Thursday, 18 May 2017

House of Penance: ghosts, guns, and grief (review)

House of Penance by Ian Bertram (artist), Peter J. Tomasi (writer), and Dave Stewart (colourist) [Dark Horse]

It's likely that you're familiar with the legend of the Winchester 'mystery' House in some form: built in 1884 and stretching over 6 acres, 160 rooms and 7 stories, it was constructed under the orders of Sarah Winchester, widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester. The story of its baffling, seemingly haphazard design (Sarah served as the sole architect), and alleged unceasing, around-the-clock construction until her death on September 5, 1922, has provided fertile inspiration for novels, films, and games over the years. Its building was rumoured to be instigated by Sarah's visitation with a medium, who revealed a blood curse on the Winchester fortune, resulting in the restless spirits of her husband, young daughter, and all those who'd died at the hands of a Winchester rifle: spirits who needed to be housed and appeased. House of Penance is a further dramatisation of this story, with a focus on Sarah Winchester's grief and motivations.

The book joins Sarah in 1905, as she has her husband's and daughter's graves relocated from the family plot in Connecticut to the mansion's grounds. Construction is in full swing, and the practices of the place and its people are slowly revealed to the reader via the introduction of new workforce inductee Warren Peck. There is mad poetry in a house that is ever-built; where the sound of hammers is never allowed to quieten to keep Sarah's ghosts at bay, and these elements are amplified to horrific bent. The 'blood curse' is depicted visually as malevolent, snaking tendrils of red that invade and overwhelm, a metaphorical parallel of Sarah's struggles with trauma and depression. Thus the house and its rules/rituals of constant motion and noise are a coping mechanism: means of keeping the swarm of red from engulfing its inhabitants, whether that means tearing up a newly-completed floor in the dead of night, rearranging staircases that lead nowhere, or smashing mirrors through which the spirits attempt crossover entry.

Ian Bertram's art is the reason I picked up this book, and it does the bulk of the heavy lifting in establishing characters, tone, atmosphere, and more. Bertram is often compared to Frank Quitely in style: namely in the way he uses texture (wrinkled dash upon wrinkled dash) and draws figures, but where Quitely's figures are lean and almost spindly, with a creased, leathery quality, Bertram's can go bold through a thicker line or sheer density of texture. Here, that results in a fleshy, almost over-ripe quality- the sense of something waiting to burst out, that feeds the material well, giving new parlance to the ascription of having body. Holding back on the texture has equal effect, cleaner, clearer imagery lending the associated tenor. His panelling choices are diverse: thin, elongated wide panel portray the heat and constrictive climate; small, square boxes breakdown and emphasise the time of a dramatic moment, while switching to large, half-page panels of Sarah in the blackness of her bed, highlight her loneliness. Despite the unobtrusive yellow and orange 'BLAM BLAM' sfx, you never get a sense of sound in the same way. It's a shame, because as this neat ringing bell moment (below) with soundwaves emanating across panels, shows, it could have been well accomplished, and the story certainly provides unique opportunity to do so.

Stewart's colour approach, by contrast, is an afterthought: keep all else blandly conservative so the red can take center-stage.


I enjoyed House of Penance a lot, not least because it led to me reading about the real Sarah Winchester who lived to the age of 82, and from the only existing photograph of her, looks like she knew exactly what kind of reactions she and her house drew. Yet there's no escaping that the story would benefit from being leaner. And much of that feeling is centred around the inclusion of the Warren Peck character. Peck's purpose in the story is two-fold: to function as the reader's stand in (the person we literally follow from the outside in), and to act as a mirror to Sarah and what she is experiencing, via his own haunted psyche. On both fronts, it's difficult not to view him as unnecessary. Why does the reader require a proxy via whom to understand Sarah? Peck's introduction shifts the focus from her as the central character to instead the person we, along with Peck, are watching. We are watching her trauma, her 'madness' accompanied by a male filter, when she could be presented directly to us with nothing in between. We could -should- be siding with her. The intention may be to reinforce, but instead what comes across is the idea that Sarah's pain and feelings are not valid, her actions not understood, unless shared and experienced by a man. It is Peck who sympathises, Peck who calms her, Peck who 'connects' to her, Peck who offers the possibility of romance, and so it is Peck who 'humanises' her. He even saves her from the dangerous designs of her own house (the house which is a stand-in for her mind, lest we forget). It's not only twaddle -considering this is supposed to be Sarah's story- but bogs down the book, dragging out what is essentially a tight tale for longer.

Sarah knows what she is doing, knows how it looks. She is lucid and commanding, and sharply aware of her sister's machinations to get her carted off to the asylum. It is helpful to have a side character for moments of exposition and  Sarah's right-hand man Murcer is apt to the role. What Sarah and her house offer, he explains, to the bloody men who work for her, is a particular self-imposed penance: they accept her judgement and recognise her need for salvation in their own; it's a way to confront their guilt and shame 'for embracing all that a gun has to offer'. And while it lasts, it's enough. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Frederik Peeters & Loo Hui Phang's L'Odeur Des Garcons Affames receives English translation


Some fantastic news to start the day: SelfMadeHero will be publishing an English-language edition of Frederik Peeters and Loo Hui Phang's L'Odeur Des Garcons Affames ('the smell of hungry boys'!) later this year. As you may recall, I've been following the conception of this book for a while, and was in Belgium last year when Casterman released it in French. The French volume was a beautiful, larger-than-A4 hardback affair (there was also a deluxe black-and-white version on offer), but I imagine that we'll get a slightly more scaled-down version. SelfMadeHero have a good relationship with Peeters, having translated the bulk of his previous works- Pachyderme, Sandcastle, etc., and generally do a great job on production; the 4-volume Aama, especially, was well designed in that regard. 

'The Wild West. A mission drifting. A lurking man. All-powerful Indians. A mystery. And desire, immense, insolent.

This will be my first introduction to French-Chinese-Vietnamese writer and director, Loo Hui Phang, and I'm interested to see the western she and Peeters have cooked up together. Set in Texas in 1872, the story follows photographer Oscar Forrest as he lists the landscapes of the west on behalf of geologist Stingley. Prowling around the expedition are the disturbing figures of a man in black and a mute Indian. 'As Stingley leads the mission to the gates of a hostile region, the last stronghold of resistance of the formidable Comanches, the boundaries between what is known and Nature's deepest secrets fades.' I've just been writing about the impending release of Herge's Peppy in the Wild West, a comic written in 1934 about anthropomorphic 'Indians' and 'enterprising' foreigners, and this book here perhaps illustrates the weakness of the 'product of its time' caveat. If Herge was ignorant and prejudiced in 1934, what excuse do people have today depicting mute, yet all-powerful Indians (!) and their savagery (a description included in French blurbs of the book)? I'd love to be wrong about it, and it's a stunning-looking book, but we can do much better.


