Monday, 28 September 2015

Tillie Walden to release new book 'I Love This Part' at Thought Bubble 2015

Tillie Walden will be following up her hugely impressive debut comic book, The End of Summer, with a new work, I Love This Part, this November. Set to release at the Thought Bubble comics festival in Leeds, where Walden will be in attendance, the book will again be published by rising British comics imprint Avery Hill. I've not had the opportunity to sit down and give proper consideration to a piece on The End of Summer (although I hope to do so before Thought Bubble), an atmospheric, quasi-fantasy centering on a curious family closed in in a huge castle, but suffice to say it was one of the most excitingly assured debut books I've read in a long while. Readers may be familiar with Walden's work via a popular comic published online via her Tumblr, in which two young girls connect over their love for the cartoon show, Steven Universe. It's always thrilling to discover new comic creators, and what's so exciting about Walden's arrival on the comics scene is that her work, ideas, and style already feel quite whole and developed, making it fresh, yet familiar in level of quality.

As you can see from the (non-consecutive) preview images released by Avery Hill, I Love This Part focuses on the relationship and connection that grows between 2 young girls slogging their way through school in a small American town, as they watch videos, share earbuds, play each other songs, and exchange their stories. Walden's a remarkable emerging talent, and if you're going to be at Thought Bubble, I'd put this and The End of the Summer at the top of your list of things to check out. For readers in the USA, Avery Hill and Retrofit Comics recently announced a transatlantic deal that sees each outfit distribute the others books, which means Walden's books will be available on the online Retrofit store (The End of Summer is already listed).

Sunday, 20 September 2015

2015 Ignatz awards celebrate cartoonists at forefront of the medium

The 2015 Ignatz awards took place yesterday evening in Bethesda, Maryland, as part of the SPX comics convention. The big winner of the night was Sophia Foster-Dimino, who took home 3 'brick' trophies for 'promising new talent,' 'outstanding series' (for Sex Fantasy), and 'outstanding mini-comic', while Sophie Goldstein triumphed in both the 'outstanding graphic novel' and 'outstanding comic' categories with her dystopian sci-fi tale, The Oven. Rounding out the winner's roster were Emily Carroll, Jillian Tamaki, Eleanor Davis, and Lilli Carre. It was, I believe, the first time in the awards 19 year history that all the winners were women.

There'll no doubt be much focus on that fact alone: that the awards were all won by female cartoonists, and as great and important as that is, the bit that annoys me about that sort of line or perspective is the still assumptive 'hey, women can make comics too!' I think we're beyond the engagement of those reductive stances (although I'm equally as sure there'll be those who never get past it), and I think these awards are some evidence towards that fact. Yes, the awards were all won by female cartoonists, but what's more striking is that they were all won by excellent cartoonists, full-stop. Taking a look at the winning line-up  -Emily Carroll, Jillian Tamaki, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Sophie Goldstein, Eleanor Davis, Lilli Carre- presents you with a selection of cartoonists at the forefront of contemporary comics today; the artists who are producing the most interesting and superb work; work which is having the most resonance within the medium and with audiences. And it was just so satisfying and thrilling to see that recognised and celebrated.

Congratulations to all nominated. Below you can find a full list of categories and nominees, with winners marked in bold

Outstanding Artist
Emily Carroll for Through the Woods
Ed Luce for Wuvable Oaf
Roman Muradov for (In a Sense) Lost and Found
Jillian Tamaki for SuperMutant Magic Academy
Noah Van Sciver for Saint Cole

Outstanding Anthology or Collection
Drawn and Quarterly: 25 Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics and Graphic Novels, edited by Tom Devlin, Chris Oliveros, Peggy Burns, Tracy Hurren and Julia Pohl-Miranda
An Entity Observes All Things, by Box Brown
How to Be Happy, by Eleanor Davis
Pope Hats #4, by Ethan Rilly
SuperMutant Magic Academy, by Jillian Tamaki

Outstanding Graphic Novel
Beauty by Kerascoët and Hubert
The Oven by Sophie Goldstein
Rav by Mickey Zacchilli
Saint Cole by Noah Van Sciver
Wendy by Walter Scott

