Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Professor's Daughter: Pretty!

I'm talking about both the girl and the book itself there. But I'm getting ahead of myself:

The Professor's Daughter
Written by Joann Sfar
Art by Emmanuel Guibert

As I hinted there, this is one really gorgeous book, with beautiful watercolored art by Guibert. Apparently Sfar and Guibert have worked together regularly, but while I've read a few of Sfar's books, I haven't read any of their other collaborations. This one's good enough that I might have to seek out some of their other books (although Sardine seems like it might be a bit kiddie for me).

I'm getting to like Sfar quite a bit, especially his sprawling, anything-can-happen stories. This one's about a mummy named Imhotep IV, his love of the titular young lady, and the various adventures they have around Victorian London. It's all very enjoyable, and quite funny in places. And there's that feeling that you never know what Sfar is going to throw at you next. Psychedelic dream sequences? Murder investigations? Prison breakouts? Kidnapping of royalty? It's all in there, and more. Plus, the main characters are well defined in a fairly short amount of time, and their relationship is really pretty sweet. I especially liked Imhotep's issues with his father (Imhotep III, also a mummy), and the way he kept having visions of his children, who wonder what happened to their mother.

And as I mentioned, the art is beautiful. Check out this panel of Lillian, the daughter in question:

(I cut off the word balloon there to avoid spoiling a plot point). That's just an incredible picture; I love the strands of her hair dangling onto her face in the rain. I also like the physicality of Guibert's characters, and the comedy that he derives from it:

Good stuff. To tell the truth, while I'm okay with Sfar's art on his other books, I would really prefer if he just had Guibert do his illustrations; the guy is incredible.

If I have one complaint about the book, it's the length. It's really pretty short, especially for the price ($16.95, although I got it for less than that on Amazon), with only about 60 pages of comics, plus 14 pages of sketches and other illustrations. That's probably the length of a regular European album, but I would really like to have more. I don't know if there are any other stories about these characters, but the book does tie in with various other Sfar books, like Vampire Loves and the Professor Bell stories (are any of those available in the United States?). So keep the length in mind if you're going to buy the book.

But overall it's a fine comic, and I heartily recommend it, especially for those who like a splash of romance in their wacky adventure stories.

My only contribution to the Star Wars anniversary meme

Hell, I don't know if it can even really be called a "meme", but whatever. I'm currently reading the manga To Terra..., which came out back in the 70's, and I was amused to discover a certain robot sitting on a shelf in the background of one panel (click to enlarge):

That's right, R2-D2 toys still exist in the far future! Also, the books on the shelf right below R2 have "Star Wars" and "Jaws" on their spines. It's cool to spot an easter egg like this in a Japanese comic.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pyongyang: Home of the game pying-pyong

Wow, I gotta come up with some better jokes for these post titles. I know I said I was going to try to review some of last week's comics, but I guess I'll get to those when I get to them. Then maybe I can throw in some others I might have missed in past weeks. That'll make for a long-ass post, but hey, it's my blog, so I can do what I want! Anyway:

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
By Guy DeLisle

North Korea is one of those countries you rarely hear about outside of crazy threats by their leader, Kim Jong-Il, or maybe whenever they flout another nuclear treaty. Or if somebody is going down the checklist of countries in the "axis of evil". So it's fascinating to get a look inside the country and see what daily life (or some semblance of it) is like there. Guy DeLisle got a chance to do that when he went there for an animation job, and he shares his experiences with us in this book. It's a surreal experience; I had heard about the propaganda fed to the people, but seeing the brainwashing they receive in detail is really crazy. DeLisle gives a lot of examples of the people's unwavering faith in their leader (and his father, Kim Il-Sung, who is still the president of the country even though he's dead), even in the face of a starving populace surrounded by ridiculous extravagances. Kim Jong-Il wants the country to appear glorious, so he keeps building huge monuments and edifices like opera houses or cinemas that rarely get used. He keeps the people constantly brainwashed, with pictures of Kim and his father in every room (except bathrooms) and people wearing a pin bearing his picture at all times. The military is constantly training for what they believe is the inevitable American attack, and everyone is expected to "volunteer" to do public works like garbage pickup and painting of rusting bridges. It's so weird, and as DeLisle wonders whether they actually believe the bullshit that is constantly being pumped down their throats, or if they're just afraid of being sent to "re-education" camps (which nobody acknowledges actually exist). It's fascinating, and really quite sad, to see people living like this.

