Friday, 29 August 2014

Something pretty: Meka and Zaya from Magnetic Press

Ahhh! Guys, you know I've been excited about what Magnetic Press are doing (translating great comics into English) since they announced their formation, but they sent me over copies of both Zaya and Meka, and  I had to take some photos to share how lovely they are: it's fantastic to see they've not scrimped on production- these are gorgeous, high-quality books. 

I'm always banging on about how little details and touches can elevate a book- just doing something a tiny bit different- and Magnetic have given both books sturdy, rounded corners- the title and author names here are spot-laminated, and perhaps most importantly, the books have sewn binding, as you might be able to tell from that defined spine below. The image on the below right is one of my favourites from the book since I've been aware of it: something compelling about that giant fist framed by the shards of blue shadow with the ridiculously small figures, and I'm glad it gets to serve as an opening statement.

'In a future where civilization is defended by giant, humanoid vehicles known as “Meka”, two pilots learn to deal with the consequences of their unquestioning dedication to military duty as their vehicle is incapacitated in the center of a once-thriving city they themselves turned into a war zone!'

A couple of images of interior spreads- you may recall I was raving about the art in Meka, and having read it, I can safely say Bengal's out-done himself, particularly with the colours, as is evident even from these pictures- I've not brightened or lightened anything. It's utterly sublime. The story really took me by surprise as well- in a good way, I hasten to add- with the title and the plot overview it's easy to be blind-sided, but it's a meatier story than I expected, about war and ideals (review to follow over at Comics Alliance soon, if you're interested). It's restored my faith in Morvan after somewhat, after Naja disintegrated in the final third of the book.

Zaya is 216 pages to Meka's 96, and the bigger book, so it comes in a slipcase: the hole in the nib of the Magnetic Press logo, through which you can make out the partial of a woman's face is a cut-out in the case- the face is the cover of the actual book (see below right). I like the way they've incorporated the logo onto the case- subtle, and the colour-way is nicely understated. There's also an embossed gold foil seal in the bottom left corner of the slipcase, again with the nib logo and 'premium' stamped on it. The slipcase is a really thick, solid cardboard, strong and hard-wearing, and the cover of the book itself again has those rounded corners, as well as a purple cloth ribbon bookmark.

'A secret agent in the distant future leaves her post to seek a normal life as an artist and mother. When a biomechanical threat destroys an orbiting colony station and former fellow agents start dying, she is called back into the field to find and stop the danger.  Her investigation leads to many questions about her own past, filled with explosive revelations.'

Strong, intriguing cover image- the stark white background with the coloured mechanical components infusing toegther on the woman's head. The book comes with a numbered print. I didn't take picture of Meka's end-papers, but both books are papered with sketch versions of covers, pin-ups, and interior art- another touch that hits the right note- nothing overt or flashy, complementing the book rather than distracting -or detracting!- from it.

Not read this yet, but I think we can all agree that Chinese artist Huang-Jia Wei's artwork is nothing short of spectacular- digging the more earthy, textured vibe:

*Big thanks to Mike at Magnetic Press for sending these my way.

News, Views, and Oddities #38

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.

Looks like James Stokoe is busy drawing Orc Stain again, which should please many a person. He also did this poster for the Norwesgian film Ragnarok.

NBM are publishing the final volume in Lewis Trondheim's epic fantasy series, Dungeon, this winter, but equally important, they're re-publishing sold-out volumes of previous books, and I can't stress enough how superb this series is, with a who's who of French artists having illustrated the comic at some point: Carlos Nine, Manu Larcenet, Frederic Bezian, Blutch, Christophe Blain, Joann Sfar, and more. The books are guaranteed to go out of print in a couple of years, so now is really your chance to get on board, or fill the gaps in your collection. NBM are also releasing the books in banded sets of 3, which works out a little cheaper, giving you more comic for your buck.

Raighne Hogan talks to Box Brown and Jared Smith about Retrofit Comics, publishing , distribution, the shifting comics landscape, and more.

Not quite the same as being cast as in the movie, but Donald Glover will be voicing the Miles Morales iteration of Spider-Man he inspired in an upcoming arc in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon.

You may remember I wrote about Youth in Decline's upcoming books with Mickey Z and Nick Sumida debuting at SPX, well they're also both now available  for pre-order to everyone. You can order Sumida's Snackies collection here, and Mickey Z's Rav collection here.  Preview pages on there for your perusal.

If you've missed them, you can catch all the articles I've written for Comics Alliance here- the most notable one in terms of news is probably that First Second are publishing 6 volumes of Last man- 3 to release next year, and 3 in 2016. Still finding a groove over there- I like having all my writing in one place so you get a concentrated effect of what this person's all about, but I do also like being paid! I hope you'll continue to follow my writing over there- it will get better- I promise!

