Thursday, August 30, 2007

Drifting Classroom: The insanity does not cease, and neither does the screaming

Drifting Classroom, volume 5
By Kazuo Umezu

So, to start off the look at this volume, how about some of the "Oh shit!" moments contained within?

Oh, shit!

Oh, shit!!


Each volume of the series is full of stuff like that, with young kids committing horrific acts of violence on each other. And then there's the external stuff, like kids being devoured by swarms of insects, or the gruesome demise of others from the bubonic plague. It's freaky stuff, and it's all delivered in the series' signature feverish, high-volume style, with characters seemingly screaming every line with their mouths wide open.

The metaphorical content in this issue (which I've been keeping an eye out for ever since manga scholar Matt Thorn left this comment on my review of the second volume) seems lighter than normal this issue, at least to my Japanese-history-ignorant eye. Other than the usual theme of competition taken to its extreme, we have a look at whether it's worth it to care for a sick child, which I take as representative of a kid who is struggling in his education. Should the school exhaust resources to keep the kid from dying (flunking out), or is there a point when they should give up on him? I suppose the spreading disease could also be a metaphor for delinquent children having a bad influence on others. It's always something to think about when I'm reading this series, although one could certainly choose to ignore it and just focus on the general insanity.

I notice I don't talk about the art too much, but it's pretty damn good. Umezu has such a unique style, full of motion lines and characters seemingly frozen in mid-action. He draws running characters almost like they're floating over the ground in a running position; it really adds to the surreality of the situation. He also uses a lot of black humor, which is necessary to keep this from being the most depressing story ever written. I love wacky moments like this one:

And he obviously goes for exaggeration, nearly always drawing characters at the extremes of emotion. So when a moment comes that makes the kids even more terrified than usual, he somehow exaggerates their expressions even more:

Beautiful stuff.

I guess by this point, if you're not on board with the series, there's no point in going any further. But if you're as enraptured as I am, the crazy story just keeps getting better. I've got to hunt down the next volume stat.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Eden: This world doesn't seem all that endless

Eden: It's an Endless World!, volume 1
By Hiroki Endo

I love the kind of science fiction that gives a low-level view of huge, apocalyptic events. That was much of what I liked about movies like Signs or Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds: rather than seeing how things played out in military headquarters or the Oval Office, we saw normal people reacting to and dealing with the mindboggling events. Hiroki Endo's Eden is kind of like that, except it goes a step further: it takes place after the apocalypse, with most of the world devastated, and its characters left to wander through the rubble, wondering what went wrong and whether humanity deserved it.

Apparently, at some point in the near future, a virus swept across the Earth, wiping out most of humanity. It had an especially creepy effect, hardening people's skin until they couldn't move, and leaving empty human-shaped shells after their insides rotted away:

At the beginning of the volume, we meet Enoah and Hannah, two children around the age of fifteen, living in and around a Biosphere 2-style facility along with their mentor Layne, a man suffering from late-stage symptoms of the disease. In flashbacks, we find that their parents were part of a group of scientists and military officers that gathered in the sterile base to escape the disease. But something went wrong, and now the three of them are the only ones left. The kids are immune, and as they get closer to adulthood, they are wondering whether to stay there or venture out into the unknown world and see if there are any other survivors.

The title of the series comes into play in the questions the characters are faced with; will they be the ones to repopulate the planet? They also discuss ideas like God, evolution, and free will (an idea that becomes poignant with the introduction of an artificially-intelligent robot named Cherubim). Eventually, their little paradise is disrupted, and they have to face these questions they've been asking themselves.

That gets us to about the halfway point of this volume, after which we take a jarring leap twenty years into the future, and join another young man as he explores the deserted landscape, accompanies by the aforementioned Cherubim. His name is Elijah, and he is revealed to be the son of Enoah (and probably Hannah, although that is not made clear). He's lonely, wishing for a girlfriend and philosophizing about the state of the world. That doesn't last too long though, as he soon stumbles into contact with others, revealing some hints about the state of the world and leaving us with a bit of a cliffhanger. It's an interesting turn for the story to take, and it's got me ready to hunt down the next volume.