Outstanding Story
Doctors by Dash Shaw
Me As a Baby by Michael DeForge (from Lose #6)
Nature Lessons by Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger (from The Late Child and Other Animals)
Sex Coven by Jillian Tamaki
Weeping Flower, Grows in Darkness, by Kris Mukai

Promising New Talent
M. Dean for K.M. & R.P. & MCMLXXI (1971)
Sophia Foster-Dimino- for Sphincter, Sex Fantasy
Dakota McFadzean for Don’t Get Eaten by Anything
Jane Mai for Soft
Gina Wynbrandt for Big Pussy

Outstanding Series
Dumb by Georgia Webber
Frontier edited by Ryan Sands
March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
Pope Hats by Ethan Rilly
Sex Fantasy by Sophia Foster-Dimino

Outstanding Comic
Borb by Jason Little
The Nature of Nature by Disa Wallander
The Oven by Sophie Goldstein
Pope Hats #4 by Ethan Rilly
Weeping Flower Grows in Darkness, by Kris Mukai

Outstanding Minicomic
Devil’s Slice of Life by Patrick Crotty
Epoxy 5 by John Pham
King Cat #75 by John Porcellino
Sex Fantasy #4 by Sophia Foster-Dimino
Whalen: A Reckoning by Audry

Outstanding Online Comic
The Bloody Footprint by Lilli Carre
Carriers by Lauren Weinstein
Mom Body by Rebecca Roher
O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti
Witchy by Ariel Ries

Sophia Foster-Dimino

(via Comics Beat)

Friday, 18 September 2015

Juliette Oberndorfer's gorgeous 'The woman and the lion' illustration series

It's my duty to share exceptional art wherever I see it, and it's something I like doing on a Friday more than anything: to end the week/start the weekend on a good note. I've been looking at Juliette Oberndorfer's work- there's a collection of the French artist's work here -all of which is worth perusing- but I thought I'd spotlight a series of seemingly connected illustrations featuring a lion and a woman. Oberndrofer is a concept artist, background designer, and illustrator; currently working largely in animation in Canada. You should watch Lux, a beautifully unsettling 4-minute animation about a strange creature caught in a time-loop of actions and consequences, that she created in 2013. 

There are 5 paintings in which the lion and the woman appear- a stunning, dreamy set that you could look at for long stretches of time, and into which Oberndrofer intimates so much it feels like you've been on a journey with these images. The meeting between woman and beast is at first tentative and suspicious, and as depicted never truly comes together, although some level of understanding is reached; a connection made. I love several aspects here: the fluidity and layering of shapes, the use of texture, and the colours. The colours, especially, are gorgeously employed. The greens and blues for the lion are an unusual but striking choice; impactful and harmonious, lending him majesty and power in a way beyond expected associations. The lines on his face and mane in the first picture provide depth, movement, and body, and a unique point of interest as his presence fills the sky. The colours get richer and more vibrant in the three 'repose' images: purples, plums, lilacs, shot through with turquoise and aqua, with pops of coral and red that set off just enough contrast. Everything bristles with vibrant life. The colours and layering add to the wonder and density of the jungle in a very simple but effective way. Significantly, the last illustration presents a return to normalcy; an end. The lion is again traditionally brown and in relatively correct proportion; the trees and foliage green. A quiet, sedate beauty. The magic and marvel is over. 

Gotham Academy: adventure and mystery abound as Gotham gets a shōjo Scooby gang

Gotham Academy volume 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl

One of the difficulties of working with a large and steeped mythology is the maintenance of balance. Creating a new comic set in Gotham, the city of the Batman, presents its own series of mulling points: choosing what to include, how much you would like to reference what already exists within that world, whether it fits tonally with what you're doing, how closely associated you'd like it to be. With Gotham Academy, Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl have produced a story that is essentially a solidly entertaining boarding school mystery/adventure book. What's clever about it is the expected genre elements such as the ghost, the mental asylum, the monster, etc., have been given a Gotham spin: the ghost is purported to be that of Millie-Jean Cobblepot (an ancestor of the Penguin's), the asylum is Arkham, and so on. This works particularly well because these facets are largely secondary: brought in to facilitate the main, original narrative rather than it being dependent on them; their use is organic, and doesn't feel heavy-handed (were you to remove the 'Gothamisation' factor, the story would still function). As it is, this carefully managed negotiation and pulling in of characters, places and nuggets to serve the story allows the book to assert a clear, individual identity, without labouring under the burden of the Bat.