I'm yet to get around to writing about Emily Carroll's Through the Woods, and I don't know what I could add to this brilliant essay by Sarah Horrocks

2 days left to nominate books for the British Comic Book Awards! That has come around very quick indeed.

A very fine copy of Action Comics #1 sells for $3.2 million, making it the most expensive comic sold at auction ever,which isn't really surprising- that's the most sought after, rare comic, and comic art prices have been rising and rising.

This little video report on Dubai Comic Con is noteworthy in that women attendees and artists outnumber men, and it's great to see these ladies simply doing their thing- I'm ignoring the leading questions and skewered generalisations, and you should, too.

Comics you should read:

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Comics Shelfie: John Martz

The return of  comics shelfie sees cartoonist and illustrator John Martz talk us through his impressive book collection (pretty much what you would expect from the person who ran the influential Drawn! blog for 8 years), in addition to picking out three favourites to discuss. Martz won an Ignatz award for his great  Retrofit mini-comic, Gold Star, last year, and is nominated again this year for Destination X, an inter-galactic alien adventure published by Nobrow Press. Next month sees the release of A Cat Named Tim and Other Stories, a comic book aimed at younger readers, as part of Koyama Press's first foray into the children's market. The clear line style is one of my favourites, and Martz is simply one of the best purveyors of the aesthetic: beautifully clean, characterful, and joyous .

For those of you who miss Drawn, Martz has recently begun another blog in similar vein, focusing on the best in art, books, comics, design, illustration, and film: Dept of Research and Development.

Main Shelves

'These are the main shelves in our living room. They aren't organized in any particular manner, though I try to group books by author or subject matter when possible. Art books and comics can make organization tricky since they have such varying sizes. These shelves comprise mostly graphic novels, magazine cartoons, how-to books, and graphic design. I didn't take close-ups of everything, but these are a good sampling:

Growing collection of the Seth-designed Peanuts books, and a few oddities like Young Pillars, a collection of Schulz-drawn cartoons about teenagers and religion.

Plenty of New Yorker collections, particularly Charles Addams, Peter Arno, George Booth, William Steig, Roz Chast.

Seth, Joe Matt, Ivan Brunetti, Jim Woodring, Chester Brown (those bagged comics are a complete set of Yummy Fur).

This row is almost entirely Sempé and Searle. Can't get enough Ronald Searle books.

Popeye, comic strip history, more New Yorker, etc. That Pinocchio book by Winshluss is a favourite.

(this is a very long, photo-heavy post, so I've put the rest of it under the cut)

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


Hey guys. Just to let you know I'm taking a break from comics writing for (hopefully) a short while. I started this because I love doing it- love reading comics, love writing about them- but it's started to feel more like work, and I feel burnt-out. Back soon, fingers crossed. Thank you all for your support. x

By Seth Fisher

Monday, 11 August 2014

Interview: Inés Estrada: 'The only person I try to please is myself'

Interviews aren't my strong suit. I persevere, because I want to improve and it gives me a direct opportunity to engage with some of the artists whose work I respect and admire the most, who intrigue and interest me. Which is to say: I hope the minimum you take away from this piece is to visit Inés Estrada's site, buy her work, and see for yourself what an exceptional artist she is. Estrada has been making comics and illustration since she was a teen, setting up her online store Gatosaurio, where she sells her hugely popular stickers and zines, along with the work of other Mexican artists aside her own. Gatosaurio also serves as a distro for comics and collaborative work by Canadian and North American artists. She creates comics for Vice Mexcio, in addition to writing reviews in a weekly column for the magazine.

I can't remember the first time I came across Estrada's work, but I do remember that she was the first artist whose work I loved enough to buy original art from- a practice I'd sworn off entering. Estrada's comics and illustrations manage to do several things together that make her work stand-out: blend aesthetic appeal with substantive depth, attractive and visceral (a lot of messy sex and body horror),  it's modern but timeless: it speaks to a particular 20-30 age group, but isn't limiting. Much of what makes Estrada's work so good -as evidenced by this interview- has to do with the passion and enjoyment that is imbued in it, which I think really transmutes to the reader- it's great work, but it connects too. And her colouring is out of this world- humming with life. Her abilities are wide-ranging- she is one of those artists who seem to be able to turn their hand to various mediums and practices and do well at each- and if you doubt the veracity of any of the statements in this introduction, a simple visit and browse of her website should make all clear. I'm glad and grateful for her time in answering my questions.

