Friday, 27 February 2015

'Kipo,' Rad Sechrist's amazing-looking new webcomic

A new web-comic that's definitely worth checking out is Rad Sechrist's Kipo. Sechrist, a former storyboard artist/ character designer working in animation (DreamWorks, Disney, Cartoon Network), has recently quit his job to make comics, and began posting pages of Kipo on his Tumblr. I was going to flag it up at that point, but he mentioned he was in the process of creating a dedicated site for it, so I decided to sit on it until that was live, in order to link directly to it, making navigation much easier than sifting through various Tumblr posts. Truth be told digital art is really hit and miss with me; some of it can look so homogeneous and flat, lacking any emotion or character but Sechrist has ensured his work doesn't fall into that territory via the use of an unusual and outstanding colour palette, a variety of interesting textures, and the expressions bestowed upon his characters- all of which really help bring it to life.  It's too early to tell where the story is going yet, although it appears to be a sci-fi/fantasy, with odd duo protagonists learning to get along with each other, and some very curious beasts: ginormous cat/bear fluffy creatures, anyone? The best thing, however, has to be that four-eyed blue pig- the way one set of eyes is looking curiously to the left and the others straight at you: adorable. You can read Kipo from the very beginning here.

Society of Illustrators recognises Bangnarelli, Huston, Tsurumi, Kyle, Schrauwen, & more, at annual Comic and Cartoon Art awards

Between Slumberland by Maëlle Doliveux

I know award fatigue can set in very quickly (unless you're the person winning them), but I thought the Society of Illustrators dedicated comic arts medal prizes, which they introduced last year as a companion line to their prestigious illustration medals, were worth noting. The 6 categories created are interesting: short from, digital media, special format, long form, single image, and comic strip; as are the mixture of recipients- some familiar, some less so. Gold and Silver medals are presented to work which displays 'high-quality technique, a strong narrative, and an interesting composition.' You can see a full list of those put forward for consideration in each category here. I'm really pleased to see Italian artist Bianca Bagnarelli win the gold medal in the short form category for Fish, Oliver Schrauwen for Arsene Schrauwen, Andrea Tsurumi, Patrick Kyle, Lauren Weinstein, Matthew Houston- lots of excellent work recognised here that generally goes overlooked, so it's nice to see a place for these awards. The original winning works will be exhibited in the MoCCA Gallery at the Society of Illustrators from June 16 through August 15th, and an reception and awards presentation will take place on Friday, June 19th. Congratulations to all medal recipients. 

Short form: The Gold Medal is awarded to Bianca Bagnarelli for Fish (Nobrow). Silver Medals go to Matthew Houston for Phone Book and Keren Katz for Mahana’im 134 (Humdrum Collective).

Digital media: The Gold Medal goes to Lauren Weinstein for Carriers. Silver Medals go to Gemma Correll for Four Eyes Cartoons and Andrea Tsurumi for Yup/Nope.

Special format: The Gold Medal goes to Rodger Binyone for Subterranean Level: 6XZ03188V. Silver Medals go to Eitan Eloa for The Grimm Brothers According to Frischmann: Three Illustrated Stories and David Plunkert for Heroical #2.

Long form: The Gold Medal is awarded to Olivier Schrauwen for Arsène Schrauwen (Fantagraphics). Silver Medals go to Jaime Hernandez for The Love Bunglers (Fantagraphics) and Patrick Kyle for Distance Mover (Koyama Press).

Single image: The Gold Medal is awarded to Roger De Muth for Squirrels Are Not Just For Breakfast Anymore. Silver Medals go to Carolita Johnson for Must Remember and Liam Walsh for Just Married. 

Comic strip: The Gold Medal goes to Maëlle Doliveux for Little Nemo in Between Slumberland (Locust Moon). Silver Medals go to Fran Krause for Deep Dark Fears and Tom Tomorrow for Captain Kirk vs. the Internet.

(via ComicsBeat)

Avery Hill announce 2015 books from Donya Todd, Rachael Smith, Tillie Walden

British publishers Avery Hill have released details of some of their 2015 line-up and there's a few that caught my eye. The imprint have quietly been building a strong, varied stable -working largely with UK artists as well as beyond, with books from Julia Scheele, Mike Megadalia, and Edie OP. The three upcoming books highlighted here are all by artists fairly familiar to those who keep up with small press comings and goings: Donya Todd is a regular figure on the UK convention scene with Death and the Girls published by Blank Slate Books, while Rachael Smith has been nominated for a British Comic Book award and been published by the now defunct Great Beast. Tille Walden hails from Austin, Texas and is currently studying at the great Center for Cartoon Studies, which churns out excellent comics practitioners. There's more information below on each book below with blurbs provided by the publisher, but that's a very strong line-up- I like that Avery Hill are seeking out and working with young, fresh voices, and I'm interested in seeing all these in the flesh.

