Sunday, September 28, 2014
“The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.”
Annihilation tells the story of the twelve expedition sent in to explore and hopefully answer the mysteries of Area X. The story is told through one of the members, the biologist: our characters' names are that of their profession.
Area X, what an ominous name, but what is Area X? I can't answer that, but what I can tell you that it is a place out-of-time and out-of-space. Area X is an island that's been overrun by nature. There's an Edenic and pristine look To Area X's nature to the point where it's too pristine. Its's pristineness is almost blinding the viewer; it's as if everything in Area X is hyper-real, but behind that hyperness is something insidious; something that will swallow you whole and regurgitate you and if you survive, you're drastically changed. This swallowing, regurgitating and changing isn't just something that occurs to the characters: it occurs to the reader as well.
Since reading Annihilation, it's buried itself in my subconscious, making me feel out-of-place whenever it pops up from its hiding place. There's a something in the book: a virus within the words that Vandermeer writes; I don't know what it is, but it infects you and changes you and you see the world around you slowly change. You go through the changes the characters go through and you come out the end a different person.
Then again, I could be feeling like this because I read Annihilation in the perfect conditions: feeling alienated during a dreary, rainy, overcast day.
It took me two days to read--it's a one day book, but I wanted to make it last--Annihilation, during which there was heavy raining and overcast when it wasn't it. I love rainy, overcast days, but those two days were different: there was a sense of dread and oppression in the air; I felt out-of-place and out-of-time; it was as if I was being rejected by the universe and there was nothing I could do but accept the conditions that were handed to me and slowly slip away. Just when things couldn't get any weirder, I picked up Annilhiation and started reading it: it only exacerbated my feelings.
After I got done, the world around me felt dreamlike: as if I was drifting through a waking dream. The edges of my vision were becoming wavy and distorted and I could feel myself slipping into another place, a place like Area X. These alterations lingered days after I got done with the book, I think this is due to Vandermeer's dreamlike prose and the dreamlike structure and logic of Annihilation. Vandermeer also has an amazing ability to vividly describe the place in which the twelve expedition are in: Vandermeer can make it seem lived it, that there's a history behind the landscape and in an instant, change the dreamlike landscape into a nightmare. There's a feverish immediacy when we enter that nightmarish landscape that haunts you.
Annihilation is nothing like I've read before. Its weirdness and refusal to answer questions is its strength and in that adds the reading experience. Come into this book for the experience than for a cohesive narrative. And be prepared to have Area X invade you and forever change you.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Michael Moorcock's Elric Vol. 1: The Ruby Throne by Julien Blondel, Didier Poli, Robin Recht, Jean Bastide
Right off the bat I have to admit that I have never read either Moorcock's original novels about the albino emperor and his decaying island of Melniboné nor any of the graphic novel versions that have been around since the 1970s, so don't expect me to tell you how faithful this French BD version is to Moorcock's vision or how it compares to those older Elric comics.
What I can tell you, however, is that Moorcock himself admits in his introduction that this is the closest anyone has ever come to what he had originally intended with the character and his world (no small feat, considering the talent that has laid their hands on the character in graphic novel form before: Philippe Druillet, Michael Kaluta, P. Craig Russell, Frank Miller and Mike Mignola, amongst others).
But more importantly, I can tell you that this is an incredible fantasy graphic novel to behold - from start to finish.
Let's begin with the artwork: it is both complex and rushed, contrasts (little) light with (a lot of) dark, the organic with the lifeless – often at the same time, creating a feeling of chaos.
Just look at the opening page of the book: the reader faces a sheer endlessly tall tower, made of ivory and obsidian, and while the upper, white part is covered with artful ornaments and writings, it is juxtaposed with its bottom half – a dark tunnel of jagged rock, that opens and looks like a shark’s maw. And since this is the entrance to Melniboné, you’ll immediately get a sense of what to expect.
|The tower that marks the entry to Melnibone|
As a matter of fact, the artists (Poli, Recht and Bastide) often reference predators or the animals of our nightmares in their artwork. The lair of Doctor Jest, chief torturer of Melniboné, looks to be held together by spider-webs, while the Doctor himself has a parasite-like being (machine?) seemingly attached to his spine with long spider-legs that can – and do – pierce through his victims’ bodies.
