Saturday, November 30, 2013

Inlandsis by Stéphane Betbeder & Paul Frichet

Last year I read volume 1 of Inlandsis and it was a big surprise. One of the best books I've read in 2012. In France volume 2 was released by Soleil in 2012 already, but I only just got my hands on a translation, since my French is a little rusty. The third and final volume should be published in 2014. To get a taste of what to expect in Inlandsis, check out this trailer of volume 1.

Inlandsis is about a story that happened a long time ago and is told from one generation to the next by the Inuit. However only one Inuit lady now knows the story and she is dying. Explorer Mauss hurries himself by dogsled to the old lady, to hopefully arrive in time, together with a translator, so he can document the story of times that have gone to pass. A time in which Earth had not given away all her secrets, a time in which humanity was not at the top of the animal kingdom, a time when legends where sufficient to explain the many mysteries of the world.

In those times the Gods established Inlandsis, that was protected by a great impervious wall of ice that had to protect them from the two-arms-two-legs (humans), because the Gods were not happy about that power hungry species. They graced the animals with the fire of intelligence and the gift of language and made them the protector of their empire. After all this they pulled back out of the world to rest on their laurels, undisturbed, at least that's what they thought.

Inlandsis is full of mystery, full of violence, full of adventure. About explorers, viking explores, Gods, humans and talking polar bears. I know talking polar bears might sound absurd and kiddy, but rest assured this is not a kiddy comic. It's about promises, broken promises, abandonment and loneliness. But also about revenge and prevention. The Gods do not the caucasian people to know their story. So what can they do to prevent that?

I cannot begin to explain how much I love this collaboration between Betbeder and Frichet. I have a weakness for stories that involve strange or unknown (to me) cultures, a weakness for myths, mysteries and stories with Gods. All of which are present in Inlandsis. The story Betbeder tells us here is quite broad in scope and really has the possibility of losing itself in its ambition. It sometimes feels as if this is the only or last story ever that will be published by Betbeder. So a real recipe for disaster, but somehow it works and perfectly at that! Another worry I had after reading volume 1 was that there was not really one protagonist, a character to care for, a character that takes us with him/her on his journey, through emotions. I know there is Mauss, but he is more of a vehicle for telling this story told by the Inuit lady. Furthermore we follow one of the Gods' abandoned sons, a baby and a polar bear. Again this concern seemed invalid after I read volume 2 that proved Betbeder's skills as a fantastic storyteller.

Now let me start on Paul Frichet. This guy that used to work for Disney did an amazing job with Inlandsis. The way he draws humans is very realistic and so is the way he draws the animals. However since the animals are talking they seem to be taking over human expressions Disney-style, which is the only complaint I have. A very minor complaint mind you, because if you take away these expressions, you might as well just put some dull polar bear drawings in there with some word bubbles. So apart from that I love the atmosphere Frichet creates in Inlandsis. You really feel the emptiness and the cold of the Arctic region and the people living in it. There is a lot of warmth in the drawings too that is created by an excellent use of colours. Together with the cold this creates a lot of contrast from page to page and from frame to frame.

Seriously if you don't know any of the languages this book is available in you might as well just get any version to just look at the pictures and see the story that these pictures tell. Get a dictionary too and get the full enjoyment. If you like other eurocomics, especially for example books  like Siegfried (Archaia) then this is a no-brainer. Bring on the next and final volume 3. Highly recommended!

Review is based on volume 1 & 2 of the Dutch release by Uitgeverij Daedalus. Originally published by Soleil.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Laird Barron and Tony Millionaire's Maakies

Before I start, gotta give some love to Lamar.

"I love first verse cause you're the girl I attract
I love second verse cause you're the homie that pack
Burner like a stove top, that love cooking from scratch
I love what the both of you have to offer
In fact, I love it so much, I don't love anything else"

His flow on this song is stellar and those beats... OH! Now to Barron

I've been reading a lot of Barron's short stories and novellas recently, specifically The Imago  Sequence and Other Stories & The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and Other Stories. I'm amazed at their power to blow me away due to Barron's amazing ability to set up an atmosphere that is absolutely choking, larger than life rugged and hard characters that seem to come from the early American frontier folk tales and mythology while being filter through a writing style that is beautifully complex and lyrically put together while combining it all with Lovecraftian/cosmic horror and taking that horror and filtering it further through a hard boiled pulp, noir, crime and western feel. It's amazing to read.