The Rabbit By Rachael Smith (August): Eleanor and her younger sister Kathy have run away from school, from home and from all of their troubles. They may also be running from reality itself, as they seem to have acquired a new friend in the form of a talking cartoon bunny rabbit called Craig. As Craig grows bigger and bigger, the girls soon discover exactly what kind of creature has joined them on their adventure. Running away is not as easy as it seems.

Buttertubs By Donya Todd (June): Buttertubs is a dog who always wants to save the dudes and damsels in distress, but who always mucks it up on account of his inability to stop sweating butter. Running becomes flailing and crashing, everything he touches becomes greasy and strangely flammable, and even simple tasks become fraught with slippery danger.'

The End of Summer by Tillie Walden (June): In a secluded castle, at the beginning of a winter that is predicted to last for three years, Lars is battling illness, boredom and the pressures of family life. Locked inside for the duration, he passes the time playing with his siblings and his giant cat, Nemo, while tensions within the family begin to simmer… '

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Thought Bubble unveil 2015 festival icon, announce first wave of guests: Kate Beaton, Farel Dalrymple, Joan Cornella, and more

Festival fever is fully in swing: this morning I woke up to a glorious new Charles Burns TCAF poster, and now there's exciting news about Thought Bubble, widely regarded by fans and professionals alike as the UK's premier comics festival. It takes place annually every November in Leeds, and each year, the festival commissions a different artist to design and illustrate the icon/image for the event, which goes on to adorn the website, flyers, posters, leaflets, and so forth. Previous year's have seen Becky Cloonan and Annie Wu take on the challenge and 2015's fun and vibrant logo is designed and illustrated by Batgirl illustrator, Babs Tarr. I really like how fresh and cool it feels- lovely bright colours against a white background, whilst the lettering is reminiscent of neon light signage- there's sort of a summery, Hawaiian vibe to it.

The festival has also divulged details regarding guests- they usually stagger these announcements over the course of the year, so more names will be added.  The first wave of confirmed guests are: Kate Beaton, Joan Cornellà, Farel Dalrymple, Scott Snyder, Emma Rios, Noelle Stevenson, Jeff Lemire, Becky Cloonan, Gemma Correll, Ray Fawkes, Tess Fowler, Nicholas Gurewitch, Kate Leth, Jerome Opeña, Amy Reeder,  Rick Remender, and Kurtis Wiebe. What makes Thought Bubble such a successful con is its ethos of mixing more mainstream, recognised names with independent talent, something which is apparent from a read-through of that list: there's plenty there for various audience segments to be excited about. 

It's a really solid, diverse (in terms of area of work) line-up, but there are a few people I think people will be particularly looking forward to see. It'll be excellent to see Kate Beaton return to Leeds- she has 2 new books out this year, which will no doubt boost her perennial popularity. I'm thrilled to see Spanish cartoonist Joan Cornellà on the list, too- if you're unfamiliar with his name, chances are you have probably seen his very funny, bizarre cartoons. This year will also see the publication of the first English edition of Cornellà's work: Mox Nox from Fantagraphics. I know Farel Dalrymple came to many people's attention in a big way in 2014 year after the publication of the superb The Wrenchies (that sold out everywhere at Thought Bubble last year, and is still selling well in shops) and I'm pleased too, to see Noelle Stevenson, of Lumberjanes and Nimona, on the list. The complete, print edition of Nimona release in the summer, and the first Lumberjanes trade will be out a little earlier. Those four artists reflect the range of the festival quite well, in that I imagine they each have individual and specific fan bases and people interested in their work, which nicely compliments guests like Emma Rios, Scott Snyder, Becky Cloonan and Jeff Lemire.

For those wishing to exhibit at the festival, registration will open on Monday 2nd March for a two week application period ending on Monday 16th March -it will involve filling in and submitting a form (which will go live on the 16th). Further details for applicants will be available on the website this Friday, so check back there if you're interested in tabling- spaces sell out very, very quickly (within a few hours). In the meantime, there's plenty here to get hyped up for.