Thursday, 11 May 2017

Fantagraphics reprint English edition of Herge's 1934 adventure, 'Peppy in the Wild West,' this September

Originally slated for publication in 2013, Fantagraphics had to postpone their reprint of Herge's 'Peppy and Virginny in Lapinoland' along with a slew of their European projects after the passing of co-founder and lynchpin, Kim Thompson. But the good news is that the Euro train seems to be in business once more; Maurice Tillieux's long-awaited Ten Thousand Years of Hell hits shops in July, and now Peppy will follow in September, in full colour and with a reworked title: 'Peppy In the Wild West.' A 1934 all-ages anthropomorphic (bears! rabbits! dogs!) work by Herge, this edition will mark the first English-language translation of the work in over 50 years; Tintin publishers Methuen  previously released a version which was distributed in the UK in the 1960s. The book will be 56 pages in length and given a spiffy hardback treatment. I'm looking forward to this as a Herge fan, but I also don't expect it to be anything other than another poor entry in Herge's oeuvre with regards to racial caricature (even within anthropomorphic portrayals), specifically here in its depiction of Native Americans: the very story of 'plucky enterprising foreigners encroaching on local business and land' seems tilted to that end.

'A lost, all-ages, classic graphic novel ― by the creator of Tintin! Created by Hergé when he was drawing the first few Tintin comics, and first serialized in black and white in 1934, this is the first publication of his lighthearted adventure Peppy in the Wild West ― and the only English translation since 1969. When his hat business fails, the bear Peppy heads to the Old West to start a new life, accompanied by his sweet wife, Virginny, and his faithful steed, Bluebell. They find a patch of grass somewhere in California, where Peppy’s hats start a craze among the local Rabbit-Ears tribe. What follows is a rollicking cascade of one thing after another: not one, but two kidnappings, a river full of gold, a bulldog outlaw, and a side trip to Santa Barbara!'

Monday, 8 May 2017

Dissolving Classroom: the diminishing of a master


Dissolving Classroom by Junji Ito, translated by Melissa Tanaka [Vertical]

Dissolving Classroom is a series of 5 short stories following brother-sister duo Yuuma and Chizumi Azawa, in whom's wake strange and disturbing happenings trail. It's the third post-8-year-break-from-comics Junji Ito work to be published in English, and was originally serialised in Japan 4 years ago. The timeline of Ito's translated works is worth mentioning, because on one hand you have some of his seminal manga such as Uzumaki, Tomie, Gyo, and on the other you have these more recent, waning-quality works in Fragments of Horror and Cat Diary. For Ito's English-language audience, at least, it presents a starker disparity in standard.

Dissolving Classroom starts robustly enough, as the Azawa siblings and their particular brand of horror are introduced. Mild-mannered new student Yuuma quickly gains a reputation for his overly profuse apologies, which increase in volume and bizarre extravagance when people discover his creepy younger sister Chizumi is responsible for numerous odd incidents around the neighbourhood. Ito paces the opening story well: parcelling out plot to harness the reader's curiosity, whilst ratcheting up the tension. Moreover, the idea, too, is classic Ito in the skewed inversion of the benign everyday; making a 'normal' thing disturbing via ridiculous extremity, in this case taking on social mores of politeness. Yuuma derives masochistic pleasure from his apologies, gleaning power in submission; in weaning not only forgiveness but discomfort, even revulsion, from people. Over a contracted period of time, exposure to Yuuma's words have a literal effect of turning people's brains to mush; a mush that a hungry Chizumi is happy to devour.

On the surface, Dissolving Classroom's second story finds Ito playing to familiar strength, as he once again addresses the relationship dynamics between men and women. Here, Yuuma's word-power is applied to flattery of his beautiful girlfriends, turning their features into misshapen hideousness, while they alone are unable to perceive the change in their appearance. But it's unclear what's being got at, if anything: something thin about the harmful, quite nerd; psychologies of self-belief and insecurity; narratives of abuse; another power switch in controlling/confining beautiful women? None of it quite gels. Beyond this point Dissolving Classroom meanders and weakens further, as Yuuma and Chizumi move from place to place, repeating their cycle to diminishing returns for the reader and themselves, culminating in a newspaper expose and a televised public apology. It's possible that buried somewhere deep within is a knowingly rambunctious tale of parentless, adventuring children traversing the country, but you'd struggle to eke it out.

For a book that features 2 kids toting around the decapitated heads of their parents as a moving shrine, a cache of bottled human matter as sustenance, and appearances from the devil himself, Dissolving Classroom is a remarkably unengaging, almost insipid affair. It's not only Ito turning to as obvious a big bad as the devil, but that the resultant handling is so tame and prosaic, that is symbolic of his stagnation. Better instead to leave Yuuma's and Chizumi's actions purposeless, unexplained. More than ever, it's apparent that Ito's coherence in relation to his ideas has faltered. The tank splutters, but fails to cough up enough to get the engine thrusting. Both the clarity his work used to have in executing an idea, and the punch that the strength of the idea would provide, is missing. This, in turn, affects his cartooning, which whilst retaining the same level of technical competency, lacks the visual potency an inspired concept would provide; a full-page splash of Chizumi wearing poorly-applied make-up, for example, is given the space for impact but falls resoundingly flat. Images of people with brain goo flowing from eyeholes and orifices are too generically atypical to resonate.


It's fair, too, to posit whether Dissolving Classroom is merely poor, or poor by Ito's standards. To any new reader, the outlandish weirdness of his work is no doubt still enough to make an impression. But where Fragments of Horror was uneven, Dissolving Classroom seems to give up, losing interest in itself. There's a curious lack of purpose to it all, and crucially, no horror. Once able to weave the sinister and absurd into tight, 32-page chapters like no other, Dissolving Classroom finds Ito lost, like somebody repeating part of a phrase in the hope that the whole will come to them. It never does.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Upcoming books of interest

Louis Undercover by Isabelle Arsenault and Fanny Britt [Groundwood Books] October
I am immeasurably excited about a new Isabelle Arsenault/Fanny Britt collaboration, the superb duo behind the wonderful Jane, The Fox and Me. This new effort, Louis Undercover, isn't due for release until October in the UK, but if you're attending TCAF, I believe early copies will be available there. It's set to be another moving, gorgeously illustrated book about Louis, a young boy who shuttles between his alcoholic dad and his worried mom, trying,with the help of his best friend, to summon up the courage to speak to his true love, Billie. The kind of thing kids read with calm interest and adults need a box of tissues for.