Barron's vision of horror is unique. There's a humanoid, insect and plant biology feel to the horrors he puts forth. Like they're an extension of us, of our universe, of our plant and insect life. It also gives them this grotesque, almost malleable structure to them. Almost like a jellyfish insect slowly coming out of the cracks of our reality or from ourselves, from our genes. I'm at a loss to describe it. And even frightening is, that they're always there, waiting to strike or waiting for a certain moment in time to coming alive; god help the people who are unlucky to come across them. 

Another antagonist is his landscapes. Barron comes from Alaska, the last frontier, a vast icy landscape that can make any human feel insignificant. He takes that primal experience and puts into his work. His landscapes can be just as dangerous as the horrors lurking in it or out of it. They're breathing entities that dramatically changes a person, change who they are, change their preconception, change their entire being. Just as it can change a person, it can also put the fear of god into them. Being in an vast place that's alien to you, going against you, not caring if you live or die, it... Again, loss of words.
Before I go off to Maakies, there's this neat trick that Barron does. A lot of Barron's characters are highly dangerous, capable and efficient people. They're good with their hands and with their minds and aren't afraid to get dirty. These are the best of us, you could say but even they can't go up against the horrors that Barron brings down on them. They can't stop the horrors of this world and if the best of us can't, then what do us normal folk have? How could we ever take a stand?
Man, I couldn't get into Maakies at first. Millionaire's comic strip is a definite grower. It's like Herriman's Krazy Kat, there's a certain beat, a rhythm to Krazy Kat; it also doesn't help that the language Herriman uses is an art in of itself. Then after reading and re-reading Krazy Kat, you start pick up on it's idiosyncrasy and you start to understand what Herriman is doing. Then you keep on reading and re-reading and you enjoy the language, the flow, the beat, the rhythm and further understand what makes Krazy Kat the best. Then after multiple readings, you fully understand what Herriman is doing and it'd comic poetry, the medium at it's absolute best and what you hated or didn't understand, you now love. Maakies is just like that. Well, not the absolute best--it's a damn fine comic strip, don't get me wrong--but the doing those steps to truly understanding what makes Maakies so great.
Maakies tells the story of Uncle Gabby (a drunken Irish Monkey) and Drinky Crow (a alcoholic crow) and their inclination for drunkenness, venereal diseases, fights, and suicide. All this takes place in a 19th century nautical background and the comic strip has visual references to historic works of art. And underneath the main comic strip, is another small comic strip with a lot of sight and word gags.
Millionaire has created such a rich world with a rich cast of antiheroes and bastards. When you step into his world, you feel the griminess and go in there touch the venereal diseases some of the characters have; it's fucking disgusting but I like that. I love when comics make me feel extreme emotions. Maakies is also pretty funny strip though funny in it's on idiosyncratic way. Just like Krazy Kat, Maakies humor will go over your heads but once you pick up on Millionaire's nuances, his jokes are dark and rich. This is all helped by Millionaire amazing black and white art. Jesus, I've spent long minutes just staring at a panel or a how strip; Millionaire is an amazing visual storyteller.

It was a comic strip I went into blind, struggled with it but kept at it, and in the end, I was rewarded with a darkly rich world filled with complex, nuanced  characters that held my jaw down and never let go.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Room For Love by ILYA

In the eventful first couple of pages that quite literally suck us straight into the story we get to know Irish lad Cougar. At least that’s the name our young protagonist goes by in most of this book. He gets by on his wits and his looks, but what is the meaning of it all? Where is the love?

Pamela, a middle-class and middle-aged woman asks herself the same question. She’s had a marriage that didn’t last, has no children, suffers from loneliness and asks herself the greater questions in life. What’s the meaning of it all? Where is the love?

