Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Something pretty: Christophe Blain's King Kong

King Kong, illustrated by Christophe Blain, adapted by Michel Piquemal, published by Albin Michel

I finally got my hands on one of the books that's been on my list of 'stupidly priced out of print books to buy when and if possible' for a while: Christophe Blain's adaptation of King Kong. Published in 2004, it's a 44-page children's picture book simply re-telling Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace's famed tale. My interest in it is based solely on French cartoonist Blain's art, whose work I have a real passion for; he's easily one of my top favourite and best artists. I always admire artists who are open to taking on new subjects and methods, and it's something I appreciate about Blain; he's authored pirate tales, westerns, political memoirs, cooking books, naval potboilers, and more. That breadth seems to make artists stronger and better, and the caliber of Blain's work would attest to that hypothesis. Blain's work -or certainly what's available of his work in English- is perhaps most commonly associated with certain, defining characteristics: movement, expression, humour, dynamism, looseness of line, but if you look at his illustration pieces: posters he's done for festivals etc., his approach differs a little, something which is reflected here. If you're expecting a more standard, full-on Blain experience, that's not what this is, but Blain being as good as he is, still manages to make an impact and weave a peculiar magic with it.

The cover here itself is incredibly striking- the blocky red font really pops against the deep turquoise/teal/glossy black of Kong, tying back in with the red-clad figure of Ann in Kon's palm. The decision to use the greeny/blue sheen for Kong's skin throughout is one that seems small, but makes a significant difference in terms of what you're seeing- rendering him in full black would be an entirely different inference. Picture books are often very similar to comics in that their art is acting as narrator and also sequential, and this is a wonderful example of one with Blain interposing two different types of illustration; alternating between clear and simple 4-panel comic grids and full page spreads.

The comic pages are more in line with the style that's become synonymous with Blain: bubbly, clear-lined, cartoony, although it is more subdued here and weighted down with shadowy pencils, and are a neat use of narrative; really layering in further story considering the text is a very condensed version. At the same time he's aware of his intended audience, so does keep them simple, in terms of composition or multiple elements in frame. The single and double page images give Blain more room to fles and are much more impressionistic: smokier, smudged pastel-like textures that cleverly -by never really giving solid outline or shape to Kong's gargantuan mass- have the effect of making him seem even bigger- mythic and uncontainable. They add to the ominous atmosphere, set up ambiance, and feed the tragic tone of the story.

As much as I love the drama of the latter illustrations: the raw spectacle and feeling of Kong chained on stage, the fateful climb, the defiant last stand fighting off aeroplanes atop the Empire State building, the inevitability of the final fall; probably my favourite illustration here is the simple minimalist approach of Kong as he's overcome after being shot at with tranquilizers. I love the hazy drowsiness of Kong, the bowed posture as he leans heavily on his arms; the giant overcome, which poignantly reflects his state, the capture of this magnificent beast. He loses colour and form as he's drugged and losing consciousness, and it's telling that this is the only page that Blain chooses to bathe in light-  to all intents and purposes his capture is his end, and there's something so intrinsically sad and evocative about it. It's a sublime image.

I don't want to go on too much here- Blain's the kind of artists whose work speaks for itself, but ultimately this adaptation does its job and then some. My 3-year old nephew, Ali, who's a big fan of Godzilla and Kong (in that order), had me read it to him repeatedly whilst visiting -and then a few more times over Skype. I was curious to see what he'd make of the indistinct images, but perhaps having seen bits of the film helped things slot into place- he had no trouble with it anyhow, and enjoyed all 37 readings immensely. As for people looking to get their hands on a copy for their Blain collection, as far as I can tell it didn't go into a second printing, so copies are very limited, which means when one does crop up here or there, it's rather expensive, but absolutely worth it, I think. If it doesn't get a reprint -and a decade on, that looks unlikely, it will probably only get harder to find and dearer in price. I'd be remiss not to give a big thanks to Thomas Ragon, who pointed me towards the listing for this on French Ebay- it's definitely one to treasure.