'Louis's dad cries -- Louis knows this because he spies on him. His dad misses the happy times when their family was together, just as Louis does. But as it is, he and his little brother, Truffle, have to travel back and forth between their dad's country house and their mom's city apartment, where she tries to hide her own tears.

Thankfully, Louis has Truffle for company. Truffle loves James Brown lyrics, and when he isn't singing, he's asking endless questions. Louis also has his friend Boris, with whom he spots ghost cop cars and spies on the "silent queen," the love of his life, Billie.

When Louis and Truffle go to their dad's for two weeks during the summer, their father seems to have stopped drinking. And when Truffle has a close call from a bee sting, their mother turns up and the reunited foursome spend several wonderful days in New York -- until they reach the end of the road, again.'



Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-Sik Hong [Drawn & Quarterly] June
I'm one of those people who loves having a good chunky book to read (it lasts longer) and at 576 pages, Uncomfortabily Happily certainly fits the bill. Roughly based on author Yeon-Sik Hong's own experiences, Uncomfortabily Happily is the story of a young artist couple who decide to leave the burdens of urban Seoul -rent, deadlines, the unrelenting noise of traffic- in order to live off the land. After upping sticks to rent a remote farmhouse deep in the rural hills, the duo set about striking a balance between college classes, dog raising, personal work goals, and small-scale farming. However, they soon discover their isolated new lifestyle comes with its own unique set of obstacles: depression brought on by the intense solitude, tramping through the snow on grocery runs, encroaching development. I'm looking forward to this book a lot; it seems to be about 2 people figuring out a way of living that works for them; learning to be content with what they have, and those are the kind of stories I am into today. The other appealing factor for me is Yeon-Sik Hung's cartooning, which strikes that balance between rounded actual cartoonishness and fine lines that give it some grounding. Originally published to acclaim as a diptych in Korean, this edition marks a first-time English language outing, translated by Hellen Jo.


Brave by Svetlana Chmakova [Yen Press] May
In his daydreams, Jensen is the biggest hero that ever was, saving the world and his friends on a daily basis. But his middle school reality is VERY different – math is hard, getting along with friends is hard…Even finding a partner for the class project is a big problem when you always get picked last. And the pressure’s on even more once the school newspaper’s dynamic duo, Jenny and Akilah, draw Jensen into the whirlwind of school news, social experiment projects, and behind-the-scenes club drama. Jensen’s always played the middle school game one level at a time, but suddenly, someone’s cranked up the difficulty setting. Will those daring daydreams of his finally work in his favor, or will he have to find real solutions to his real life problems?

Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt] out now
There are some settings that are instantly fascinating to us all, and such is the case for me and underwater tales. Triple Caldecott winner David Wiesner joins forces with Donna Napoli in this literal fish-out-of-water tale. Fish Girl is a young mermaid, confined to a life as an attraction at a boardwalk aquarium while longing for the world beyond the tank. A growing friendship with an ordinary, human girl encourages her dreams of freedom and independence. The marrying of Wiesner’s rich visual imagination and trademark artistry with the magic of underwater vistas are sure to be a draw here. I came across Wesiner's work only recently via the charming and ingenious Mr Wuffles, so I'm eager to see what he conjures up here.

To Have And To Hold by Graham Chaffee [Fantagraphics] May
It's been 4 years since Good Dog, and Graham Chaffe returns next month with a very different book altogether: a 60's noir, which should be well-suited to his black-and white inky brushstrokes. 'Set in October 1962, while the world holds its collective breath awaiting the possibly apocalyptic climax of the unfolding Cuban Missile Crisis, the banality of everyday life goes on―and Lonnie and Kate Ross confront their own domestic cold war. As Kate, frustrated and disillusioned, looks outside her marriage for satisfaction, Lonnie’s justifiable suspicions of his wife’s infidelity lead him down a deadly rod of increasing paranoia and violence as he seeks to reclaim what he’s lost.'























I'd also heartily recommend these 2 new offerings from Peow: Stages of Rot by Linnea Sterte, and Rule Break by Anna Syvertsson. I've been following Sterte on Tumblr for a while and her work is amazing: Nausicca-era Miyazaki crossed with Moebius, with a great sense of colour, as she illustrates natural environments. I've no doubt this 152 page book described will be similarly impressive. You should go peruse her blog immediately, for a more effective grasp of what I'm talking about. Peow describe it as a ' fantastical sci-fi/fantasy is brimming with mystique and life, recognisable - but still very different from anything you've read before. Around the carcass of a whale gathers different forms of life to find food, shelter and to survive.' Peow's second release is from Swedish cartoonist Anna Syvertson, whom I recently briefly profiled for the AV Club: "Chances are you have come across Anna Syvertsson’s quasi-autobiographical comics, as they frequently go viral. They’re cute, the appealing cartoonishness consolidated further with animal avatars and characteristics, and they’re also very funny, with a definite streak of weirdness that crops up regularly to set them apart. They’re cosy, warm, and engaging with the kind of easy, relatable humor that appears effortless but is actually difficult to attain." I am, basically, already a fan, so I'll be all over this first official print comic, Rule Break. Both books ship in May, and are available to pre-order now.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

A pocketful of webcomics

I've noticed a number of new comics beginning serialisation online, and thought I'd do a quick run-down of the ones that caught my eye. First up is Warm Blood, a new project conceived by writer Josh Tierney who headed up the beautiful Spera comics, later published in print volumes by Archaia. A high school murder mystery, Tierney has Warm Blood functioning similarly to Spera in set-up, with the brilliant Afu Chan again designing the main characters, and a host of artists illustrating a chunk of pages each. The first couple of chapters of the story are up now and feature artists Saskia Gutekunst, Joysuke, Jane Bak, Winston Young, Naomi Franquiz, Marina Julia,  Leiana Nitura, and Olivier Pichard, amongst others. 

'There is a killer at Greenwood High. His name is Logan Filigree. Who is the killer at Greenwood High?'

Penny is the new girl at public school, Greenwood High, where kids are being murdered at a steady rate: a body in the cafeteria, 2 in the pool. On the first day, Logan Filigree casually, almost wearily, confesses to her that he's the killer, although no-one seems overly perturbed by his admission, and life continues as normal, with more bodies piling up. Oh, and there may be monsters (cc: the giant lobster student who sits near Penny in homeroom). Warm Blood is clever in what it is and isn't showing the reader on the page, whilst also playing around with unreliable narration. Tierney has an affinity for slow-burning material, and I understand not wanting to hand-hold the reader, but the number of elements and ideas - magic, abilities, multi-dimensions, lots of characters, monsters, murder- stuffed in Warm Blood makes it initially somewhat stodgy and convoluted. It's interesting enough to stick with, though, and finds its feet in the second chapter as characters become more established and the meta-humorous tone settles better. The other thing that makes Warm Blood worthwhile is the array of talented artists within its pages, most of whom are new to me; it's a great way of discovering people to follow. Go check it out.