Pamela’s written a couple of bestseller romantic novels, but lacks inspiration to write yet another one, much to the dismay of her publisher who compares her to other writers that have already released multiple books since Pamela's last published work.

Due to certain circumstances Pamela invites Cougar to stay at her house, no strings attached. Quickly things grow a little further than Pamela expected, but she doubts whether the feelings she has for Cougar are mutual, and are simply transactional from his side. Will her experience lead to that much needed inspiration she needs to get to start on that new novel? And will both Cougar and Pamela find that much needed love in their lives?

I loved reading this graphic novel. I haven't read anything by ILYA before, but he's written quite some interesting stories so far, much of which I really want to read now that I've read Room For Love. Some of his other works are a story he wrote for Oscar Zarate's anthology "It's Dark In London", the award winning graphic novel series "The End of the Century Club" or his "King Lear" adaption that was also published by SelfMadeHero.

What I enjoyed so much is that ILYA really takes you along for the ride with these characters. It's written in quite a mundane way and I don't mean that as a negativeness. The story is lineair, but that doesn't mean it's boring. In fact it's very down to earth, and it's easy to understand the motivations of the characters. This book is funny, but is emotional at times too. ILYA really found the right balance here. Room For Love is also eventful and some might find some passages a little too eventful and graphic. Not me however, I had a good laugh and I read something I haven't already read many times before in some other way. This book is naughty and highly recommended.

Room For Love is published by SelfMadeHero | £14.99 | ISBN: 9781906838720

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Enigma by Peter Milligan & Duncan Fegredo

A short piece today
"And Michael remembers the first time he stood naked in front of a strange girl...Because that's what he feels like now. A strange girl."

Oh, one of my many favorite lines from Enigma.

Enigma, like Starstruck, is another underrated comic masterpiece. It is a beautiful existential piece that deals with gender and identity exploration and an exploration of the secrets within us. The type of secrets that are waiting to burst, to show the world who we are but that we're afraid to show. Afraid because of the consequences and social stigma we might face if we really did show who we are to strangers and to the people we love; especially to the people we love. The enigma inside us, waiting for us to discover and nurture it. Enigma explores all those emotions and themes through a superhero filter.;16;39PM.JPGEnigma tells the story of Michael Smith and of his plain life. A life that's completely planned out, where on Tuesdays he makes "love" to his girlfriend and if anything interferes with his daily routine, he falls apart. Almost literally, he breaks down when one of his girlfriend and her friends go out to a bar instead of doing the daily schedule with Smith; because of it, Smith is made fun off and demasculinized in the process. While all this is going on, in the background there's a killer in the loose who sucks out his victim's brains. After the bar incident, Smith becomes the brainsucker's next victim, except... He gets saved by someone, that someone being a superhero name Enigma. And it's through this meeting that the story from an exploration of daily life to a road story and gender/sexuality exploration. Enigma is the catalyst that moves Smith from an ordinary straight male to a vibrant, strong, take-the-initiative gay male. Milligan and Fegredo also uses the Enigma as a catalyst to explore the inner workings of the rest of the characters in comic and to push the idea what an identity and gender really is while deconstructing the superhero genre through identity and gender; it's just a fucking ingenious idea.;19;43PM.JPG

That's what I like about Enigma a lot. It takes gender cliches and twists them around and turns them upside down through a superhero filter
. Milligan and Fegredo uses the secret identity of superheroes to explore the secret identities of everyday people. It's through the meeting of Enigma that people start to realize who they really are. It's an interest dynamic but it's hard to explain without having to spoil the comic. And I don't want to spoil this comic. There's a lot going on and if I did put all out there, it would destroy the magic of the comic. So, go out there and buy a copy and you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Starstruck by Elaine Lee & Michael Wm. Kaluta 

Here it is. The best comic ever created and chances are, you've probably never read it. Imo, better than Watchmen, The Dark Knight, Enigma, or any other top American comic you can think of.

BUT Larry, what makes it so damn special!?

