Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lucky in Love: Some incomplete coverage

Links: Hey, if you're looking forward to Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's upcoming Gingerbread Girl as much as I am, did you know it's going to be serialized in its entirety on Top Shelf 2.0 before its release?  That's pretty sweet.

And speaking of free stuff to read, the well-regarded first volume of Duncan the Wonder Dog is also available online, which is nice, since it is apparently almost completely sold out.

And why not some classic manga too?  A blog called Black Sun is posting some of Shigeru Mizuki's GeGeGe No Kitaro stories, which is one of those series that people like me are always calling to be translated.  This might be the best chance we have of reading it, at least for now.

Lucky in Love
Written by George Chieffet
Art by Stephen DeStephano

This is a pretty good book, following its titular Italian-American fellow as he grows up in Hoboken, goes off to war (although not combat; he's a mechanic in the Air Force), and returns home for some Best Years of Our Lives-style depression.  It's all very well told, with realistic details coming through even when the art takes such a cartoony style, but being the first half of a two-volume series, it's somewhat incomplete, setting up themes that will presumably be dealt with later.  Still, it's quite good.

However, there was one scene that I thought was excellent on its own and stood out in the memory the most.  It's a dream sequence that Lucky has about the last hours of an acquaintance that died when his plane was lost at sea, and it takes a much more somber mood than the rest of the book, using some amazing charcoal-grey shading to emphasize death's inevitable approach.  My favorite panel of all is this one:

That's the plane dumping extra weight in an attempt to stay aloft, and DeStephano manages to use the shading to give a sort of ironic twist to what looks like an action-packed war scene.  That burst of lines radiating outward might normally signify the triumphant dropping of bombs, but this moody gray takes away that exciting blast and makes it a desperate action, and one that we know is doomed to failure.

The war experience seems to be central in Lucky's story, affecting his self-image as he returns home a hero even though he did nothing to deserve it, and that seems to be the message in this scene: heroic imagery twisted into something sad, as men slowly sink to a pointless death.  War is hell, with effects reaching far outside and long beyond the actual conflict, and this scene manages to illustrate that rather effectively.  Even if the rest of the two books surrounding it end up adding up to something less than great, this one is worth reading if only for this moment of striking darkness.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Grinding the AX: Finishing with a return to the weird shit

One final leg on the trip through AX:

"The Ballad of Non-stop Farting" and "I Can't Stand Pain!"
By Kataoka Toyo

From the title, one would assume these stories are focused more toward the puerile end of the spectrum, and while that's somewhat true (in that there are fart jokes and sex is on everyone's mind), they seem to be more of a gently comedic look at blue-collar workers, following several factory workers as they plug along through the daily grind.  The first sees a couple guys go check on a coworker who didn't show up for work, leading to a darkly comic bit in which they decide to go get a drink before venturing into his house just in case he's dead, which would mean they would have to spend the evening dealing with the police.  There's also a pretty incredible two-page spread of the sick guy laying on some densely-detailed tatami mats, unable to move because of his terrible gas pains, which is an interesting choice.

The second story is a bit longer and gets more involved with the various factory personalities as they go out for a drink after one guy cuts off his finger, and after they admire how much money he must make working two jobs, he admits that he blows it all on hookers.  Maybe this could be interpreted as another look at the pointless nature of modern life, but if so, it's also a warm one, casting a humorous eye on the dumb things people do in order to get by.  The art is passable, fitting the slightly grotesquely cartoony style that you often see in this sort of manga, but the textured details really make it work.

"Kosuke Okada & His 50 Sons"
By Hideyasu Moto

At first, this seems like a silly lark, following a widower who has 50 tiny boys (they're all identical, about six inches tall, milling around his house like rodents), illustrated in a somewhat crude style, but taking the goofy concept at face value.  It quickly becomes obvious, however, that the kids are all imaginary, and he's still grieving over the death of his wife, a revelation that suddenly makes his blissful paternal existence achingly sad.  It's a quick story, but it lingers in the memory, hitting that emotional trigger of lost love, and also the lost chance for responsibility and leaving one's mark on the world through the younger generation.  Sometimes the simpler stories can sneak up on you and end up being the best and most memorable ones of all.