The world is lovingly detailed in a sort of 1980s manga style, reminiscent of Katsuhiro Otomo's work. The landscapes are quite beautiful, especially the overgrown cities of the second half:

The technological details are also quite fascinating, I love the freakish-looking humans that have implanted themselves with circuitry (and I expect this aspect to play a larger role in future volumes):

Also lovingly detailed: the violence. The book has a "mature readers" rating, and that's due to the scenes of gory death, which are quite striking; man seems to never hesitate to kill other men, even when so few of them are left alive.

So it's a cool story, with nice art, violent action, and Japanese-style philosophizing about man and his place in the world. What's not to love? I've heard that the story gets bogged down in sordid stuff like prostitution and organized crime in later volumes, but I've also heard that it gets even better after that, so I think I'll try to keep reading and see for myself.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Narcoleptic Sunday: I think I've had a few of those

Warning: One of the images below has some nudity, so watch out when you're reading it at work or around kids or your grandmother or whatever. Should I put a big NSFW here?

Narcoleptic Sunday
Written by Jeremy Haun
Art by Brian Koschak

Try to think of a standard noir plot. It'll probably involve a femme fatale, some sort of conspiracy, a lost love, bad guys trying to kill the hero (who's probably in over his head), stuff like that. A noir story can take a lot of those elements and mix them together, maybe adding some unique ingredients, and if it's all put together right, it makes for a pretty entertaining story. Narcoleptic Sunday is kind of like that, a story about Jack, a narcoleptic guy who meets and falls in love with a girl only to see her killed for unknown reasons. He ends up thrown into a sleazy, violent world, and he's just trying to find out why she was murdered and survive the attacks from guys who seem to be gunning for him as well. It's fairly standard noir stuff, but it's put together pretty well, and it makes for an enjoyable read.

The chief element that stands out here is Brian Koschak's artwork. It's an interesting style, boldly defined yet somehow indistinct. The outlines around characters have a thick, sharp line, but sometimes the "inner" lines are thin and slightly difficult to make out, creating a slightly unsettling reading experience and adding the the "off" feeling of the story:

The art gets stronger as the book goes on; I especially like scenes that take place in the rain, with the raindrops interrupting the characters' outlines and really adding a feeling of "wetness":

Koschak also makes good use of varied panel borders, breaking the panels up into irregular shapes during scenes of violence, and creating beautiful full-page tableaux for sex scenes:

The violence is also quite striking, in good noir style. Koschak makes you feel the blows, lovingly detailing the blood and viscera. He also uses a nice effect whenever Jack falls asleep: a black panel or page with white "ripples" in one or two of the corners (see the above picture for an example). It's quite effective. All in all, a rather auspicious debut for a first-time artist (in print, anyway).

One thing that I noticed about the art is what Dirk Deppey or Christopher Butcher would call "fear of cock". While there is plenty of female nudity in the book, any frontal male nudity is carefully covered by limbs or objects in the frame. Jack even has a nude fight scene in which he manages to keep his penis hidden from the reader. Also, the main villain of the story is a transvestite strip club owner named Oleander White. He's rather flamboyant, with Divine-style painted-on eyebrows and skimpy cocktail dresses, but he doesn't bother to disguise his beard stubble or hairy chest. Or his bulging package:

He seems like a character calculated to induce discomfort in the (presumably heterosexual) reader, and probably the creators as well. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it is quite noticeable.

So while it's a pretty standard noir story with lots of action and violence, it's worth reading for the interesting artwork. I hope Brian Koschak gets to do more work soon.

This review was based on a complimentary copy from the publisher.

Solicitationary blatherings: Other companies, November 2007

So here's what I find interesting from all the minor companies in November's solicits. The only one I haven't seen yet is Oni, so I guess I'll update the post and add them when theirs come out.


Blackgas TPB - I liked the first miniseries, but the sequel wasn't very good, so I can't really recommend this trade collection of the whole series. Nice cover by Jacen Burrows though.

Black Summer #4 (of 7/8) - This series keeps going, with the violence, and the political overtones, and the hey hey. I'm digging it so far, so I hope it doesn't go downhill.

Doktor Sleepless #5 - I liked the first issue of this, but the series does seem like something of a retread for Ellis (I guess November is Warren Ellis month at Avatar). It's a bit early to condemn the series or anything yet, so I hope it gets better. Even if it doesn't, I'll probably still read it.

Dark Horse:

The Goon Fancy Pants volume 2: The Rise and Fall of the Diabolical Dr. Alloy - The second hardcover collection of the series, which I assume collects the various stories involving the mad scientist. I have most of these, but they're some fun comics, so I recommend them for those unfamiliar with the Goon.