Linda Medley's Big Bad: an unfinished comics project

This is from a 2013 Fantagraphics post I came across, so old news really, but I had never seen it before and even from these few pages it's clear that it's excellent enough to share with those of you in the same boat as I. 'It' is an abandoned/unfinished comics project from 2003 by the amazing and singular Linda Medley -of Castle Waiting fame- reading it actually makes me quite sad that I can't read the rest of it, it's so good. I'm not really one for 'what could have been' (Jodorowsky's Dune- insert continuously looping eye-roll gif right bloody here), but I'm a big, big Medley fan, and even from reading these few pages you have to admire her characterisation and narrative abilities, so deftly and swiftly woven. I know there's a lot of good comics around today- more so than ever- but Medley's are the kind you really sit down with, to savour; the best sort of rich, immersive reading experiences. You can read more pages here (it may make you sad it doesn't exist), but if you're one of those lucky people yet to discover her superb Castle Waiting books, I honestly couldn't recommend anything higher. I'm not going to attempt to describe it to you, but instead gently lead you towards this product page at Fantagraphics, where you can read the opening 28 pages and allow you to be won over. I think I'll go have a re-read myself.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The absent/present mother, and wife, in Master Keaton

I wrote a review of Master Keaton for the AV Club which was published today; you can read it here. That might be helpful in providing some context and a general overview for what follows in this brief essay; I'm still getting used to the 500 word limit for reviews that they enforce (it's challenging in a good way, cutting to the quick of what you really want to say, and consider of significance), and I'm not sure how that reads. It  largely focuses on Urasawa's characterisation of Keaton; there were a lot of things I wanted to discuss that fell to the wayside.  One of those interesting facets, and the subject if this piece, is the portrayal of Keaton's mother, and his wife. 

Neither woman makes an actual, physical appearance in the whole book; they are discussed by other characters, and shown fleetingly via a couple of flashback scenes. In the final third of the book a flashback shows Patricia, Keaton's mother, a total of 3 time: 2 close-ups of her face,  and one scene in which he remembers/imagines her standing in her garden, her back to the reader. That final image mirrors the only time we're shown Keaton's wife -whose name is never given- from early in the story when Keaton reminisces about the first time he saw his wife -also from behind. Despite the presence of both women is keenly felt throughout the book. Here's what can be gleaned on each:

  • Patricia Keaton, a 'woman who could do anything well,' left her husband to return to her homeland of England, taking her 5-year old son with her to raise alone and has never been back. She has since gone on to run a big and very successful business in England. Keaton's father is a serial philanderer, who, 30 years on, believes his wife still loves him (he still loves her), despite his constant cheating (there is a later inference that she may not have minded his straying so much -although that may have changed- and her reasons for leaving may be different as to supposed).
  • Keaton's wife is a mathematician and professor at the top of her profession (he's a lower level professor, she works at the one of the most prestigious universities in Japan, and is on her way to making full professor, which I assume is akin to tenure?). They met and married while studying at Oxford and had their daughter Yuriko when they were 20. The reasons for her leaving Keaton are unclear, but he still loves her, and both reside in Japan and share custody of Yuriko,

It's difficult to know the women, but its interesting in examining the choice to include them in such a manner- that they are so strongly present, and part of the story without being physically there, particularly as Master Keaton could so easily be a male dominant narrative- adventure/action hero ahoy. Their inclusion attests to their importance in Keaton's life -ultimately, they are presented through his eyes- and to the narrative, but agency is key to their presentation. As fulfilling and rich as the roles of mother and wife are, both women are more: successful not merely by conventional standards: job, status, money- but as smart, independent, and compassionate women who made difficult decisions that would best allow them to lead the lives they wanted.

By comparison, Keaton and his father come off looking rather sad and sub-par; unchanged from when their wives left them: the latter still chasing after women and living in an apartment by himself, while the former hides behind a misplaced concept of chivalrous autonomy on behalf of his wife (which reads more like stubborness and pride), lacking the courage to tell her he loves her and wants her to stay, to work on the marriage, to be together. Yuriko mentions her mother had once said if Keaton had tried to stop her, or asked her to stay just once, she would have, but the parallels between him and his father are undeniable. Both appear unfulfilled, his father perhaps more resigned to his fate. At the beginning of the book, Yuriko informs her father of her mother's intention to re-marry, and he attempts to pump her for more information about her mother's boyfriend to no avail. This continues throughout; whenever Keaton and Yuriko meet, he asks after her mother's boyfriend and she ignores him. It's played to comedic effect, but he obviously cares as well, although not enough to get in touch with his ex-wife himself, By the end of the book, Yuriko informs him the engagement/relationship is off. The women have grown, become more, and moved on- and the men remain the same -superficially at least- afraid to change, to take chances. 