Next up is Mickey Zacchilli's Space Academy 123, which is a good 80 or so totally perfect pages in at the time of writing. Zacchilli's posting single page updates on a dedicated Instagram account and I highly, unequivocally recommend following it. Space is more of a dressing in Space Academy, with the focus firmly on characters and their shenanigans. The narrative revolves around 3 people in the main: Donna, recently graduated to somehow become principal of the academy when all she wanted was to be a space chiropractor; Andrew, an anxious, gentle soul, and the wonderfully-monikered Ashley Forgiveness, whose very being -from hair to internal monologue- seem to be plucked from the most shonen of manga. There's also the precocious Shandy (the youngest, the wisest), and grandfather computer (the oldest, the least fucks given), both of whom steal every scene they appear in.

I have a preference for strips which are a self-standing read whilst feeding into ongoing narratives, and Space Academy is a great example of that. All of Zacchilli's characters here are exceptionally well-written, with quirks and individuality, but no malice. Zacchilli's signature energy translates here to a joyful, fun exuberance that it's impossible not to be swept up in. Each new page brings a smile.  The manner in which she’s able to moderate the abstract density of her lines and mark-making to achieve those specific emotional and atmospheric beats is remarkable, and yet seamlessly done:  the entirety of the tone and pitch of the comic is just *there*.  It reaffirms my thinking that Zacchilli is one of the most overlooked cartoonists today. If there was one thing I'd urge you to read right now it'd be Space Academy 123: it makes me feel good about comics, and life.


From one future world to another, Love Circuits is a freshly-launched romance of the erotic variety, written by Taneka Stotts, illustrated by Genué Revuelta, and lettered by Melanie Ujimori. This one is still in its very early stages, currently 9 pages in, with a new page update every Friday. The story so far has sculptor Yvonne King, living in an alternative Miami, receiving a surprise delivery of a refurbished android companion and deciding whether she should keep it or not. As much as I like a good robot-human romance, sexy and otherwise, what makes Love Circuits stand out is Revuelta's art and colouring. The clear lines and bright, warm colours imbue the page with a lush feel; the lively neon pinks and blues, in particular, evoke both the erotic and tech-future themes well. Stotts and Revuelta have a Patreon that allows you to support Love Circuits and other work they create together.


It's likely you've come across Michael DeForge's black-and-white effort Leaving Richard's Valley already. He's been serialising it on both his Twitter feed and a separate Instagram account, with the 4-panel, square pages serving both platforms well. It's well over 100 pages in and still going. The story follows a community founded by the mysterious Richard. Made up of animals and humans, all live together in the woody valley in relative harmony under Richard's rule. Water has to be purified in a certain way, toxins removed from the body and environment, Richard's regulations followed. Everyone seems united in their love and adoration for Richard, who we're assured is great, a movie star, pays for your piano lessons, kisses your mum, and when he eventually turns up, sorta looks like an sinister anime He-Man. This peace is disturbed when Lyle the raccoon gets sick, and his friends, seeing no improvement in his condition and desperate to help him, break Richard's rules to do so.

There are obvious allegorical strands here, and DeForge manipulates the changing situation masterfully through shadow and blacks, even via the design and shape of his characters. There are so many deft touches to revel in: the famous Julianne Napkin (there's a beautiful 3 panels where she sings and you can hear the quiet it elicits), Cynthia the blindly-devoted, evangelical frog, Richard's diamond-filled eyes and long coat, the question of how much autonomy and self you're willing to concede to be part of something. Sometimes when a cartoonist is consistently producing very good work, it becomes taken for granted a little, and I think DeForge perhaps suffers from that assumption of attention.


Patrick Crotty's Devil Maybe Cry is the final comic I'd like to point you towards. It's almost wrapped up, and I believe the plan is to serialise it online before Peow Studio consider publishing a complete print edition. The comic is a mix of things: a crossover of sorts that sees the return of the tiny Devil character featured in a previous Crotty mini-comic, Devil's Slice of Life, team up with small witch Bibi, a character from a 2014 comic from cartoonist Kris Mukai (which you can read in full here). The story picks up from the events of that comic and the kidnapping of Bibi's younger brother by Dante the demon-hunter from video-game Devil May Cry. And while that may sound confusing and haphazard, it actually does make sense if you come at it completely new! Crotty's someone whose work I like to keep up with if only for his art style, which usually does enough interesting things on its own to merit that attention.

Monday, 1 May 2017

News, Views, and Oddities #42

























Panini Comics, the French publisher of Marvel, have hired an array of French cartoonists to whip up some covers as part of their 20th anniversary celebration. Most of these are rather ho-hum, but the Sfar, Trondheim, and to a lesser extent, Lauffray efforts stand out. For me, those are the ones that have personality and retain the sensibility of what makes the artists work unique.  Sfar expressed his interest on Twitter in doing a full issue of Punisher, which would be quite the thing to see. 

Philippa Rice has signed a new book deal with Andrews McMeel for Sister BFF'S, 'the humorous tales of two twenty-something sisters helping each other navigate life’s stressful moments—from job searches to encounters with former crushes—even though they get on each other’s nerves quite a lot.' Like Rice's previous book, Soppy, Sisters also originated as a self-published mini-comic before being expanded and sold; you can view some of the strips here. Rice is a multi-faceted artist who works in a number of mediums, so it's nice to see more of her always-appealing comics.

Top Shelf have announced Home Time, the debut work from Australian cartoonist Campbell Whyte, a 228 page hardback that will release this June. It follows 6 friends ready to embark on their final fun-filled summer holiday before starting high school, who fall into a river and are plunged into a new and strange world. I like that excellent cover a lot, and I'd recommend checking out the 7 page preview; each chapter in the book will be illustrated in a different visual style, and this gives you an indication of what to expect. I hope the accompanying narrative is strong enough to support that choice, and not leave it coming off gimmick-y. 

Fantagraphics will be publishing Sophie Goldstein's 3-part (previously self-published) comic, House of Women, later this year. Goldstein's last book was 2015's well-received The Oven, with AdHouse. Goldstein describes the Ignatz-winning House of Women as 'science fiction meets psycho-sexual drama when a group of women try to bring "civilization" to the natives of a remote planet on the fringes of the known universe.' As a long-standing fan of Goldstein's comics, a new book with a publisher who will hopefully push it to a wider audience, is a good thing.