That kind of leads me into my next item of discussion, which is DeLisle's attitude toward Nort Korea and its citizens. I believe there was a bit of controversy about this book when it originally came out, although I don't remember where I read that, so I suppose I could be making it up. But I wouldn't be surprised if the book received some complaints due to DeLisle's semi-condescending look at North Koreans, along with the somewhat assholish way he acts around them. He doesn't seem to respect their customs, and he complains about them quite a bit. At a couple points, a North Korean who works with him keeps talking to him in Korean, and DeLisle mocks him, replying back in English jokingly ("What's up?"; "The price of tea? You don't say!") when he knows the guy doesn't understand him. Later, he goes on a tour of the International Friendship Museum (which is actually a collection of gifts that people from all over the world have supposedly given to Kim Il-Sung), and the visit culminates with a viewing of a wax replica of Kim. All the North Koreans are awed and pay obeisance to the statue, but DeLisle has to try really hard to keep from laughing out loud at the whole situation. He doesn't seem to respect the people's culture at all; he's the model of the "ugly American" (he's Canadian though, so maybe "ugly Westerner" would be more apt). Sure, it's hard to remain silent in the face of such absurdity, but I would hope he could show some more respect for the general citizens; it's not their fault they were born in this hellhole of a country. However, I think this negative view of DeLisle can be alleviated somewhat because this isn't actually a journalistic book; it's a diary comic. While there are some informational sections, most of the book is a day-to-day comic about his time in the country (at least some of it drawn while he was there, I assume), and I can understand using this as an outlet for the frustrations he must have felt at seeing all that is wrong with the country. So maybe he exaggerates his jerkiness as a way of venting his anger; I can't say that's exactly what happened, but it's how I was able to get past his poor attitude.

And it's good to get past that attitude, because there are some fascinating observations on display here, and some lovely moments of human connection (I especially liked the scene when he and his guides have a picnic in the countryside, and the way the solace was interrupted by a slogan painted across a mountainside), as well as some truly surreal bits (like the train station his guides refused to take him to; he snuck out by himself to check it out, and it was just a normal train station). It's definitely worth reading just for the brief glimpse at a culture we know little about.

How about the art (I always seem to save the art for the end of these reviews)? Being an animator, DeLisle renders figures fairly simply; he portrays himself (or his face, at least) as little more than a nose with dots for eyes and a line or circle for a mouth:

He puts a little more detail into others, whether North Koreans:

Or fellow foreigners (other animators, diplomats, aid workers, etc.):

Where the art really shines is in the background details like buildings and landscapes; DeLisle really puts a lot of effort into these, especially on the chapter introduction pages:

But he doesn't spare the details in regular scenes either, creating a good sense of place while still maintaining his cartoony style:

It's quite effective, and since it's as close as most of us will ever get to actually visiting North Korea, that's a very good thing.

So, even though it's not a perfect book, it's a really interesting one. Just keep in mind that it's more Gabrielle Bell than Joe Sacco. Now I'll have to read DeLisle's other travelogue book, Shenzhen, in which he visited China. Probably not as provocative as this one, but still interesting, I bet.

Well, I was going to do another review tonight, but it's getting late. I'll get to it tomorrow, I guess, along with the other stuff (ha ha).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

This week looks like a money-saver

In that there's not much that I expect to buy. But first, some news via Chris Butcher:

That's right, Scott Pilgrim volume 4 is finally coming out! Bryan Lee O'Malley says on his site that it's solicited this month for September. Awesome!

Okay, on to:

New comics this week (Thursday, 5/31/07):

Note that stuff shows up on Thursday this week due to Memorial Day.

