Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wizard Chicago 2009: Even more stuff

First: I contributed a couple short reviews to Tucker Stone's all-star guest vacation version of Comics of the Weak over at The Factual Opinion. Fun!

Then: Check out these Matt Weigle illustrations for 1984 that Sean T. Collins shared. I guess it's for a Spark Notes thing on the book, but I can't find anything about it elsewhere, so Collins' blog looks like the place to see it.

Finally: I get around to talking about more comics I bought from the people who made them, across a table:

Cursed Pirate Girl #1-2

This comic is very much worth seeking out, just to marvel at the art. And marvel is what you will do, since it's mindbogglingly detailed, dense with line upon line illustrating everything from strands of hair to scales of fish to wrinkles in clothing to the fanciful curlicues and lettering that border panels. The time taken (not to mention the skill required) to lay all this visual information down on paper is beyond mortal comprehension; Jeremy Bastian seems to be a god among men, or at least an obsessive-compulsive freak whose mind requires him to dump all this information from what must be the truly wondrous insides of his cranium. Just look at the beautifully baroque imagery that he brings to life, and (if you're like me) despair at ever being able to draw more than a stick figure:

That's actually kind of a poor description of the comic, sounding like an incomprehensible mishmash of imagery poured out on paper. In actuality, the book is anything but; while Bastian meticulously lays layers of ink onto the page, he sacrifices nothing in the way of storytelling, giving plenty of visual and verbal wit to the story of a young girl who encounters plenty of bizarre people and magical creatures on her journey to reunite with her pirate father. The first issue actually concentrates on a different character, the tiny, doll-like daughter of the governor of a Caribbean island colony who comes across the title character and is smitten with her piratical lifestyle after hearing about her adventures. But the governor is not pleased with the influence of this young tramp, sending one of the local toughs to get rid of her. This doesn't work out so well, due to the spell that protects Cursed Pirate Girl (which is the only name she is known by, so far). The second issue switches to CPG's perspective, as she ends up going on an undersea adventure to find her father, encountering plenty of strange, fishy creatures, including a pair of dueling, armor-clad swordfish and a giant, motherly octopus monster, before emerging in a sort of magical pirate land in hopes of figuring out which of the local ship captains might bear her genetic material. The third and final issue (which, given the intensive amount of work Bastian must complete, probably won't appear for quite some time) will presumably solve this mystery, and maybe usher in a bit of conclusion, although an open-ended quest that sets CPG on the high seas in search of more adventure would not be a poor way to go out either.

It's all a rather fantastical, magical tale, but there are some hints here and there that there may be more going on, especially when we get a hint of CPG's squalid living space under a dock, where she scrapes by while dreaming of one day finding the father that abandoned her. Perhaps the entire magical quest is simply a dying fantasy, giving the entire comic a dark flavor and adding some weight to the fluffy escapades. That explains the more grounded first issue, which shows her dispatching some bullying kids who make fun of her ridiculous stories, as if the dreams that she's not just an abandoned orphan are what gives her strength to get by. Other fantasticalities could be explained as the larger-than-life perspective of the young governor's daughter, who is sheltered enough to be fascinated by the dirty, nasty world outside her window. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it, which is entirely possible.

Maybe it is all just a fun fantasy, but Bastian does seem to be sneaking in some dirt around the edges of his vision. Whatever the case, it's a messy, delightfully weird bit of magic and swashbuckling adventure. There's nothing else like it out there, and it's well worth searching out and diving into Bastian's strange world. The next issue can't arrive soon enough.

