Friday, 28 February 2014

Pictorama: Syklus- dinosaurs and man and round again

Syklus by Martin Ernstsen and Kilian Eng, Jippi

It's Friday, so I promise not witter on for too long (no, really). I went to ELCAF last year, and one of the first things I cam across was this amazing comic called Syklus, published by Norwegian imprint, Jippi. At that point, as enthralled as I was, my reluctance to spend a chunk of my budget so early on took over and I moved on. I couldn't stop thinking about it, however, and about 15 minutes later, I  rushed back and bought a copy.

I'd heard of one of the authors- Kilian Eng, but not Martin Ernstsen. Eng is perhaps now best known for his amazing illustration and design work- most notably for film poster renderings of Jodorowsky's Dune, 2001: A Space Odyssey and more. Ernstsen appears to be a regular on the Norwegian comics scene, producing comic books, diary strips, editing anthologies, creating fanzines, as well as being a children's books author. Both men are hugely talented (seriously- peruse the albums and books section at Ernsten's site)- and it's interesting to see their collaboration come together illustratively, as Syklus is wordless.

While Eng's illustration is more design focused, often black-based, precise, angular, his colours bold, bright and contrasting, Ernsten's style is looser, organic, more traditionally cartoonish, his colours softer, more complimnetary. Here the two come together to create a book that's gloriously coloured, encompassing a spectrum of shades, from pastel to primary, and which retains many of the recognisbale elements familiar from Eng's work: the cloud formations, the wrinkly texturing, the amorphous, globulous vegetation.  Those superb dinosaurs and skeletons are very much Ernstens' doing, though, and you can see his (children's storybook) hand, too in the characterisation of the dinosaurs: the clothing touche-, hats, glasses, a monocle. 

The narrative is a humorously cyclical tale of mankind ending courtesy of a meteorite, with the dinosaur age returning, and a wry commentary on perspective, and how history can be so easily appropriated, as we watch genteel, civilised dinosaurs visit museums which house the giant skeletons of monsters that used to populate the earth before them: humans. Young dinos clutch their parents hands as they gaze at terrifying exhibits and projections of guns, artillery, and people skewering dinosaurs over a fire. Centuries pass, and we see yet another asteriod blazing an earth-bound course.

This post is really an excuse to post scans of the absolutely gorgeous art created: but I love dinosaurs, and I love the simplicity and clarity of the simple splash page/2-panel/4-panel pages. The environmental/atmosphere bits with the asteroid and gases, the planet erupting, terrain re-forming are just beautiful, too.  Easily one of my most-loved books.

News, Views and Oddities #28

News, Views and Oddities, a fortnightly feature where we link to various bits and bobs which have grabbed our attention, encompassing comics, books, illustration, design and film. Clicking fingers at the ready. 

The world got to see the first publicly released, new work in over 19 years from freshly-crowned Grand Prix winner, Bill Watterson, this week. It comes in the form of a poster (above) for a documentary film on comics, Stripped, compiled and co-directed by Dave Kellett and Fred Schroeder, which aims to examine and chart the evolution of comics strips in newspapers. Kellett and Schroeder interviewed over 70 cartoonists for the film, including Watterson himself, who apparently was fond enough of the project to also produce a poster for it. Watterson's a unique figure in the comics world in that he seems to inhabit a place of warmth and respect in almost everyone's hearts and minds, a state of affairs which his fabled reclusiveness only seems to have added to. It's really heartening to see so many people in the often disparate comic community get excited about the same thing.

This Taiyo Matsumotyo interview is very good- short and yet insightful, and comes across very genuine.

Not really comics but an interesting read nonetheless:  Mohsin Hamid and  Adam Kirsch discuss the new 'golden age' TV has been experiencing, and if and how that relates to novels. There IS a comics connection- the little author portraits are done by R Kikuo Johnson.

I was really pleased to hear that Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng's excellent Ten Sticks and One Rice won the bronze prize in the international manga awards; I hope that's another boost for publishers Epigram and that they continue to invest in their comics line. The International Manga awards are funded and initiated by the Japanese foreign affairs ministry in conjunction with the The Japan Cartoonists Association, with the aim to recognise and honour manga artists who contribute and promote to the medium overseas.