"Les Raskolnikov"
By Keizo Miyanishi

This is apparently an adaptation of part of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, or at least a portion of it, but it's fairly incomprehensible to me, either because I haven't read the book, or because it's just confusing.  There's a hooded figure and a little girl who calls it her brother, and a corpse or something, with lots and lots of narration filling the pages.  Pretty boring, although some of the imagery is arrestingly grotesque, and there's an interestingly angular use of toned shading.  But other that that, it does nothing for me.

"Alraune Fatale"
By Hiroji Tani

This one is apparently based on a German folk tale, and it's interesting, both because of the very non-manga art style, and because of the striking sexuality on display.  A deadbeat guy is about to hang himself, but he finds a beautiful naked woman, takes her home, and has a lot of sex with her as she apparently consumes his essence, then reverts back to a mandrake root and is carried away by a cat, presumably going on to further seductions.  The thin-lined art is densely-shaded, full of dark, foreboding mood, and while the woman is silent throughout, she seems seductively in control, always wearing a come-hither look, displaying her ample assets and just oozing sexuality, making the guy's gruesome end all but unavoidable.  There might be something going on here about the evils of female sexuality, but I can't really work my way around to any sort of intended moral, and with the guy already being kind of doomed from the start of the story, maybe this is just a tale of the supernatural, something to confound analysis and stick in the mind with its weird imagery.  Or maybe it's just a chance to draw a sexy naked lady and some blurred-out intercourse, which is always possible.

"Sacred Light"
By Otoya Mitsuhashi

This one almost seems like it was made up as it went along, starting with an image created by adding small details to some harsh brush strokes to turn them into the scene of a mountainside cabin and extrapolated from there, following a mountain climber who meets a woman that is also climbing the mountain, has sex with her, and then travels back in time to meet his younger self.  Who knows what is supposed to be going on here, but the way the images are composed of those brushes being swiped across the page and details being added later is pretty arresting.  It might be nice to see an actual story illustrated in this style, but this one works as a cool technique and an interesting bit of mood.

"Six Paths of Wealth"
By Kazuichi Hanawa

And finally, more weirdness.  This is a samurai-era story about a woman who schools her daughter in the titular Six Paths of Wealth, a belief system based on absorbing power from insects or something, which basically involves dumping ants on her naked body to keep it fresh and enticing to suitors.  The mother and daughter end up getting shrunk and captured by an ant-sized alien who has plans on world domination, but they turn the tables on him with their sexuality.  Bizarre, but memorable due to the air of strangeness and the crazy imagery like the design of the alien and the mother being turned into a half-ant creature.  Also, lots of nudity.  I'm not sure if this is based on any sort of actual medieval beliefs, or was just made up by the cartoonist, but it's strange stuff, one of those horror tales that doesn't make much sense, but is still pretty enjoyable.


Final thoughts:

While not every story here is a winner, there's enough really good work here that the volume is definitely worth reading, especially as a source of comics that would never make their way across the Pacific outside of a book like this.  For years, people have spoken of the vast wealth of comics that remain unseen outside of Japan, and this glimpse of some of them is essential, but hopefully not exceptional.  Fortunately, a second volume has already been announced, so if we are lucky, they will continue to appear and weird us out for years to come.

Five favorite stories:

"Push Pin Woman"
"Enrique Kobayashi's Eldorado"
"Mushroom Garden"
"The Song of Mr. H"
"Kosuke Okada and His 50 Sons"

Five cartoonists I would love to see more from:

Kotobuki Shiriagari
Namie Fujieda
Yuichi Kiriyama
Kataoka Toyo

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Current status:

Or rather:

That's my new baby girl, Dahlia Noelle Brady, born at 3:55 PM Central on January 14, 2011.  8 pounds, 8 ounces, nice and big and healthy.  We're super-excited to have a new addition to the family, and everyone is doing well.

