Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (8/3/11)
Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Snarked #0, by Roger Langridge
Boom! Comics, 2011
Here’s your chance to make up for skipping out on Roger Langridge’s last two series, Boom!’s The Muppet Show and Marvel’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger. Those all ages titles drew well-warranted praise from critics and established significant adult followings, but between external business deals and the why-so-serious grumpery of close-minded continuity addicts they both met premature ends. The common thread is Roger Langridge, of course, who wrote Thor and, as he did on The Muppet Show, pulls double duty as writer-artist on Snarked. With Snarked, Langridge uses Lewis Carroll’s the Walrus and the Carpenter characters as a launching pad for a funny animal comic that looks and feels like it could have existed at any point in the last seven decades. The flamboyant and pretentious Wilburforce J. Walrus comes from a long line of conniving, comedic gluttons, but he’s more devious than Wimpy and less amiable than Falstaff. He treats the Carpenter, Clyde McDunk, less like a friend than a willing but unwitting accomplice too stupid to realize what’s happening. McDunk barely gets a line in the entire comic, serving solely as Walrus’s almost innocently idiotic partner in mischief. A precocious young princess who might as well be named Lucy Van Pelt, her infant brother, and the specter of their missing royal father rounds out the Snarked cast. Langridge’s classic cartooning hints a potential classic indebted both to Carroll’s sense of whimsy and twisted take on Victorian manners, as well as the comedic chaos and character building of Carl Barks’ duck comics. Not bad for an eight-page story (plus back matter). (GM)
One Soul, by Ray Fawkes
Oni Press, 2011
In this hugely ambitious graphic novel, Fawkes has taken an idea explored filmically by Mike Figgis (simultaneous stories) and expanded upon it considerably. One Soul consists of two-page spreads, each page with nine panels, meaning 18 stories run one panel at a time, tracing the lives of people in very different eras and places from conception to death. A Neolithic hunter, a Muslim fighter in the Crusades, a contemporary drug addict, a priestess of Athena in classical Greece and 14 more wink out one by one, their panels going black upon their deaths and then displaying deep questions about the meaning of life and the existence of higher powers. What’s most impressive is the difficulty of the enterprise and the meditative state reading it induces. Sure, you could take it easy on yourself and read each story in isolation, but the beauty of the project is the way that the stories parallel one another in action, theme, or vocabulary. Subtle visual patterns become apparent too, to drive home the point the title makes: that which divides us is smaller than that which unites us as a species. Fawkes can occasionally be a little obvious, and the post-death queries are kind of new agey (you may—although this is rather heretical—find yourself skipping them to return to the stories that continue), but the individual narratives are frequently surprising. Once you figure out the device, you anticipate death around every corner for the characters, but they frequently escape with minor scars, bringing home both the resiliency and the fragility of humanity. This book isn’t light reading; it’s an example of the medium’s great strengths. (HB)
An Elegy for Amelia Johnson, by Andrew Rostan, Dave Valeza, and Kate Kastenow
Archaia Comics, 2011
Similar to One Soul, An Elegy for Amelia Johnson addresses heavy stuff, but it does so in a much more accessible fashion. That isn’t a criticism, and it isn’t a compliment; it’s just a fact. Its title character is a young woman dying of breast cancer, who sends her two best friends, a writer and a filmmaker, out on the road to interview people whose lives she’s touched. In the process, they learn something about her and even more about themselves. It’s tailor-made for a movie, with its changing backgrounds and array of personalities. Rostan’s writing isn’t exactly anti-sappy, but he steps nimbly around most areas that could have sucked the story into pure sentiment. Even the fact that Amelia’s poems aren’t so hot is compensated for by having one of her friends voice the same opinion. Dave Valeza and Kate Kastenow supply lovely art, balancing simplicity with detail, and their characters are easily distinguishable and expressive. Is the end product a little on the corny side? Occasionally, but it feels heartfelt, and the read is very pleasant even if you’re made of stone. (HB)
Loose Ends by Jason Latour and Chris Brunner
Loose Ends, the latest urban noire from 12-Gauge, gets one thing completely right – it looks and feels phenomenal. For a book about beer swilling rapists and heroin runners, the production is downright classy. Thick cover stock and weighted pages with gleaming finish will make you want to frame this issue more than read it. It feels heavy and good in a way that comics haven’t felt for a while. These special touches give colorist Rico Renzi’s moody shades and glaring fluorescents a rich canvas that makes the imagery pop right off the page. Unfortunately, you can’t judge a book by its cover, even if the production values make everything else look like a free coupon pamphlet. It’s not that writer Jason Latour and artist Chris Brunner aren’t’ talented, it’s just that Loose Ends feels more like a stepping-stone for two rising stars than a product thereof. The story revolves around Sonny Gibson, a stoic delivery boy pulled in for another job. As with any story whose synopsis ends with the dreaded “another job,” fate takes a twist for the ultraviolent leaving our anti-hero in a dumpster fire of bad luck. The biggest problem is the “authentic” dialogue, which tends to be a tenuous balancing act: too little and you lack soul, too much and it sounds like Vaudeville. The “gits” “watchoos” and “yers” of the script verge on southern-fried overkill, but are never enough to completely derail the flow. Brunner’s sketchy pencils sport great anatomy and character, but occasionally muddle perspective and clear storytelling. These flaws aside, Loose Ends is a nicely-crafted indie crime book that hints at a bright future for its creators. (SE)
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