Robin McConnell of comics interview podcast Inkstuds fame has teamed up with comics star of the moment, Brandon Graham, launching a kickstarter to fund a tour of Los Angeles and other areas, putting on panels and interviews with other cartoonists, including Jamie Hernandez and Bryan Lee O'Malley. There's an array of funding tiers to choose from, and if you're in the US that sounds like a pretty fantastic thing to be part of.

A reminder to tune into BBC 4 this Tuesday at 10 pm, as their What Do Artist Do All Day series follows Frank Quitely for 24 hours as he works on drawing comics.

I like the look of Ben Hatke's first comic book post his Zita the Spacegirl series. Also to be published by First Second, Little Robot features the friendship between a little girl and a robot, with a cute turtle thrown into the mix. I can't help it: that pushes a lot of my buttons. It's due for publication in autumn next year.

More on Jason Shiga's web-comic, Demon, which is definitely worth keeping up-to-date with: so far its protagonist has killed himself at least 3 times in different ways, only to wake up in bed again after the point of death. He's written a little on why he's doing a web-comic (he was inspired after being an Ignatz judge) and also how he'll be putting the various editions of this out.

'Demon stars Jimmy Yee as an actuarial accountant from Oakland who wakes up in a filthy motel room only to find out he has just become the world’s most dangerous man. For those familiar with my previous work, it has a lot of familiar Shiga themes such as musings on the meaning of life, happiness and features a psycopath with no friends using mathematics to defeat an entire world out to crush him (did I mention this was an autobio comic?).
I’ve penciled 673 pages (my goal is for Demon to be one page longer than Habibi) and I’ll be posting new pages every weekday for the next couple years. For those worried the comic will decend into sequences hundreds of pages long featuring Jimmy working through reams of calculations, don’t worry, there’s nothing more advanced than freshmen calculus.
As for the format, here’s where it gets interesting. I’ll be releasing issues concurrently, both as physical booklets and pdfs. They all start off roughly in synch, but eventually the physical issues will run 2 months ahead and the pdfs run 1 month ahead.'
The upcoming Rachel Deering edited, In the Dark anthology from IDW looks rather great.

Comics you should read:

Finally, if you haven't seen them yet, here are a couple of gorgeous pages from Luke Perarson's new Hilda book, Hilda and the Black Hound, due for release next week.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Get excited: Sonny Liew's The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

Yesterday in the shop, we got the new biography of Vincent Van Gogh in (which focuses on his stay in Provence, and looks utterly gorgeous, by the way), written and illustrated by Barbara Stok, and published by Self Made Hero. It got me thinking how the comics biography has gone from strength to strength in recent years, from books on Richard Feynman, 2 books on the Beatles (Baby's in Black and The Fifth Beatle) Box Brown's upcoming Andre the Giant, Primates- a joint recollection of the work of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, and a lot more. I'm of the belief that the reason for this popularity is that non-fiction and biography in particular, is more easily salable to non-comics readers, and even booksellers, in that the point of interest is very easily defined.

If you've been reading this blog over the last year (haha!) you'll know I've been following the progress of Sonny Liew's biography of Singaporean comics pioneer, Charlie Chan Hock Chye:

'With a career spanning more than five decades, from pre-independent Singapore through its three Prime Ministers, Chan’s work reflects the changing political and economic environment in Singapore. Containing Chan’s original illustrations, painting and sketches, this is a groundbreaking work and labour of love aimed at recapturing the portrait of an artist.'

Liew began producing the book when Singaporean publishers, Epigram Books introduced their new comics line with the simultaneous release of 4 titles: Ten Sticks and One Rice, Scengapore, Monsters, Miracles and Mayonnaise and The Girl Under the Bed. The venture has been pretty successful, with the books critically well-received in addition to Drewscape's Monsters gaining an Eisner nomination, and Ten Sticks winning the bronze International Manga award.

Liew's book, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, is due for publication later this year, and the more I see of it, the more it looks like it's going to be his magnum opus. He's taken a multi-layered approach to the text, rather like The Photographer, not only telling Hock Chye's life story in comic form, but incorporating pages of the comics he produced into the narrative, along with photographs, as well as switching between a mixture of art styles. Liew's posted another updated, extensive preview at his blog, which you should really go check out, although I couldn't resist posting some of the pages here- they look so good. There's more beneath the cut.