Hopefully more posting will resume in the next few days, but if it doesn't, I imagine people will understand.  Not that things have been very regular around here anyway.  Whatever happens, my year is off to a great start.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The more things change, the more motifs stay the same

Chris Ware, 2005:

Chris Ware, 2010:

I don't know if this counts as a callback, but this page in the most recent installment of Acme Novelty Library did make me think of a line in one of the "ads" that cluttered pages of the big Acme Novelty Library hardcover from five years ago.  In case I was the only one who noticed, I figured it was worth pointing out.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Grinding the AX: Schoolgirls really aren't that interesting

Links:  If you haven't been checking out Derek Kirk Kim's Tune: Praxis and Allies, be sure to do so before it's too late.  He recently posted a message of despondence, feeling like nobody was paying attention to the comic he was giving away for free.  Luckily, many responded, assuring him that he does have an audience, but it doesn't hurt to remind people of the quality work he's got going.  If you don't want to read it on a screen, the first volume, which is almost finished, will be released in print by First Second this spring.  But do give it a look, if you like good comics.

In the "unfortunately will never see print" category, Becky Cloonan started off the year by mentioning the sad news that her graphic novel series East Coast Rising (I reviewed the first volume here, if you're interested and don't mind less-polished writing) will in all likelihood never be finished, but she does at least rectify the cliffhanger ending of the first volume by posting its resolution, starting here and continuing for the next several days.  Awesome.  Just a taste of what we're missing out on thanks to Tokyopop.

And speaking of opportunities missed, I've been out of the comics loop long enough that I completely missed that Faith Erin Hicks has started a webcomic (or rather the online version of a comic that runs in a weekly Halifax newspaper) called The Adventures of Superhero Girl.  I love Hicks' art, and this is a super fun, cute example of her work.  Plus, it's free!  Webcomics!

And one more: Doug TenNapel's new webcomic, Ratfist, started today.  Some sort of superhero thing, but since it's TenNapel, I'll read it.

Now for more manga dabblings:

"A Well-Dressed Corpse"
By Yuichi Kiriyama

This is another story about how terrible the world is, but it's pretty effective in its depiction of a harsh, ugly modern existence, spending only six pages jumping between loosely-connected, urban dwellers but managing to include rape, murder, abortion, and a general sense of society's lost soul, people who only interact long enough to do terrible things to each other, or to ignore each other completely.  Lots of heavy blacks, downcast expressions, and shadowed visages; this world is a pretty terrible place.  Good times!

"Arizona Sizzler"
By Saito Yunasuke

Shifting gears once again, here's a much lighter story, although it's still kind of ugly, at least in its crude art style.  It's also pretty pointless, seeming existing only to shock with a close up depiction of a banana-shaped penis and some spherical testicles, looming over a girl wandering through a desert.  It's kind of funny, a bit of deadpan weirdness as this naked man (who is either gigantic or just shown in extreme close-up, only visible from below and behind) keeps showing up and horrifying her, but there's nothing going on aside from that.  Kind of a waste of pages for a joke that could have been told in one panel.

"The Rainy Day Blouse" and "The First Umbrella"
By Akino Kondo

These two short pieces are also fairly uninteresting, although they at least seem to be attempting to capture some poetic imagery, following a schoolgirl wondering over how it never rains when she carries a certain umbrella.  Maybe it's prettier in the original Japanese, but it's not exactly evocative in this form, and the fairly plain art doesn't add much either.  Compared to most everything else in the volume, this is pretty eminently skippable.

"Stand By Me"
By Tomohiro Koizumi

Another school tale, although this one is about boys, and does feature at least a little bit of conflict.  One kid has a crush on a girl, and is spying on her in the bath, but his friend is the one who gets caught, leading to a falling out between them.  It's all about the intense emotions of youth, but it's nothing too special, especially considering the awkwardly-proportioned art, which gives everyone tiny heads and huge hands.  I don't know how much teen drama I'll be able to take after this book.