Punisher Presents Barracuda #4

I've been enjoying this series. I think it is going to end and set up Punisher #50, or some upcoming storyline. But it's been good and self-contained so far, and I hope it will stay that way. I'll probably end up getting the various Punisher MAX volumes eventually anyway.

Silent War #5

I haven't been reading this series, but I think I might have to get the collection just for Frazier Irving's art. The story might also be okay. After reading Gutsville #1 (review forthcoming), I'm really digging Irving. He's awesome.

Boys #7

Ah, this series returns, under a different publisher (Dynamite). I enjoyed the first six issues, although I recognize that they're not the best thing Ennis or Robertson have done. We'll see how it goes. I'll probably keep reading, unless it gets really bad, which I doubt will happen.

Boys vol. 1

And here's the collection of those first six issues, for those who haven't read it and want to. Like I said, it's not the greatest thing ever, but it's worth checking out if you're an Ennis fan.

Hellboy Darkness Calls #2

The first issue was good, and I'm on board for the rest of the miniseries. Not much else to say.

Shaolin Cowboy #7

Wow, it's always a surprise when a new issue of this series shows up. I love it, but it seems to be on the same schedule as All-Star Batman and Robin. I think the last issue ended with the Cowboy in the bowels of a giant lizard with a city on its back, about to fight a monster lady or something. And there was that cool bit where he cut a shark in half (lengthwise) with his chainsaw-ended bo staff. Who knows what will happen next; part of the best thing about this series is its unpredictability. I expect awesomeness, and I doubt Darrow will disappoint.

Shiny Beasts GN

This isn't on my shop's shipping list, but Midtown Comics lists it. I might have to special order it. Oh yeah, it's a collection of various Rick Veitch strips from the 80's that he did for Epic, I think. I've been anticipating it ever since I heard about it. Should be cool.

And I think that's all. Hey, check back tonight for reviews of last week's comics, I think.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Elk's Run: The Moose lodge should do a counterstrike

That's a stupid post title. Sorry.

Elk's Run
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Noel Tuazon

Well, this was somewhat disappointing. I've read a lot of hype about this, so it's unfortunate that the book doesn't live up to it. Maybe it's the publishing problems, gaining acclaim as a self-published book and then having a publisher (Speakeasy) print it, only to go out of business before the series was finished. And then being resuscitated and published by Random House. It's a pretty good success story, and I'm happy that the creators got the chance. But in my opinion, the book isn't really that great.

Okay, I should give some explanation here. It's certainly not a bad book, but the story didn't really grab me. Here's the basic plot: young John lives in the small town of Elk's Ridge, West Virginia, which is secluded in the mountains and can only be reached via a tunnel. He seems like a normal teenager at first, but when we get some history of the town, we see that it's actually composed of the families of a bunch of Vietnam vets who plan to live there and never leave. They seem to be on the verge of declaring themselves an independent nation and refusing any contact with the outside world. John's dad (also named John) is the leader, and as you can probably expect, something happens that causes him to put his separatist plans into action, and John Junior must decide whether to follow his dad or try to escape.

So it's a fairly rudimentary plot, and while some might find it gripping, I wasn't really drawn in. The writer, Joshua Hale Fialkov, states in the afterword that there was some political intent, including an attempt to address the "culture of fear" that has grown in the United States since September 11, 2001, but I didn't really see it. I suppose you could say it deals with the desire to protect your families, and the extents to which some will go to do so, but I think that's kind of stretching. So I think it lives or dies on the strength of the actual story, and while it's definitely not bad, I didn't find it to be too compelling. Maybe it's just not to my taste.

Or maybe it's the art. The artist, Noel Tuazon, draws using a very rough style:

It actually works pretty well, and fits the gritty nature of the story. He also varies the style a bit in flashbacks, such as to the dads' Vietnam experiences:

Or some of the teenagers' remembrances of their younger days:

It's really pretty good, although I found it somewhat difficult to follow in places, sometimes unable to tell what was going on or confusing characters with each other. That might be due to my real complaint though: the coloring. Scott A. Keating did the colors, and they do look nice, but I don't think they fit the style of this book very well at all, and sometimes they even obscure the details of the linework. Here's one example:

You can see another one below, and the picture above of the couple washing dishes also demonstrates what I'm talking about. The glow (coming from a window?) doesn't add anything, and I just find it distracting. To tell the truth, I think the book would have looked better in black and white. Tuazon's scratchy style would look nicer in stark monochrome contrast rather than covered in tones. And here's another related complaint: the sound effects (lettering was done by Jason Hanley). While the speech balloons and captions look okay (although I could have done without the gradient coloring in the latter), the sound effects are all standard fonts that you would see in a superhero book:

It's distracting to see those slick words over the top of the rough art. Hand-lettered effects (or some sort of computer-generated equivalent) would have looked much better and fit the style of the art much more. As it is, every time there was a gunshot or a punch or something, it took me right out of the story, which is a fatal problem in a tale that should be immersive like this one.

So, not a bad comic by any means, but it just wasn't quite up to snuff, in my opinion. Others might not have any of the problems that I did, and more power to them. But for me, it's kind of a noble failure.

I'll probably have something or other up tomorrow, like a look at this week's comics. Or maybe I'll find other stuff to talk about. Stick around and see!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Death Note: This series will be listed in the notebook soon

Not because I'm dropping it, but because the next volume is the final one. Anyway:

Death Note, volume 11
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata

So we're getting to the endgame here. One volume to go, and it's mostly taken up by Light and Near plotting against each other. Seriously, it's almost ten solid chapters of each of them planning, consulting with their underlings, and thinking things like "Very well, Near. If you're coming out, I'll come out too. If that's your wish, bring it on. And when we meet, we'll see who is more prepared, and who is better. When that happens, this battle will be over and I will begin my reign at the top." That's an actual quote (by Light), if you couldn't tell. Here he is in mid-thought:

That's a fairly standard view in this series:

You see that a lot, with characters thinking about what they know and how they should use that information. It's a testament to Takeshi Obata's skill that he can make scenes of characters talking (or just thinking) so intense and gripping. I also love the little details that he throws in to show Near's weirdness, how he's always playing with toys, and mostly using Lego-type figures and finger puppets that represent the various characters:

But the art is mostly characters glowering as they engage in one-upmanship while speaking to each other on the phone. Still, fun stuff.

So that's almost this whole volume: Near and Light testing theories, confirming information, and making plans for their big showdown, which won't happen until the next volume. Of course, you've also got Mello waiting in the wings to mess things up; who knows what he has planned. And I don't know how Mikami (Light's surrogate Kira) and Takada (Kira's link in the media and Light's secret affair) will throw a wrench in the works. Not to mention Misa, who has been wiped of her memory of Kira but is as obnoxious and needy as ever. We get a bit of a cliffhanger at the end, so it'll be an annoying wait until the final volume shows. I for one can't wait.

By the way, if you have no idea what I'm talking about here, click the "death note" tag at the bottom of the post to read my previous entries on the series, including the first one, which has a basic summary of the series up through volume 7 or so. Enjoy!

Okay, that's it for tonight, but I expect to be back tomorrow with more content. I anxiously await my return.

I'm back, baby!

Got back from a vacation trip with my wifey. Two observations from today:

At a neighborhood Memorial Day party, I saw a young girl (six years old, maybe?) wearing a black shirt with a pink AC/DC logo. I don't know why, but this really amused me. Probably because her 30-year-old parents once thought AC/DC was awesome, so they clothe their daughter in girlish band memorabilia that she surely doesn't understand.

Another thing I saw (and one which is more relevant to my usual topics): Today's Prince Valiant. I don't usually read the Sunday funnies (or any other day, for that matter), preferring to get my relevant comic strip information via The Comics Curmudgeon. But I happened to read them this week, and check out some selected panels from Prince Valiant, featuring the crossover you never thought possible:

That's right, Prince Valiant meets the Incredible Hulk! I guess. I have no idea what the actual plotline is here, but it cracked me right up. Check out that pile of bodies impaled by a gigantic sword. That's hilarious. I don't even want to know the context here.