There's a definite reading of Keaton and his father as unanchored, of missing something, and something missing- and that seems to be the women they married.

Urasawa devotes considerable time to building up and fleshing out these women, and showing us their impact on the characters: on softly-spoken but steely Keaton who was raised by his mother, and on the passionate and idealistic Yuriko. The constant [presence and influence of a person in your life can change and define you, but their absence, too, can have a similar effect. On a regular retreat to Keaton's childhood house in the Japanese countryside, he is eager to re-create a summer pudding his mother used to make for him, discovering the secret ingredient to her recipe in a notebook: pennyroyal, 'I planted penny royal, which I brought with me from Cornwall. This is my secret homeland.' On finding the bed of penny royal withered and close to dying (and with no chance of rain all summer) Keaton and his father previously laconic and ambivalent to Yuriko's adamancy that they take action to win back their wives, jump into action, working tirelessly through the night to build and install a water pump/mill which will ensure the penny royal's survival.

Much of this is somewhat inferred, gap-filling for what is presented on the page (it's difficult to discern who's done/decided what exactly), and it should be pointed out Master Keaton is not short of actual complex female characters: Yuriko, Sophia, Kayoko, Claire, and more, but it's intriguing to see absent characters presented in such a sparse but significant manner, and to wonder further as to who they are.   

Ley Lines: new comics from Cathy G. Johnson, Andrew White, Warren Craghead, Erin Curry

Comic subscription models seem to be increasingly popular, and the thing I like about the system is that if you don't want to sign up for a bundle of comics, you can still buy the individual ones you're interested in- it doesn't have to be either or. To that effect, here's some details on Ley Lines, a series of books from publishers/distributors Grindstone Comics, run by L. Nichols, and Kevin Czap's Czap Books. Released quarterly, the line-up for 2015 includes Warren Craghead (How to Be Everywhere, “Fauves”, ladyh8ters”) , Cathy G. Johnson (Jeremiah, Dear Amanda), Andrew White (My Name is Martin Shears, Black Pillars), and Erin Curry (Intermittent Transmission, Ambient Air). The aim of the series is to explore the intersection of comics and the various fields of art & culture by which the artists are inspired. The first comic to release will be Craghead's Golden Smoke, but the rest are yet untitled; Johnson's will focus on Vincent Van Gogh, and White's on Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein. Each issue is 24 pages, 1 color risograph printed, half-letter size, with saddle stitch binding. The comics are due in March, May, August and November respectively. I like how neat and straightforward a deal this seems.

You can buy the subscription here.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

An apocalyptic angel epidemic in Satoshi Kon and Mamorou Oshii's Seraphim [preview]

March will see the release of 2 books I'm really looking forward to (and the two first entries on my 'most anticipated of 2015' list): Last Man and Seraphim. Comic releases, as you know, are a bit all over the place, and I was thrilled to see copies of the former in the comic book store last Thursday. First Second have published it in a really nice size -6 x 8 1/2- same dimensions as Paul Pope's Battling Boy, but keep in mind that this is a shounen manga style series, so that's actually a slightly larger format than typical. I haven't read it yet, but honestly, seeing it in the shop and flicking through it- it just looks so, so good, a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, it does so happen that comic book stores will get in books earlier than actually projected via release dates- I know mine is slated to have Satoshi Kon's and Mamorou Oshii's Seraphim in this week. Lon has a string of posthumous books due for publication this year: there was Opus in January, Seraphim now, Dream Fossil: The Complete Stories of Satoshi Kon from Vertical in May, and an art book, Art of Satohsi Kon, also due from Dark Horse in August. I seem to think there may be one more I'm missing, but perhaps not. Seraphim, or Seraphim: 266613336 Wings to use its fill title, was penned by Ghost in the Shell director, Mamoru Oshii and illustrated by Kon, was originally (I believe) serialised in Tokuma Shoten's Animage magazine from 1995-96, and then collected in a complete, single volume edition in 2010. This is it's first English language translation. Set in a future Earth plagued by "tenshi-byō" (angel disease), a pandemic that induces apocalyptic visions in the afflicted, even as it ossifies their bodies into dead, seraphic forms. A young girl named Sera, and three men embark on a journey to solve the mystery of the strange fatal illness which is decimating the population. 