"My Old Man" and "Me"
By Shin'ichi Abe

The focus in these two short stories is all about normal people and their dreams, which, according to the author bio in the back of the book, is sort of a theme of Abe's work.  Kind of boring, but interesting in their simple depiction of regular people living in their houses, realistically shown going about their lives.  That's worth something, but it's not really interesting to make one stop and take note in a varied anthology like this; it would fit better in a longer book by the author, or a similarly-themed anthology.  Here, it's kind of just a short pause before another bit of weirdness comes along.

"Up & Over"
By Seiko Erisawa

Hmm, this section of the book seems to be all about "normal life"; this is another story about regular schoolchildren, a boy and a girl, with the boy telling the story of a broken piece of a marble that falls out of his pocket.  It's slight, but cute, due to effective facial expressions and some nice timing.  Inessential, but still memorable, at least for me.

"The Song of Mr. H"
By Shigeyuki Fukumitsu

Another story about people making their way in the modern world?  Sure, but this one has flair and life; I dig it.  There's a middle-aged salaryman whose life sucks, and after the positive feelings he gets from punching out a guy harassing a woman, he decides to become a boxer.  It's kind of amusing, in a deadpan way, but other than the cartoonishly deformed art, it's played completely straight, and it doesn't end up being the expected story of redemption, but still somehow manages to seem like a feel-good story, at least giving the character a feeling of peace.  It's kind of goofy, but it totally works; I would love to read more of Fukumitsu's manga.


Looks like there will be one more post to go for this book.  Hopefully I'll get to it before too long...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

In which I show off my musical ignorance

I only rarely write about music, but since I participated in The Factual Opinion's "Best songs of 2010" poll (read part one, two, and three, where I make meager contributions, writing about cool tracks like B.o.B's "Airplanes part II", The Dead Weather's "Die By the Drop", and Janelle Monae's "Tightrope"), I figure that's a good opportunity to point out some other songs that I really dug this year.  So, here's an inaugural annual Warren Peace feature:

Some songs that I thought were good in 2010!

Reflection Eternal - Midnight Hour ft. Estelle

There was no more danceable track for me this year than this one from Talib Kweli's group, and I love the sentiment, which does seem to be leaning towards "let's have some sex" but also conveys how good it is to go home to the one you love at the end of the day.  That gets me excited too.

Other Talib Kweli (or related?) songs that I dug:  Trunk Muzic ft. Strong Arm Steady and The GameStick Up Dance ft. Jean Grae

STS - What She Say

Sugar Tongue Slim was one of my big discoveries this year; he's a pretty awesome rapper, and this song was my favorite, winding a beautiful tribute to his mother around the haunting chorus of a song that was previously best known as being in an SNL Digital Short where everybody kept shooting each other for no reason.  It's lovely, sad, and hopeful all at once, a great example of how compelling rap can be when artists drop their tough guy personas.

Other STS songs that I dug: Broad and LocustSole Music ft. MingTake Me to Hadley Street, Dec 5 (download as part of the Demand More 2 mixtape)

The Like - He's Not a Boy

This is another great dance track, of the "girl singer with guitars" variety.  Tons of fun.

Another The Like song I dug: Release Me

Dead Confederate - Run from the Gun

This might be the one that stuck in my head the most this year.  Haunting and fascinating.

The Constellations - Felicia

Another dancer, a real dirty groove, some 70s funk and British 80s style, or something (I generally don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to music, so take that with a grain of salt).

Slaughterhouse - Beamer Benz Bentley Shady Megamix

Lloyd Banks' original version of this song was inescapable on the radio for a few months in mid-2010, and it got remixed several times over, probably due to its great beat, but this one is my favorite, from the rap supergroup consisting of Crooked I, Joell Ortiz, Joe Budden, and Royce da 5'9".  It takes that repetition of three things and spins it into endless variations, starting with "New York, Jersey, Philly" and "Nissan, Honda, Chevy", but eventually turning into a list of drinks ("tequila, vodka, Henney"), denominations ("nickels, dimes, and pennies"), women's names ("Felicia, Shauna, Cindy"), sexual results ("gushy, gooey, sticky"), and who knows what else.  It's exhilarating and dizzying, a hell of a listen and an example of how comparably lame the original was.  Awesome.