(Note: please do not use any of my images without permission, thank you)

'Compleating Cul De Sac' -a new Richard Thompson book

My complete Cul De Sac is one of my most treasured possessions. I have incredibly fond memories of slowly working my way through these 2 books of Richard Thompson's strips, one of those works which are touted as a cut above must-read, and the fat satisfaction of reveling in its sheer quality and goodness. I want to write more on it, but this piece I did on '5 favourite things from Cul De Sac' will give anyone new a good feel and idea of whether it may be something of interest. To sum, it's simply superb cartooning: outstanding character work, warm and appealing, all wrapped in Thompson's lovely distinctive, almost-sketchy, fine art. So I'm inordinately pleased to learn that there'll be a new Cul De Sac book on the way. Titled 'Compleating Cul de Sac,' the book promises to include 'all the art that was left out of Eisner-award-nominated The Complete Cul de Sac' (which makes me wonder how literal those 'complete' monikers/definitions are), comprising 150 pages of strips, interviews and sketches. The book will be published to aid and support Parkinson's disease research, which is what caused Thompson to finish his strip. So not only do you get the time itself, but the proceeds go towards a worthwhile cause. Keep an eye on Thompson's website for upcoming ho to order information.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Exclusive preview: Natalie Andrewson's Lemon & Ket

Swedish publishers Peow! Studio continue to reinforce their reputation as the purveyors of some of the most exciting comics around. Each release is not only immaculately, beautifully presented, but their approach in cherry-picking fine, fresh and talented artists to collaborate with is what sets their comics  apart. Earlier in the year, they announced they'd be working with cartoonist and illustrator Natalie Andrewson and I'm very pleased to be able to share an exclusive 9-page preview of that book, Lemon & Ket, below. Here's a synopsis of Lemon & Ket, as penned by Andrewson herself: 'Ket likes to defend her village and beating up big, tough guys is no big deal but when an intruding tyrant beats her to a pulp she has to rethink everything. She decides to train remotely before she begins her quest for vengeance until a mysterious old lady reveals to her who the intruder’s working for. Ket is hunted, she falls out of trees, she devours gigantic fruit, she rips trees from their roots and steals the secrets behind a looming power. If you like action thrillers and lemonade this book is for you!'

I think these pages do an excellent job of illustrating what it is I love about Andrewson's work- in addition to it being attractive to look at, it has a lovely, easy flow- a speedy, sketchy dynamism that provides personality and appeal. That orange and blue is working nicely, too. I know last year at Thought Bubble, Peow! were considering perhaps exhibiting at less festivals in 2015, and focusing on creating and publishing work, but they were at MOCCA earlier in the month -where Lemon & Ket had its official debut-, and will be tabling at ELCAF in June also; so it seems like they've managed to do both- with new books from Jane Mai and Disa Wallander expected soon. I think selecting a few international events to attend will work well for them- people really began to become more aware of, and talk about their books in the past 12 months, so having a tangible presence will no doubt help that visibility. 

It's been a strange, downbeat year for comics -not a lot of work has really struck me with that immediate intensity of quality and sheer goodness- but as sycophantic as it may sound, the work that's made me glad to have kept my hand in and reminded me why I love and enjoy the medium has come from artists and publishers like Peow! doing their individual thing: Kris Mukai, Bailey Sharp, Wren McDonald, Michael DeForge, and others. Support the good.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Tony Sandoval's Doomboy: a sweet tale of grief -and metal

Doomboy by Tony Sandoval, published by Magnetic Press

The first of Magnetic Press' releases last year, Tony Sandoval's odd, beautiful Doomboy is a book of paradoxes in that its weaknesses function as strengths and vice versa. Understated and meandering, yet ostensibly specific in focus, this is the story  of Id, a teenager caught up in the strange vacuum of grief after the death of his girlfriend, Annie. Sandoval opens with Id and his friends gathering together to visit a local night spot- a gig is taking place. It's a scene unremarkable, but familiar and warm in its depiction of easy acquaintance, joshing and dialogue. Id heads home afterwards and finds his mother sat waiting for him in an armchair, hands folded in her lap.The juxtaposition of those scenes, the natural hand-off from one to the other, is so quiet, latent: coming home after a night out and being told someone you love had died. Bereavement always feels like it should be as huge a devastating and shattering thing as death itself, but the impact is often incremental, slow to process and affect. So Id goes to his room feeling as if a hole has been punched through his chest, with something missing, and cries for Annie in the dark.