Groo: Hell on Earth #3 (of 4) - I can't wait for these new Groo comics. Isn't that 25th anniversary special supposed to come out any day now? This is part of the upcoming miniseries about global warming or something. I hope it's funny, and not heavy-handed, like that Groo & Rufferto miniseries from like 10 years ago.

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #3 (of 6) - I guess James Jean listened to me last month when I said his cover looked like a recycled Fables drawing, since this one is much cooler. I don't know what else to say about this one until the first issue of the series comes out.

Doctor Grordbort's Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory - This looks like an interesting book, although I'm not sure if it's a comic or an "official handbook"-style thing. It's all about the origins of various Weta-designed rayguns and stuff. Kind of expensive though, at $12.95 for 32 pages. It's a hardcover, but a really slim one, I guess.

Dynamite Entertainment:

The Boys #12 - I'm probably going to drop this book after the next issue, since that finishes the current storyline, and then I'll wait for trades. But here's November's issue, which sees the team in Russia, I guess. I'm sure it will still be fun.


Cory Doctorow's Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now #2 (of 4) - The second installment of the series of adaptations, featuring "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth". I've read the story, and it's an interesting tale of computer geeks and the apocalypse. We'll see how well it turns out in comics form.

Legion - Some kind of freaky story about demons. Looks interesting.

Wormwood: One-Shot - I've been meaning to pick up the collection of the Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse series for a while. Maybe this will spur me into doing so. From what I've seen, it's an enjoyable series, with neat art by Ben Templesmith.

Zombies vs. Robots vs. Amazons #3 (of 3) - No cover image for this one. It looks like a fun series; I love Ashley Wood's art. By the way, I guess the third issue of D'Arain Aventure came out, but I never saw it. I'll have to bug the guys at my shop about it.

Tank Girl: The Gifting TPB - More Ashley Wood. I only ever saw the first issue of this, and it was okay. It might have been better if I was more familiar with Tank Girl. The collection seems pricey: $17.99 for four issues' worth of material, when each issue was $3.99. That's annoying when they do that.

I think that's everything, unless something else shows up that interests me, in which case I'll add it to the post. Tonight: another review, I think.

UPDATED with more links! Well, this is good news

CBR reports that Adrian Alphona is going to be providing the art on next year's relaunch of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. Terry Moore will be writing, and I thought I might drop the book or wait for a collection, but with Alphona on art, I think I'll have to get it.

If I find other news or links that are worth pointing out, I'll add them here. So watch this space!

UPDATE on 8/28:

Looks like I'll go ahead and turn this into a good old-fashioned link post.

It seems the most recent issue of Birds of Prey has inspired talk of what Pokemon creatures would look like if they had been created by Jack Kirby. This forum has a discussion, and artist Eric Lofgren drew an awesome example of a possible Kirby Pikachu:

That's pretty sweet. There's more at the link, and maybe more to come.

Same Hat! Same Hat! has another crazy-ass story by Shintaro Kago. Wow, that's some wild stuff.

Eh, I'll probably add more links later, if I feel like it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Clockwork Creature: It just wants to be loved

Here's one that might not be on people's radar:

Clockwork Creature: Chapter One
By Kyle Strahm

This is an odd little book that's coming out soon from Ambrosia Publishing. It's a story about the titular creature, which roams an old countryside (the book takes place in an indeterminate time period, although a Tommy Gun is referred to as a "weapon from the future"), apparently kidnapping young men. The townsfolk are fearful, wondering what to do, when a huckster named Baron Von Salt appears and proposes to lead them to kill the creature. But is it a malevolent being, or just misunderstood?

It's a fairly simple tale, but what sets it apart is the striking art style, rendered in high-contrast black and white. The people are all grotesque-looking, and everything is portrayed in silhouettes and deep shadows. Some of the characters look a bit dodgy (perhaps purposefully so), but I'm impressed with Strahm's economy of line, sometimes getting information across with only minimal detail:

He presents a cool, creepy atmosphere, and while the art sometimes seems simplistic, he pulls off some cool tricks, like this zoom in on a windmill, revealing increasing levels of detail:

I also really like the tatters of patchwork material that cover the creature, which can be seen in the above picture (and the cover). There's also a nice sound effect, with the words "Toc toc" filling pages whenever the creature is present:

I'm not sure what the story is about; I'll have to think it over some more. I always jump to religious symbolism when trying to interpret stuff like this, but that might not be the case. It's probably more about fear of the unknown, and the willingness of people to be led, even when they don't understand where they're going. And a dash of man's propensity toward violence.