You can find her website here, her Tumblr here, and the fabulous Gatosaurio here.

How and when did you first get into comics? Are they something you've always read and been interested in?

Yeah, comics and cartoons have fascinated me ever since I can remember. When I was a kid I had a big collection of shitty mexican comics, Woody Woodpecker and Tom & Jerry were my favorites. The editions I read were "licensed", but they were made in Mexico. They were badly drawn and the stories were kind of weird, with a lot of the endings having them eating tacos. I loved them.
I was also obsessed with anime, the first ones I remember watching were the Knights of the Zodiac and the Moomins.

What was it about comics that drew/interested you?

I don't know! I just really like how cartoons look and also the idea of how they can represent real things but at the same time are part of this other world in which anything can happen.

When did you first start making comics? And how did that transition into making comics as a career?

I've always been drawing and writing stories, but I didn't really start putting the two together until I was in high school. I guess I kind of forced it into being a career just because I couldn't be doing anything else for a living.

You've been running Gatosaurio for almost 7 years now. What was the aim, or thinking behind it when you first launched? Has that changed and evolved over the years, and if so how?

The intention has always been to spread my work and try to make some money out of it. I started making stickers when I was in high school as a way of getting money for drinking. When my friends asked me if I wanted to go get some beers I'd be like "Ok, give me 15 minutes" and went around the school selling stickers until I gathered enough money. I had a LiveJournal blog at the time and started selling them online through it as well. 

Later on I had a boyfriend with whom I collaborated a lot, and formed this collective called Café con Leche. I made a webshop for it with the same name, were I was selling my stuff as well as the things we were doing together. In 2012 we broke up and I changed the name of the webshop to Gatosaurio. 

Throughout the years, it grew from being something to make beer money into paying my rent. But it's still mostly something I'm doing by myself at home and through the internet. I also attend different book fairs and comic festivals. It's a way for me to distribute not only my own work, but also the work from other people from Mexico who are also making zines and comics. I'm glad I'm making good money out of it right now, but it's still a project that is absolutely directed by my own taste and interests. I wouldn't compromise that even if I ever stop making money out of it.

There's been some recent discussion about balancing art and business, which when you talked about not compromising your art, I was reminded of. What are your objectives? Do you have an audience in mind, and think about salability, or does that come second -after production?

I make art because I need to, it's something I do for fun and also for release. If people like it, that's very rewarding,  but in the end the only person I try to please with it is myself. I love the idea of making money out of what I do (and I'm lucky to be able to) but I don't plan my comics considering my audience as customers. I feel like, for me, it's mostly worked out not because I think "I should do shit that sells" but more like "How do I sell this shit I just did?!"

As well as being an artist, you're also a critic. Do you feel that the two inform each other, and if so, in what ways? I guess another question is why you critique/review- what impulse or purpose it serves?

Both my critique and my own work come mostly from impulsive thoughts, which I try to organize and analyze to a certain extent, but as their intention is mostly of release, I try not to dwell too much on them and just let them serve their purpose. I consider myself more of an artist, though, so I don't really take myself too seriously as a critic.

You've been reviewing for a while- how do you approach that? One of the things I've found is that I used to read a lot wider than I do now; I find myself retreating to my comfort areas. or books I know I'm likely to enjoy, simply because I don't have the time to read for pleasure and for reviewing separately. How do you do it?

I didn't really approach writing by choice, but now it has become something that I really enjoy doing. I've been working sporadically for Vice since 2006, but it wasn't until 2010 that they opened their branch in Mexico and they offered me to do a weekly column about comics. They wanted me to publish comics, but they also asked me to write about them. At first I didn't want to do that, so I didn't for the most part, but I gradually started doing it more and more, and I started liking it.

I don't know if specifically writing about comics has changed my reading. I never read anything specifically with reviewing in mind, but if I feel like I have something to say about it, I'll review it.

You do so much- make your own comics and art, collaborate with other artists, manage a lot of projects, run Gatosaurio, write reviews- how do you manage your time effectively, in order to fit everything in? 

This is a question I ask myself all the time. I feel like I have a bad perception of time so I try to be organized and mark deadlines in my calendar. I can be working maniacally for 3 days without getting out of my house, but I can also spend the same amount of days just hanging out with my friends. I also often am both working and hanging out, and will be cutting stickers while I'm watching a movie with them. I try to have a work schedule, but I don't really, so I'm usually end up into those states of either working for days or not doing anything for a week. But I guess my perception might be a bit askew, since my friends always tell me that if I manage to do everything is because I am organized. 

What is that you as an artist get out of collaboration and publishing other people's work? I know it's your business and believe some of it supports you financially, but it's clear from the things you put out and the people you work and have worked with, that you're pretty passionate about it. What do you get out of it?