After periods of isolation and anger, Id decides to set up a makeshift studio on the beach and play 'open,' uncomposed guitar sessions in the hope that one will connect with Annie somehow. These mammoth sessions are caught on a local radio frequency, and thus the legend of 'Doomboy' begins to grow, as Id pours all his feelings into his fingers and through his guitar, the music swirling and reaching out to people everywhere, making them feel... something. Different somethings. Nameless somethings. Sandoval resists giving Id a tonne of flashbacks to his relationship with Annie, but when she is shown she's a beam of solid cheer- lively and mischievous, the most tangible presence in the long stretches of haziness that have become Id's life. So while that decision may seem odd, as it robs some emotional depth from the story, it also keeps it from being too heavy- there's a particular tone Sandoval wants to achieve, a connection, but not despair- he wants you to be touched and sympathetic and amused and swept up a little. It's a story about dealing with grief and attempting to not be consumed by it, therefore the onus of belief passes to Id and his emotions and reactions.

There's an element of 'the dead girlfriend' trope -where the death of a woman or girl is the instigation by which a male protagonist is driven to interest and action, and that's present here to some degree, but less stridently so. Essentially, Id's story is all about Annie- he adopts the moniker she gave him -'Doomboy'- and attempts to do something for her, to be able to connect and reach her one last time- it's a finite mission of personal scale. The vein of specialness he hits is only temporary, and the unwanted small-scale fame thrust upon him extends to a number of people withing his town and brings only trouble. Doomboy is a timeline of Id's grief for Annie and the manner in which he deals with it. The hole in Id's chest festers and becomes filled with something more sinister and dark, a venom which he tries to play out through metal and music: at first harnessing the anger and giving it release, and ultimately realising that it can be something that envelops and devours him, and letting it go. No doubt, too, Id is named such with reason, his emotions and reactions are very instinctual and come from a place inaccessible to others, he feels a need to process through music, a nameless energy that tells him to do and requires fulfilling and satisfying -the Freudian desire to create is here transferred onto the creation of art.

There are a couple of threads that Sandoval again allows to thrum parallel to the main narrative, bolstering its ideologies; Rik's (a musician who Id used to hang around and play with) need to be the best, and his jealousy of Id is portrayed as creatively corrupt and inadequate- the desire to be successful has eclipsed the passion Rik may once have had for music and the place from which he played. Now he's bent on success and recognition at the cost of all else- so Doomboy's rise is unacceptable, even as he inwardly acknowledges the beauty in his music. Similarly, the secret relationship between Id's friend Spaghetti and Trevor- the latter ending things with  Spaghetti due to a fear that coming out as gay will hamper his tough guy image and lose him friends- helps Id gain some perspective, in seeing that there are others around him alive and unhappy and unfulfilled and pressing on. There is perhaps one too many of these plot-points -one involving a girl selling stars is superfluous- and yet Sandoval handles them in such a deft, tender way that it doesn't really matter.

What really holds Doomboy together is Sandoval's art- his paintings are dreamy and light, his colours intuitive, ensconcing a sense of calm over proceedings; the small seaside town landscape here really helps to anchor the book; Sandoval making gorgeous use of the sky: violet and peach clouds glowing with underbellies of sunshine, thunder cracking down on an army of equine grey steeds (one of the artistic highlights is the bringing to life of visual metaphors). He alternates colours and washes wonderfully to create mood and ambiance, sharpening and softening contrast for effect; his use of that quick, quasi-faltering line with lots of hatching imbues character and heart via the lack of apparent deliberation. His characters have that large headed proportion of creepy dolls, but Sandoval keeps their features open, sweet, just a little quirky- that even the decision to constantly hide character's eyes with hanging hair isn't irritating but more amusing. From beginning to end, Sandoval's managed to seep Doomboy with such appeal and easy charm, that despite its mis-steps, it serves to facilitate his choices, and flourishes and holds. 