It's a strange hook to have, but as much I like Kon's Otomo-esqe art, I'm also intrigued by the angel angle here (also presuming at some point we get to see some angels from some excerpts I've seen whilst researching), the idea of these immensely powerful beings and the various interpretations you could have of them- I always liked the physical representation of Michael and the way he was depicted in Mike Carey and Peter Gross' Lucifer series initially-  he had the whole standard white, flowing blonde hair, blue eyes thing going on, but seeing him as this massive, vast being chained up deep below in a subterranean dungeon was pretty impactful. I liked Duma too, but that was more a personality appreciation: he never spoke and he still managed to be a boss. It reminds me of the mythology of mermaids, and how they're always depicted as female and relatively human sized: top half woman, bottom half fish tail, and I wish people played around with that portrayal more. Strangely enough, I think one of the first books I read in which a mermaid was represented as more beast-like and being huge in size was Satoshi Kon's Tropic of the Sea.

To get back on track, and address the purpose of the article in the very last line by which the reader's lost  interest, here's a 9-page preview from Seraphim (in shops February 25th):

Friday, 20 February 2015

Missy by Daryl Seitchik

A new installment of Missy by Daryl Seitchik. New Missy will publish here every fortnight. Previous installments can be found here.

Dark Horse announce crime caper 'The New Deal' from Jonathan Case

I like to keep an eye out for any interesting, solid crime comics, and Dark Horse have announced one that appears to fit the bill. The New Deal is Jonathan Case's latest book, set in depression era 1930's New York, which sees Case explore class misconceptions, racial tension, and deft cat burglary through the lens of a bellhop and a maid in the Waldorf Astoria hotel: 'When a charming woman named Nina checks in to the iconic hotel with a high-society entourage, young Frank, a bellhop, and Theresa, a maid, get caught up in a series of mysterious thefts. The stakes quickly grow perilous, and the pair must rely on each other to discover the truth while navigating delicate class politics.'

Case is best-known for his 2011 Eisner award-winning graphic novel. Green River Killer, a comic based on the real-life murders of over 48 women in 1980's Seattle and detective Tom Jensen's increasing obsession in solving it.  Case says his  new book is inspired by his love for black and white films of the era, and is actually more comedy leaning than his previous work: 'It’s a fun opportunity because of the comedy caper and crime aspect. It’s seen through these characters that are on the outside of everything that’s happening in the social scenes. It’s a really interesting time period, set in 1935, 1936, and there’s a wealth of economic and social conflicts, and exciting things happening at that time, like women’s rights and race relations. Even though it’s a comedy and it’s played mostly for whimsical laughs, I get to explore some of those things I’m interested in.' 

It sounds fun, and I really like that striking cover; not only the colours, but that romantic noir style is very suited to the material. and time. The New Deal is due for publication on September 23rd. 

News, Views, and Oddities #41

A bumper edition of News, Views and Oddities, as I've been saving up bits and bobs of news from a while back, so chances are you may have heard of a few of these already. As usual, links to interesting pieces encompassing comics, books, illustration, toys. design and film. Clicking fingers at the ready.

There are few better ways to spend some time -on a Friday, of all days- than looking at a video-book of beautiful Jiro Taniguchi watercolour paintings. these are from the travel book he produced for fashion house Louis Vuitton.

I'm keeping a close eye on TCAF guest announcements as I'm attending this year (as I've mentioned 1000 times already; I'm pretty excited- it's my first time), and the festival has released news of the first wave of invited attendees, the bulk of whom are Canadian or American artists at this point; no doubt international guests will be announced at a later point. It's a strong line-up: Charles Burns, Jillian Tamamki, Eleanor Davis,  Barbara Stok, Scott McCloud, Lucy Knisley and more. 

Darling Sleeper is Medium's new comics-focused publication, edited by Jesse R. Lucas. Whit Taylor is serialsing her comic, Passing, on there, and this interview with Aisha Franz is good, too.

A good, short interview with Bill Sienkiewicz on art as a vocation and career.

You may remember in May last year, it was announced that Bastien Vives' Polina, a mesmerisingly gorgeous graphic novel on the life of a young woman who is a ballerina,  would be adapted into a film. Well, its pedigree just got a little more richer, as Variety revealed superb French actress Juliette Binoche has joined the cast. It'll be interesting to see who she plays; Polina's mother isn't a presence in the comic, but there is a tough teacher with whom Polina clashes bitterly with, so perhaps Binoche will take up that role. 

Pleased to see any Richie Pope comics, so the news of him creating a story for something I'm already fond of is an additional bonus. Pope is working on a comic for the next volume of the Josh Tierney-penned and multi-artists authored Spera: Ascension of the Starless. The Spera series has such a good track record of talented voices in comics and illustration. And because I'm a sucker for unique and distinctive monsters, these designs he's been sharing of the 'molded angels' have me intrigued.  