Okay, I'll probably get to a review tonight, and then expect more stuff tomorrow. Be there!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

La Perdida: She certainly is

I've been trying to think of a coherent series of words about this book, so here's my attempt:

La Perdida
By Jessica Abel

This is an excellent graphic novel, but I don't know if I can say I enjoyed it. For one, the main character is a total jerk. She's incredibly unlikeable, and probably around halfway through the book, I started to wonder if I wanted to make the effort of spending the time with her to finish the story. I'm glad I did, because you not only get to see her reap the consequences of her actions, but also learn a bit of a lesson from the whole thing. But it's still something worth talking about.

So here's the setup: Carla is a young (early- to mid-20's, it seems) half-Mexican girl who decides to go to Mexico City to "find herself". She wants to experience the Mexican part of her heritage, but it's almost painful to watch her try. First, she shacks up with an old boyfriend, and she disdains him for his lifestyle of trying to emulate his literary heroes, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. He's a rich kid living off his dad's money and mostly hanging around other American expatriates in Mexico. It drives her crazy to see him screwing around and living in a fake life of manufactured debauchery, so she kind of goes the opposite route, trying to befriend "authentic" Mexicans and rejecting any Americans she knows. She ends up hanging out mostly with Memo, a weird guy who preaches Communist ideals while selling Che Guevara t-shirts and picking up American women, and Oscar, her new boyfriend after she breaks up with Harry (her old boyfriend).

Of course, her attitude during all this is reprehensible. At first, she is disdainful of Harry for pretending to live like his literary heroes while leeching off his rich father. But she isn't much better; she wants to be more Mexican, but she mostly just goes to tourist attractions, and it doesn't help that she doesn't speak Spanish very well. Later, she learns the language better and breaks up with Harry, but then she alienates all her American friends and gets more and more isolated in her little circle of Mexican friends. I really started to dislike her when her brother Rod came to visit, and she was upset that he know other people in Mexico besides her. He had made some friends over the internet, and went to hang out with them, taking her to places she didn't know about. This upset her because she wanted to be the Mexico expert and show her brother how cool and native she was, but he managed to do it better than she did from a few thousand miles away.

And then she gets even worse, mocking her boyfriend for having dreams and aspirations that she doesn't share and throwing a fit when Memo calls her out for being a tourist and a capitalist. Then she starts getting involved with a less-savory element (Oscar's pot-dealing friends and their associates), and you know it's only going to go (farther) downhill from there.

So it's kind of hard to get through, but it's a pretty worthwhile story. I certainly can't fault Abel for making such a three-dimensionally dislikable character. The art's pretty nice too, although something about the character depictions bugged me. Specifically, I didn't especially like the way Abel depicts characters' eyes as dots most of the time:

There are times when the characters are in close-up or are expressing emotion that she gives more detail and shows their whole eye:

(those are consecutive panels, by the way). I think it might be the difference between those two styles that bothered me, especially when both styles appear in the same panel, as in the second example above. But it's really just a stylistic device that I don't happen to favor, so make of that what you will. Abel is actually really good at conveying emotion, and that's really important in a character-based work like this. I think the thing I like most about the art was all the little details, especially in the backgrounds:

Abel is great at defining a setting, filling in all the panels with artwork that depicts the place (and characters) perfectly but doesn't seem cluttered.

One other thing to note: in the first chapter, the Spanish dialogue is written in Spanish in the word balloons, with captions at the bottom of the panels giving translations. In subsequent chapters, Abel switched techniques, putting English in word balloons, but it's meant to be Spanish, and dialogue is sandwiched between when characters are speaking English. It's actually a pretty effective device, making the Spanish language seem more foreign at the beginning, before Carla has learned to speak it fluently. Later it seems more natural, and English is made to seem like the foreign language. It's a nice transition.

So, it's a pretty good book, a great example of comics literature. I recommend it, but I'll warn you that you might wish harm upon the protagonist, and then feel guilty when it comes to her.

One more review later tonight, maybe. If not, see you next week.

Solicitationary Blatherings: Image, August 2007

And we come to the Image section of the main comics publishers' solicitations. Check it:

Special Forces #1 (of 6) - I'm surprised I hadn't heard of this before, but it looks awesome. Kyle Baker doing a satire on fuckups entering the army. Sweet.