A new term has begun at Gotham's prestigious boarding academy, but Olive Silverlock is finding it difficult to simply slot in to the role and place she occupied before the events of the summer. The changes she's going through are major -the kind that alter you as a person- but the exact nature of these personally seismic matters is unclear, although it seems related to her mother. She's left with a deep sense of unmooring as things and people that previously felt reassuring seem less so. Olive's somewhat distracted from her worried preoccupation and gaps in memory by  the irrepressible 'Maps' Mizoguchi- -probably her best friend and also her boyfriend Kyle's younger sister, and the only person who doesn't view her differently because of what happened. Maps, so-called because of her affinity with her namesake, rpg's puzzles, live-action scenarios, is adamant they investigate the influx of strange happenings at the school.  Students are jittery about a ghost sighting, the descriptions of which are at odd with the gleaming eyes of a presumably different monster living within the walls. All this in addition to a secret cabal of some sort running around the grounds late at night...

Gotham Academy treads a deft line in tone; it's genial, light, and engagingly suspenseful in the best tradition of Nancy Drew or Mallory Towers (with a dash of Hogwarts) -an amalgamation of mystery and an almost epistolary diary format (the latter by way of internal monologue). Olive's uncertain mindset helps to believably put the  reader in a position of not knowing too much, whilst astutely tapping into a thread that has a directly parallel interpretation of the heredity of illness, specifically mental illness (a theme compounded by Millie-Jean Oswald's diary recountings on the labelled 'madness' of articulate young women). The more general area of young people finding themselves and their paths is interwoven with an exploration of stability and self that spools into a discussion of choice and nature: can you decide who and what you want to be, or is it already writ. A first volume doesn't always leave room for layer and nuance with regards to characterisation, but Cloonan and Fletcher keep things smart by with a relatively tight cast, giving readers a solid feeling for each person via their interactions and dialogue, with attributes and decisions beyond the categorisations of 'good' and 'bad'. Olive's and Maps' complimentary personalities and relationship are at the core of this appealing dynamic, with Pomeline, Colton, Heathcliff, and Kyle rounding out a spirited and determined Scooby gang.

Karl Kersch's art is fundamental in anchoring the simultaneously fun and spooky ambience. In many ways Kerschl's style takes its cues from shōjo manga (the dashing, mysterious Bruce Wayne is straight up shōjo-fodder) particularly in character design and faces, but also in dramatic pacing. Kerschl's fashion-savvy, too, using clothes to infer personality. Maps' pixie cut, yellow backpack, hairclip and shoes are cheerily and instantly recognisable; with her innate confidence it's easy to see why she's quickly become such an emblematic character of the series. Philomena's kick-ass attitude is carefully put together with distressed luxe clothing; Colton exudes a louche, young Matt Murdock air, whilst Kyle operates much like the xenomorph in the first Alien film: the less he's shown, the more you want to see him. Unlike the xenomorph, he somehow pulls off a ridiculous white visor and preppy sports clothes, yet manages to remain attractive, which is no mean feat.

The effort to shake up panelling arrangements and page layouts is admirable, with an eye to injecting dynamism and mood, but often isn't convincingly executed -a cutaway rain spread with magnified/zoomed in panels that doesn't gel, for example, or sudden incoherent diagonal tilts. It's not a huge eyesore, but enough to be noticeable: it can feel a bit emptily frenetic at times. There are strong Batman: The Animated Series leanings later in the book when Killer Croc turns up, the more traditionally cartoony rendering conversely bringing things into sharper focus. It's another wise choice- not opting for the grittier route: BTAS was renowned for its ability to harness emotional depth and resonance and deal with a range of subjects whilst being entertaining and affirming, and that seems appropriately aligned here.

There's often a wariness when companies such as DC declare their intentions to put out a book that's 'fresh' and 'new,' more so, perhaps, when it's linked to an ongoing mythos and the publisher is ideally looking to please readers old and curious. Often the result is a book that gives precedence to the source material, shoe-horning as much of that in first, with some original elements papered over as an afterthought. To that end, Gotham Academy is remarkably baggage-free. It succeeds because it has its own story to tell, and because it's told well. It's to the authors collective credit that it can be easily read and enjoyed by anyone: not requiring an encyclopedic pre-knowledge, nor dragging readers along in service of some larger, ongoing narrative. This first volume is lively and fun; deftly combining a swirl of various genre aspects and Bat-verse influences to rise as a solid school-based mystery/adventure with a distinct identity. I hope it continues down a similar route.