Well, for a comic released in 1982, it brought forth so many mature elements, themes, story structure, and comic composition that we would see in comics like Watchmen, Enigma, Animal Man, and others in the Bronze Age; this is a game changer comic. dealt with numerous themes, one of those themes is of feminism and women in comics. Lee & Kaluata wasn't afraid to deal all the different aspects of feminism and filter it through the story and the characters in a complex nuanced, gray upon grey way.  Lee also created a huge women cast; this is a very women centric comic. The way Lee & Kaluata created them to be empowering, mature, complex and real; you can see these characters coming out of the page and becoming real.

Lee & Kaluata also upended gender and sexual stereotypes. A nifty thing Lee and Kaluata did was to put many famous male and female icons of our world and gender-bend them. Sexual orientations was another aspect that Starstar explored; it wasn't afraid to explore and show alt sexuality and its trappings. Characters in the series are omnisexual, homosexual, antisexual, heterosexual, asexual, any kind of sexual. It embraced sexuaity and wasn't afraid to show it in all its glory and weakness.

Well, what in the world is Starstruck about then. The Tl;Dr verison: Riot Grrrls influenced by Robert Altman and Thomas Pynchon take over the universe by any means possible. 

The longer version:

Well, Starstruck is set in the faarrrr future in which the death of a great dictator causes a power vacuum in the universe. His death sets up an elaborate chess game of very eccentric characters scheming for control. The story follows Captain Galatia 9 and her partner Brucilla, The Muscle. They meet sex bots, get caught in surreal situations to madcap scenarios.
Through this adventure, the series satirized various aspects of our society.  Religion: an author creates an new religion so he can fund his scheme for power an control. Gambling: taken to its extreme! I mean, the idle rich are gambling in who walks into the room or the mere chance of meeting someone!
Vanity: a Elizabeth Bathory villainess who may or may have not killed tons of young girls to stay youthful and where their are places where the poor can sell their life for the rich to live longer.
Militarism: this is the best, most of the Earth got destroyed due to military paranoia. So to cover that incident up, they cover the part that was destroyed with a hologram. Lord. And then you've the jingoistic space brigades that think the universe is their for the taking and to push forth their agenda. And finally the Arts(this is my favorite): creators of really bad plays get killed by conceptual art assassins. Let that sink in. Oh, and then you have a trio of actors who are self-absorbed into high drama frilliness and they happened to be conjoined too. Insane.

As you can see, it's quite the hilarious series with a hefty themes.  I haven't even touched how Starstruck deals with the themes of absurdism and destiny.

Now the universe. The way the story structured is something that should be lauded; it's bloody HUGE! There are so many characters fighting for power and fighting to stay alive, it's amazing to see how Lee and Kaluata juggle them and they juggle them effortlessly. Not only that, the way the story is written and the depth is to be lauded. Lee and Kaluata came at Starstruck like a writer coming at a book. She believed that comics can be just as demanding and just as hefty as a book and she brought that to Starstruck. It's a series that works in multiple layers and demands to have multiple readings to really understand what's going on., Kaluata brought his A game to the series. He brought forth a diverse elements of our society (pop, sci-fi, international art) into Starstruck. He molded those elements and brought forth a unique look and feel to the series. He also draws little bits that reference EC comics and comics he loved as a kid.

Kaluata's panel composition is something to be studied. There's a running motif to make them widescreen, make them stacked, like a cinema vista. It's to make the comic feel wide and expansive; that you need wide lenses to fully appreciate it. Kaluata also guides the readers with his drawings compositions.

All this gave the comic a unique look and feel to it. It was like nothing that came before it!

This is way it's so special and why it's INSANE that this is a criminally underrated with the comic crowd. Starstruck deserves to be up there with the best of the best. Well, it is but I mean recognition wise. And as all books and comics that are criminally underrated during it's time, it will get its due. And when it does, I hope it changes the future road of comics, into something better than it is right now.