Yeah, there is a potential financial gain to it, but it's never something immediate so I don't really do any publication project with that in mind. The motivation for me is mostly to spread the work of artists that might be not so well known, or that aren't as good at distributing their own work as they are at making it. I also like the idea of books as desirable objects of possession. When I find a book that interests me, it is usually not only because of its content, but also because of how it is made. So for me, it is a pleasure working on the design aspect as well.

One of the things I'm always impressed by your work is what you managed to achieve with colour- making it so integral to the art, giving it a life and vibrancy. Is it stupid to ask how the hell you do that?! Even with watercolours! What's the process- is it intuitive or more deliberately considered?

Thank you! First off, I always consider how whatever I'm working on is going to be printed. If it's going to be photocopies, duotone risograph, full colour offset, or whatever else, that's the first thing I need to know. Once I've figured out how to approach the technicalities of colour, my process is very intuitive (or as I said before, impulsive). Colouring comes easier to me than drawing. It's a less conscious effort and requires less concentration from me.

Who are some artists in comics and beyond whose work you like and find inspiring?

I feel like my inspiration comes more from experiences rather than other artists, although I have a handful of cartoonists that I look up to. I am very interested in natural phenomena of all sorts, and spend an embarrassing amount of my free time looking up shit about animals, plants and all sorts of nature things on the internet like a nerd. I also like experiencing stupid adventures, be it by traveling through the world or in my mind. I am a very lucid dreamer, so I feel like my dreams are as much part of my life as whatever I do when I'm awake. I also take in a lot from hearing other people's stories and anecdotes. My inspiration for writing come from all of those sources.

I mostly follow the work of cartoonists I've met through the internet, some of my current favorites are Aisha Franz, Lala Albert, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Jesse Moynihan, Ginette Lapalme and Simon Hanselmann. For more "established" cartoonists, most of my favorite are japanese, like Taiyo Matsumoto, Kazuo Umezu, Katsuhiro Otomo, Seiichi Hayashi and Junji Ito, but I also like some western cartoonists like Moebius, Charles Burns and CF.

One of the themes in your work is the manifestation of the psychological in a physical manner, often in body horror, bodily functions- the viscerality of the subject juxtaposed with the attractive-ness of your art. I'm one of those people who find it really difficult to look at things like that- even in something relatively mild like CS where the little lady enters the man's body via spot/wound -it makes me queasy. What is about that you like to explore? Is there a facet of forcing people to confront a subject more with that approach?

We live artificial lives were the brutal reality of nature is forced to be hidden and sanitized, so I like to expose that and poke fun at it. For example, our own bodies are a part of nature, they have needs and reactions we sometimes don't understand and for the most part can't control. Instead of accepting that, society works hard on making us feel embarrassed for it and forces us to hide it. This goes for anyone, but if you're a woman it's even worse. Why is the animal part of humanity so threatening? It is in this animalistic state that we are able to experience life's biggest pleasures and also to commit the worst atrocities. I am fascinated between this connection of the spiritual and the visceral. I like exploring and exposing these things I feel throughout my work, as raw as they are, and hopefully have other people resonate with them, whatever their reaction is. 

Are there common aspects you recognise in your work thematically, or particular areas you're interested in discussing/ making stories about?

I am very interested in experiencing and expressing the intimate, the subconscious, the magical, and all that crap. Not in a fantasy context, but more like how these things construct and disrupt our cotidianity, like dreams or random coincidences that we can perceive with a different meaning. Finding the magical in the mundane. 
I'm also interested in intimate relationships: friendship, love, sex. Interactions where you can feel very powerful and very vulnerable at the same time.

Are there any projects or stories you've always wanted to do, or are working on?

The Lapsos book is coming out in September from C'est Bon Kultur, which I'm really excited about. It compiles the first 3 issues plus like 40 pages of new content. Currently, I am working on a comic to be published this November by Breakdown Press about different people living in a building and how their intimate spaces are intertwined with this communal space that they all share. It is mostly inspired by my experiences from being in this building I live in right now, which was built in Mexico City in the 50's, and has around 40 different one room apartments, many of which are shared by families.

Next year I'm going to be working on this story set in a future with an imminent apocalyptic demise, in which a woman who lives with her partner decides to have a baby with an alien, in a whim of selfish desire and also with hopes that it will survive the human race. 

I feel like I am too obsessed with comics to concentrate on doing anything else, but I would also really like to make a videogame someday. 

I'm always interested to know how artists use the internet and social media. You're active on Tumblr, and have quite a following- what do you see yourself using it for? How does it benefit/aid/hinder you?