Koyama Press offer choice contemporary cartooning with spring 2016 slate

With the release of their last few fall books impending, Koyama Press unveiled their spring 2016 line-up yesterday. Once again showcasing a range of contemporary comics talent, the slate includes a collection of early comics from Aidan Koch (The Blonde Woman), a new story about a strange, supernatural apartment from Patrick Kyle (Distance Mover), and a first translated work from the publisher: What is Obscenity The Story of A Good For Nothing Artist and her Pussy. That book follows the story/memoir of Japanese artist  Rokudenashiko, who made headlines worldwide earlier this year when she was put on trial for obscenity charges after crowd-funding an art project which involved her distributing digital files containing 3D scans of her genitalia to people in return for donations to fund a larger sculptural piece: a kayak modelled on her vagina.

Koyama also announced new books from Cathy G. Johnson and Ben Sears, two cartoonists whose work I especially enjoy and am excited to hear of. Johnson's Gorgeous 'delineates the complexity of adolescence in crushed metal and starry nights. Ideologies and cars collide when a minor accident brings a pair of punks and a college student tumultuously together. Sophie has tried to stay out of trouble, but tonight trouble has found her. On a lonely stretch of highway under a star-studded sky, she meets anarchist punks in a crack-up of metal and emotion that proves sometimes the freedom of youth causes damage along the way.' Johnson also has a book upcoming with First Second in 2017, and it's fantastic to see the power of her evocative work -particularly where it pertains to younger, formative audiences- being recognised.

Ben Sears' full colour Night Air  will be a 64 page book released as part of Koyama's children's line (inaugurated last year with John Martz's Esiner nominated A Cat Named Tim, and Britt Wilson's Cat-Dad, King of the Goblins). Due in May 2016, it features the characters from his Double + comic: a young boy and his robot, out exploring the wide world. Most of Sears comics so far has been in black and white, but short stories such as the one he did for the Wacom Pressure/Sensitivity anthology, and a recent Adventure Time back-up shows that colour adds a whole other dimension to his art, and it's something I'm looking forward to seeing in longer form. 'Plus Man is a roguish knave without equal, an antihero in his own mind. His coolheaded robot, however, knows better. This odd couple has just been given a break: a tip on a score of valuable alloy. The catch? The alloy is in a haunted castle. One really haunted castle. The boundless adventures of an unruly boy, his rational robot and their great gadgets filled with fantastic science stuff!'

Koyama are one of the publishers for whom I hope (and would urge) more and more people check out their catalogue and books. For anyone who appreciates comics, they're one of the very few publishers who you can truly say don't have a house style or 'type' of book/artist; their commitment seems to be to simply put out work that's interesting and very good -it's truly an artistically diverse range, from the alternative and experimental to humour, frenetic kids adventure, strip collections and beyond. I'm not saying that every single one of their books hits the mark for me, but they continually keep things fresh,  take chances, and introduce me to new people and work. I really appreciate that they give so much support to younger artists, too. You can find further details on each of the upcoming releases at the Koyama Press website.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Seed #2: a fashion and food artbook by Celine Loup

There's something inherently satisfying about seeing artists visually list and document things that they  make, eat, or wear. Perhaps it's because I take comfort from food and clothes in particular, so having that represented in a beautiful, almost diagramic, comic is very appealing to me; it's why I enjoy Marian Churchland's wishlists so much. So I'm pleased that Celine Loup is releasing Seed #2, a bigger, 52-page, full-colour, saddle-stitched art-book that collects more of her personal work, fashion drawings and sketches done in  2015. Loup has a gorgeous, fine, painted style, as showcased in her comics: last year's Honey and Mother (which debuted at TCAF), and editorial illustration work and this looks like no exception. It's always a cause for celebration when your favourite artists who only release the odd thing here and there, have something new available. I love to look at fashion, outfit ideas and breakdowns, delicious meals being put together- it's very soothing and affirming to my tastes. I like to see the same love and care I have for these things being shared and reinforced by somebody else. Over at her Tumblr, Loup writes about how the first installment of Seed has been her biggest seller, and why she thinks that is, which makes for interesting reading:

'Over the past year I’ve been really touched to see the positive response my first sketch zine, SEED #1, has gotten. It’s actually my best seller, the thing people are most likely to grab without hesitation from my table. I think when you like someone’s work but maybe aren’t friends with them, you miss being able to rifle through their sketchbooks and see the vulnerable parts of them. Finished pieces are such a small part of the story when it comes to knowing an artist intimately. Sketchbooks show you how an artist thinks, what’s important to them, and offers an unedited, unpolished glimpse into how they play—how they enjoy being who they are (or, sometimes, how they suffer for it). I feel like I’ve come a huge distance from SEED #1 as I’ve dedicated myself to maintaining a sketchbook and keeping myself honest as an artist. I hope this book, available at SPX (table H1) and now in my Etsy store, will inspire others to keep hunting between the pages of their own sketchbooks.'

Monday, 7 September 2015

Mikkel Sommer brings Laika home from the stars in 'Limonchik'

Limonchik by Mikkel Sommer, published by kus komiks
It is curious to think of the place Laika holds in the international consciousness as a cultural icon. The story of the little stray dog plucked from the streets to become the first-ever living animal launched into orbit -and sent to a certain death- resonates with people in a way that the story of an actual person would perhaps struggle to. People are human, with shades of good and bad, with affiliations that can affect perception; belonging to one country or group or another, but animals possess an inherent innocence (one that is at the behest of humans and their intentions) that transcends boundaries and can unite sympathies in a unique manner. Coupled with the enormity and romance attached to man's ventures into space, this helps to explain the endurance and evolution of Laika's cultural resonance and heroic status. She remains a popular and inspirational figure to this day: found on posters and prints, she is featured in song (the Gorillaz Spacemonkeyz remix album is called Laika Come Home); the space-travel Playstation game Planet Laika is named after her, as is the animation studio that made Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls; while books from Owen Davey's gorgeous graphic picture album to Nick Abadzis' poignant graphic novel continue to chart her story.

With the launch of Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union were looking to test the safety of space travel for humans, although since technology hadn't advanced to the point where the shuttle could de-orbit, the trip was one-way. It is difficult, even now, to see pictures of the little dog and not be moved by the sight of her photographed alone, clad in a silver suit harness, surrounded by hunks of machinery and wires. To imagine her growing close to, and trusting the people who had taken her off the streets, fed and looked after her; to think of how eager she must have been to please, and reconcile that with her fate. In some pictures she stands alert, eyes bright, on all fours. In others, one tiny paw is extended forward, reaching out and ready. For decades, the Soviets remained tight-lipped about the cause and manner of Laika's death, claiming she passed away painlessly several days after the launch (euthanised by poisoned dog food), until Sputnik 2 scientist Dimitri Malashenkov admitted in 2002 that she died roughly five to seven hours after launch from overheating and stress (her heart was beating at triple its normal rate during the launch), on her fourth circuit around the Earth.

In  Limonchik ('little lemon,' one of the nick-names given to Laika by those that worked with her), Mikkel Sommer sets out to give Laika's story a more befitting, cathartic end. A meteor-like object crashes to Earth and from it rises an impossible figure: Laika. Seemingly imbued with a range of new powers -but looking as cute as ever- she floats/flies through the air to Russian scientist Lieutenant General Oleg Gazenko's grave, he who worked closely with her and later spoke of his remorse and regret over sending Laika to her death: 'Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.' In the modern age, man's relationship with animals has been one of dominance, and possession; animals are either viewed with wonder or fear -to be caged or killed, or with a view to utility and benefit. And so Laika returns from the stars, changed: having stopped at Gazenko's graveside to pay some respects, dazzling white beams of cosmic energy shoot out from her eyes as the earth heaves and splits, and buildings begin to crumble... 

Sommer keeps things tight and simple over the 28 page length; time and tension devoted to the landing of the ship and Laika's emergence, a misdirecting moment of benevolence and release, then a vengeful, absolute judgement quickly and emphatically delivered. The soft sketchiness of his lines combined with a pleasing pink and purple palette reinforce the humorous subversion of the cute little dog wreaking terrible revenge. Similarly, it's amusing to think of the interpretations that Sommer's slightly sardonic choice of the affectionate nickname 'limonchik' as a title offers. A reminder that lemons -little or not- are sour, and a demonstration of the kind of lemonade served by tiny, angry dogs.