Comics Shelfie: Sally Jane Thompson

It's Wednesday, it's been a fortnight, its Comics Shelfie time. This week we welcome the fab Sally Jane Thompson, author of graphic novel Atomic Sheep, the first chapter of which you can read for free at her site, along with other processy bits. I've long been an admirer of Thompson's bold, expressive, manga-influenced art work, and so it was lovely to meet her briefly at the Thought Bubble festival last year, where I purchased her travel-journal comic, From, which originally ran as a free web-comic. Thompson also did a great interview with Comics Alliance this week, which I'd highly recommend reading, particularly as it serves as an ideal introduction to her work, as well as current and upcoming projects.

For now, though, here's a look at her enviable comic collection:


Auto-bio and teen comics


General comics

Manga plus Scott Pilgrim

'Our books (well, mostly mine) are mainly crammed into two bookshelves in the living area, because we spend a lot of time there, and I want to be able to gaze lovingly at them while we do so. We're in a rented flat, so they're not the entire-wall-encompassing-bookshelves I dream of, but they're still a lovely sight!

I've moved a lot, and each time I move try to do a cull of as much stuff as I can. The books are what I'm worst at, despite being heavy items to haul around, and given how many books I've gained since the last move (I blame my proximity to Page 45 for that!), I rather dread the next one!

I adore organizing bookshelves. The rest of the house is messy, and I'm not great at order in general, so it's funny how much I enjoy it when it comes to my shelves. Novels are alphabetized, and other books are currently in the following categories: Comics – manga, autobio, kids and teen, anthology, general, floppies (I've only started following monthlies recently, and am struggling to store these!), and a few French language. (The comics account for most of the larger bookshelf.) Children's books. Poetry. Artbooks. Photography. Costume/clothing. Comics crit/related. Christianity. Philosophy/non-fic. Other non-fic (travel, history, etc) on a smaller bookshelf, and a few old books, artbooks, comics, etc, floating around. Minicomics in boxes/bags. And of course, piles on the floor because I've run out of room.

Old books

Poetry and art books

Teen comics and children's books

Picking only 3 comics to talk about is, obviously, painful, but here we go:

Yokahama Shipping Trip

Yokohama Shopping Trip, by Ashinano Hitoshi
I read this via online scanlations as a teen (when I didn't know any better re: creators, use of work, etc – sorry!), and I cannot overstate the impact it had on me as a creator. I had no idea one could tell stories so quiet, slow and meditative. I'm not even sure if it was one of those thunderclaps where you recognize in a work something absolutely like what you want in your own work, or if it just stayed quietly in my brain, before I was even really thinking what I wanted my work to be like, but it's one of those touchstone comics for me. I've now managed to get a whole set – in Japanese, because a translation's tragically never been released. One thing that amazed me, looking through it, was how much more sparesely rendered the landscapes were than I remembered them being - a lesson on how much lines can suggest, and how things can grow in readers' minds!

Sexy Voice and Robo

Sexy Voice and Robo, by Iou Kuroda
I got this one in my late teens while on a holiday in Oregon with my folks. I found it on the second hand shelves in Powell's (along with a copy of Craig Thompson's Carnet de Voyage, also one of my favourites), and was immediately drawn to the extremely loose, energetic inks. I read it over and over. It's brilliantly unique, clever, and personable, and is unafraid to balance its high-stakes story with those moments of pause and mundanity that I love so much. In fact, I'll just be in the corner here having a re-read if you need me...

Jane, The Fox, and Me

Jane, the Fox and Me, by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault
To show it's not just work you see in your formative years that can give you that jolt, this is a book I recently came across in a gallery bookshop. I've been raving about it since. Arsenault's art in particular has stunned me, and communicates the rawness and tenderness of the story perfectly. A book that I know will influence my future work.'

Many thanks to Sally for participating. You can view all the previous installments of Comics Shelfie here. Remember to stop by on the 12th for the next installment.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Grey sweats and a Deftones t-shirt; low of -6

Ms. Marvel #1 | G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring

This review comes three weeks late, delivered on broken promises, little sleep and utter head trauma. It now serves the point of distraction for the one typing because the invisible gun locked and loaded at my temple has gotta go. You could say I need a hero or maybe just a grain of belief in something other than self-sabotage, but the explosion and the tears that come after are all I truly want right now.Which is something to shame and avoid. That would be the responsible thing to do, though I doubt my responsibility. 