This should already tell you that the artists are not holding anything back. There are live and naked human bodies being sacrificed or tortured by the people of Melniboné for entertainment, or even just because they feel like it. There’s blood and wounds, lots of them. And what else the Doctor does to his victims is best left unsaid. Death and decay are oozing from almost every page.
I mentioned above that the artwork looks rushed at times, but that is anything but bad inking. The empire of Melniboné is a decadent, chaotic and decaying place, and the “rushed” ink strokes underline this feeling. In fact, Blondel himself says in the section at the end of the book Didier Poli’s pencilwork looked too tame and pretty for this story. This is why Robin Recht was added to the team, whose inks made the pages more “impulsive and dynamic”, as Blondel puts it.
“Elric” truly looks nightmarish then and conveys a sense of mindless decadence, of impending doom and decay - like a painting by Albrecht Dürer come alive.
The graphic novel’s protagonist, the albino Elric, looks both regal and – more often than not - frail, with his skin “the colour of a bleached skull”, as Moorcock himself described him in his books. His outer appearance alone then is enough to make him look displaced, an outsider in his own empire, and there are many people at his court who let him know this. But it is the characterisation that Blondel (and Moorcock) give him which makes him not only an outsider, but also an anti-hero. This is not Frodo or John Carter we are dealing with here. While he is the main protagonist and the victim of the machinations of his cousin Prince Yyrkoon, I found it difficult to really root for him. And how can you if you see the way he lets himself be influenced by others and, more importantly, if he bathes in the blood of human sacrifices, albeit to preserve his health? That, however, does not mean “Elric” suffers from poor characterisation. What Moorcock/Blondel try to do here is to question morality and nostalgia and to lay bare the corruption behind the façades of society – something that Moorcock again admits to in his introduction and which comes across perfectly in the comic.
|the brooding emperor|
Similarly (though less) contradictory is Elric's antagonist Yyrkoon, who should be the classical villain. While fully immersed in its decadent life, he also sees the complacency of Melniboné as its own potential downfall. His aim then is to save the empire – although the question arises if this is an empire worth saving.
Then there are also the humans who attack the island. But read for yourselves to find out if you would really want them to win.
|Blood. Just a taster, though.|
I am not going to give away more of the story – on the one hand because this is only the first part of a series of (hopefully not only) four volumes which introduces us to the world of Elric and the main players, but on the other hand because you should do yourselves a favour and go read "Elric Vol. 1" yourselves - a graphic novel which ranks among the very best of the recent wave of English-language publications of French BD.
This review is based on the German version of Elric Vol.1 , published by SPLITTER Verlag (€14.80)
Michael Moorcock’s Elric Vol. 1: The Ruby Throne is published in English by Titan ($12.99/ISBN 13: 978-1782761242)
Vol. 2, "Stormbringer", will be released in April 2015.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
When I read Youth is Wasted it was an overcast day. The rains have been coming and going just like the sun. The world around me felt like it was amberized and everything was slowly coming to a still. It’s the perfect day for contemplation and to reflect on what’s been going on with my life.
This has been a busy year for me: my girlfriend of almost five years--three of which we lived together—broke up with me, I've finally come to terms with my sexual/gender identity, and one of my best friends is moving to Oregon.
There’s another thing that’s been bugging me too: I moved from Ohio to California to be with my girlfriend--now ex--and I've been living in a state that’s so far away from home and my family, but it had one big purpose: to be with my girlfriend. Now that that’s gone, what do I do now to fill that one big purpose? That question has been hovering over my head for a while now. It’s a frightening thing to experience and deal with but there’s an air of excitement that comes with it too.
I brought all these feelings and thoughts and reflections to my reading of Youth is Wasted; and I’m glad it did.
Reading Youth is Wasted while having all these ongoing made the stories hit closer home—more than usual. Whether it’s dealing with the aftermath of a break-up,” Expectations” and” I Don’t Love Anyone”, or facing a lonely winter existence in “Because I Have To” or feeling like a perpetual fuck-up and trying to figure out who you are, “Abbey’s Road” and “Who Are You, Jesus?” All these stories hit me hard because I've been in most of these situations or have felt what Sciver’s characters felt or have known someone like them. It was also nice seeing the things I've felt and dealt with through someone else; made me feel a less alone. Reading Youth is Wasted was also a somewhat a cathartic read and made me to further contemplate everything I've been through recently.