All in all, it's an interesting book, from a creator and publisher that I wasn't previously familiar with. This is chapter one, which indicates that future chapters will be forthcoming. The book is $6.95 for 48 pages, and it comes out on September 7; you can also check it out on Ambrosia's website. I think it's definitely worth a look.

This review was based on a complimentary electronic copy provided by the publisher.

An actual light week. Really.

It seems like I often say that some weeks' selection of new comics will be light (for me), but then I end up spending $30 on comics. I'm pretty sure this week will actually be light on spending though.

New comics this week (Wednesday, 8/29/07):

Ex Machina Masquerade Special

I think this one has art by John Paul Leon, which is a bit of a change from the normal art by Tony Harris. I've dropped the series to wait for trades, so I figure I'll wait and hope this gets collected.

Hellboy Darkness Calls #5

Hellboy keeps fighting the immortal guy, and maybe Baba Yaga and/or some other witches or crazy creatures. Should be fun. I've been loving Duncan Fegredo's art on this series.

Local #10

Is this the Austin issue I've been waiting for? I really like this series, but it seemed like it didn't come out for a long time there. It's getting close to the end, so maybe it will come out semi-regularly for the last three issues.

Mice Templar #1

The Michael Avon Oeming series that's not a rip-off of Mouse Guard. Really! In all seriousness, it does look cool, and I'm sure I'll read the first issue, at the very least.

Last Fantastic Four Story

Didn't they already do this, and call it Fantastic Four: The End? I guess if Stan Lee says he wants to write the real last story, they let him. He's joined on this by John Romita, Jr., and I probably won't bother getting it.

Enigma Cipher #2

Didn't the first issue of this come out like a year ago? It does look like an interesting series, so I might read it whenever it's finished and collected.

Punks The Summer Comics Special

I've been interested in this comic since I saw preview art a long time ago. I don't know if my shop will get it, but I'll be sure to keep an eye out for it. Here's a preview.

Complete Bite Club

I never read either of these Vertigo miniseries from Howard Chaykin and David Tischman, with art by Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane's David Hahn, but they did always seem interesting. Maybe I'll get this trade sometime.

Looking Glass Wars Hatter M HC

This miniseries looked wierdly cool, with art by Ben Templesmith. Maybe I'll get it someday.

Incredible Change-Bots GN

A Transformers spoof from Jeffrey Brown, published by Top Shelf. It looks cute and kind of funny, but I've never been too big of a fan of Brown's work (heresy!). Jog reviewed it the other day, and it sounds about like I expected. Maybe I'll pick it up from a library someday or something.

Super Spy GN

Another offering from Top Shelf, by Matt Kindt. It looks pretty cool, and Kevin Church gave it a good review a few weeks back. I'll have to pick it up sometime.

And that's it for what catches my eye. I forgot to look for the first issue of Comics Foundry last week, so maybe I'll pick that up too. And maybe I'll have reviews or content or something sometime. We'll see.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

PX!: This is not a restaurant review

I'll try not to get too effusive with the praise here, since I'm friendly with Manny Trembley, and I don't want to seem biased. But I like this book on its own anyway. Really!

PX! Book One: A Girl and Her Panda
Written by Eric A. Anderson and Manny Trembley
Art by Manny Trembley

Eric A. Anderson and Manny Trembley have already collaborated on the awesome Sam Noir: Samurai Detective, a super-cool mashup of violent samurai action with hard-boiled detective fiction. Now they bring us another crazy combination of ideas, in this story about a six-year-old girl searching for her kidnapped scientist father with the help of her robotic panda, a dapper English spy seemingly from Victorian times, and a ninja-hating roller-disco samurai. The book started life as a webcomic, so you can read it for free if you like, but I prefer to have a long-form story like this all in one physical volume.