It looks like we'll be getting a Nicolas Nemiri artbook from Kim Jung Gi's studio, Super Ani, soon. As far as I'm aware, none of Nemiri's comics work has been translated into English, and an art-book will satisfy both fans and newcomers.That cover looks wonderful.

Dark Horse have announced a hardback art-book for Patrick McHale's acclaimed Over the Garden Wall cartoon series, due for release this September. The book will contain sketches, development and production art, paintings, anecdotes and more, and will be written by Paste editor Sean Edgar, with contributions from McHale.

ELCAF have unveiled their 2017 festival poster, designed by French design duo Icinori, aka Mayumi Otero and Raphael Urwiller, who will also serve as the artists in residence this year. An initial guest announcement includes Sarah Glidden, Bianca Bagnarelli, Antoine Cosse, and more. Exceptionally excited for ELCAF this year, as it will be the very fist festival at which I'll be tabling.


This blogpost collates all of David Mazzucchelli's short stories contributed to anthologies over the years- if you can actually make out the text on that background, that is...

Tomer Hanuka created a one-off Akira print piece, and it is a thing of extreme beauty. 


Speaking of Akira, Kodansha are releasing a hardback box-set series of the complete comic (and the later-published Akira Club art-book) in celebration of the 35th anniversary of Katsuhiro Otomo's seminal manga, which will be published in the traditional Japanese right-to-left reading orientation for first time. That's due in shops in October later this year.

Staying with Otomo, you may recall he was subject of a tribute exhibition at Angouleme in 2016 after winning the Grand Prix, with various artists enlisted to create pieces that paid homage to his comic work. Despite boasting talent such as Stan Sakai and Jiro Taniguchi, most of the pieces I saw were rather insipid and uninspired, focusing on Kaneda and his red motorbike. It's an undeniably iconic image, but are 60 or so versions of it needed? Anyhow, Kodansha are publishing the collected pieces as a hardback Otomo-tribute book, and it'll be available later this month. Over at TCJ, Joe McCulloch's been doing God's work breaking down the most interesting pieces within it.

Manndy Wykens is consistently excellent, but these new project designs are especially good.

I'm not sure how many people still have RSS feeds or something similar, but Marian Churchland is regularly updating her website (I believe weekly, at least) with art and written posts. It's a must-visit for me, combining as it does a number of my favourite things: food, clothes, and *illustrated lists*. Even if that's not your area, her style alone is lovely to behold.

This John Wick 2 poster by Denys Cowan, with inks by Bill Sienkiewicz and colours by Elizabeth Breitweiser is, as they say, the business. Also, do yourself a favour and go watch John Wick 2.

Molly Fairhurst's draws a lot of tigers as part of her dissertation.

I imagine these have done the rounds thoroughly, but I hadn't seen them, so perhaps you haven't either: George Caltsoudas illustrated title posters for every Batman Animated Series episode.

You should watch this film by Anatola Howard:

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Spotlight on: Eleni Kalorkoti

Back in 2013, my friend Andy gave me one of Eleni Kalorkoti's zines as something to look out for. It was one of twelve she made as a year-long, zine-a-month project that served as my introduction to her work. Whilst I recall thinking at the time the pieces within were nice, some images were stronger than others,with the work lacking a specific identity. In the 4 years since, I've been following Kalorkoti's work and without meaning to patronise, one of the greatest pleasures in following artists is seeing them develop, and improve. The strength of Kalorkoti's work lies in her use of shape, pattern, and colour. The combination of all 3 could be potentially messy or overwhelming but Kalorkoti's main field is editorial illustration and zines of single-page illustrations, both of which provide the space needed for that combination of facets to be better served.

A good example of this is Kalorkoti's 'Blip' zine. Taking from her 'Glitch' work, Blip portrays a series of women, stretched and skewed by a hall-of-mirrors effect. One of the things I love about Blip is that it showcases Kalorkoti's geometrical affinity for shape, whilst also typifying the softness and emotion of her work. By 'soft,' I mean that shapes have defined, solid lines; they're angular, yet her work never feels hard because she refrains from using a black outline, and is reinforced by the qualities of watercolour (which imbues a gentle warmth). It's so thoughtfully done, and beautifully balanced; the line is never lost, or too tight, and she manipulates the white of the page innovatively. Kalorkoti's able to get such clarity from her paints. Look, for example, at the contrasting orange shades employed to get that 3D effect (in the fifth picture, below) on the woman's torso. Just unbelievably good. That she's able to consider fashion -both as a point of visual interest and identity- is an indication of how good she is.

I like Blip for the subjects it hints at: the deconstruction and reconstruction of women's bodies, the commodification of women's appearance; distortion and reality. The idea of looking into mirrors and seeing multiple reflections; perception of self, how others perceive you, how you'd like to be perceived. Pulled into various directions by social normative conventions, yet containing multitudes. The 'blip' effect doesn't allow you to fully make these women out, so you're unable to define or judge them. In an understated way, Blip challenges your gaze and the way you look at women.



Thursday, 16 February 2017

The secularisation of Satan

Examining how Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson's portrayal of Satan is informed by the shifting depiction and ideas of the devil in pop culture, and the secularisation of evil


'Once I was Lucifer- bright morningstar. Well I think I was'

It comes from above. Encased in a vast rune-marked stone, a collision with an exploding spacecraft pushes the mysterious object's trajectory towards Earth. From the dust and flame of the crash-landing rises a colossal, winged figure: the devil. This is the premise of Alan Grant's and Arthur Ranson's Satan, where as bloodshed and madness engulf the land the psychic empath Judge Anderson must determine whether the alien being is indeed the devil, whilst pondering the ramifications of his existence on a metaphysical, spiritual level; and, of course, if and how the he can be overcome.

Reading about something is different to seeing it, so the reader's first visual encounter with Ranson's Satan is significant: his appearance alone allows us to glean certain symbolic inferences. He is a gleaming white giant, his horns molten marble: bubbled growths that extend from around his head like an incomplete crown-like halo. His eyes are searing fire-filled sockets, at once flat and bottomless; his mouth a sardonic scarlet smear. That he is represented by only these two colours is significant: red is connoted to danger, anger, and passion; while white is most traditionally bound with depictions of light, goodness, and purity. On the surface at least, he does not appear monstrous, his overall visage more reminiscent of Greek sculpture, an evolved gargoyle conveying specific ideologies; Ranson marrying mythological threads of angelic derivation, a fallen favourite, with currents of temptation and manipulation. His wings further reinforce those juxtaposing parallels: again harking to Lucifer, yet their leathery texture provides a contrast to the image of untouchable deity. They're organic, animalistic, binding him by nature to those he aspires to lord over. On initial approach he is undeniably impressive; Anderson feels 'physically sick in his presence, awed by his beauty.' He wants people to be seduced by his majesty, of how he looks. Ranson's exceptional draughtsmanship, with his lines and realism rooted in a traditionally-illustrative style, serves to anchor and add weight to this portrayal.