Bonds #1 (of 3) - I don't know who Durwin Talon is, but Image has been putting out some pretty decent 3-issue miniseries lately, so this might be worth checking out. It's about a girl cellist whose father is killed, and she discovers magical abilities and gets revenge or something.

Killing Girl #1 (of 5) - Now this looks cool, but mostly just because of Frank Espinosa(Rocketo)'s art. A girl assassin, works for the mob, you know the drill. Looks nice. Here's a sample of some sort. I'm not sure if it's a page from the comic or an ad:

Crimeland - A gangster graphic novel. Ivan Brandon is one of the writers, and I've never read any of his stuff, but he seems somewhat well-regarded. Art by Rafael Albuquerque. Might be worth a look.

Madman volume 1 TPB - Looks like this collects the first couple Madman (mini)series. I already have them, but I'll definitely give them a recommendation. Mike Allred rules. Also: no new issue of Madman Atomic Comics?

Repo #3 (of 5) - Maybe it's the time of the year for it, but I seem to be saying the following sentence a lot lately when discussing solicitations: I think I'll have to wait for the first issue of this series to come out before I can really comment.

PX! - Manny Trembley! I mentioned this the other day, but here's the actual solicitation for it. Looks cool.

The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allen Poo - I also mentioned this the other day, and it might be one to watch for. Strange adventure about Poe's sentient feces, or something.

Glister #1 - A new Andi Watson kid-centric series, about a girl who goes on supernatural adventures. Could be fun, although I'm not sold on Watson (yet).

Gutsville #4 (of 6) - I just picked up the first issue of this today, but I haven't read it yet. It looks cool. Frazier Irving! I'll let you know what I think sometime.

Casanova #8 - It's back! This is highly anticipated, by me and most right-minded comics-lovers. We get to meet the fictional avatar of my buddy Geoff Klock! Ah, hell, I'll just put the whole solicitation here:

An all-new storyline drawn by the stunning Fábio Moon ignites here as CASANOVA returns with the perfect jumping-on point for new readers. What terrible truth lurks inside of Dokkktor Klockhammer’s horror hospital? How much time passes on page 11? Who’s the stone-cold fox behind the stick of that sick assault aircraft from the future? Do all women from the future look like that? We hope so -- because that’s where we’re spending all our tomorrows. Besides, only a girl from the future would dare ask...

CASANOVA Volume 2: We have come from tomorrow to save you from boring.


Hiding in Time #2 (of 4) - I like the concept of this series (time-travel-based witness protection, and the failure thereof), but the cover for the first issue is hideous. This one is a bit better, so I may consider looking inside.

Stray Toasters TPB - Reprinting the Bill Sienkiewicz series. I think I have all the issues (I picked up #1-4 in a sale a while back), but I haven't read them yet. Bill the Sink is pretty cool; I would definitely check this out if I didn't have it already.

Dust #2 (of 2) - I like the concept of this series (an alternate history/sci-fi version of WWII), but the covers really turn me off. Specifically the ass-cleavage on the second cover there. Ugh.

24seven volume 2 - I never read the first volume of this anthology series, but it looked interesting. I guess it takes place in the "universe" of NYC Mech? But the list of contributors on this volume looks hard to pass up: Ashley Wood, Gene Ha, Adam Hughes, Dave Johnson, Frazier Irving, Niko Henrichon, Ben Templesmith, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, and "many more!" Wow. I might have to get it.

Witchblade Takeru Manga #7 - Finally, I wanted to point this one out not because I plan to buy it (I most definitely do not), but to contrast the nice, fairly non-pornographic David Mack cover above with the regular series cover:

That thing just leaves me speechless. Yikes.

Okay, that's enough of that. A surprising amount of stuff to spend money on. We'll see how much I end up spending come August. I have some reviews I wanted to get to, which I'll try to do tonight because I'll be out of town for the weekend (my wife and I are going away on vacation to celebrate our fifth (!) wedding anniversary). So stay tuned, but if I don't post, don't expect anything for a few days.