It's a fun book, with lots of action, humor, culture clashes, and sweet moments. The girl, Dahlia, is adorable, and scenes of her just riding around on the panda's back and chatting with it are super-cute:

And then you've got lots of crazy action, with the panda wrecking some robots, or Wikkity (the roller-samurai) beating up ninjas:

He's a pretty funny character, carrying around a boom box to pump out awesome jams while he's kicking ass, and constantly spouting silly hip-hop dialogue. He also seems to fancy himself a great ronin warrior, as evidenced by a brief peek inside his fantasies of fighting an evil villainess.

The third (or fourth, if you count the panda) member of the group is Weatherby Ian Poppington III, a British secret agent who is hilariously proper, speaking like a stereotypical English fop and trying to get enemies to engage in dueling or fisticuffs. And then there's the villain of the tale, a goat named Pollo who decorates his evil lair in a black-and-yellow checkered taxicab motif. He kidnapped Dahlia's scientist father and is using him to build a doomsday weapon and take over the world. The others end up teaming up to take him down and rescue Dahlia's father, with much craziness along the way.

As can be seen in the above samples, the art is quite good, with an expressive cartoony style, lots of details, and fast-moving, easy-to-follow action. I was especially impressed with the bright, beautiful colors, which really pop on the glossy paper. They're probably created via Photoshop, and they look incredible, whether defining a firelit cave at sunset:

Or giving a lush bamboo forest a beautiful green glow:

Or any number of other details, like robots, lasers, or golden-hued flashbacks. I thought Trembley's art was good on Sam Noir, but he's working on a whole new level here.

So I heartily recommend the book. It's a fun, crazy, action-filled story, and who knows where it'll go in future volumes. I'll definitely be there to see.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Homeless Channel: I probably wouldn't watch it

I've never seen this book in stores, but I've heard about it a bit, and wanted to read it. Luckily, I was able to pick it up from the author at Wizard World. Score!

The Homeless Channel
By Matt Silady

This is a pretty damn good book, especially considering that it's Matt Silady's first comic. It's an ambitious story about Darcy Shaw, a young woman that starts the titular cable TV channel, causing professional, personal, and romantic travails in her life. She's a pretty fascinating character, and at first, we're not sure if she's in it for money and fame, or for humanitarian purposes. However, we find out pretty early on that her sister is homeless, and it's obvious that she wants to help homeless people out. The book focuses somewhat on the moral and ethical conflicts, like the fact that the channel is for-profit, but it seems she's doing her best to make sure companies want to put money toward the project, money that can be used to help people.

The societal issues are only one part of the story, however. There's also a personal side, with Darcy having a romantic relationship with Grady, the "watchdog" that the corporation assigns to keep an eye on the operation. They make an interesting couple, especially since Darcy is so focused on her goals that her personal life is kind of a mess. It's fun to watch them spar professionally and still try to get along personally.

The look of the book is somewhat reminiscent of Brian Michael Bendis's earlier works, like Jinx or Goldfish, with photoreferenced characters and urban backgrounds. The dialogue is also kind of similar, with a lot of witty back-and-forths, although it's not nearly so mannered (or profane) as Bendis's. It makes for a fun read, and the pictures "act" out the conversations very well. In interviews he's given, Silady said he used this art style out of necessity, since he had trouble finding a reliable artist who didn't need to be paid up front; he decided to do the art himself, and altering photographs was what he was most comfortable with. This adds an interesting level to the work, with characters played by actual "actors", almost becoming like fumetti. Maybe this is a common discussion point with fumetti; I'm not really familiar with that branch of the medium. Whatever the case, it works really well here.

Silady actually tries some pretty ambitions stuff, and that's partly where he has some problems. There are a couple points where he has characters walking and talking, and he has the "path" of the panels zigzag across the pages (it's a double-page spread), with the top tier reading left-to-right, the middle tier reversing to read right-to-left, and the bottom tier switching back to left-to-right:

It's pretty non-intuitive, which is demonstrated by the necessity of arrows to guide the reader's eye, and while it's readable, it's not really necessary. Also it breaks the "180 rule", which states that the reader's point of view shouldn't jump across the line of action in a scene. In the second tier, the characters switch places; I'm not sure if they're supposed to be walking in the opposite direction than in the first tier, or possibly turned a corner in the hallway. It's confusing, and distracts from the conversation. I think the technique was used to "liven up" the scene and keep it from being just talking heads, but instead it just makes it harder to read.