But enough. Ms. Marvel #1, the latest super hero title to serve the latest iteration of the Marvel Comics character, has made the rounds, and I feel some sort of need to write about it on another person's blog (thanks, Zainab). Not because I loved it, nor because I hate. More so because I feel relatively nothing about it, and that seems off in terms of the broad conversation surrounding this comic book. 

There isn't a need to tell you why it's garnered its attention. The new series is a positive example of diversifying a genre/industry bent in only one, white man angle when we've all grown bored or angered by its narrow view. And while it's a small twist, we'll suck up any crumb we can capture, especially when it's as solid and well-considered as this one. It easily could have yet doesn't rush out of its gate posterchilding a movement, though neither does it shy away from the USA Today headline. There's a balance found in Kamala Khan's presence, and it all rests on a well-weighed characterization executed by G. Willow Wilson, allowing Kamala to be a teen first and a female Muslim character second. 

Maybe typing that "I feel relatively nothing about it" is false, as I'd say Ms. Marvel #1 is a fine launch to what'll probably be a pretty good teenage super hero narrative, but I also didn't walk away from the reading knowing any sort of induced high. But others seem to have. Take CBR's review: Five stars. This dude at Comics Alliance calls it "one of the best first issues of a superhero comic in years." Someone blogging at The Huffington Post says its "important on a social political level," whatever that means. Even Shawn fucking Starr, an angry man with a Twitter account who likes nothing but Seth and porn comics, told me he "actually didn't hate that book." Interest and claps sent from all corners, and I'm not really understanding why, other than the book's ability to present this character naturally. 

Surely, the inclusion of Kamala Khan is wonderful for it opens the doors to different stories and thoughts, giving readers a new role to live on, but neither should her creation be reason enough to write home. And I don't believe Wilson or her collaborators took such a cheap course. As I've typed, her execution as the scribe goes two ways, and ultimately it seems she's working her way toward another fine installment in Marvel's long line of adolescent fiction versus cashing in on skin color or cultural reference. The book feels genuine and holds a charm while serving its story. Though that said, it isn't as kinetic or artistically daring as something like Hawkeye, another Marvel zine, but it feels as if the level of praise and consideration is nearing similar heights. Maybe it's possible to applaud with the same volume for different reasons, but other than its smooth characterization there's little reason to cheer this thing. I mean, take that away, and it's just another Marvel mag, prepping you for a 6-issue opening arc by way of a faux-sensitive color scheme. 

It could just be me, but it appears the dialogue has overseen this for whatever reason. Maybe to give this thing its due because of its starring lead, or maybe all that white guilt found a new, nerd way to reconcile with itself. I'm not saying it's necessarily bad, but I'm not entirely sure it's good. It almost feels a bit insulting - to give this thing the throne because it doesn't star a white guy, not because it earned it. There could be room for harsher criticism or want for improvement, but the blogosphere isn't playing. It's touting, shouting "look here, we ain't evil no more," passing up its opportunity for a "Control" verse, a chance to push back out of love. 

It's typical of the current conversation, one dominated by black and white statements, all out of grey, where criticism and measurement is tossed aside for politics and tabloid scandals. But here I fucking am, too, writing about race and gender and the others who write, waxing hard on who has the right to say what. That's my cue, people. It's time to pack this bag and walk. I've become the therapist instead of the gunner. 

But maybe that's a critique of this comic book, itself. There was little else to speak of. 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Humanoids reunited with original Moebius--illustrated logo

I love a good little comics news story, and this one has a bit of everything: a giant of the medium, a seminal publishing house, and a happy ending. Last Friday saw Humanoids purchase at auction, their first and original logo, designed and illustrated by co-founder and legendary comics artist, Moebius. It features a center-piece of a pillar and floating orb, the former engraved with each of the four founding member's names, with four rather ghoulish faces (again presumably representing Druillet, Moebius, Dionnet and Farkas) peering out from behind the installation. The art of the original logo had been missing for over 40 years, but has now been reunited with the publishers once more.

Les Humanoïdes Associés (roughly United Humanoids)was founded in its original iteration in Paris in December 1974 by Moebius, Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Philippe Druillet and Bernard Farkas in order to publish Métal Hurlant magazine, a sci-fi publication that went on to have multiple foreign language versions that heavily impacted and influenced not only comics, but wider pop culture. The magazine became a separate entity from the publishing house in the late 80s, when a number of difficult financial situations led to the company being bought by Swiss publisher, Fabrice Giger, in 1988. Giger proceeded to relocate the French headquarters to the US in 1999, and develop it into one of the most respected comics properties in the world, and continued publishing works by European comics royalty such as Moebius, Jodorowsky and Enki Bilal, along with newer authors. In the past 2 years, the company has also opened offices in Japan and the UK.