When I first started posting my work on the internet, back in 2004 (ten years ago... yikes!) I did it because I wanted feedback so I could draw better, and also because I wanted to make friends with other aspiring artists. Nowadays, I see the internet as part of my job, and the point of posting my work is to promote it. I pretty much would not have a career if it wasn't for the internet, so in that sense, it has been a fundamental medium for me. 

What do you like about comics specifically- what you appreciate as a reader, and what you like as an artist? What do you not like?

As a reader, I am interested in comics that attract me with their good art, but only if their storytelling is just as good. As an artist, I love everything about doing what I do, but somedays I also hate it just as much, and prefer to be biking around, chasing wandering cats.

Currently watching: Woody Woodpecker from Walt Lantz (funny coincidence!)
Sound: The fridge in the background....
One food: The potatoes I'm going to bake later tonight!
Could not live without: My partner
Raising an eyebrow at: My neighbors who play the most awful music and also sing to it really loudly
Something beginning with 'g': Gouda cheese... which I never buy because it's expensive but it would go really good with my potatoes...

Must-have: Debbie's Inferno by Anne Emond

Listen up folks: Anne Emond's comic for Retrofit is now available to pre-order, and you're all going to need it. Emond's been making comic strips for a while, and is probably best know for her Comiques- quintessentially sardonic, witty, black and white strips largely centered around the Emond persona, which somehow also manage to be warm and relate-able. One of my main problems with a lot of auto-bio is it's so self-indulgent, but Emond's work never feels like that -probably because it doesn't actually read as auto-bio- her persona is very much an exaggerated character, and thus acts more readily as a reader interface. Her comics deal with the everyday, people observing, doubt, insecurity, life situations, with humour and intelligence, paired with her unique perspective. 

Her comics are, to me, very classically British in feel- due to some of the facets discussed (the sarcasm), but also her art style, which is reminiscent of British children's book illustrations and cartoonists. Emond is one of those creators I selfishly despair over: of not having more work out or in print; she's produced a few, short printed collections of Comiques, but all have quickly and long been sold out, so this is a rare opportunity to grab something of hers and familairise yourself with the work of a superb cartoonist. 

The Retrofit book (cover of which above, and a couple of preview pages below), looks excellent, it's titled Debbie’s Inferno, and is her venture into a lengthier comic narrative, following protagonist Debbie as she's led through her own personal Hell, with its various The book is 36 pages long and will be shipped out in early September  If you're signed up for the Retrofit subscription, you're sorted, but if not, you can pre-order it here

Friday, 8 August 2014

First Second announce new Giants Beware book: Dragons Beware!

This is news that made my Friday- genuinely- in case you think I'm pulling your leg, or over-stating. In 2012, First Second published Rafael Rosado's and Jorge Aguirre's Giants Beware! which is simply, one of the finest all-ages comics I've read. I remember buying it because it was nominated for an Eisner, and quite unusually for First Second it was printed in a lovely larger format paperback (slightly bigger than A4, I think), really allowing Rosadao's (who has storyboarded for Disney and worked on everything from 101 Dalmatians to Ghostbusters to the Turtles) art to shine.

Giants Beware! is the story of the rascally but sweet, red-haired Claudette, who's determined to free her village of the giants she's heard so much about, dragging along her younger brother, Gaston, a prodigious patissere chef, and her best friend, Marie, an alternative-thinking princess. Things, however, as not as straightforward as they seem, as the children can't quite seem to locate the giants in question. It's a joy of a book; very, very funny, warm, and the cartooning is absolutely lovely- so lively and expressive. The best thing about is the caharcterisiation of the children: each well rounded with distinctive, individual personalities, free of stereotypes and tropes.

I've been aware there's been a second book in the works from keeping an eye on Rosado's Twitter, where he'll post snippets of the book's process, but now First Second have officially announced a release date, as well as revealing the title and cover. Due for publication in May 2015 (my birthday month, coincidentally) Dragons Beware! sees Claudette take on a anew foe, once again accompanied by Gaston and Marie, as they journey to retrieve the world's most powerful sword, lost many years ago by Claudette's father... to a dragon... who ate it. The spunky trio must quest to the dragon’s lair, and then find a way to get the sword back from the belly of the beast.

I've included a couple of snippets from the first book below to entice you: you need to read it- it's the best fun. Don't look at me like that; it's my job and duty to spread the good comics word. Over and out.