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust 

Before I continue I want to say I'm sorry for the lack of updates from my side. I've been sick and I rarely get sick but when I do, it hits me like a ton of bricks. So, hopefully, I'll be updating more recently.

I remember when I per-ordered this comic, I knew nothing anything about the creator. But I was excited about reading it because it sounded like it was right up my alley. I also liked that it was a four hundred plus pages; I needed a brick of a comic to read. And I was right. Lust does an amazing job capturing a not so typical coming-of-age road story and youthful indiscretions. It also has one of the best intros ever.
 Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life tells the story of Ulli Lust, as an 17 year old "anarchist" punk, hanging out with friends, dodging boneheads (you'd call them skinheads but I hate using that term to describe white supremacists, because the skinhead movement is apolitical, working class and came from reggae roots that hit the UK scene but I digress) and living a somewhat care free life. She meets another girl named Edi and talk about traveling from Austria and to Sicily, Italy. After that talk, we read their adventures from Vienna, Austria to Sicily, Italy. It's an adventure that takes many twists and turns and in which life brutally steps in and teaches the young ladies some harsh lessons. Sometimes it takes a while, especially for Edi, for those lesson to sink in but when they do, they are a bit wiser than they were before. Also, along the way they meet a ton of unique individuals with a rich background but they also meet a ton of shitbags. Those shitbags play an important part of the story because they are in the front of the story and they shape the young ladies' adventures. I call them shitbags because they are heavily sexist with only sex in mind and most of them are predators/rapists. The comic touches on some heavy issues, especially since theses are two young ladies traveling by themselves. They prey of these two young ladies because they know they're traveling with almost no money and no place to sleep. So they use their money and houses as bargaining chips: I'll give you food or money or a bed if you sleep with me; this is something we read constantly and fuck, it weighs on you and you're the reader. Think if you're Lust or Edi, and how living in such a places takes a toll on you. It gets to the point where Lust is blaming herself because she was raped or have been used so much. Almost a majority of the men they come across uses them only for sex, and can't take no for an answer and they do force themselves on them, especially on Lust. They move on Lust because most men view her as a ideal woman: beautiful, nice breasts, nice hips and with some meat to her and that's how see her. These type of interactions come out most from the men in Italy. We can see that it's a highly patriarchal society and that women aren't seen as humans and Lust and Edi get treated as such; it's sad and disheartening.

When she's not touching on harassment, she's talks about the violence that's always underneath, ever ready to strike out at her, whether it be physical, emotional, mentally, or sexually. And the heavy drug use that seems to be a secondary thing to life of the characters she comes across. And the male-female interactions that run her life and how that interacts with her and how it changes her. Sometimes it a good interaction but mostly, it's something that shows a distinct line between genders.What I mean by that is, that most the males view themselves as being better than females and their way they carry themselves and force that on Lust is damning.

Though it talks about a lot of heavy issues, it's still a funny comic and as you read along you're cheering for Lust and Edi to make it to Sicily and that nothing else happens to them. And Lust does a great job bring these interactions and characters to life with her artwork. she has a thin loose (well somewhat) line that's able to express multitude of things, from expressions to locations to subtle nuanced facial expressions or emotions with her characters; it's a joy to see, especially when she does these huge expansive panels that have so much life and beauty to them.

 Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life is an amazing journey that will knock you on your ass. A comic that has so many memorable and heartbreaking moments that stick with you. And a comic that's not afraid to tackle some hefty issues that we don't see a lot of in mainstream comics. And that's sad. If had more mainstream comics were like this, that put such issues in front of the reader, I think we could have a healthy conversation about them and not worry about women in the scene being afraid to speak up and make a stand against such things like sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Castro by Reinhard Kleist

"In taking power, the revolutionary also takes on the injustices of power". Reinhard Kleist could have hardly found a more apt preface to his brilliant semi-biographical graphic novel Castro than this quote by Mexican author Octavio Paz.