Sana Amanat, Marvel's star editor behind titles such as Ms Marvel and Captain Marvel, amongst others, has been promoted to Director of Content and Character Development- as Heidi McDonald reports, it appears that's a position that's been specifically created specifically for her, which makes it an even more impressive achievement. 

This is an excellent interview with Drawn & Quarterly's Tom Devlin, on the success of Tove Jansson's Moomins comics. And this is another one with Josh Palmano, owner and founder of one of the UK's most well-know comics shops, Gosh! That latter one in particular is interesting, as Palmano talks about the changes in comics and audience etc over the years and how the shop has adjusted to reflect that.

I love Chris Haughtons' work, and this is a wonderful fit and application of his talents: painting wall reliefs on walls in a children's hospital in London.

Lego have acquired the Scooby Doo license (don't pretend you're not excited), so we're due a few different Lego sets incorporating the characters in various scenarios. Me, I'm just after the Mystery Machine and the individual figures. The Brick Fan has the full run-down on the sets including photos, and all other news and announcements from the New York Toy Fair.

Horizontal press have published a series of 'Tijuana Bibles' by some of comics foremost authors: 2 colour risograph-printed poronographic zines, by Sophia Foster-Domno, Eleanor Davis, Roman Muradov Lizzy Stewart, Eleni Kalorkoti, and more. You can buy the zines individually, or as a set.

I'm always wishing for more fashion/comics efforts, and as commercial as this may be, I still like the concept and idea of it: Marvel have a 'styled by Marvel' Instagram account which shares clothes and accessories -some of which are Marvel-licensed, some not- in an effort to 'get the look' of certain characters, or simply clothes with your favourite comics character on.

I wrote about Viv Schwarz's excellent anxiety comics roughly this time last year, so I'm honestly thrilled to see that she's planning a book around them, hopefully for publication at some point this year. I also like what she has to say about the process of connecting these single, albeit connected, comics she made into a graphic novel, and not losing what they're about:

'I am working on making my Anxiety comics into a book. A full graphic novel. It's a lot of work. I need to connect all the little episodes up, a little bit, and have a few narrative arcs. At the same time I am refusing to give the reader anything to latch on that might detract from what I want to say. I know many people will want to pick up a narrative that supports their favourite ideas about anxiety disorder - maybe about medication being a good or a bad thing. Maybe about trauma - how it's all about relationships or childhood or self-esteem. They'll be looking for somewhere to put the blame and some solutions that they can approve or disapprove of. That's not what this is about, though. There's enough of those books already.'

In further film/comics news: Jane Goldman has joined the Fables production as screenplay writer. The projected film adaptation of Bill Willingham's comics series currently has Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) on board as director, with Jeremy Slater (The Lazarus Effect and the new Fantastic Four) as a scriptwriter. Goldman's previously written screenplays for several comics-to-film movies, including Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service, in addition to adaptations of Neil Gaiman's Stardust and Susan Hill's The Woman In Black

Sticking with films, but slightly smaller productions, there's been a film made of Paul Hornschemeier's We Were Not Made for this World, a comic taken from his Project: Telstar  book published by AdHouse Books.  I really like the way that looks; solid design interpretation.

Announced yesterday and due in the summer, the hit duo of D'Israeli and Ian Edginton are publishing a new sci-fi series with 2000AD, titled HeliumThat teaser image is glorious.

The Felt Mistress (Louise Evans) does it again. After last years magnificent Turtles, she's created something that may well make you feel warmly towards as cold and hard a corporation as Coke (obviously I already do- hence blog name)- the cutest, sleekest felt coke bottle complete with spindly arms and legs, a-strumming on a guitar.

Of all the announcements of new comics from Image Expo last month (that was only last month?!) the one that got me most excited -Island and 8House aside- was the upcoming Paper Girls series by Cliff Chiang and Brian Vaughan. That's a an awesome collaborative team-and the premise also sounds nifty: 'Set in the late 1980s, the ongoing series will follow four newspaper-delivery kids who experience something extraordinary, where what exactly has occurred isn't readily apparent. '

Comics you need to read:

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Where to start with: Fabien Vehlmann

A while back, I was looking for suggestions for new features, and the excellent Mike Molcher put forward a 'where to start with' series: incorporating artists, writers, genres, themes, fashion in comics, great side-characters,  etc., which sounded fun and useful (and easy to do!). I liked the idea of it- having done a couple of similar pieces- one on the work of French cartoonist, Bastien Vives, and one on suggested entry-points to manga (I'd like to expand on the latter soon, as I find navigating Japanese comics in the UK -even with the benefit of the internet- pretty difficult) already, particularly the notion that these shorter, list-type articles are hopefully as accessible and of interest to the general reader as well as the more familiar comics one.