Upon arrival, Satan announces himself repeatedly, beading together a litany of names given to the devil. 'I am the Adversary... He Who Opposes. I am the Serpent crawling in Eden-- The Dragon-of Old--The Midnight Goat. I am the Prince of Lies... the Lord of Deceit... Betrayer Supreme. I am Diablos, and you must whisper my name!' He quotes from the Book of Amos and then pokes fun at the language 'Did I say that?... quite poetic in a bleak sort of way.' This meta-defensive, mocking rhetoric becomes a pattern throughout, a sneery finger poking at the narratives credited to him. But under the theatricality, there is also pride and assertion: there is power in names and he embraces the opportunity to claim the many bestowed upon him; to claim the history with which each is associated, the dread they inspire. The belief in these names and all that they encompass, is what powers him. It is the belief in his existence; in his influence. It help feed his myth -and so feeds him. It's how he defines himself. Facts are true whether you believe them or not, but faith is true irrespective of the integrity of the subject in which it is invested. From the offset, then, Grant has the devil toying with who he is; the repetition of names and faux-reluctance a first hint at an underlying question, if not doubt.

Accompanying this passage is a snaking full-page spread in which Ranson charts a visual history of devil interpretations encompassing shifting literary and theological concepts: here is Dante's and Dore's frozen colossus, a pentagram-inscribed Baphomet, the serpent himself, Pan, the dragoned Diablos, a pitchfork-wielding imp, the morning-star.


This presents the reader with a wad of cultural heft that acts to reinforce Satan's identity, whilst simultaneously highlighting its constant construction; the fragmentisation of a monolithic personification. Via the use of these references, Ranson and Grant draw attention to Satan's bluster, a performance that goes beyond pretending to be affected by crosses and incantations, or setting aflame a group of religious diplomats with an imperious look. His identity seems overly pieced together, too pat. With his physical presence on Earth causing wide-spread insanity and destruction, and the Judges at a loss as to what to throw at him next, this is what gives Anderson an in. She capitalises on that chink of doubt and insecurity. For an idea to have strength it requires belief, and it is humanity's faith in Satan's stature as this immense demonic force that allows him the refuge of a power fantasy. It's preferable to Satan to believe himself the big bad- it gives him billing. And it protects him from the reality of himself. As Anderson discovers, at his core he fears the cost of that mantle. He feels the weight of his actions. Her telepathic connection sees a scared and lost child sat huddled amidst vast fields of piled corpses, crying, 'It wasn't me honest!' Where earlier Satan leafs though mankind's history, revelling in the war and bloodshed he's inspired since his imprisonment, here are shards of guilt and despair, of loneliness. At some level, he is distant from the very idea of himself he ouwardly embraces, rejecting culpability.

Like Dante's Lucifer, he is caught in his own trap: stuck in the ice at the bottom of the ninth circle equally as powerless as the other sinners, instead of being a free and powerful being. It fits in with the theological notion that Hell is indeed self-inflicted.

Grant's and Ranson's portrayal of repression, trauma, and vulnerability is informed by decades of literature that increasingly drew parallels of Satan's standing with that of mankind's, specifically the similarities in nature. If the 15th and 16th centuries solidified his position as "the personification of evil, seen as the great enemy of Christ, the Church, and mankind: a horned, bestial, furry figure," the age of enlightenment in popularising reason began to consider the story of Lucifer's rebellion with greater nuance and depth. But it wasn't the diminishing thrall of Christianity alone that distilled the devil; as an increasingly secular society began to explore alternative causes of evil, the notion of good and bad as rigid pillars waned. Science and psychology made inroads in demystifying various medical conditions, with focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. On a wider scale, this loosening translated into complexity of character; an acceptance of flaws.


Thus this resulted in not only more sophisticated representations of the devil, but literal and figurative shifts of him as a bestial creature who is the enemy of man, to a more human and humanoid figure (most seminal among these was John Milton's Paradise Lost, which essayed Lucifer as a defiant and charismatic anti-hero granting him new perspective, and effectively reinventing modern conceptions along the way). He is inherently human in his rebellion; his flaws of pride and jealousy are familiar emotions. If all reactions stem from an action, then causality is applicable. The devil/evil is a reaction or direct effect- to the concepts of god/good. He is angry and hurt and wants to stick it to both God and man as those who have hurt him. He doesn't simply want to see mankind fall and turn, he wants to see mankind fall and turn to spite God, to prove his long-standing point over and over; 'This is what you chose over me, this is what you cast me out for. Look how weak and easy they are. Look how I can make them turn from you.' And he knows so well because he's the same. It's one long lashing out. He has motive. He can be understood. Satan became sympathetic.

If Faust and Chaucer seem a reach today, no matter; we've seen the devil as everyone from Tim Curry to Elizabeth Hurley to Al Pacino; as an animated robot in Futurama; as a used car salesmen in Reaper; a discontented Bowie/James Dean-esqe figure in Mike Carey's Lucifer; as a goat in Robert Eggers' The Witch. These incarnations embody the human character and experience: from comedic relief to tragedy, delight to desolation, as canny, seductive, triumphant. So not only are Satan's impulses and emotions known to us, repetitious cultural exposure of the devil as a personification of id took root, disseminating the potency of Satan as the ultimate murky, sinister bogeyman; an intravenous desensitisation realigning the devil as normal, and fundamentally, as something less adversarial. 

Key to this is the de-weaponising of Satan's own power, and the shift from vengeful anger (an emotion people intrinsically recoil from) to misunderstood everyman, done over by the big guy. Few things reconcile people as much as shared resentment towards those deemed superior. In theory, Satan became specific, smaller, more successful, undergoing an ideological transformation accessible to all, irrespective of religious denomination. As the representation of the flaws of man he is ironically omnipresent. If God is within us then why shouldn't the devil be, too? He is of us, and thus easier to understand. And when we understand something, we no longer fear it. The devil becomes knowable, and knowledge is power. If you don't have it, then someone has it over you (Those qualities now instead rest heavily with God. God is powerful. God is knowing, yet unknowable. God in his judgement is man's adversary.). In knowing Satan, we aim to assert power over him, and therein lies his ultimate contemporary seduction: that he is one of us. He is legion: he is us all.