There are also occasional issues with word balloon placement, like in the following panel:

After reading the first balloon, in the upper left, the eye is drawn to the two balloons in the middle (since they are closer, but also because they are in the center of the image), but they are actually supposed to come after the balloon in the upper right. This sort of thing happens fairly regularly in the book, but that seems to be a sign of a first-time creator.

But the book is still quite readable, and I don't fault Silady for overreaching. He tells a really good story here, one meant for adults that deals with social issues and features realistic characters. He also leaves much of the story open to interpretation, with major events sometimes happening off-panel or only hinted at, forcing the reader to intuit what has happened in order to catch up with the characters. There's also a lot of humor, like when Darcy is pitching the idea of the channel, mentioning a round table discussion show with civic and religious leaders; the executives suggest putting them all in a house and making a Big Brother-like show out of it. Funny, yet quite believable.

So it's a really good book, and I heartily recommend it to those looking for good mainstream adult fiction in comics form. I'll definitely be watching Silady to see what he does next.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Honey Talks: It says, "I am tasty"

Every so often, my friend Franck De Vita sends me comics from France, which I greatly appreciate. It gives me an opportunity to get a glimpse of the vibrant European comics scene, which we don't see much of here in the United States. This one was an especially cool thing to receive in the mail:

Honey Talks
By Anke Feuchtenberger, Rutu Modan, Milorad Krstic, Matthias Lehmann, Jakob Klemencic, Marcel Ruijters, Danijel Zezelj, Koco, and Vladan Nikolic

This is a neat little set of comics that comes in its own cardboard box; each story is in its own little booklet, and there is an informational booklet explaining the project. This comes from the Slovenian publisher Stripburger, and each of these comics is inspired by a unique form of Slovenian folk art, the painted beehive panel, coming mostly from the 1820s to the 1880s. As the booklet describes, farmers would have stackable beehives with a removable front panel, and these "panels were painted, so the bees could recognize their hives. Farmers soon grew tired of monotonously coloured panels and decided to decorate their apiaries with various images." Some paintings were commissioned from trained artists, but others were done by amateurs. Each of the comics here is inspired by a painting, with said painting reproduced on the back cover of the booklet. The artists are from all over Europe, and I had only heard of two of them previously: Danijel Zezelj, who sometimes does work for American publishers, with his most recent work that I know of being on the DC series Desolation Jones and Loveless; and Rutu Modan, an Israeli artist who has been getting a lot of recognition lately for her book Exit Wounds. The booklets are nicely-designed, in the scale of the original panels, and even containing a cutout that matches the bees' entrance on the originals. In a nice touch, each of the comics' title pages has images of bees, with many of them showing through the cutout slot. Let's look at each of the comics:

By Marcel Ruijters

This one is pretty crazy (actually, most of them are). It's about a group of nuns, one of whom drinks fermented honey and goes into a sort of religious trance, exalting about nature. The other nuns lock her up, but then she starts displaying supernatural powers, leading to the other nuns all living in a tree and growing hair all over their bodies. The dialogue is all in Latin, with phrases like "splendor naturalis" issuing out of the nuns' mouths in scroll-like word balloons; there's a key at the back giving translations for the Latin phrases. It's pretty funny, and who knows, maybe it's supposed to be a comment on religion or something. I imagine a lot of the metaphors and references in these books went right over my head. The art is pretty nice too, with angular characters and goofy-looking animals, landscapes, and buildings. It's based on a panel that apparently depicts the Garden of Eden, with the snake offering Eve the forbidden fruit:


Beton & Honey
By Danijel Zezelj

This is a short story about a man in a modern city painting a graffiti mural on a wall; it lasts less than a day before authorities paint it over, but it's beautiful while it lasts. It's a really nice use of Zezelj's moody, shadow-filled style:

Beautiful stuff. I love the way you have to study some of the pictures before an image emerges. The basis for this one is a pair of Catholic-looking hearts, which do seem to call graffiti to mind:


The Goat
By Koco

Another weird story, inspired by an equally weird drawing:

Koco takes that image literally, as if the goat contains a wormhole that allows instantaneous transportation of matter. The story is about a farmer buying a goat and finding that whatever it eats immediately comes out the other end unchanged. He takes it to a priest, thinking that it is demon-possessed, but the priest helps him find a good use for it. Strange, but pretty funny. I don't know if I like the art though; it's an example of the odd European style of art that is kind of grotesque and non-representational, ignoring perspective and anatomy:

That's not a stylistic choice that many American artists make, so maybe it's a cultural barrier that leads to my difficulty accepting the style.

