Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Comics, doggy-style

Stargazing Dog
By Takashi Murakami
Published by NBM
(also available online at J-Manga under the title Star Protector Dog)

You know a book is going to end up sad when the opening scene is some cops discovering an abandoned car containing a year-old corpse along with a dead dog at its feet. The following scene, which flashes back to a family adopting a puppy, is kind of soured when we've gotten a glimpse of the fun times ahead. But that's sort of the message here: that life is short, and we've got to make the most of our relationships while we can. The book is narrated by the dog, who acquires the name Happie, as he observes without understanding as the family falls apart, the daughter becoming a wayward youth and the father and mother divorcing after he loses his job. But Happie and "Daddy" form a bond early, the paterfamilias being the one who usually takes him for walks in which he can open up to the canine (while still maintaining a gruff exterior, refusing to sacrifice his masculinity) more than he can with any humans. Eventually, he is left with only the possessions he can fit in his car, and the odd pair decide to take a trip back to the man's hometown, a trip that, as we've seen, doesn't exactly turn out well. It's kind of a dark tale, but it's got a bittersweet undercurrent that comes from the dog's total devotion to his master, a simple love and companionship that provides a bit of light and joy even in the worst times.

This is a nice slice of human/canine drama, one that follows certain Japanese rhythms, similar to some of Takeshi Kitano's less violent movies, not exactly heartwarming, but satisfying in its simple presentation of a compellingly realistic story. After the pair's inescapable end, there's an epilogue chapter that sees a social worker try to identify the remains, a task that causes him to flash back on his own life and travails with pet ownership, and kind of sum up the whole book, or at least bring it to a nice end that incorporates the sunflower-filled imagery of the cover. It's really nice to see a book like this get release on American shores, aspiring to neither high artistic statements or in-your-face excitement, but still lodging itself firmly in the heart.

Mush! Sled Dogs with Issues
Written by Glenn Eichler
Art by Joe Infurnari
Published by First Second

This book takes a different approach to canine relationships, an interesting fusion of seeming realism (at least in terms of the way dogs function as a group that works and lives together) with and anthropomorphism that imbues personality and dialogue on inhuman creatures. Following a group of six sled dogs and their owners who live somewhere in the barren north (Canada? Alaska? Somewhere up there), the book sees them all deal with struggles both personal and inter-personal, bouncing off each other as they struggle for dominance, affection, or to continue their genetic line, while remaining oblivious of the human drama going on in the cabin they live alongside of. Dolly, who has been assigned the lead position when pulling the sled, worries that she's not worthy of such an important role. Venus, the other female, is tired of being bred with one of the males each year to produce puppies. Buddy, having been paired off with Venus in the past, thinks he has some sort of special relationship with her. Winston wants to breed with one of the females in order to keep his purebred genes going. Guy is plotting to take over the lead position from Dolly. And Fiddler is going through a sort of existential crisis, feeling that there is nothing worth living for. It's not exactly realistic, what with the ascribing of human emotion to the dogs, but the way the expressive art and dialogue captures the emotions and interactions makes the non-human concerns very relatable and interesting, with everything building to a pretty exciting climax that brings each character arc to a satisfying end, making for a really nice ensemble drama that just happens to star a bunch of dogs.

On the art side, Joe Infurnari makes some...interesting choices, giving some of the dogs bulbous noses or short snouts that don't seem to fit the stereotypical look of sled dogs. He also often depicts their faces with an almost Picasso-like quality, drawing eyes at different sizes and collapsing noses in a sideways manner that is somewhat offputting. But while it's not what I would consider to be the most appealing way of drawing the characters, it works really well as a way of differentiating the dogs from each other and giving them an expressiveness that really sells their emotional conflicts, with the odd unrealism emphasizing that while we understand their words, these are definitely inhuman characters. And the settings in which all this transpires are lovely, giving Infurnari a chance to use his scratchy linework to depict windswept snow and dense forests that race by as the sled is energetically dragged down its lovely paths. It's a pretty damn good looking book in the end, and once you get used to the way the dogs are drawn, it's compelling reading, a well-written character piece that takes a unique perspective and makes it work. Good reading, as long as you don't get frostbite.