Friday, 17 April 2015

Dark Horse releasing hardback edition of Mike Mignola's and Dave Gibbon's Aliens: Salvation

Ending Friday on a strong note involving both beautiful art and good news is something I can get on board with, thanks to Dark Horse. the publisher are re-releasing Aliens: Salvation this September, a Dave Gibbons-penned, Mike Mignola-illustrated story originally published in 1993. Oliver lent me his copy last year (because he has a copy of every rare, good, covetable comic- it's written in stone somewhere), an edition which collected together Salvation with Peter Milligan's and Paul Johnson's Sacrifice, for no other discernible reason other than that the titles are thematically affiliated, and I have to admit that that was the story which actually stuck with me. Still, what I do remember vividly is Mignola's and inker Kevin Nolan's art: the depiction of the xenomorphs as slick, swift terrors, this unnatural yet natural force once again given menacingly strange presence, a facet that I feel is gradually distilled from movie to movie and lost completely in a lot of Alien comics. That mythic, demi-god beast status is reinforced in the manner Gibbon's religious protagonist reacts and interacts with the aliens. It's a short story, so I'm not going to talk about it further to preserve for those who haven't read it, but instead quote the brief blurb provided by Dark Horse: 'Selkirk, a God-fearing crewman aboard the space freighter Nova Maru, is forced at gunpoint to abandon ship with his captain. They crash-land on a small planet, but it is soon apparent that they have not entirely escaped the Nova Maru's dreadful cargo.'

Salvation has been out-of-print for over a decade, I believe, and while there's an idea amongst some people of licensed properties as cash-ins or phoned in works, there's some really excellent work done in the area, and this small, contained story is one of those gems. I'm certainly not going to pass by the opportunity to own a comic which has Mike Mignola illustrating one of my favourite mythologies, and I imagine there'll be many people of similar frame of mind: whether they're Mignola fans, or Alien fans, or coming across the story for the first time. It looks like that's (above) a new cover  (or newly composed from older elements) for the this hardback 5/8″ x 10 3/16″ edition, too, which will run to 56 pages and release on September 2nd. Really the only two words you need to know are Mike Mignola and Aliens- that should work.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Comics Shelfie: Jesse Moynihan

It's been a while, I know, but I finally managed to rouse some interest in the blog again, which has translated into lining up about 10 comics shelfies, the first of which is now presented here for your reading/viewing pleasure. This week it's ace Forming cartoonist and Adventure Time writer and storyboard artist Jesse Moynihan showing you around his book and comic collection, and discussing some of his influences and beyond: have you seen his floor tiles? (Jesse's introduction here makes me think there should be an accompanying series called comics cribs, but I'm not sure cartoonists are ready for that kind of glaring light to be shed on them). Anyway, without further ado, over to Jesse:

'Hello this is my 2 bedroom bungalow house in Echo Park, Los Angeles that I share with my brother Justin. We collaborate on music and sometimes writing. Anyway most of the books in our living room are mine for some reason.

This is my stereo/records/books and comics shelf. I mostly collect prog rock records. I got rid of most of my other records when I moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia. You can see that big ass Gary Panter book that PictureBox put out and maybe you can spot two volumes of Nancy in there. Also the wonderful Dungeon Quest and a bunch of Yuichi Yokoyama books. Also a bunch of books about Tarot cards.

This bookshelf sits next to our couch with a bunch of older comics that I’ve carried around with me over the years. I used to have every volume of Akira, but now I just have 4 and 5? Also they’re in Japanese. I’ve never read it in English. Also I can’t read Japanese. A bunch of alt comics from the 90’s like Gregory by Marc Hempel. Is Marc Hempel still making comics? On top of the shelf you can see a bunch of garbage and a hard drive. Someone talked me into buying Vagabond volume 1, but I don’t really care to read it. I’m sure it’s entertaining. Check out that Guitar for Dummies!