Complete hardback editions of 'A Distant Neighbourhood' and 'Freddy Lombard' releasing this November

A couple of collected reprints of note coming your way this November; first up, Humanoids will be publishing a complete edition of Yves Chaland's Freddy Lombard comics. Chaland wrote and drew 5 Freddy Lombard stories: The Will of Godfrey of Bouillon, The Elephant Graveyard, The Comet of Carthage, Holiday in Budapest, and F.52. These were previously released in two out of print hardback volumes in 2003, and then two paperbacks later in 2004/5. 

The Freddy Lombard series is often described as an 'adult Tintin,' most likely due to Chaland's obvious referencing of Herge's character and adventure narratives in addition to a grimier feel, but those similarities are rather superficial, as the difference in tone and approach serves to set them quite apart. Freddy and his two 'side-kick' friends, Dina and Sweep, are essentially slackers, living in a dilapidated apartment and surviving on money from Freddy's uncle. More often than not, they'll be drawn into things for the promise of money or just for something to do. None of them are very heroic in the traditional sense, and Chaland's writing -the weakest element of his work- means that there's not a great deal to them, highlighted in stories which (earlier on, at least) lack cohesion and often peter out.

While the stories span from Belgian castles to African jungles, to war-torn Budapest, Chaland's work isn't without its problematic elements, notably in its portrayal of Africans and disabled people (no doubt argued to be ironic and challenging). But the reason to spend time with Chaland's books is simply due to his irrefutably stunning art. It does so much of the heavy lifting that the narrative is almost redundant; not only is it incredibly attractive to look at, it has an emotional muscle and depth; bold, expressive lines, and a timeless and unified quality that never feels deliberated. I'm a narrative-orientated reader, but Chaland's art is something special and worth the entry price here. The new, complete edition of Freddy Lombard will release on 2nd November and run to 236 pages, with dimensions of 19 x 2.5 x 26 cm. There's a few preview pages on the Humanoids site, and a much more extensive preview on Amazon, via the 'look inside' feature.

Jiro Taniguchi is probably the author I've read most this year. After reading his The Quest for the Missing Girl roughly 3 years ago, I'd seen several articles and pages from various titles online that left me with a view to checking them out at some further point. Early in the year, I read and was hugely impressed by The Walking Man, which served as a catalyst to picking up  The Ice Wanderer, A Zoo in Winter, Summit of the Gods, The Times of Botchan, and his Venice travel artbook for Loius Vuitton. I also read both volumes of his diptych, A Distant Neighbourhood, after buying them in Canada; the first book is out of print so seeing a copy priced at a regular rate made it an obvious choice. It seems that situation (with book 2 being available, but book 1 not) is something publishers Fanfare/Ponent Mon are looking to rectify with a new hardback edition that brings together both volumes in one 408 page tome later this November.

Essentially, A Distant Neighourhood is a riff on the trope of 'person gets sent back in time in order to better appreciate  the present;' Taniguchi bringing on board the precise beauty of his lines and a more reflective consideration to the situation. And so businessman Hiroshi Nakahara, a 48-year-old father of two, finds himself given the opportunity of a 'do-over' as he's catapulted back to his schooldays -with his adult memories and knowledge intact. Now aged 14, having set to rest any reservations regarding his predicament, he settles in to enjoy this second lease of life, even as in the back of his mind apprehension lays in wait for the fateful day when his father mysteriously disappeared forever. Questions mill as to whether Hiroshi can change the past, and if so, whether he should, and what consequences it will all have. Taniguchi is a unheralded master of comics, with an exemplary, envy-inducing oeuvre, and this is a good, solid place to start for those new to his work. 