Kleist, a German author and artist whose Johnny Cash biography I see a darkness has won numerous awards and received Harvey and Eisner nominations, came first upon the idea of chronicling the life of the ‘Maximo Lider’ after visiting Cuba, the experiences of which he recorded in another graphic novel (Havanna). Assisted by Castro biographer Volker Skierka, he has created a sweeping graphic novel that chronicles the life of Cuban revolutionary leader and long-time president Fidel Castro. Along the way we get to know when and why Castro first came into conflict with the different American puppet regimes in Cuba, his motivations for eventually becoming a revolutionary, as well as his life as President of Cuba.

An old and worn down Castro - a far cry from the young, idealistic revolutionary
The book is divided into three chapters, with chapter 1 forming a contrast to the remaining two. In this chapter, Castro is in the foreground - it deals with his life before becoming a revolutionary and the struggle to overturn the Cuban regime. While the situation in Cuba is complicated (amongst other things we find several different political factions, coup d’états, a US-controlled puppet regime, the Mafia and the influence of United Fruit Company), his life is rather straightforward and at the center of the narrative. Once in power (chapters 2 and 3), the political situation within Cuba becomes more simple, but Castro's life as a political leader is now much more complicated. Planned invasions by the US, trade embargoes, the Cold War and assassination attempts on his life are just a few of the things that he now has to deal with. This complexity is in itself contrasted again by his stubbornness and inability to accept defeat: although poverty and hunger are spreading in post-revolution Cuba, things still seem simple for Castro - just adhere to the principles of the revolution and everything will turn out fine. As a logical consequence, this 'removal' from reality leads to Castro being removed as the main protagonist in the last two chapters. In the end, Castro almost seems to be a tragic hero who starts off with the best of intentions but ultimately fails because of his own flaws - the "injustices of power" indeed.

Assassination attempts as a form of comic relief
Castro is told from hindsight by German reporter Karl Mertens, a fictional character Kleist introduces. This fictional element proves to be an advantage of the book compared to a prose biography, as it enables Kleist to look at the ordinary lives in Cuba under Castro's regime - something he could not do by only looking at the 'Commandante en Jefe' himself who becomes more and more removed from the everyday life and troubles of ordinary Cubans.

This is just one example of several which show that Kleist keeps a healthy distance from Castro and the legends which surround him.

Another such example can be found in the first chapter. Here, Mertens pieces together Castro's early life by interviewing his comrades and friends. It turns out, however, that Mertens cannot always be trusted. Juan, one of his closest allies, at one point talks about the rising influence of the Mafia in Havana after General Batista's coup d’état. Among the Mafiosi mentioned by Juan, Mertens includes Michael Corleone - the fictional protagonist from The Godfather. This can be seen as a sign for Castro's life itself having been partly fictionalised and turned into a legend, as well as Mertens himself beginning to fall for this legend of the ‘Maximo Lider’. 

Huh? What is the guy from The Godfather doing here?
Showing his skills as a narrator, Kleist cleverly uses contrasts between his artwork and text in some instances. While Castro talks about his plans for attacking a military garrison and how it will trigger a revolution, the accompanying pictures show the horrible failure of the attempt. The text in the last panel of this sequence reads "I suggest July 26 to be the day of our victory" while the art shows Batista's soldiers executing the remaining revolutionaries. Castro himself then is not always reliable - a foreshadowing of his presidency later on.

Kleist employs black and white artwork that focuses on the important aspects. His portrayals of Castro or Guevara are highly realistic, which adds to the overall feeling of authenticity. Art that depicts people this realistically can often be static, looking as if the artist just copied photographs and in doing so interrupting the narrative flow of a story. Not so with Castro, where the art is vivid and fluid.

With Castro Reinhard Kleist has created a highly entertaining graphic novel that transcends the genre of biographies and in doing so is more revealing about Fidel Castro's Cuba than any non-fictional work could ever be.