Take 3 panels: Black Blizzard

I really enjoyed doing this review of James Stokoe's Avengers issue, especially the bit at the end, where I pulled my 3 favourite panels and talked about them a bit. So I decided to make a little feature out of it: introduce a book and its authors, with a brief overview/outline of plot, and then pick out 3 panels from it to deconstruct and chat about. It's not intended to be anything deeply analytical, but it allows me to talk about comics in a different, hopefully snappier, way, while perhaps also introducing people to work simultaneously.

The comic: Black Blizzard by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, 1956
The story: 'Susumu Yamaji, a twenty-four-year-old pianist, is arrested for murder and ends up handcuffed to a career criminal on the train that will take them to prison. An avalanche derails the train and the criminal takes the opportunity to escape, dragging a reluctant Susumu with him into the blizzard raging outside. They flee into the mountains to an abandoned ranger station, where they take shelter from the storm. As they sit around the fire they built, Susumu relates how love drove him to become a murderer. A cinematic adventure story, "Black Blizzard "uncovers an unlikely love story and an even unlikelier friendship.'

This was Tatsumi's first book drawn at 21, and it's very loose and rough, and it shows, but it's also truly charming in it's simplicity and that much easier to engage with. The main merit to his cartooning here is the dynamism and expressive-ness -were it not for the blizzard which requires texture and shade to obscure, and to portray the weather conditions, it's ligne claire like in tone and style. This is panel from the beginning of the book, where the nameless long-term criminal is rather pointedly laying down the law for Susumu. I just really like how the wind is blowing Susumu's hair straight up and the scrunchiness of his face, offering the objection he daren't state. It's an example of the early roughness, as well: in this panel it's clear that Susumu's right hand is free, meaning his left must be handcuffed to the man's right, although his hand is clearly visible here and looks free- not to mention how long Susumu's arm must be!

One of the things I love about Black Blizzard is the humour in it- it's not overt, but it's present- in the guise of the odd pairing of the hapless Susumu and the hardened career criminal. Tatsumi does a deft job representing that via body language, features, and expression. Nowhere is this more apparent in the initial escape where Susumu is continually tripping over and protesting that he can't go on. I love the way he's fallen here -it's a flop, essentially- and that one leg that's just popping up, accompanied by the 'whump' makes it. It looks like his arm is reaching up, but it's stretched into that position because they're handcuffed together- a complete submission- he's given up. And the 'what is this?' disgusted expression on the thug dude's face as he looks down at the specimen in front of him- it just really tickles me.

Another fairly straight-forward panel; there's no minute detail here, it's all about the characters, ostensibly -and the blizzard. More love for Susumu and his adorably, awkward ways: this is only his second meeting with Saeko (his first whilst sober), she's come to his home to return his book. The little character gestures here get me: Saeko's arm on her chest in earnestness and the lovely bubble dress, she's composed and calm and proper, while Susumu's all a-flutter: flustered, leaning forward, great big grin, those bandy legs doing their thing as he clutches the book. It's such an acute depiction of an early encounter between 2 people who like one another.

Black Blizzard is published in English by Drawn and Quarterly, and if you haven't read it yet, I'd very much recommend doing so- Tatsumi never really produced another work like this, although he was to continue to extend and expand upon the themes of the lives of the working class and the injustice they faced, to high acclaim.

Year's best comics... so far

I keep a running list of the comics that have impressed me most over the year (because I'm sad)- these are the ones I both liked on a more personal level, and that I think are objectively merit-worthy. I like lists, I like doing this kind of thing- it doesn't have to mean anything, as far as I'm concerned, although come year end, I'm sure we'll get the annual discussion about what best of lists mean, how terrible they are, and what they do. For me, it's fun, it's a way of organising my thoughts about various comics, of looking at the year in comics. Thus, I am preempting the rabble-rousing with a not-really-mid-year--more-seven-and-a-bit-months-best-of-list. Ha! 

There are still lots of books to be released, lots to come: Beauty by Herbert and Kerascoet, Rob Davis' Motherless Oven, new Pimo and Rex from Thomas Welllmann, the second installment of Frederik Peeters' Aama, Michael Cho's Shoplifter (which I'm waiting to experience in colour), Jamie Coe's Art Schooled, Doomboy, Nick Sumida's Snackies, and Mickey Z's Rav collection, both of which I'm really looking forward to. Meka, Doomboy, and Zaya from Magnetic Press, the Brass Sun collection, which I've been waiting aaaages for, volume one of Naoki Urasawa's Master Keaton -in English for the first time, and likewise for Satoshi Kon's Opus, due out next month. I got Moyoco Ano's In Clothes Called Fat through the post this morning, and Sam Alden's It Never Happened Again is on its way. I think I've done a *pretty* good job with reading what could be considered most of the major releases this year to date, but there's a few books I still need to get around to and a few that are still swimming around in my head, not quite settled in a position. Here's my top ten so far, in order (have linked to reviews I've written where applicable):

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki
Six-Gun Gorilla by Si Spurrier, Jeff Stokley, Andre May (series ended & was collected this year)
Demon by Jason Shiga

What books have you been bowled over by this year? What are you looking forward to coming out? To the Facebook page to discuss!