I've chosen to start with French comics writer Fabien Vehlmann. Vehlmann, who got his big break in comics when he was hired as a writer for Spirou magazine in 1997- and hasn't really looked back since, is an author whose work I think about quite often; I find him similar to Naoki Urasawa in that he's able to write very different stories that jump from genre to genre and beyond, in an eminently engaging manner. Unlike Urasawa, who illustrates his own work, Vehlmann either stands out or flies under the radar -depending on your perspective- because he collaborates with a variety of exceptionally good illustrators; there are no distinct running themes in his work, and because it looks so different each time, with a lot of the tone and feel provided by the artists, it can be easy to overlook who it's written by. I admire that he wants to tell a range of diverse stories: sci-fi, Victorian murder mysteries, pirate tales, apocalyptic children's bildungsromans- even as perhaps the comics scene in France facilitates that to a greater degree, and he appears to be someone who truly thrives on collaboration. There are writers who stick to what they're good at, and those who write the same book over and over, but Vehlmann seems committed to simply writing strong and interesting stories.

Here, I'm going to focus on the six of his English language translated works.

Green Manor (series) with Denis Bodart, Cinebook: Green Manor is a great, fun, Victorian murder mystery series with a bit of a twist: the narrator of these tales is a butler locked up in an asylum, who begins spilling his guts when he's visited by a curious policeman. The titular Green Manor is a gentleman's club for rich, powerful -mainly old- men of various professions, who sit around telling each other stories involving corruption and blood, setting up absurd wagers, competing with one another, and generally being off-handedly dastardly towards pretty much everyone. As you can see from the cover and art above, Bodart's spindly, fine lines are perfectly suited to the material and era; the books are hugely enjoyable and gleefully revel in the awfulness of these privileged men, while the dash of Conan-Doyle in solving the impenetrable mysteries provides another facet of intrigue. There have been two volumes published in English so far, courtesy of the excellent Cinebook, available very cheaply and serves as an excellent place to start with Vehlmann's oeuvre. He and Bodart are currently working on new Green Manor stories in French, which I'm hoping will be picked up quickly once it's wrapped.

7 Psychopaths with Sean Phillips, Boom!: A mini-series illustrated by none other than Sean Phillips (Criminal, Fatale), and unconnected to the film of the same name, 7 Psychopaths is the story of  7 people bought together for a singular, and fictitiously popular, mission: to assassinate Hitler. Set in World War II, with the Allies desperate to end the war, the only solution that seems tenable is to get at the root of the poison.  Of course it's not going to take 'normal' people but a hodge podge of social outcasts and 'crazies' who are now the only hope the world has. I guess this is one of the aspects that makes me appreciate Vehlmann as a writer; everything about the above blurb sounds very done, very rote, seen-it-before, but he still manages to be very readable and entertaining.

The Isle of 10000 Graves with Jason, Fantagraphics: Part pirate tale, part Treasure Island, part strange coming of age tale, part revenge story, The Isle of 100,00 Graves is a great example of a collaborative work. It's rare that Jason works with writers, and the blend of his dead-pan humour with Vehlmann's easy narration makes for a singular reading experience. Jason's trademark anthropomorphic blank eyed figures are imbued with a curious warmth, even as he controls the underlying tone and thrust of the story. Gwenny journeys to the mysterious Isle of 100,000 Graves with a shipful of dodgy pirates via a map found by her father five years ago before he disappeared, bent on finding both him and the mysterious treasures the island is supposed to yield. But the island isn't named lightly or in hyperbole; it's home to a secret school for executioners and torturers, where young pupils are taught the many painful ways of extracting information from people before putting an end to them once and for all. So an influx of uninvited visitors as they near the completion of their studies is a tricky thing indeed... Surprisingly sweet.

Last Days of an Immortal with Gwen De Bonneval: A philosophical sci-fi set in the distant future, in a galaxy teeming with an array of alien races as well as humans, and in which people can live for hundreds of years, and are also able to replicate themselves as 'echoes' and live multiple lives simultaneously, before being absorbing back into the original host body and gathering all the memories in one place. Elijah is a member of the 'Philosophical Police,' who must solve conflicts that arise out of ignorance of the Other. Two species are fighting a war with roots in a crime committed centuries ago, and Elijah must solve the crime and bring peace between their species before war errupts, while also confronting his own immortality in a world where science provides access to eternal life.