Terribly good: Lauren Monger's Clementine comics

So many good comics and art to write about, so little time. Today I'd like to point you in the direction of  the insanely talented Lauren Monger and her excellent art, in particular her Clementine comics. The anthropomorphic, painted comics center around Clementine and her friends as they attempt to navigate life post school, talk music, get drunk, try to ascertain what growing up and responsibility means exactly, get jobs etc. What really strikes me about Monger's comics is the tone she achieves, something very engaging yet sedate and comforting at the same time, a facet that her colour palette of browns, greys and creams contributes to. The expressions she coaxes out of here characters are sublime, the interposing of the human and animalistic somehow more human than human- look at Clementine smoking in the pages below, or the fed-up, taking-no-shit look on the grocery store cat clerk.

As much as anthropomorphism is a stylistic choice- interesting to draw, visually arresting, its always worth asking what else its usage reflects: is there a further reason why animals have been used instead of humans? Here, I think Monger uses rodents and badgers perhaps as an inference as to how these people are viewed by society: contributing nothing, indecisive, leeching, deliberately offensive almost. Ironically, these animals are seen as 'cute' in today's pop culture, in photographs, in pictures, so their depiction provides a point of accessibility and sympathy that human portraiture might lack. 

Conversely the anthropomorphism and the level of Monger's skill in rendering it lends a seriousness to the narrative that could otherwise result in the story being shunted into yet another group of 20-somethings trying to figure out a purpose or meaning to life. The 'genre' of comics in which late teens/early 20 somethings try to find themselves, or their place in the world is unfairly dismissed, often allocated specifically to that period of time in your life, that existential ennui that's frowned upon, but I think, that feeling of rootless-ness, uncertainty and a lack of purpose is something intrinsic, and one that you don't move past quickly. For many people, it remains for years, sometimes bubbling up intensely, sometimes less so. Not everybody feels sorted and clued in, especially for the generation of 20-somethings in the current economic climate, but there's an emphasis on being so.

What elevates the Clemetine comics is not only Monger's talent, but the manner in which she's able to capture that feeling as is, in a very real way, without it coming across as earnest or overly dramatic. And while there is all that going on, there's a lot of fun to be had too (again, a lot of it seems observational)- coming up with fictional punk band names, being stupidly hung-over the morning after, or simply the camaraderie of friendship. It's superb work, and one you should be reading.

You can find the Clementine comics and art on Monger's Terrible Terrible Terrible tumblr, her paintings at Vigilant Green Eyes, and Monger herself on Twitter here.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Anouk Ricard's Benson's Cuckoos: preview

I can pinpoint the exact time, sort of, when I first came across Anouck Ricard's comics- free comic book day 2012. Drawn and Quarterly had published an excerpt of the upcoming Anna and Froga, Ricard's series for children centered around the titular Anna and her little band of animal friends. It sounds super cutesy, and  is illustrated in a naive, felt-tip style, but it's actually a superb blend of humour and emotion, mixed with   the sharp, innocent observations kids make, the things they get up to- they're great all-ages comics, which I'd urge you to check out. D&Q are releasing the third volume of Anna and Froga this summer, but even more excitingly, they're also publishing an English edition of Ricard's book for adults, Benson's Cukcoos in June.

Benson's Cukoos is a workplace-situated satire, in which Richard gets a job at the cuckoo-clock factory and everything begins to go pear-shaped, with an eccentric, strange hat-wearing boss, his even weirder and scatty colleagues who don't actually seem to get any work done, and the little problem of George, the employee he's replacing who he was told had quit, but whose family are appealing on national TV about his disappearance. Things come to a head when the an office retreat is organised, and everything spirals further out of control. Honestly really looking forward to this one, and you should be, too. Here's a little more from the official blurb:

'From the author of "Anna and Froga" comes a wry, offbeat whodunnit that centers on office life. Anouk Ricard's subtle, sardonic humor undermines the characters' desperate attempts to be taken seriously, as they bungle kidnappings, misunderstand social cues, and let petty disagreements become feuds. Ricard's dim-witted characters aspire to deviousness but miss their mark, remaining firmly in the domain of slapstick. With cleverly observed dialogue, charming artwork, and brilliantly over-the-top plotting, Benson's Cuckoos will delight the adult fans of Ricard's comics for kids.'