Sometimes I like to talk about how much of an inspiration Dave Sim was for me as a kid in high school; Church and State vol 1 and 2 for me, being the highlight of the series. I like to talk about it because Time and the way we as a culture build mythologies around people, have degraded the work. Sometimes I wonder how much we collectively desire to assassinate ourselves and each other. How much should we expose of ourselves in public? Probably not much! Anyway, check out my bookshelves y’all!

I never finished whatever volume it was that turned into blocks of tiny text. I also imagine that if I re-read the story, it wouldn’t hold up well, as it was so married to the time it was being written. The first 6 phonebook volumes or so stand in my teenage memory as some of the most formally ambitious and passionate examples of storytelling in the medium of comics. The thing I always say about Cerebus is, “It’s a work of genius, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone now.” I think you had to be there while it was happening. I could be wrong though.

 Also on this shelf is a book that influenced me more than any comic in the past 10 years.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Missy by Daryl Seitchik

This is the final Missy comic (for now) that will be published on Comics & Cola. It just comes down to me not having the money to pay Daryl any more as I'm leaving my job. It's been my absolute pleasure and honour to have her work, which I think is superb, on here, and to be able to share it with my readers. You can read all the previous installments of Missy can be found here. Thank you to Daryl for being an amazing, cool, and professional person to work with. Follow her on Tumblr here to keep up with her comics and art.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Frontier #7 SexCoven by Jillian Tamaki

Probably the most singular achievement of SexCoven is how it so completely encapsulates a particular time, and, for want of a better word, movement, and feeling: a zeitgeist. It feels very of it's time, in the way The X-Files is synonymous with the 90's- in it's look and feel and conversation. With technology and the internet beginning to experience rapid growth and coming into undeniable force, Tamaki's tale of SexCoven, an odd, early-internet music/sound file that gets shared and downloaded, developing cult status amongst younger people/groups who are more open to its mystique and possibilities, mirrors the inherent trajectory of suspicion surrounding tech-based (and art) connectivity.

As with the wistful, hazy balminess of This One Summer, Tamaki's style is an integral factor in conjuring a specific vibe and essence; there's something about her lines that's very evocative- fine cursives that lend body and character, almost brush-like, and that sort of emotional emphasis is further compounded here in her use of panelling and layouts. A number of the pages act as larger, double-spread, wallpaper backgrounds, into which inset panels are laid out across: a parallel reflection of the windows, screens, pop-ups, of computers and devices. The backgrounds have grass, clouds, sand, trees, water- elemental forces juxtaposed against diagramic numbers and theorems, closed boxes, as people try to breakdown SexCoven's allure, while the gradiented green/blue tones sit somewhere between cool and warm. 

The story of SexCoven is interesting in multiple ways, whether its speaking to ideas of art, community, authorship, ownership, sci-fi, generational differences and understandings, or all. The concept of only being able to tap into SexCoven's qualities and effect so long as you fall within a specific age bracket, at a certain time in your life. It's central theme is one of engagement and interaction: what begins as an unauthored file with double digit shares takes on a whole life of it's own: walking groups, small businesses, further creative enterprises, friendships, due to how people respond and interpret it. The removal of the author, the mystery of the file's origins, removes any intent, or any discussion over the point of creation. Once made, the audience are the ones who make SexCoven what it is, or what they'd like or need it to be, and therefore the value it has, any importance it attains, is almost always provided by others: while you have commonalities, the interaction is a response and dependent on the individual. So as much as SexCoven speaks to notions of people connecting to something -be it art or else- and believing in it, creating spaces of shared interest and belonging both fruitful and weird and interesting and loopy and harmful, there's no need to fear things you don't understand. Sometimes something isn't for you, and that's fine- that shouldn't prompt disparagement of other's pleasure and appreciation. That Tamaki manages to present all this on both a wider, encompassing view and a personal level through characters is a testament of her undeniable ability.