The effusive, kinetic joy of José Domingo's 'Pablo & Jane and the hot air contraption'

Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption by José Domingo, published by Flying Eye Books

One of the cornerstones of my childhood reading was Usborne's range of puzzle adventure books. A mixture of prose, comics, and choose-your-own-adventure, the series was an interactive experience that combined exciting narratives with problem-solving: searching for vital items on a journey, helping characters through mazes, working out traps, hunting for clues, deciphering codes. Although the illustrations were less sophisticated and intricate in comparison, I much preferred these to search-and-find books such as Martin Handford's Where's Wally and others. In retrospect, the series was also formative in developing and maintaining my interest in comics, and crucial in building a literacy that extended to being able to read both pictures and words -whether separately or together. With Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption, José  Domingo takes the search-and-find concept, juices it up with his considerable artistic chops, and amalgamates it with a fun, high-octane story. 

Bored one evening, the intrepid Jane persuades/drags her less-enthused brother Pablo to cycle out to explore the creepy old house on the hill, having previously exhausted the crooked custodian's forest, the haunted orphanage, the ruined asylum, and the abandoned sawmill. Armed with flashlights -and lockpicks- the house turns out to be a treasure trove of curious and fascinating objects, the most intriguing of which is a strange gold and green machine connected to a number of canisters labelled 'hot air.' As thunder claps ever closer, Jane and Pablo clamber into the contraption to investigate further, and are surprised to discover they're caught up in a battle between the nefarious one-eyed cat, Dr Felinbush, and moustached-mouse and inventor, Dr Jules! To make matters worse, a sudden bolt of lightning sets Dr Jules' hot air machine off, and everyone is suddenly thrust into the alternative monster dimension, with Dr Felinbush quickly scarpering away with the keys.

The narrative, told in traditionally panelled comic format, bookends rich, gorgeously manic double page illustrative spreads.  Each spread travels to a different country (with Domingo taking influence from culture, history and famous figures), showcasing the monsters living there, and offers various objects the reader must help Pablo and Jane to find to fix Dr Felinbush's sabotage attempts and return home. Perhaps it seems obtuse to point out that Domingo's art is what makes this book so irresistible, bursting with fun and life; the energy and vivacity of his figures, colours, and lines make it impossible to not be taken in. Often in search-and-find books, the emphasis can be more on detail and volume than actual style, so it's all the more pleasing to see the originality and variation of character/monster designs and shapes on display. Domingo's figures are neat and sharp; playful, with personality, and his scenes have a sense of atmosphere and mischief. His use of colour is vibrant and wonderful, making each page extremely attractive to look at. It's an absorbing, entrancing journey, with seemingly more to see on each re-visit: forest trolls, circus scamps, rambunctious musicians, castles full of creatures, an arena of gods, bustling markets, the land of the dead, lush sweltering jungles, golden deserts.

For those who don't want to find the objects, or for younger children who may get bored of doing so, there's plenty going on each page and spread to simply look at and build little narratives around, as a continuation of the main story.  The book reads well on both levels: as a  comic and picture book, disregarding the search-and-find adventure aspect, or incorporating the two. What's nice about that is it means it can be enjoyed independently and with assistance; after an initial read-through and hunt for the objects together, my 5-year old nephew later quietly pulled it off the shelf to pore over. Domingo's created a delightful, lively book, one that's appealing, engaging and fun, and successful in all that it sets out to achieve.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

With pound in hand: September comic and graphic novel releases

Here we go- picking out the cream of this month's releases, in graphic novels, collected editions and anything else notable.

PICK OF THE MONTH: Step Aside Pops by Kate Beaton, published by Drawn & Quarterly: It can be easy to overlook  or take for granted artists who are consistently good, and recognised as such- what new things are there to say about the brilliance of Kate Beaton's cartoons for example? But for those people who don't follow Beaton's comic updates on her website and Twitter (and those that do), there's a new collection of her comics available in print this month courtesy of D&Q, four years after the runaway success of Hark! A Vagrant, which spent 5 months on the New York Times bestseller's list and was received to great critical acclaim.. Since then, Beaton's taken taken a careful and considered approach towards her career, only publishing children' picture book, The Princess and the Pony, last month. So another collection of her smart and witty comics featuring literary, feminist, and historical figures which mix together humour and facts with a dollop of artistic license and expressive cartooning can only be a good thing for everyone involved. 