Grandma's Painting
By Matthias Lehmann

This story is based literally on the front-cover image, which is adapted from the inspiring beehive panel:

In the story, the painting has been painted by a woman named Beth, and it figures in the lives of several other characters, including a musician playing at Beth's gallery opening, the woman he loves and is stalking, and an old drunk who wanders in off the street. We also see some of Beth's childhood experiences that led to the creation of the painting, and the discovery of the painting by her grandchildren after her death. It's an interesting set of interconnected stories, illustrated in a heavily-crosshatched, cartoony style:

It's one of the better stories in the set, in my opinion.

The Hunter's Daughter
By Rutu Modan

I don't know what's supposed to be going on in this story, which starts from the cover image of foxes shaving a hunter, which is a new version of the original beehive panel:

The story continues from there, with Modan seemingly improvising the tale, as the foxes kill the hunter and hold a funeral for him along with all the other animals of the forest, inviting his daughter to feast with them and telling her stories about him. It's a really weird story, and I don't really understand it. Maybe it has something to do with Jewish rituals? I dunno.

The King of the Bees
By Anke Feuchtenberger

This is another weird one, imagining a surreal scenario based on the comic-strip like panel that inspires it:

That image seems to be about a woman carrying a farmer's beehive, but Feuchtenberger turns it into a story about a suicidal man using a woman who seems to be part bee to kill himself. The illustrations are nice, with each image taking up a whole page, but I really don't understand what is going on. Maybe it's over my head again.

Pegam & Lambergar
By Milorad Krstic

This is another really weird one (sorry if I'm getting monotonous), although it's more straightforward than some of the others. It's about a hitman and the detective tracking him, with lots of bizarre occurrences along the way; apparently, it's based on a famous Czech legend. The art is a perfect example of the grotesque European style I was talking about earlier; most women are depicted with multiple sets of breasts, and characters contort their bodies into impossible positions with no regard for anatomy, or even the shapes of recognizable human forms:

I don't get that style at all, but again, that might just be my limited American experience. The plot eventually takes the characters to a Slovenian Renaissance Faire, and they compete in a knights' tournament, leading to a version of the events depicted on the inspiring beehive:

That's a pretty fucking awesome image, and one of the few cases in which I like the original painting better than the story it inspired.

By Jakob Klemencic

Yet another weird story, although this one is weird in a different way; it's got a strange, surreal atmosphere rather than bizarre artwork or a nonsensical plot. It's about a man stranded in a small town that might be a suburb of Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital. He got off the train, and now it seems trains don't stop at the station, and he can't get home. He wanders around the city, and it has an odd, sinister air, with men in bars playing some sort of pick-up-sticks-like game and an odd old man giving him hints about what happened to the town when the trains came. The image inspiring this story is a simple one of a train:

But it's an important one, since the arrival of trains signaled the modernization of Slovenia and the eventual end of the idyllic farming lifestyle. I'm not getting exactly what's going on here, but the story seems to be about people stranded in the modern world, somewhere between old times and modern times. Interesting stuff. I like the art style in this story too; it seems like something you would see in an American artcomix anthology. I find it much more preferable than the grotesquerie of some of the other stories.

By Vladan Nikolic

Fortunately, we end with what might be my favorite story in the bunch. It takes a weird painting of two women facing off on giant chickens while wielding unusual weapons:

And spins this into a sort of western about a bounty hunter tracking a criminal in a world with women in the positions of power and men as subservient (at one point, we see a strip club with men in thongs pole dancing). It's pretty funny, and it has a lot of fun details, like the sheriff's case of rolling pins on the jail wall. The art style is perspective-free, but I still find it pretty appealing:

I dunno, maybe I'm fickle, or maybe this isn't so purposefully grotesque, still telling an easy-to-follow story. It leads to a fun showdown in the manner of the original picture, and ends with a silly gender-based joke. Good times.

So that's the set. While I didn't like all the comics (such is the nature of an anthology), I loved the chance to read some of the European comics I don't usually see. Thanks, Franck!

(By the way, Bart Beaty reviewed this collection for The Comics Reporter last year, and he probably has more insight into a lot of this stuff than I do, so check his review out if you're curious).