It is this evolution that Grant and Ranson's 1996 portrayal charts. Their is no definitiveness to their Satan: he exists within the multitudes. He exists as an individual entity and a symbolic quantification of evil, and as such has his own life in addition to those that are thrust upon him. Grant and Ranson provide us with literal and allegorical deconstruction of this once proud and magnificent being who, in the depths of hurt, embraces the narratives and labels heaped upon him as a form of consolation. A creature who opts to mounts these projected stories as both reassurance and defence rather than confront the reality of himself, because 'to be weak is to be miserable'. He still matters, he is still worth contending with. Grant and Ranson's Satan is lost deep within those structures, at first purposefully and then for survival. It's no longer clear which came first: being called a monster, or the being of the monster. The parallel drawn is of a superficial inversion of man: a beastly exterior concealing the confusion within, as opposed to a benign exterior concealing the ugliness inside. 

Grant and Ranson present Satan as someone who humans require to be separate, marked by contorted difference in order to fit with our idea, our need, of a looming, evil 'other.' Like a fire that never lacks for tinder, Satan is a golem brought to life by our pain, horrors, and weaknesses, created to cover our complicity. He gains power and import via the oxygen of fear. Not the fear of the unknown, but the fear of those deeds, that culpability, returning home.

"Nobody makes us bad. We get to choose between good and evil and we're all responsible for our choice. Even the devil.' 

(An early version of this essay was published in Critical Chips)

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

James Stokoe's Alien: Dead Orbit, a preview

Announced in late 2016, James Stokoe's 4-issue Alien mini-series is fast-approaching. As both a big Stokoe and Alien fan, it's one of the comics I've been looking forward to most this year. Stokoe is a big Alien fan; he'd been working on comics ideas for an Alien story in his own time as far as 6-7 years back when Brandon Graham shared some of those pencilled pages on his livejournal (shown below). It takes a while, but I like to think that as with both his Godzilla comic and his Galactus piece, which resulted in The Half Century War and work with Marvel, it takes a few years or so for the concept to gestate before some sensible comics person taps him to do the trade-marked thing. You can have immense passion for a thing and still not be good at it, so it's lucky Stokoe has talent by the bucket-load. I'm excited to see that hyper-detailed art and those mad gradients on ol' double-jaws.

Anyway, here's what I wrote about Dead Orbit for the Guardian in a comics preview last month: "Many licensed comic properties hum unremarkably along, but every now and again publishers wrangle a pairing worthy of notice. Such is the case for Stokoe’s upcoming Aliens mini-series, Dead Orbit. He is a rare cartoonist, gifted not only in technical ability, but also in eliciting fresh depth and pathos from popular characters without straying from their essence. With Ridley Scott releasing Alien: Covenant in May, this could well be a banner year for everybody’s favourite xenomorph."

Although after seeing the Covenant trailer, I'm having second thoughts. My high hopes for Dead Orbit, however, remain intact. There's only 2 things I consider myself fannish about, in that I actually *care* and have specific ideas about how they should or shouldn't be treated: Batman is one and Alien stories are another. With Alien, less creatures work better, a lone one works best. Sure, there's only so many times you can use this to trade on awe and fear, but unless the story facilitates it, using swarms of xenomorphs for no purpose other than numbers and the supposed 'cool' shock value of it is ineffective. The xeonomorph is an iconic design, but has become so distilled in power. I have the Dark Horse Alien omnibuses and many of the comics explore how the xenomorphs are captured and integrated as resources, which never made sense to me considering the whole perfect organism emphasis. Ultimately, where I stand on monsters is some of them you just cannot fight. And that's it. Which should be the case for Alien: you can kill them, and wrangle enough time to survive, but the bottom line is: they will get you. Anyway, enough of my incoherent ramblings; I'm confident Stokoe will do a good job as he's able to a) draw and colour magically, and b) marry his own sensibilities to character and story without compromising the integrity of either. I'm yet to read something of his I don't like.

Here's the official Dead Orbit blurby thing, and you can find some preview pages of the opening issue further down this post:

Dead Orbit finds Wascylewsk, an engineering officer, trapped in a space station after a horrific accident. Wascylewsk is forced to use all available tools—a timer, a utility kit, and his wits—to survive an attack from the deadliest creature known to man. James Stokoe (Wonton Soup, Orc Stain) writes and illustrates the series. Geof Darrow (The Shaolin Cowboy, The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot) will provide a variant cover for the first issue. The first issue is out April 26th.



Interior pages from the first issue of Dark Orbit; for more, visit Paste who have an exclusive multi-page preview. 



Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Review: Mickey's Craziest Adventures

Mickey's Craziest Adventures by Lewis Trondheim (writer), Nicolas Keramidas (artist), Brigitte Findakly (colourist) [IDW]

An anonymous introduction to this book tells a tale of a bored Trondheim and leisurely Keramidas at a car boot sale, stumbling upon the treasure of rare, 'lost' Mickey Mouse comics serialised in one-page instalments in the 60's. Eager to share their find, Trondheim and Keramaidas worked to restore these comics, reproducing them for the very first time in this collection. Or so the story goes...

A mouse of many guises, here Mickey is a policeman (plain clothes, of course), thrown together with Donald Duck to retrieve the shrink ray and scaled-down gold stolen from Donald's Uncle Scrooge; Donald's the reluctant civilian, forced along on the escapade due to the magnitude of debt he owes Scrooge. The focus isn't whodunnit but adventure, an opportunity for Trondheim and Keramidas to let loose the characters on a breathless journey of skirmishes against an ever-changing backdrop of landscapes, sending up the globe-trotting chase with aplomb even as they reaffirm it. Stock adventure situations are whistled through: a plane crash-landing in a jungle, discovery of numerous lost ancient cities heaving with gold, stumbling upon Atlantis *and* a land of dinosaurs ('I had not noticed, but all der dinosaurs haff feathers! ... If der mobile phone was invented, we could spread der news!' exclaims Dr Einmug), a voyage to space. To the Trondheim fan, poking fun at the silliness of genre-conventions whilst subverting them is familiar fare, and it generally works both because its tertiary to the larger concern of creating an entertaining comic and because it's done with affection.

