comics, writing and reviewing: it's a constant process of learning and hopefully improving. Mostly I try to be honest and as clear as possible and hope something translates. Sometimes though, a book comes along and makes me really wish I had more knowledge, more words, more insight, just MORE, to be able to convey exactly what it is that sets it apart. Koma is such a book. Bold and skewy, imaginative and fresh, bursting with ideas, humour, charm, weirdness and above all just so much heart: in the story, but more from the people behind it, whose sheer effort and talent is evident on every page. It's that heart which pushes you onwards through its flaws and knotty, convoluted bits.
The daughter of a chimney sweep, Adidas accompanies her father whilst he's working, helping him by manoeuvring into the small tricky nooks that he can't reach. It's a risky business, particularly as she suffers from a mysterious illness that causes her to blackout at any time for indeterminate periods. Her father is angry and disgusted at himself for putting his daughter into such a position, having lost his wife to a similar fate, but chimney cleaning is his livelihood and only means of income- one that's already under threat from rival sweepers. Meanwhile, deep below them, gleaming, long-armed inky black/green creatures operate machines that correspond to every human on earth, each creature assigned one person/machine. When a machine stops working, the person it is allocated to dies. At the same time, the police and government officials are drafting men for the smallest misdemeanour to work on a mysterious cavernous pit on the outskirts of the city. And so a course is set towards an inevitable meeting of worlds. 
There's no conventionality to Wazems' storytelling, apart from that it's linear. It jumps from genre and plot-point to sequences like a joyful little character bounding through the stages of a video game, incorporating everything from super-heroics, otherworldly creatures, mystery, family drama, emotion, surrealism, creationism. Wazem surprises constantly by taking the story in unexpected directions and by all accounts it sounds like a mess, one that shouldn't work, but somehow does: the breadth and scope of ideas instead never allowing for boredom, running from one to another in an evolutionary progress that prevents it from feeling disjointed. Peeters's art is the extra factor here, a live, bossy, presence that pulls you along and muscles you into attentiveness. His depiction of the grubby, suffocating industrial city is viscerally realised and the shift to a finer, clearer, style in the second half scenes is equally evocative. The colouring is hyper, a smorgasbord of shades that conversely don't seem quite right, yet contribute to the overall effect of being enveloped into this strange world.
Much relies on Adidas and her characterisation: as the central figure around whom everything revolves, she is determined, intelligent, resourceful and off-beat cute. She possess that almost visionary clarity that children have- an unfettered understanding and grasp that is lost in the mires of adulthood. Her relationship with her father is a introverted, she supports and calms him when he grows frustrated at their situation, cooking up plans and schemes to outwit the competition.With the loss of Adidas' mother, the two have only each other and so Adidas is more of a companion to her father than a child. But there is also something special, something of the other about her, as many interested parties slowly realise. Despite her huge melting brown manga eyes, she's a smart and intuitative child, well aware of the way people view her- nicely illustrated in this instance in which she's just come round after one of her blackouts in a restaurant:
Her father is a wonderful, eccentric fellow, written and drawn with a surreal Herge-on-speed humour, combining the bumbling of the Thompsons and Professor Calculus, amped to 100 and stealing every scene he's in. There's a passage in the book after the middle that's just a bizarre, joyful, careening romp, rather like a carry-on sketch, with misunderstandings and confusion and lots of running around- for me, the strongest point of the story where Wazem's kaleidascope of ideas falls beautifully together. His decision to keep the creatures fairly mysterious also works- despite meeting one and seeing a few others, not much is revealed of them and their origin, enabling them to retain their otherness and thus their interestingness The worst accusation you can level at Koma is that the plethora of ideas and genres is at times too much, making it a little muddled, but it's an invigorating and engrossing read whichever way you read it: as an extended metaphor for Adidas' illness, as an adventure between worlds or as comment on life, science and being. Read it.
You can buy Koma from Humanoids

Mini-comic watch: Gold Star by John Martz

Something has me on a mini-comics bender at the moment and I've been very fortunate that all the ones I've read have been good, if not great. It's a run that I thought was coming to an end with John Martz's Gold Star, as I turned those little pages, it seemed for the world that somebody thought putting rabbits and other animals together in a weird situation would alone a story maketh (sorry, John) and I was a bit cross at myself for buying it.  How lovely to be wrong. The last few pages of denouement bring everything into relief and it is very funny and wry and really quite clever.
It goes like this: Bunny Buckler is in town for an awards ceremony in which he has been nominated. Having never attended one before, he is understandably nervous. Compounding his anxiety, his name is announced: he's won, even more nervous, he makes it up to the podium and decides to give an improvised, off-the-cuff thank you speech. The words don't come. He tries to remember the speech he had already prepared: the words don't come. He pulls the written speech out and begins reading haltingly off the paper.

All the while, Martz cuts between the present award ceremony and Bunny's arrival at the hotel, checking in, where he meets an over-bearing, loud and uncouth duck? chicken? who he starts drinking with.  Martz sets it all up perfectly, the timing, pace and the reveal, to give a nifty, unexpected finale.

Mini-comic streak continues. You can buy Gold Star here. $5. Free sticker. Do it.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Irish Myths and Legends by Jillian Tamaki

Have I mentioned I love Jillian Tamaki? She does the bestest drawings. Case in point: her illustrations for the wonderfully titled Lady Gregory's Irish Myths and Legends Compendium:

Sunday, 9 September 2012

WANT: Tiny Kitten Teeth's SPX Sonic zine

I've been following the SPX tumblr with an increasing envy of those attending, which came to a head yesterday when I became aware of the Sonic comic/zine the folks of Tiny Kitten Teeth have put together. I want a copy of this very badly. I don't play video-games of any shape or form, but when I was a kid, we used to have a Sega Mega Drive and my sisters and I would play Sonic with a diligent intensity. After a while, we got bored of it, but my love for the little blue hedgehog endured. If anyone knows if this will be available online at all, or how I can get a copy, please do let me know.