One of the most amusing and knowing aspects of SexCoven is its journey on the cultural highway of consumption: from niche track to wider distribution and appropriation, wordy critical reviews, t-shirts and bracelets, to confused mainstream panic on the effect it's having on the 'children,' ending with some journalist writing up an earnest retrospective op-ed on a now all but dead cult phenomenon. How it will be remembered is as another very, very good work from Tamaki in a period in which she's ensured the mention of her name as a signifier of excellence in comics.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Review reminder

I thought it'd be worth putting up a quick reminder that I write weekly reviews that are published at AV Club- search analytics tell me, for example, that people are looking for 'Comics&Cola + whatever book' (at the moment it seems to be Last Man), but the majority of reviews of new and contemporary comics are most likely to be found there. I've listed the nine I've done to date below, and hyper-linked them so it should take you straight through to the relevant article, but EVERY review I write -regardless of where it's published- gets alphabetically listed and linked on the 'Review' page/tab at the top (this includes all the AV Club pieces), and I'm pretty good with keeping that current. So if you are searching for a review of anything in particular, that's the best and easiest place to look.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Peow!, Retrofit, Oily, Study Group, Uncivilzed Books, Big Planet, team up for one tantalising FCBD offering

With  Free Comic Book Day now less than a month away, I imagine people -retailers, readers, comics journalists- are beginning to scope out the titles on offer in earnest. For the uninitiated, Free Comics Book Day (FCBD) is an annual event that takes place on the first Saturday of May in which most of the comics industries publishers participate to create special comics to be given away for free, only at comic book shops. It's a unique event, really, when you think of the scale on which comics are being produced and then distributed. The comics vary between reproduced and newer material, short stories, and upcoming excerpts, often acting as a showcase for a publisher's catalogue. It can be a little difficult for smaller imprints and presses to take part, as it means taking on all the cost of production and publishing with no return- apart from the hope that your comic is getting into people hands, and that that in turn interests them enough to perhaps participate further. And that still relies on comic book shops ordering your comic in the first instance.  

Back in January (far too early) I highlighted six of this year's FCBD comics that looked most interesting, but yesterday saw the announcement of a late contender that trumps them all. Retrofit Comics, Peow! Studio, Oily Comics, Uncivilized Books, Study Group Comics, and Big Planet Comics- six of my favourite, acclaimed independent comic book publishers have joined forces to release their own collaborative comic book for Free Comic Book Day.  Featuring a great, funny cover by Chuck Forsman, the comics is simply titled 'Free 2015' and features 40 pages of comics from a plethora of seriously, seriously good cartoonists: David B., Jane Mai, Melissa Mendes, Oliver Schrauwen, Patrick Crotty, Max de Rodriguès, Hanna K., Alex Kim, Laura Knetzger, Niv Bavarsky, Box Brown, Kate Leth, Jason Little, Matt Madden,  Ben Sears, Jack Teagle, Derek Van Gison, and François Vigneault. I'm so happy that Big Planet and Retrofit Comics are publishing this anthology offering- a whole bunch of these artists are people whose work I've loved and written about here and elsewhere, and it's a fantastic opportunity for more people to get their eyeballs on them: people perhaps curious about 'small press' or 'indie' comics who will be able to see for free what kind of excellent comics are being made within that sphere. I believe it's going to be printed on newsprint, too, which I'm always a sucker for, simply because it's a more tactile experience than glossy pages.

If this is something you're interested in getting on Free Comic Book Day -May 2nd-, make sure your your comics book retailer is aware of its availability and ask them to order some in sooner rather than later. Orders can be placed by email to 

Monday, 6 April 2015

Kodansha announce Junji Ito's quasi comedy-horror, 'Cat Diary,' for October release

As much as I enjoy putting together lists like the '20 most anticipated comics of 2015' or the monthly 'with pound in hand' features picking out the best of what's due for release each month, there's nothing quite like the excitement when you hear a favourite author is releasing a new book. It's all the more special when a) you had no inking any such news was on the horizon, and b) when the books are translations, as they tend to be a little more scarce on the ground. So Kodansha announcing they would be publishing Junji Ito's Cat Diary (No Neko Nikki) this October checked all the requirements for maximum impact. Published in its original Japanese in 2011, it's perhaps a slightly different work that fans have come to expect, a comedy take on his autobiographical experience of his girlfriend moving in with him with her 2 cats- so a quasi-fictional horror. It means that Ito fans will have 2 new English language titles to look forward to this year; Viz are releasing his most recent collection of work,  Fragments of Horror, in July. Which is really excellent news. Ito is amongst the list of widely known manga authors in Europe and the US, which makes any newly translated work very welcome indeed.