Uncle Scrooge snorts in anger

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Groo watch: Sergio Aragones Funnies #5

This issue of Sergio Aragones Funnies has a couple Groo appearances, two of them on the cover. First, there are some pages of a Groo comic on a shelf by some back issues of Plop and dolls of Maggie Simpson, Astro Boy, and Nancy:

And then there are some more pages on the floor, hopefully suggesting that Sergio is currently working on a new Groo comic (I can dream):

Later, another studio scene has some Groo comics piled on the floor:

And that's it, but on a non-Groo-related note, I was amused by Sergio demonstrating a model guillotine with a Usagi Yojimbo doll:

Take that, Stan Sakai!


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Groo Watch: Sergio Aragones Funnies #4

I'm a few months behind on this, but in the October 2011 issue of Sergio Aragones Funnies, I only spotted two Groo appearances, both on the cover. First, there's a Groo hanging from Sergio's lamp:

And then, a stack of comics pages on the floor, upon examination, appears to be an issue of a Groo comic, featuring the wanderer himself, Arba, Dakarba, and Chakaal:

Fun times.

I like this guy's beard

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Webcomics shoutout: The Last Romantic Anti-hero

Billy Dogma: The Last Romantic Anti-Hero
By Dean Haspiel
Published online at Trip City

I never feel like I fully understand any of Dean Haspiel's "Billy Dogma" comics, but I certainly find them fascinating. They seem to be written straight from the subconscious, allowing Haspiel to pour his emotions straight onto the page (screen?), examining modern life through the lens of a bombastic action comic filled with honest, completely non-self-conscious romantic feeling. This installment sees the hero and his girlfriend, Jane Legit, trapped in a post-apocalyptic wasteland apparently caused by the narcissism of a society obsessed with "social" technology, deciding to fix things through the power of their explosive lovemaking. I think. It can be hard to tell, what with all the goofy symbolism and over-the-top weirdness (there's something about destructive satellites labeled with the word "AMGOD", which seems to be both a comment on man's self-centeredness, or maybe just "Dogma" backwards), but the centerpiece of this story is a trip through Billy and Jane's romantic history, which is where the series usually shines. The larger-than-life style Haspiel uses here takes the ups and downs of a love affair and gives it seismic, world-shaking importance to externalize the feelings of the participants.

It's lovely work, the kind of comic that invites immersion and interpretation, lingering in the subconscious and grabbing hold of universal emotions to add resonance to conflicts shared among all of humanity. This seems like the most personal work of Haspiel's career, but that relatability is what makes it so great.

Donald Duck can't sail

Monday, January 2, 2012

Webcomics Shoutout: Blast Furnace

Blast Furnace
By Ryan Browne
Published online, but also available in minicomics format

Full disclosure: I'm friendly with Ryan Browne "in real life", so feel free to take the effusive praise directed his way with a grain of salt. I do really dig his comics though, really!

Ryan Browne's God Hates Astronauts is a comic masterpiece of a superhero parody, but he's got plenty more goofy humor to share with the world, so he recently set out on a quixotic quest to create a year-long webcomic off the top of his head, posting new pages every weekday, ostensibly following the adventures of the eponymous flaming-tied, handlebar-mustached master thief, but often charging off on random tangents, flashbacks, fantasies, and non sequiturs. In fact, those non-main-plot bits seem to have taken over the story, with a good deal of the comic so far being devoted to several nested flashbacks involving an outlaw owl, the naive bear she drags into a life of crime, and an Indian warrior named He Who Looks Like A Horse But Is Actually A Hideously Deformed Man, and also a separate plotline involving a pair of villainous henchmen who resemble the turtle and pirate from old comic book "Can you draw?" ads.


Blast Furnace himself has spent most of the comic killing or maiming everyone he comes across, making enemies and getting involved in ridiculous plots, possibly all leading up to a climax that ties everything together, if Browne can manage to wring a semi-coherent throughline from all this weirdness. No matter; it's all hilarious stuff, with Browne unleashing all the nonsense that's apparently cluttering up his head, including silly sound effects, horrifically funny violence, talking animals, barely-covered nudity, and goofy concepts like a giant businessman robot made of other combined businessmen robots, all delivered at a breakneck pace, concepts and jokes spilling onto the page at such a rate that nobody, apparently even Browne himself, have any idea what's coming next. That's webcomics heaven, if you ask me.