Snowpiercer: no future for you

Snowpiercer, written by Jacques Lob, illustrated by Jean-Marc Rochette, published by Titan

Snowpiercer is a cult French comic, written by Jacques Lob (the only writer to have won the Grand Prix prize at Angouleme) and illustrated by Jean-Marc Rochette. Originally serialised in 1982, it was collected in graphic novel format in 1984, and has now received an English language translation from Titan, thanks largely to its marketability after being adapted into a film last year.

That film, a Korean-American-French collaboration, directed by Joon-ha Bong, with a cast including Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Alison Pill and more, is yet to be released in the UK and US, following a tussle over Harvey Weinstein's (who owns the distribution rights for North America, UK, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) desire to cut 20 minutes worth of footage from the 126-minute running length in order to make it more 'accessible' to audiences, despite 80% of the movie being in English.

In 1999/2000, almost a decade after Jacques Lob had passed away, Rochette teamed up with writer Benjamin Legrand to pen two follow up volumes, further building upon the story he had created with Lob. However, this book, labelled volume 1: The Escape, is Lob and Rochette's first, original tale, which reads and stands alone, with its ending also functioning as final, particularly as far as Lob's intentions were concerned.

I was narrating the basic premise of Snowpiercer to a colleague the other day: humanity's sole survivors entombed on a train 1001 carriages long, perpetually circulating the earth, unable to venture outside after an unknown event renders the atmosphere inhabitable, with the poor crammed together in the tail end carriages while the rich live in luxury in first class.'So it's a metaphor?' he asked. 'Well I think it's pretty literal!' I replied. And it is. A dystopian future, with an inhospitable Earth and mankind struggling for survival at least feels a familiar scenario, but the use of a train with it's pre-classified compartments is a clever way of dividing people into have and have-nots as social civilities break down, the rich and powerful quick to lay claim to the bulk of resources and space aboard, controlling a dictatorial military guard bribed with food comfort and sex to keep the unruly masses at bay. Earlier this week, I talked about humanity being stripped to its bare bones when reviewing Beautiful Darkness, and Snowpiercer is similar in vein, if more politically edged, perhaps, in its observations of class, wealth, power, war, idealism and revolution.

Snowpiercer opens with Porloff, our protagonist, a tail dweller or 'tail-fucker,' as they're affectionately referred to by those at the front end of the train, having somehow made his way through towards the mid-upper carriages, where's he's discovered and apprehended. Instead of sending him back, the powers that be decided they'd like an audience with Porloff, a meeting of which he is wearily suspicious- and rightfully so: the mighty Snowpiercer's engine is slowing down, and a plan is afoot to rid the train of a selection of carriages. The colonel and president want to enlist Porloff to return to the tail carriages, assess the numbers and conditions of those resident there, and facilitate their integration into the mid and upper sections, which will then allow the Snowpiercer to shed some weight, easing the stress on the engine.

There are two broad schools of thoughts when envisioning times of great catastrophe: one is that people will  band together, bound by a horrific shared experience, and forget their differences in an attempt to overcome the larger obstacle they face, or alternatively humankind will run scred and build further divides, pissing on others to make themselves feel better, exercising selfishness and brutality to survive. That's what we see here as Porloff journeys through the train, accompanied by guards, to meet the Colonel. The people aboard look like a body of people in war, displaced, on rations- it's difficult to imagine anything other than a black/white/grey color scheme here- it speaks to the snow/ash outside, the mood and feeling, the metal of the train, the complexion of sun and oxygen deprived skin, shabby, worn clothes, the unmitigating bleak relentlessness of it all. Rochette evokes the war-camp atmosphere acutely: the tired desperation, the rendering of a male dominated space, men clinging to uniforms and titles as proof of meaning, the underlying madness of it all.