Sakura and the Spider

Points for ambition. That's the prominent reaction to this book, in that while it's far from perfect, creator Melissa Erwin is attempting to tell a good story using some fascinating artistic techniques. She's not completely successful, but what she has come up with here in the first volume of what promises to be an ongoing series of graphic novels is strikingly unique, a beautiful fusion of calligraphic Japanese artwork and modern computer coloring. While it appears to have been created digitally, the linework takes the appearance of elegant brushstrokes, and the coloring gives the look of parchment covered with glowingly bright tones:

The problems begin with the story itself, which is a bit of inter-family intrigue common to samurai movies, although with some anachronistic touches, such as the fact that Nozomi, a woman, is a fierce warrior and the head of her clan's security, which wouldn't have been possible in medieval Japan. The plot involves a wedding that is intended to calm a brewing conflict between clans, with a faction within one of the participating groups planning to take violent action to stop it. It's kind of hard to figure all this out though, with characters being somewhat difficult to distinguish from each other and incidents rushing to conclusion before readers can catch up to what is going on. And the visual storytelling itself doesn't help; a complete lack of defined panels leads to scenes that overlap on top of each other on several pages and a difficulty in following action, or even understanding in what order images are meant to take place. The dialogue also leaves something to be desired, mostly consisting of attempts at badass proclamation and the use of wrong-sounding words and phrases like "asshole" and "Why do I let you live, anyway?" It's certainly unfortunate, given how nice the book looks.

And that's what redeems it, especially in the potential for growth in future volumes. Erwin's figures are lovely and fluid, and they're places in some beautifully-realized settings that nicely mix art styles from old Japanese illustrative prints with a more modern look. And while those layouts can be hard to read at times, the moments when they work are quite astonishing, making the backgrounds and characters flow organically across the page:

So no, it's not perfect; far from it, in fact. But the good outweighs the bad, for those of us who are willing to be generous, and hopefully Erwin's talent will continue to develop. She's certainly a creator to watch.

Written by Victor Carungi
Art by Jeff Blascyk and Antonio Brandao

This indie crime book might not look like much at first, but its unassuming exterior hides a nice little tale of violence and revenge, with a liberal sprinkling of guilt and ruminations on hiding or living up to your true nature. Not bad for a black and white comic that sees lots of screaming faces, pointed guns, and walls decorated with brains.

The story follows one Jonathan Kincaid, who lives up to the titular description as a meek bank manager who gets caught up in a robbery scheme when some criminals force him to help them out in exchange for getting his brother out of jail. Things don't go as planned, of course, and the result is a lot of bloodshed, betrayals, twists, chases, narrow escapes, and the requisite awakening of Jonathan's violent side. Interestingly, that last part happens fairly quickly; rather than stringing readers along for most of the book with whining until he finally snaps and realizes his badass potential, writer Victor Carungi has him take the initiative at almost the first chance he gets, and he directs his own actions from then on, rather than just following the more experienced criminals. And lest this seem like a ridiculously easy transformation, flashbacks to Jonathan's childhood reveal a suppressed nature much more in line with the actions we see him taking, along with a need to make up for past mistakes that makes what he does believable. It's a nice bit of character work, making what could have been a nonstop gunfest much more deep than expected.

Carungi's artistic partners do their best to make everything come to life, and while they occasionally provide some bits of awkward facial expression, they manage to deliver some good scene-setting and a great deal of gunshot-derived blood splatter. The first two thirds or so of the book are illustrated by Jeff Blascyk, and he has an interesting style similar to some of the artists who regularly work for Avatar, with a hint of Tony Harris's curled lips:

While the opening pages are a bit rough, with a lot of penciled shading and awkward movements, he improves over the course of the book, eventually ending up with some nice, clean outlines and a lot of blood, dirt, and grit. But Antonio Brandao, who finishes off the story, takes that dirtiness and really amps it up, giving everything a Carlos Ezquerra-like messiness that still gives the action a lot of movement and expression:

It ends up being a nice-looking little book, with a lot of shooting, gore, and death. That's what you want to see in a crime comic, right?

With this book, Carungi looks like a talent to watch, having shepherded a vision onto the page over the course of a number of years, as he details in the book's backmatter. He worked hard to make this comic happen, and the care taken really shows. Hopefully he has more than one book in him, because if he continues to develop his talent and work with collaborators so well, they could really take things to the next level and turn out something special (or even more special; not to downplay the quality of this current work). Here's hoping they won't disappoint.

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