And all this works because Sciver is great at creating believable characters and situations to put them in. There’s nothing that feels forced or pigeon-holed, every part has its place and it’s all tightly put together. Now this is years of Sciver working on his form and with this collection we see him at his best—though he’s getting better and better with every release.
Sciver’s linework reminds me of Zak Sally’s linework. What I mean by that is not in a stylished-way but more in their ability to show their characters’ interior (emotions, state-of-mind) through their characters’ exterior (their physical bodies); we see their inner-conflicts and depressions and melancholia and the like slowly changing their physical appearance to the point they physically become their motions. We see it through how they talk and move through their space. There’s also a shaky quality to the line that makes it seem like Sciver’s characters are about to fall apart, that the smallest thing will completely tear them from the seams and their world will tumble down; and most of the time their world does tumble and Sciver doesn't pull the punches when it happens.
The best thing Sciver is good at is not his believable characters or situations, or his linework, but his ability to capture a place. In “Because I Have To”, I was sucked into world the of the protagonist, Grant, lives in. I could feel the late fall weather, the wind, the leaves being blown, I inhabited the space that Grant was in. Another example is “Expectations”, seeing that mid-western/southern aesthetic/winter reminded me of home. Sciver was able to suck me into that place and make seem so homely and lived in and familiar; that’s an amazing thing to do. Not a lot of cartoonists can capture a place or setting and fully engulf you in it.
I can honestly say this my comic of the year. I say that because of all the baggage and feelings I brought to it. Now, if I wasn't dealing with all these things would it be my comic of the year? I don't know and I don't really care. I'm just really happy that I read Youth is Wasted and that cartoonist's like Sciver exist and continues to create stories.
Thursday, May 8, 2014
Heads up: Quai d'Orsay (Weapons of Mass Diplomacy) was originally going to be reviewed by Ralf (who couldn't be bothered anymore;-), so I (Lawrence B Vossler) will finish it for him. The few paragraph summary was written by him and I'm leaving it untouched and will pick up after it.
Well, it's a street in Paris where the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located and has become a metonomy for the latter.
- Frankly, I'm not a francophile and don't know anything about the inner workings of French politics, so why should I care?
Great question. For one, Quai d'Orsay won the Grand Prize for best album at the Angouleme Comics Festival in 2013, which alone is reason enough to pick it up (More precisely, it was the second part of the original French version. SelfMadeHero are publishing it as a one-volume edition). But more importantly, you can replace "Quai d'Orsay" with "Harry S. Truman Building" or "King Charles Street" or wherever else your respective Foreign Ministry or actually any other political office is located since the machinations behind politics Lanzac describes here are universal.
Lanzac is the pseudonym of an assistant of former French foreign secretary (and then prime minister) Villepin, who famously led the coalition of nations who were against the war the US began against Iraq in 2003. - Ralf
Quai d'Orsay explores the beginnings and built up to the coalition through the eyes of various characters and we read about their contributions to the coalition. Quai d'Orsay is also one hell of a funny comic; it's a comic that relies heavily on comedy.
Quai d'Orsay relies heavily on dialogue. There are times where the word bubbles just fill the page and panels and it overtakes the characters and readers. Just like the break-neck pacing the comic moves in, the dialogue comes at us at an even faster speed. Terse and hard-hitting, Lanzac's dialogue feels like it could fit into a crime/hard-boiled novel. The image below shows us how overwhelming and fast the dialogue can come at you. Blain does a smart job by taking borders away from the panels, this allows the character and dialogue to breath and move around without restriction. The borderless panel also gives it a stream-of-consciousness feel to it, that we're moving from one flow of thought to the next with De Vorms, and it gives us a sneak peek into his thought process. Even when the dialogue is within the panels, it feels like it's going to burst through the panel borders and overwhelm the page.
Though we're being pushed forward at break-neck speed throughout the comic, Lanzac and Blain know that this speed can make burn a reader out. Lanzac and Blain take little detours or have character moments that allows us to breath and take in what we just read and explore the characters more. The image below Lanzac and Blain do a beautiful job exploring an aspect of De Vorm we rarely see. Lanzac and Blain take a step-back from the chaos that surrounds Quai d'Orsay. When De Vorms meets up with Jeffrey (Colin Powell) they have a somewhat terse conversion about what's going on their lives and the politics around them. Right away we see that De Vorms & Jeffrey lose their defensive postures and they're comforted by each other. Though this page is used to show what type of relationship De Vorms has with Jeffrey (which is important later on), it's also used as a breathing space between the chaos and insanity. Lanzac and Blain uses close-up shots to show how intimate these men are and to drive how comfortable they are around each other. It works beautifully and allows us, the readers, to relax with them.