And as Porloff journeys, Lob and Rochette show us the culture of the train: here's 'Mama,' for example,  a huge slab of genetically engingeered meat, ever-growing, kept in a tank full of nourishing fluids that keeps 'her' alive and sustainable.  Adeline Belleau, member of an aid group from the third class, campaigning   for better rights/conditions for the tail-enders, sent to represent Porloff, the 'priest-mechanics' and the religion that's developed around worshipping the great engine, 'Saint Loco,' which keeps the train in constant motion. The mindless debauchery of the rich, existing in an ambivalent drink/drug/sex fuelled haze, the corrupt politicians leaders.At first I felt the setting of the train was curiously under-utilised- no real sense of how conatined these people would be having spent years in such close living quarters, lack of real tension, but what's worse is the apathy and acceptance of the situation- where, after all, do these people have to go?

It's a brave choice to not depict or spend any time with those living in the rear of the train (Porloff is in the middle and moving up); mirroring the manner in which they've been dismissed and pushed out of mind by the affluent, instead guiding the reader towards their own imagination and the horrors it can conjure. One of the moments that stuck with me comes when Porloff  is marvelling at the space he's been quarantined in, narrating the story of a well-liked old man in the tail who they decided to throw a birthday party for. Asked for what he would like as a gift, he asked for some space. So they shuffled into an adjacent compartment for an hour, packed even more tightly than usual, only to return to find him hanging from the ceiling.

One of the main tenets of sci-fi has been to ponder and predict the future, but with Snowpiercer, Lob uses another of the genre's well-recognised facets: the criticism of a current social and political state of affairs wrapped in a future-set tale. Snowpiercer is a quiet, unflashy book, whose power lies in the mirror it holds up and the familiarity of the reflection. It's a sad and revealing indictment that despite being written in the 80's, so much of it, applicable then, is applicable today.  Humanity never changes, and the train moves ever on.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Motohiro Hayakawa's fantastic space-scape battles

I've been meaning to share this for a while: it's one of the best and most beautiful things I own. 'It' is Makuu Kuukan! a collection of Motohiro Hayakawa's amazing space battle illustrations; essentially an exhibition catalogue of sorts- all the images featured within were displayed as part of the Makuu Kuukan art show at the Watdafac gallery in Spain in December/January 2013 (a few photographs of which you can see here). Hayakawa's illustrations are slightly bonkers, packed with science-fiction, fantasy elements, with  giant raspberry-like boulders, dragons, rock men, clunky laser-shooting robots, weird jelly-membrane creatures lizard men, clacking insectoid conker beings, all rendered in lurid fluorescent colours and richly textures, and fighting it out to the enth. I love how he takes recongisable iconography and then adds his own bizarre facets to it, building on them to create a singular world. The mix of textures and techniques, the fine lines with the thick works, too, it's not jarring as you might expect, instead playing into the sort of singular oddness of Hayakawa's vision. You can feel that these illustrations come from a fun place, there's an inherent joyous quality to them.

Hayakawa only began drawing a few years ago, in 2009 and cites Gary Panter as a huge infuence, as well as pop and punk music, sci-fi movies, cartoons, comics, and special effects from action superhero 80's TV shows. The main inspiration, or point of reference, really, behind Makuu Kuukan is Space Sheriff, a Japanese TV show from the 80's which sees Earth invaded by a criminal organization known as Makuu, led by the villainous and aptly named Don Horror. Deployed to defend his mother's home world, Space Sheriff Gavan of the Galactic Union Police stands between the planet and Don Horror's plans, with the aid of his mechanical dragon, Starbeast Dol, whose abilities range from fire-breathing, shooting laser beams from its eyes and a 'screw attack' that involves whipping it's tail around some. I did try Googling it, but it looks like it spawned a spate of franchises that look very much like Power Rangers, made more understandable when you realise both were created by the Toei Company. 

I really like how the culture of those shows and influences influences and impacts on artists and illustrators who then produce work that bleeds into art and gaming and other fields, that cyclical, sort of evolving exchange of ideas. Anyway, here's some text about Hayakawa taken from the publication:

'Motohiro's ultimate tribute to to the classic Japanese TV show from the 80's called Space Sheriff. He acclaims this to be strong and clear inspiration to all of his impressive and powerful battle scenarios in which multitudes of creatures, beasts, monsters, aliens and knights fight for survival.
As a kid he always dreamt about emulating somehow what he saw on TV and today, by digging in every hidden corner of his mind, not only has he clearly reached that goal he has also developed a new purifying imagery that blows our world apart. This pictures taken in the vast emptiness of space are pure imagination in intense bright colours. This just fantasy bought to another level. And it's alive.'