'The first announcement from our animeboston panel is Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu! This is a horror/comedy manga from master of terror, Junji Ito, creator of the grotesque classics Uzumaki and Gyo. A single volume of around 120 pages, this “autobiographical true story” tells of the strange incidents that occur when the artist’s new girlfriend moves in with two feline friends. In a large trim size with high-quality paper, the book comes out in October, making it the perfect Halloween gift for any twisted cat lover.'

Friday, 3 April 2015

Cinebook bring Fabien Vehlmann and Matthieu Bonhomme's 'The Marquis of Anaon' series to English

(left: English language edition cover of The Isle of Brac published by Cinebook, right: French language edition cover of The Isle of Brac published by Dargaud)

I'd like to begin this article with a shout-out to my comics brethren who know what I like and keep me informed of news and announcements I missed. Oliver, well aware of my appreciation of most things Fabien Vehlmann, told me about a new book of his being translated into English this summer. The title in question is Le Marquis d'Anaon ('The Marquis of Anaon'), a 5 volume series originally published in French by Dargaud from 2002-2008. It's illustrated -absolutely sumptuously- by Matthew Bonhomme, whose work I have never before come across, although his name seems familiar. Googling the series for accompanying images and preview pages was such a pleasure- his art here (as you can see below), coupled with Delf's coluring looks sublimely beautiful- the best of the European style. The first book, The Isle of Brac, is due in July from Cinebook, and from what I can gather, I believe each volume contains a self-standing story. 

Set in the 1720's, the series follows merchant's son and former medical student, Jean-Baptiste Poulain, nicknamed 'The Marquis of lost souls,' as he travels to places where strange and mysterious phenomena have been observed, investigating inexplicable, seemingly supernatural crimes, with the aim of enriching his scientific knowledge as much as assisting people. With only very fledgling sciences discovered and in place, Jean-Baptiste has the superstitious people and beliefs of the lands he travels to to encounter with, especially in crisis situations which often result in the persecution of groups living on the margins of the community; finding relations with the aristocrats simpler than with the common people, each part of the social body obeying its own prejudices. If none of that makes sense, blame my poor translating skills. The series is supposedly Sleep Hollow/Hound of Baskervilles in tone, presumably in relation to historical scenarios with atmospheric are they/aren't they real antagonists. Vehlmann's blog suggests they were planning further volumes at one point, but the tally stands at 5, with the last having somewhat of an open ending that serves well whether they decide to continue or not. I'm stupidly excited for this: Vehlamann's one of my favourite writers and Bonhomme's art is really hitting the spot for me.

Jazware Gravity Falls toy figures: Dipper, Mabel, Waddles, and rainbow-puke gnome [review]

It's been a while since a toy review- the last (and also first) one was in January- I don't buy toys often as you can tell. Partly my toy attention has been focused elsewhere; I've been collecting the 90's Kenner Batman Animated Series figures and scouring Ebay to find them at reasonable prices, but though I'd write about them once I've accumulated the ones I want (Bane and Penguin left to get). What I did buy back in February were some new Gravity Falls toys. I like Gravity Falls a lot. A lot LOT. I didn't really start watching serialised cartoons and animation again until last year and the two shows that got me back to appreciating the art were the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle series (one of the problems I had with TMNT comics was the 'space alien' element was overkill for me; you had these mutate ninja turtles fighting the Shredder and the Foot Clan, and the Krang and their inter-galactic adventures on top of that just took me out of it. That aspect of it translates better in the cartoon, I think) and Alex Hirsch's Gravity Falls -from Disney of all people. 