Beautiful Darkness, with Kerascoet, Drawn and Quarterly: Perhaps the title with which most people will be familiar, I believe Vehlmann had more of a backseat role in Beautiful Darkness, as the original idea and concepts were created by Marie Pommepuy (she and husband Sebastian Cosset work under the name Kerascoet), and he assisted with scripting and refining the narrative. I've written about Beautiful Darkness pretty extensively: there's a review here, and a more in-depth deconstruction examining some of the themes and possible interpretations here. Widely acknowledges as one of the best books of 2014, it follows a group of tiny Borrower-esqe people as they attempt to survive in the woods with winter drawing in. And near by, the dead body of a young human girl lies decomposing... An examination of society, constructs, roles, their effect before and after removal, and the dangers of idealism, beautifully, uncomfortably illustrated by Kerascoet, it's an astonishing, unblinking work which will no doubt become a classic.

Alone/Seuls (series) with Bruno Gazzotti, Cinebook: Probably my favourite -and the strongest- Vehlmann to date, Alone [Seuls]is an ongoing series in its original French (on its 8th volume now) which Cinebook are translating into English; books 1 and 2 were released last year, with 3 and 4 scheduled for publication in 2015.  Five very different children with nothing in common other than the fact that they live in the same town,  wake up one day to find it empty: all the people, themselves excluded have vanished. Vehlmann veers from the easy route of 'how fun- no parents!' although there is sometimes, realistically, an element of that; instead focusing on the fear and eeriness as the kids struggle to survive and investigate what has happened. The characterisation is brilliant here, without condescension or talking down, the children are all multi-facted and very well realised. Gazzotti's cartoony realsim contributes deftly to the whole scenario, and it's simply one of my most anticipated series at the moment. It is genuinely criminally underlooked, and I'd urge you to read it immediately. This is another one I've championed quite a bit: you can find more details on the series with quotes from Vehlmann and Gazzotti in a 'general look' article here, a review of Book 1: The Vanishing here, and Book 2: Master of Knives here.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Gorgeous new web-comic alert: Mahou Shounen Breakfast Club

Cartoonists Katie O'Neil and Toril Orlesky have been building anticipation for their new comic, Mahou Shounen Breakfast Club, for a while, sharing process and art on their Strange Star blog (the banner under which they create comics together), and now it's finally here. And boy, is it utterly beautiful to look at- something evidenced by the few pages I've gathered here. A slice of life comic about the anime voice acting industry, romance, and cup ramen, Mahou Shounen Breakfast Club, the name suggests reference also to high school manga tropes, and well, The Breakfast Club. So although it's about a group of Tokyo voice actors and their lives, relationships and resulting production issues, it opens with lengthy scenes of the anime to which they're lending their voice, and if that cut between the two narratives is to be continued, it's going to be very ambitious indeed, and even more intriguing to watch develop. 

That opening is wonderfully done, as it takes you into the anime straightaway, and coming into it cold, you're not aware that what you're reading is not the actual 'reality' of the story. I like how the colours, setting and choices reflect that: a full page splash of the school, a closer panel of the front doors, then the inside of the hall, a long view panel of the five characters at their desk, and then individual close-ups of each on. This establishing, coupled with the bright, clean colours and lines is lovely and thematically fitting with what you think is an anime comic, but that rather perfectly done mis-en-scene makes more sense when you consider -and know- it's not 'real life,' but the show that you're seeing. Similarly, O'Neil and Orlesky have fun with character introductions: the professor's entrance is complete with dramatic door opening, flying swirling, flower petals, an imaginary wind making her robes flow: that whole magical girl thing. The colour palette and style changes a little (as in the title card above)  -darker, slightly more textured- once the reader's pulled out of the show and into the real, voice acting narrative.

Mahou Shounen Breakfast Club is a project that O'Neil and Orlesky work on in their free time, so the comic doesn't have a set schedule, but will be updating once a month with a new chapter (10-15 pages), which I prefer as I like reading in chunks, and find it more easier to keep up with web-comics by checking back periodically. It's free for all to read (which I always find fascinating and am very grateful for; I can't think of any other medium which puts out as much free work), but there's a Patreon for it here, for those wishing to lend their support. It's an incredibly good comic, and I recommend you go read it now. Really excited to follow this and see where it all goes.