Playful effort has gone into the overlaying narrative of the 'lost' strips: replicating the dotted effect of offset printing and spot colouring, torn pages, stains and yellowing, missing pages (strips jump from chapter 24 to 27). Deliberation means the imaginary plot gaps don't lead to an indiscernible mess, instead paralleling the incomprehensible leaps such stories often make. By and large these elements are balanced enough to not feel contrived, yet there remain passages that are simply unengaging. This isn't a book with deep characterisation, emotional investment, or plot; its purpose is fun. There are a few good gags: a thwarted Mickey unsuccessfully attempting to buy modes of transport from various pragmatic kids in a non-chase; a monkey stealing Mickey's suitcase for it to come open and reveal multiple pairs of those famous red pants as its sole contents.  But essentially there's only one joke. The construct of deconstruction begins to feel thin.


Similarly, patchy commitment to emulating a retro palette appears to have an adverse effect on Brigitte Findakly's colouring. Throughout most of the book, her colouring is wonderful: intuitive, earthy, and interesting. There's a lovely strip in which Mickey and Donald are riding a flying mushroom island (somehwat ridiculously piloting it like the balloon house in Up), and the contrast of the teal-and-white fungi against a mustard sky is gorgeous. In another wide panel, the rich blues and browns of a meteor-shower hurtling to Earth provide it an additional foreboding frisson. But then there are flat, insipid pages which the eye passes over with nothing of attention to anchor the gaze. Since the limitations of 60's colouring aren't adhered to anyway, and Findackly is clearly capable, this in-between wavering seems a poor directive.

Keramidas art is well-judged; carrying movement and expression that feeds into the pacing without overwhelming it and there's a nice, level elasticity that comes to the fore now and again. It has pleasurable appeal, and he's able to hit a tonal appropriateness that evokes a stylistic era without it coming off as mimicry. Amongst it all, his textures and shading are a real highlight, adding life and body to everything from rocks, plants, clothes, caves.

I've never read any Mickey Mouse comics previously, and bought this book because I was curious about Glénat bringing on names such as Trondheim, Cossey, Regis Loisel and others, and what those pairings would produce. Mickey's Craziest Adventures is a mostly solid affair and while it goes through the motions well enough, there's an unshakeable feeling that it's missing something vital. Something to make you care. Soul, or a heart, perhaps.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Hourly comics day 2017

February 1st means hourly comics day, an event which sees participating artists produce comics every hour over the course of the day. That format isn't one that's strictly adhered to, considering many people are working throughout the day, but the variation in approach is another of the things that makes the comics enjoyable. Most cartoonists choose to stick to autobiographical comics, with a running narration of their day and the inevitable meta thoughts on the process itself. For comics fans, it means there's always a treasure trove of free comics to enjoy, and this year -for me, at least- the influx of art on the day was a welcome and affirming respire from the unrelenting onslaught of current events. I've gathered some of my favourites below, with links embedded in the artist names- click through to read all the comics in full; there's a few that will lead to Twitter and Instagram that might require a bit of scrolling to get at.

Carta Monir:








Steve Wolfhard Part 1, part 2:










Thursday, 2 February 2017

Upcoming books of interest

There's a couple of new manga series starting English-language release in February that have my interest piqued. The first is Kei Sanbe's Erased (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi), published by Yen Press. Originally serialised in Kadokawa Shoten's Young Ace magazine between 2012 and 2016, the 7-volume story has undergone both anime and live-action film adaptations. Erased follows Satoru Fujinuma, manga artist and part-time pizza delivery guy, who possesses a mysterious ability that sends him back in time moments before a life-threatening incident, giving him the opportunity to prevent it from happening. The occurrence of a traumatic event in Satoru's present propels him eighteen years into the past, to when he was still in elementary school, and on the cusp of a kidnapping incident that took the lives of three of his childhood friends.

I'm not wild on the 'time-travel to change significant events' trope (although, as with anything, it depends on *how* its done) but the mystery element here makes me hope there's going to be something more going on. It's appealing to me also on the grounds that it's a wrapped-up, finite series (Yen Press will be publishing the books in 2 hardback omnibus editions), so I know what I'm committing to, while the optimist in me likes to think that limitation is indicative of the author's specific vision and therefore tighter plotting... The pages I've seen look pretty good: I'd not previously come across Kei Sanbe's work, and she has a very clean style that's a nice amalgam of cutesy and realistic. 




The second manga that caught my eye and the first volume of which releases in early February is the uniquely-titled Girl from the other side: Siuil, a Run (Totsukuni no Shoujo) by Nagabe [Seven Seas]. From what I can tell, this is a fairly new ongoing series, with volumes 1 and 2 published in Japan last year. I have this on pre-order, by virtue of that beautiful cover alone: the pairing of the smiling little girl and the tall, horned figure strolling through a woodland setting is intriguing, as is the appeal of the fine-lined art style (there's a Scandinavian, European vibe to it) in which it's rendered. I've been looking at some of the interior pages (shown below) and though they range from sparse to more full, they're atmospheric and attractive.

A magical fantasy set in a world that's split between the realms of Inside and Outside, residents of each realm are told never to cross over to the other side, for fear of great catastrophe. Somewhere beyond all this is a vacant village home only to a young girl named Shiva and her demonic guardian known only as "Teacher." 'Although the two are forbidden to touch, they seem to share a bond that transcends their disparate appearances. But when Shiva leaves Teacher's care to seek out her grandmother, the secret behind her mysterious living arrangement comes to light.' Each volume in the series will be released with a textured matte finish cover and will include at least one full-colour insert.




Mathilde Vangheluwe has done a comic with everyone's favourite Latvian comics outfit, kuš! Newly released on January 27th, Vangheluwe is one of my favourite cartoonists, and I'm yet to read something by her I didn't like. I pre-ordered this as soon as it was announced, and I wish she put out more. Joining the set of a hip late late talk show, 'Spectacular Vermacular' sees famous Hollywood star Vlad the Cat remembers the glorious old days, in a bittersweet tale of an overwhelming Hollywood career. A new, full-colour comic from Mathilde is a good way to start the year. 

The Interview by Manuele Fior [Fantagraphics]
The Interview is Fior's fifth graphic novel, and the second of the award-winning Italian authors works to be translated into English (Fantagraphics also published his '5000 Kilometres Per Second' last year). As beautifuly painted as 5000 KM was, it was also rather conventional, and I'm holding out for something beyond that here. The Interview is set in a future Italy of 2048, and brings together a seemingly familiar scenario: a fifty-something psychologist with a failing marriage and his young, free-spirited patient, Dora. It's the backdrop that prevents this falling into cliche. Strange bright triangles have appeared in the sky, purportedly bearing mysterious messages from an extraterrestrial civilisation. Messages that Dora claims she can parse with her telepathic abilities...

How exquisite do these pages look?



Speaking of Fior, he's recently done an A3 (I think) foldout poster comic, semi-inspired by Charles Gleyre's The Deluge. That looks okay, too.