You can also check out this interview with Kleist on Castro:

This review is based on the original German version of Castro.                                                      
Castro is published by SelfMadeHero | £14.99 | ISBN 13: 9781906838324)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Some thoughts

Owari to Hajimari no Miles 1: The Couple from the House with Little Wings at
Ah, the world of Mohiro Kitoh is a scary place. A place where children and teenagers are shown in all their cruelty and innocence (lack there of and losing of), abrupt changes in his characters' and stories moods that move from bad to worse and bring forth situations philosophies that are heavily troublesome and disturbing in there nature. A lot of his work is on the tragedy spectrum and isn't afraid to get explore the dark aspects on human beings. He explores the ramifications of people's actions, the underlying violence in all of us ever ready to strike when pushed correctly and loves to probe the workings behind his characters and why they do what they do; he's a great character explorer.

I've been re-reading most of his works recently, though they have a good deal of problems; ranging from using his characters as mouth pieces where it kills the flow of the story to non-deliberate misogynism that's in a lot of male mangaka works. The only difference is instead of slim busty women all going after one man, his women are somewhat normal, no bustyness or harem bullshit but he puts women in horrible positions where he tries to explore some ramifications of the position he's put them in but fails and comes off misogynist even though he's not trying to be. Then there's his darkness, where at times it comes off as trying to hard to be dark. He's putting his characters in this horrible positions to keep level of tragedy and darkness ever present; well that's how it feels. Even with all his problems, his mangas are worth reading because they take you to place most manga or comics won't even touch.

I recommend checking out Owari to Hajimari no Miles, Nanika Mochigatte Masuka & Bokurano from Kitoh.

Another mangaka I've been re-reading is Natsume Ono. Man, I fucking love Ono's work.

She has an amazing grasp on writing characters. They're layered, nuanced, complex and with each page we learn more and more about them; there's always more than meets the eye with her characters. Not only is she a great character writer, her plots are rather intricate too. Actually, she's a great magaka. She knows how to pace her story, keep it moving while allowing her characters space to breathe, move and become than cardboard cliches that just move the plot. One of the best examples of this is Ristorante Paradiso, which tells a tale of a mother/daughter reunion in a little restaurant in Rome. A simple premise that takes some complex turns and becomes more than what it seems.
Another favorite of mine and her most famous work is House of Five Leaves. It follows a hungry, desperate ronin named Akitsu Masanosuke who is skilled but has a diffident nature; having such personality does not vibe well with the lord he's employed under and he gets fired. Through some wanderings, he find Yaichi, a very charismatic leader of a group called Five Leaves, a gang. He becomes Yaichi's bodyguard and though the activities and beliefs of Five Leaves are very questionable, there's more to them than meets the eye and that's a theme in a majority of Ono's work. What we thought the characters were gets changed and so we're given a new perspective on the characters and it changes everything. She's great at slipping things right under you and subtly bring up into the story.

Another recommendation from Ono is Danza. It's a collection of sort stories about being a foreigner. The word foreigner takes many different meanings, from yourself, to your home, to the people around you and the culture your in. It's a quiet contemplative slice of life manga that I really enjoyed reading.

Before I go, I've recently fallen in love with Nakamura Asumiko artwork:

I just love her coloring and exaggerated character figures.
This song been on replay a lot; catchy song.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Blast 1-3 by Manu Larcenet

Into The Wild is what crossed my mind when I read Blast. I haven't read Jon Krakauer's book about the life of Christopher McCandless, but I did see the film adaption. Wanting to be independent, the need for self discovery, wanting to enjoy life, the wandering, but also the loneliness and desperation towards the end of the film were elements that struck me most about that film. These are all elements that are there in Polza's life, the main character of Blast. However Blast is much more complex, because added to the mix above is self loathing, self destruction, melancholy, philosophy, psychiatry, alcoholism, trust and abuse. This book is raw and punches you in the gut page after page. When you think it can't possibly get any worse it does just that.

French creator Manu Larcenet (Ordinary Victories, Le retour a la terre) started writing Blast back in 2009 and knew it was going to be 4 volumes when finished. In 2012 volume 3 was released, with the final volume planned for a 2014 release. The work was originally published in French by publisher Dargaud, and has been translated to German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and possibly some other languages, however English sadly not being one of those. This review will be based on the Dutch translation of volumes 1, 2 & 3 by publisher Oog & Blik | De Bezige Bij.