White Sea - Mountaineer

Another haunting soundscape; I really dig this one.

Lost in the Trees - Walk Around the Lake

This is a really cool indie jam, alternating between emphatic and peaceful.

Chiddy Bang - Opposite of Adults

I love the video of this one; I wish my childhood had been this fun.

I think this was my favorite of Donald Glover's raps over various indie songs, but most of them were pretty great.  I think the line "get more pussy than recycled sanitary napkins" is hilarious, but my wife finds it horribly disgusting.  Mars and Venus, am I right?

Guster - Do You Love Me

Another really enjoyable video.  And since my "commentary" seems to be dissipating, here are simple links/embeds for the rest of these recommendations, or whatever they are:

Samuel - I Heart NY ft. Joell Ortiz
The Chap - We Work in Bars
Pill - On Da Korner
The Suzan - Home
Lonely Drifter Karen - A Roof Somewhere
Lupe Fiasco - Go to Sleep

Wale - New Soul ft Yael Naim

(Another mixtape recommendation: Wale's Back to the Feature)
The Drums - Let's Go Surfing (Raveonettes Remix)

Holy Hail - Feels Like Forever

Big K.R.I.T. - Hometown Hero ft. Yelawolf

Lykke Li - Get Some
Anamanaguchi - Airbrushed

Jasmine Solano - Poetic Justice

Fang Island - Life Coach (another good video)

Hmm, that's probably more links than necessary, but it's all stuff I like, and all rejected by my other musical criticism outlet, so here we go.  Feel free to critique my terrible taste, but don't think it will make me care.  Now let's have more in 2011, and maybe more music writing around these parts.  That should be interesting.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fingerprints: Could use more smudges

Linkings: This webcomics series called Cablegate Comix is interesting, illustrating some of the weirder cases in the recent Wikileaks dump.  Gotta love dancing foreign dignitaries.

Also cool, if a bit dubiously moral, depending on your stance on scanlating, is Same Hat!'s translation and serialization of Junji Ito's "Hanging Balloons".  Cool.

By Will Dinski

The culture of Hollywood and it's obsession with youth, image, and celebrity is a pretty ripe target for satire, but the problem with taking on that challenge is that many have trod those footsteps before.  That's the problem with this graphic novel, which follows a two movie-stars-of-the-moment, their plastic surgeon pal, his wife, and his assistant.  We see all the usual moments here, like the celebrities who pretend to be in a relationship to get attention from the tabloids, the patient who desperately wants to look like one of the stars, the surgeon who isn't quite happy with the supposed perfection he's molded his star patient into, and the jealous wife whose aging face can't compare with the starlets her husband works on every day.  There's little here that hasn't been seen before, so the question becomes one of how well the author presents it, and Dinski's stiff art and lifeless compositions don't exactly set the pages on fire.

It's kind of a shame; there's some potential here, but not enough space to flesh it out.  The book starts with the director of the movie star couple's latest blockbuster giving an interview in which he complains about the cartoonist on whose work the movie was based not wanting to give up his rights, a hint of a creative society which is more interested in copying and stealing than being original; it seems like an interesting thematic possibility to mix into a look at celebrity, but is quickly forgotten.  The rest of the book sees the characters flit in and out of view without ever being explored beyond their surface (which might be the point; they're all surface), making eventual twists come out of nowhere.  A late plot development takes the obsession with image to a new level, giving it a sci-fi twist and turning it into a bit of zombie-ish horror, but even that is barely introduced before it is shuffled off to an expectedly ugly conclusion.  One gets the idea that if the story had been expanded a bit, with more room for the characters to establish themselves and more time for the plot to play out, the whole thing might have been much more effective, but as it is, it's a flawed work with some interesting moments that hint at a depth that might have been interesting to explore.  Like the characters themselves, we're stuck on the surface, and it's no better for us than it is for them.