Aama vol 4: You Will be Glorious, My Daughter by Frederik Peeters, published by Selfmade Hero: The fourth and final volume of Frederik Peeter's sci-fi quartet is out now and I'm curious to see how it all ends. The series so far has been solid with exceptional moments (a mention here for cool monkey-robot, Churchill) and probably the most striking art of Peeters' career -no mean feat when taking into account the calibre at which he operates. Much of it has trodden familiar science versus theology ground although it's remained interesting, but the completion of the story will allow for a better gauge of how it all stands. I'm certainly looking forward to the visual feast, if nothing else. 'On Ona(ji), Verloc Nim is the sole survivor of an expedition to recover Aama, the experiment that has transformed the surface of this desert planet into a landscape inhabited by lethal biorobotic creatures and plants. Having pieced together the events of his recent past - his journey to Ona(ji), his part in the deadly expedition to Aama's source - Verloc finds himself physically transformed by his confrontation with the experiment. But will his extraordinary new powers be enough for him to save his daughter?'

One Punch Man 1 and 2 by Yusuke Murata and ONE, published by Viz: One Punch Man looks all set to be the next big hit with English-language reading Japanese comic fans, having already done very well in its native country and via digital. I wrote more about why I was excited for this a couple of months back when the print volumes were announced, but essentially it looks like an entertaining comic with humour and heart - as shilly as that may read on paper. Hopefully, I'll be able to report back with a review soon. 'Nothing about Saitama passes the eyeball test when it comes to superheroes, from his lifeless expression to his bald head to his unimpressive physique. However, this average-looking guy has a not-so-average problem - he just can't seem to find an opponent strong enough to take on! Every time a promising villain appears, he beats the snot out of 'em with one punch! Can Saitama finally find an opponent who can go toe-to-toe with him and give his life some meaning? Or is he doomed to a life of superpowered boredom?' 

The Bozz Chronicles by David Micheline and Bret Blevins, published by Dover Street Press: A six issue comic series published by Epic Comics in 1985, The Bozz Chronicles sounds like a small, oddball, known-affectionately-to-a-few-hundred-people-only affair that may just be right up my street. Written by David Micheline with art by Bret Blevins, it features a suicidal alien and a plucky prostitute in Victorian England who band together to form a detective agency that accepts cases rejected by Scotland Yard. If that line alone isn't going to sell you, I don't know what will. This is the first single-volume publication of the cult favorite, which includes a bonus pin-up by Brandon Graham, who also writes the foreword.

Palefire by MK Reed and Farel Dalrymple, published by Secret Acres: A new release from Secret Acres (most likely debuting at SPX, I would think), I don't know much about this apart from that it's a YA-orientated book that's on my radar because it's illustrated by the excellent Farel Dalrymple, and written by MK Reed, which makes it worth checking out. 'Everyone hates Darren, the firebug, the bad boy trouble follows everywhere. Alison finds a warmth to Darren, a spark everyone's missing. When you're not a girl and not yet a woman, the last thing you want is advice. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but everyone deserves a second chance—even if it goes up in flames.'

Wild's End: First Light by INJ Culbard and Dan Abnett, published by Boom!: This collected paperback release of Abnett's and Culabrd's Wild's End coincides with the serialisation of a new story (The Enemy Within) that picks up where the old one left off. The First Light volume compiles the six issues of the mini-series, a re-working of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds by way of the animals from The Wind in the Willows. A descriptor like that can sound iffy at best, but having exercised caution in approach and bought each issue as it came out, I can attest to its quality and general goodness, most notably Culbard's finest art to date, the highlight of which is some sublime colouring choices. It may sound like a random mash-up but it manages to be have an identity of its own whilst maintaining the essence and iconography of Wells' seminal sci-fi tale. 'Lower Crowchurch is a small English community enjoying the peace of the 1930s, but when the town becomes the victim of an alien invasion, the residents’ lives are upended by the harsh realities of life-and-death violence. Led by the town’s outsider and retired war veteran, they will have to rally together to uncover the secret of their invaders and hope to fight back.'

Aliens: Salvation by Mike Mignola and Dave Gibbons, published by Dark Horse: A new, hardback edition for the out-of-print Aliens: Salvation this month; a Dave Gibbons-penned, Mike Mignola-illustrated story originally published in 1993. Unlike Mignola's earlier 90's work with various publishers and properties, this finds his art more pulled together into the recognsiably distinctive style that would go on to make him one of contemporary comics foremost cartoonists. From my reading of this last year, the one thing I vividly recall 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. '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.'