Gravity Falls brings together a lot of elements that appeal to me: the mystery of the week, the spooky going ons, the general X-Files vibe (in the theme tune- it's not just me right?), combined with the familial core of the story- Mabel and Dipper's relationship with one another and their Grunkle (great uncle) Stan (as someone who comes from a big, close family it's very recognisable). On top of that you have the larger, long-running narrative of play -what makes Gravity Falls such a hub of weird? Who wrote those diaries?- with some truly unforgettable characters -how good a villain is Li'l Gideon?- and standout, fun episodes: Fight Fighters, Boyz Crazy, and more. It treats all its characters with care and respect, too- they may be funny or flawed or contemptible, but they're all so well realised that it's easy to empathise with each on some level. Ostensibly, the show is about growing up- Mabel and Dipper are on the cusp of teenager-hood, on their summer holidays -perhaps the last they may want to spend together, or at their great uncle's house/cabin-, and this last special time where they still believe in monsters and magic and wonder, or before their bond loosens, is captured here. Also it has Neil deGrasse Tyson as a super intelligent talking pig.

So when Clark pointed me towards the figures on Toy Wiz, of whose existence I was not aware, I had to get some immediately. Warning for sensible people: don't be like me and devoid of any chill or patience whatsoever, and do wait until things such as these are widely available (or at least available in your country) so you don't have to pay your weight in gold for shipping from the US and then custom charges on top. Back to the point at hand, there was a choice between a 6-figure pack which comprises of Dipper, Mabel, Grunkle Stan, Wendy, Soos and Li'l Gideon, or 2-figure packs: Mabel/Waddles, Dipper/rainbow-puking gnome, and Grunkle Stan/Bill. I opted for the Mabel and Dipper 2-packs because like any normal person, I love Waddles, and the rainbow-puking gnome has become an iconic touchstone image of the series. And it came with Dipper, haha! Kidding. Maybe...

Each two pack comes with a little 'scroll' which is supposed to be a page from the secret mystery diaries, with information on specific monsters, which is a nice touch.. I got 'The Undead' and 'Gnomes' fittingly enough- the smaller writing is unreadable and intended to be such, but the illustrations are cute and the aged effect is cool. The twins are 3 inches tall (the 6-pack figures are slightly smaller at 2 inches). Produced by Jazwares, they're articulated at the shoulder joints, waist and neck, but none of these joints are very flexible, so it's more a twist or move for the sake of it. The sculpting on Mabel is good; the detail is impressive- her headband is moulded into her head instead of being painted on and the happily smiling expression looks very much like her. She's wearing one of her coveted jumpers: the pink shooting star polo-necked one, and the sleeves are nicely done, baggy with cuffs falling over her hands. I like the way her hairs is shaped into these bubbled, bouncy ends. Dipper doesn't fare quite as well. He's recognisable from his signature hat and clothes, but his eyes look a tad too buggy as opposed to wide-eyed, and the lower half of his face and half-smile looks a bit odd. I can understand its hard to replicate to plastic expressions that are much livelier in motion, though I think this weird effect is due to the decision to give him such a tiny mouth/smile rather high up in that bulbous expanse of chin/lower face- it doesn't translate well either way.

But there's one, big main problem with the figures: they don't stand. Waddles and the gnome with their sturdy, even weight distribution and low center of gravity are fine. However, the twins have been designed to emulate their cartoon-personas with large, over-sized heads and smaller bodies, and as such are too top heavy to be able to stand independently. The proportions mean that less than a third of the figure's height is devoted to the legs, which are super thin (again true to the design, but poorly weighted), and coupled with the big heads and sizable torsos, the balance is thrown way off, and the legs are left unable to carry all that weight. You can lean them against something, but if you're after these toys for display purposes like me, you may want to reconsider. I'm not sure how they'd fare if you got some small stands and tried to have them supported upright in that manner. I may try Blu-tack as an option and see how that goes.

Waddles and the gnome are great. The gnome in particular, looking at him face-on makes me smile; it's very funny how he's got his arms stuck stiffly out so that they look they're protruding from his ears, and his shocked eyebrows have risen onto his pointed red hat. but it makes for an arresting image probably because there are so many colours in play and the juxtaposition of friendly, dungaree-clad, fluffy bearded tiny creatures with psychedelic vomit tickles the traditional associations. Waddles is Waddles- cute as a button, and he knows it, but you let him get away with it. They're both nice, solid figures. Writing about these makes me wish the show would update regularly once more, but it's good enough that I seek it out whenever there's a new episode.