This One Summer

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Alone 2: The Master of Knives: outsider/insider

The first book of Alone did a solid job of setting up the narrative's central premise and introducing its main characters: five children wake up one day to discover all the inhabitants of their city have vanished. After providing a little before-and-after for each character and giving readers a glimpse into individual situations and backgrounds, the five were brought together and  decided to stick together and attempt to get to the bottom of the mysterious mass disappearance. The Master of Knives now allows Vehlmann and Gazzotti to add meat and substance to their story: the kids have set up home in the Majestic Hotel, and are quickly adapting to their new situation, whilst also being confronted with new challenges to deal with.

There's a very authentic feel to the presentation of the children and their responses, a limbo-ed grief of sorts, combined with the new freedom and opportunities at hand: little Terry looting shops and setting up a room of plushies which you can bounce around in without fear of hurt, another with a complete train set. The older Leila 'You know that I miss my family and friends from school a lot, right? Well, sometimes, I totally don't miss them at all... sometimes it's almost like they never existed!' While Ivan seems to be methodically emptying the hotel's mini-bar, while lounging in the pool and going through the phone-book, calling every number to see if anybody replies.

But there's something more ominous at play as Dodzi and Leila make food and supply runs to the shops and their homes, watched by a shadowy, masked figure, armed to the teeth with knives. And the equilibrium the group have achieved is a fragile one, shot through with fear, their situation as unique as they come, and tensions and fractions inevitable. When Dodzi leaves after an argument, he finds his life in danger. Vehlmann does a clever thing here, switching the point of view: what if there were other children also surviving and hiding the way Dodzi and the kids are? Would they view any other outsider as a threat in the same manner that they do? When Ivan gets his father's gun and decides to do some shooting practice atop the hotel's balcony- how would those gunshots be received? The kids are stocking weapons themselves- perhaps there are others doing the same.

The pacing of Alone is so well considered- chunks of time pass, but it also moves rather slowly at a realistic pace; indeed each volume so far has focused in on a few days at most, with time passing in between. It's a difficult thing to balance- do you constantly have things happen? How natural would it be for the children to encounter such and such? Vehlmann and Gazzotti do a great job of giving the characters time to unfurl whilst driving the plot forward: the kids are putting together a bus to drive outside the city  to see whether other areas are affected (Leila and Ivan are both in their early teens). Another little clue regarding the vanishing is dropped as Ivan mumbles in his sleep about his father being afraid of something, and the fifteen families... but Terry, who is shaking him awake, is too young to understand  what he is saying and any significance it may carry.

It's rather remarkable how Alone  manage's to have fun and humour (the scene at the cinema is lovely; Gazzotti with perfectly graduating embarrassed expressions and inward, scrunched up body postures) sit side by side with issues of violence, abuse, forgiveness, trust in a thoroughly natural way. Gazzotti's art is instrumental in the believable maintenance of those facets: his detailed yet abandoned backgrounds, the kids rendered in a authentic and engaging way, without descending into over cartoonish-ness; Cerise's colours, alternately foreboding and lively, similarly convey tone and emotion.

It's fantastic to see kids and teens written as mulit-faceted 3 dimensional characters without shoe-horning them into 'adult' roles or reducing their child-like qualities, and they make decisions accordingly. There's a few last pages here that hit you in the chest like a rock (more so if you're an adult reading), as the kids deal with the Master of Knives, the final page in particular brilliantly executed. I'm a huge fan of this series but if I was reading it as a 9 year old, I'd be utterly riveted by it; it has a range of interesting characters to attach to, an intriguing mystery and lots of action. Mistake it as just another 'kids  thrust into survival mode tale' to your own detriment. A highlight of my reading year thus far. 