Volume 3
So how do we get to know about Polza's life? Larcenet takes us to the police station where we see an arrested Polza being interviewed by two detectives about the killed Claire Oudinot. What makes this story interesting is that rather than trying to figure out the easy facts on how Polza killed Claire, the detectives are convinced by Polza to let him tell his story to take them on his journey, because if they want to understand why he did what he did, they'd have to take the same journey Polza took. So he starts talking about his father's death, how he sat at his death bed, talking to him while his mind was numbed by morphine. He tells the detectives how he felt. How there was no bigger contrast between his dying father, whom was reduced to some bones held together by his skin and Polza's morbidly obese body. Saddened by what he saw at the hospital wandering the streets he eats more and more of his Funky Chocolate bars and drinks copious amounts of alcohol to wash away a handful of randomly selected pills. Sitting outside in the pouring rain like a homeless man he vomits everything out and that's when it happens - his first experience of the blast.

The detectives don't know what to say... a blast? What's that supposed to mean? As Polza tries to explain what the English word for blast means, and what it makes him go through, the detectives scratch their heads. It's this crackling in Polza's head, the terrible sound of the breaking of bones, when different air pressures from two sides come together and you are squeezed in between, or at least your head is and then your skull feels like it's sucked out and then suddenly you feel like a newborn levitating through the air having visions of a giant Moai and seeing a world without any morals. It sounds completely insane! But is Polza really insane? Or is he pretending to be? He speaks in such a poetic, philosophic manner that you start to think that maybe he is not that monster capable of killing a lady in cold blood. But what could his motive be?

The detectives decide to let Polza talk, hoping to discover more about other crimes he might have committed or witnessed. After his first blast he wants to experience it again, trying to recreate the same atmosphere he was in when he had his first blast. The blast made him take a non-conformist approach to life. When he needs more time than just a minute, he just takes that extra time. Polza starts to live on the streets without any structure in search of another blast. No structure in life though is generally not the best idea for someone who hates himself, who is psychotic and unstable. From the streets he moves to the forest, he breaks into houses, finds himself being taken care of by strangers after having been abused, becomes friends with a drug dealer, taking him deeper and deeper into problems that become unsolvable. Or is this life he chose the way to his desired solution? A way out of life?

I hope you won't feel too depressed reading this review, because the book will make you feel even more depressed! Larcenet must really hate Polza, what he makes him go through is a life you don't wish upon your worst enemy. A life filled with alcoholism, drug abuse and obesity are just some examples that scratch the surface of the complexity of Polza's life.

It's quite incredible how Larcenet created this graphic novel. The story is told merely by Polza being interviewed by the two detectives. Polza only moves between the interrogation room and his cell a few times in the course of the three volumes I read. But it's Larcenet's ability to tell a moving, gut wrenching, punch in the face story that makes it not matter from where it's told. It's also fascinating that after 3 volumes and over 600 pages we still don't know how and why Polza killed Claire Oudinot. And it doesn't matter! It's the emotional journey Larcenet is taking us on through Polza's life story and inner workings that keeps us at the edge of our seat and where at moments we even lose the main plot. But that doesn't matter! It's that good!

The book's art is mainly in black and white, but some scenes are in colour. This is mainly when Polza is experiencing a blast or is looking at art he encounters in homes he broke into to stay the night during the cold winter. The blast scenes that have some colour are actually drawings made by two kids and that's pretty easy to see, but perfectly fits the story Larcenet wants to tell. With art being black and white, the main use is black though and many shades of grey. In many panels you just see the contours of the characters, but it's always plain easy to see what's going on in each panel. You can see Larcenet is fully able to put all his creativeness into Blast. The art starts to get more and more detailed as the story progresses and I wonder what he has in store for us in the next and final volume.

So in conclusion if you liked the aspects of self discovery and loneliness of Into The Wild and want to experience a story that takes you by the cojones, put the Into The Wild soundtrack on repeat, or more specifically the song Long Nights and let Larcenet take you on a journey you will not forget.