As a teenage I used to watch a show called Fist of the North Star. The main protagonist, Kenshiro, uses a move called Hokuto Hyakuretsu-ken (which translates to Hundred Cracking Fist of the North Star). It's a technique which "consists of numerous rapid punches that result in the illusion of several arms appearing at the same time" that Kenshiro uses to obliterate his enemy. When in Hokuto Hyakuretsu-ken mode, Kenshiro releases a battle cry which goes like, “AH-TATATATATA!" and finishes off with a “You are already dead." The funny thing is that throughout Quai d'Orsay Villepin is portrayed in almost an exact way Kenshiro is during Hokuto Hyakuretsu-ken. It makes me wonder if either Lanzac or Blain or both were influenced by Fist of the North Star and this is their take on Hokuto Hyakurestu-ken. Which would make sense because when De Vorms goes into that mode, he usually gets the final word. In a way, he's figuratively obliterating everyone with his knowledge, and shows them time and time again that he's one to three steps ahead of everyone. Then again, this just could be ramblings of a mind-addled reviewer whose spent too much of his life reading and watching Fist of the North Star. Influenced or not, Lanzac and Blain have created a stunning comic that shows us the complex world of French and international foreign politics through a Pythonesque view. - Lawrence B Vossler
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Eurocomics USA Invasion's Facebook page. Of the larger publishers Dark Horse seems to have jumped onto the bandwagon too. They gave us translations of Blacksad, Milo Manara stories and Jeremiah to name a few. The last one there is by Hermann, of which Dark Horse has recently announced they will also translate "Blood Ties", "Manhattan Beach 1957" and "The Girl From Ipanema" and publish these stories in one book aptly titled "Trilogy USA". These stories are a little older, which makes it all the more surprising they also announced Hermann's latest "Station 16", that saw a French released in January 2014. I really enjoyed reading Station 16 in Dutch, so I decided I'd write a review right away to get you all excited for the Dark Horse release in October.
Station 16 is an abandoned outpost on Nova Zembla, a Russian island in the Arctic Sea. During the Cold War (1955-1990) the Russians used Nova Zembla to perform nuclear tests intensively. Not just random tests, no... tests with the power 4,000 times more powerful than the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. This Tsar Bomba had the power of 50 megatons, compared to 15 kilotons for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The heaviest bomb the USA used was the Castle Bravo in 1954 with a weight of 'just' 15 megaton. There's a lot more information about Nova Zembla, nuclear bombs and the Cold War in the back of Station 16. The purpose for this is to illustrate how Yves H. (Hermann's son and author of Station 16) got the idea for the story of this forgotten piece of Russian polar region.
Now on with the book, but before that, to get you into the mood, check out the book's video trailer.
This book by Hermann and Yves H. is one very special book. Yves H. is a writer here that knows how to draw you into the story and piles mystery upon mystery. Page by page you are wondering what is going on and what the given clues will lead to. What will the men (and you as a reader) discover. Piling up clues and mysteries like this could lead to an unsatisfactory ending. Not here though... the end is well... it's... I'll tell you it's quite scary and horrific!
Hermann also does a pretty good job here. He knows how to set the scene with his beautiful paintings. Hermann creates these drawings that leave you anguished. The vast empty spaces, a nuclear explosion, a snowstorm, hungry for human flesh polar bears, jars that contain human parts, blood etc. etc. There is just too much to applaud. I'm not sure if this is his best work, but it's still pretty damned good.
Dark Horse have a winner on their hands! Station 16 is a book you will cherish. A book like this doesn't come around very often. It's based off of historical events, but it adds some twisted mysteries that in the end will leave you anguished and horrified. Highly recommended!
Station 16 will be published by Dark Horse in October 2014 | $24.99 | ISBN: 9781616554811
Monday, April 14, 2014
|Edition : Oversized Deluxe Edition|
120 pages - 10 x 13 inches - Color
$34.95 - £19.99
Benito Mambo's release date is April 30 2014. So when that date comes, buy it here!