Around the room in comics in 60(ish) seconds

In case you thought this was a serious comics blog, I don't really have much to write today, apart from review and lengthier pieces that need finishing, so instead of piling on review after review, I thought I'd just go around my room and take pictures of some comic-related things that I have hanging about that I'm fond of (I'm fond of most of the things I have otherwise I wouldn't have them, but these I perhaps like more). Fail-proof riveting post, right? Anyway, the pictures shockingly turned out okay for me- as you know I can't photograph for toffee, so here's some stuff:

Forager print by Evah Fan, and Tyrannosaurus Bats by Dustin Harbin. I love Evah's work, it's so clean and simple,  charming and fun. Dustin's pretty amazing too- especially at dinosaurs which are my weakness- I wanna get more of his prints once I'm rich again. I'm totally shit at framing and hanging prints- I've got Drew Millward's awesome The Fly poster, Zac Gorman's Do What makes You Happy, a Dilraj Mann, and all sorts of others still in tubes. These are smaller, A4-sizish, and protected in wrapping, so they get to go on top of the short bookshelf.

Koma by Pierre Wazem and Frederik Peeters is one of my all-time favourite books. It is just so many things, and I love the relationship between Adidas and her father, both of who are such amazingly warm and funny characters in their own way. And Frederik Peeters draws the heck out of it. I wrote a review of it a long while back, which would probably be quite a bit different now, but worth perusing if you want to know more about the book. The English language release from Humanoids has a fantastic cover, too which I could look at again and again: the colours are great: that turquoise/teal, the bold red lettering, the little girl and the beast gazing at their reflections in pink water. It's a nice reassuring weight and thickness, too.

Last year's Thought Bubble pass stuck on a glob of blu-tack on the wall. If you think about in a scrunch sorta way, there's only August and September and then it'll be Thought Bubble in November. That is the best news.

My Batman ring, made by, and bought from, the ace Lynn Allingham at Thought Bubble a few years back. You can find her jewellery shop online here. This is a super dangerous ring- sometimes to me, too.

You know how mums and dads are aware you like something but don't quite grasp how? This, um, hear-shaped mini Batman-knock-ff notebook was something my dad bought back from Yemen? Pakistan? and proudly gifted me. Obviously, I love it in all it's kitsch, Bruce Lee yellow tracksuit homage glory- although I'd say it sort of defeats the 'I am the night' thing somewhat.

The best postcard by Corinne Mucha:

It got really sunny here for a bit, but this is a Raphael Lego mini-figure on my bag. It was tough choosing just one Turtle key-ring, but we felt Raphael probably represented my fiery temperament best. Angry alla the time.

This was one of those happy mistakes- I ordered this but had no idea it was going to be in this Ladybird digest-hardback format. the art's a teeny bit squashed, but it really works. I did try finding out if more were done, but came up empty. I think the Batman Adventures are some of the best Batman comics made- a perfect synchronisation of art, tone, writing, content- everything, so to have it in this cute weird little package is pretty sweet.

Is it terrible that I'm yet to read this? I actually only got around to buying it last week. I like because it has 2 simple design features: the rounded corners and the elasticated band, that make it so much more attractive a product to have, it just makes the book a bit more special, something you'd treasure. I really don't get why more publishers won't incorporate little facets like this to their books. It's gorgeous on the inside too- man, I wasn't expecting the colours- I'd only seen some black and white pages prior to this.

This is my complete collection of Yosuba! These books are my happy place, I'm a little sad I'm all caught up, but looking forward to the new volume. I used to stock up and buy a couple of volumes at a time, and whenever I was feeling a bit rubbish, I'd read one- they'd invariably make me feel better.I like the spine design: the 'Yotsuba!' encased in a green exclamation mark bubble, with the volume number serving as the dot, followed by a figure of Yotsuba doing something Yostuba-like. I particularly like volume 4, where she has her back turned to the reader. That's the first book of 20th Century Boys on the top- jury's out on that one- there's a lot going on it- switching between a number of people, and times.

Another gorgeous print I have laying around, which was a present from Oliver, by German cartoonist Sebastian Stamm. You might remember I wrote about his comic, Leschek's Flug, last October. I believe they're working on a English translation. Need to find some protective covering for this. Or, y'know, a frame.

Ah, I was looking for this for the longest time: McFarlane's version of Kaneda's bike, released back in 2000. I'm not even a toy or figure person, but this thing is a beauty. This was from the first series, I believe- they also produced some of the character figures, but the Kaneda wouldn't sit on the bike, which they rectified in series 2 by producing a boxed Kaneda with bike.

Three of my favourite, random one-shots: Batman/Spawn (that title's wrong, yo). One of the reasons I love this is it actually doubles a game: count how many times Frank Miller uses the word 'punk.' List how many sentences this contains that re longer than four or five words. Endless entertainment. Below that you have the Hellboy/Beasts of Burden one-shot which was all kinds of perfect, and then probably one that sank into obscurity, but I randomly decided to cherish: Buddy Cops by Nate Cosby and Evan Shaner. The definitive android partnered with a drunk, super-being buddy-cop comic: the Shaky Kane one had nothing on this.