And thus starts Benito's adventure as a Mambo dancer. Right away Durieux shows us a peek of the world that Benito inhabits. A world that's very restricting and exhausting and filled with "adulthood". Benito wants nothing to do with that world and because of that, he is thrown into a pit to die. Within the pit Bentio is visited by his unknown savior:
As you can tell Benito Mambo is fill with outlandish caricatures and situations. Actually, almost every page, every panel is filled with outlandish characters and situations. Durieux almost never gives us time to relax and keeps us moving from joke to another, one crazy situation to another, one outlandish character to another. One would think that Durieux would run out of jokes/situations/characters but he doesn't and he keeps bombarding us with them. This bombardment never overwhelms the reader; it's actually quite essential to the story. It matches the almost breakneck speed of Benito's journey and quick-draw dialogue of the characters.
Durieux can really build up to a joke. Something that might seem as throw away comes back with a hilarious fury. When Durieux is not building a a joke, he can pull off amazing six to nine panel gags that leave you laughing for a while. Each joke and gag feeds of each other and builds on top of each other, so by the end you have multiple jokes going on, each running off each other; it's amazing to read.
Benito Mambo is also filled with just beautiful single splash pages. Durieux masterfully builds up to these splash pages that when the reader comes across it, POW! You're taken aback by its beauty and color. This level of beauty is something we see regularly throughout Benito Mambo especially with the vivid and at lush colors that Durieux uses. Durieux's colors beautifully capture the everyday absurdity that these characters go through.
Even with this problem, Benito Mambo is still worth your time. It brings to the table a magical fable about mambo dancing, humor and individuality through a absurdest filter. Benito Mambo is a great spring read and a comic that will you leaving smiling for the entire day.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
We all want to change something in the world, whether it be within our family or on a more macro level or both, for better or worse. In Genesis Edmondson, Sampson & Wordie explore the that issue and how far a person is willing to push themselves to do so. Edmondson, Sampson & Wordie also use this to investigate and explore what would happen if someone was given absolute power to do so and how creative and destructive it can become to the world and to one's self.
Right from page one we're given a good amount of information about our main character, Adam. Adam is a child of creativity, he creates and transforms his ordinary blocks into something more substantial, more tangible. We're also given that his parents instilled in him the need to change the world, to leave his mark, they were building him up to be something more than the rest. As Adam gets older, he uses his creativity and his need to make to change the world through building a church and becoming a preacher. What better of a way to change the world around you by becoming a man of the holy word but things never work out the way you want them to.
As the story progresses Adam receives a special power that allows him to change the world, to make the world his own building blocks. Adams now has the ability to create whatever enters his mind and to change reality into his own. And what starts out as a something special becomes a nightmare.
Reading Genesis is like enter a surreal and dreamlike landscape that twists and turns and gets bent out-of-shape as we keep reading; always changing and surprising us. What we think we know as real gets questioned multiple times. The conscious and the subconscious invade Adam's waking life and twist his world into something beautiful and horrific. Whatever personal and open space the world had is now melded together. Adam's landscape becomes something out of a David Lynch and Cronenberg film.
|I love little touches like these. Sampson & Wordie are showing us a landscape|
that has become personified, that has changed into something
more insidious and personal.
|Again Sampson & Wordie show us a world in turmoil and a world|
personified through Adam's subconscious.
Sampson is an interesting artist because of the many different influences I pick up from her work; incidental or not. Looking at her line I see many different artists and cartoonists being brought to life: I see the loose, abstract line-work of Alberto Breccia during his later years as a cartoonist, the wild yet mathematically structured composition of Sergio Toppi, the sketchy and scratchy aesthetic of Egon Schiele backed by Sampson's eye and hand as an architecture. Sampson is able to bring all these different visuals and distill it into something unique that comes alive in Genesis.
Jason Wordie does a beautiful job matching those unique visuals with a very soft palette that gives the narrative and Sampson's artwork more emotion depth and feeling. Reading through some interviews with Sampson and Edmondson, I see that they asked for coloring to be influenced by Hiroshi Yoshida. This is a very interesting choice because looking through Yoshida's work, his use of color is a bit strange but it gives hie paintings and woodblocks a certain emotional feeling. It's through this idea that Wordie used to color Genesis and give it that same unique feeling that you would get from a Yoshida painting/woodblock. With all the destruction that takes place, there's a feeling of placidity that washes over the reader and I don't think that would have happened if Wordie used a different color palette.
|There's an odd calmness even in the most destructive scenes.|