Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Fuan no Tane by Nakayama Masaaki and the Weird

"A man awakes in the darkness and reaches over for his eyeglasses on the nightstand. The eyeglasses are placed in his hands." This is taken from the introduction of Noctuary by Thomas Ligotti and it tells a bare-bones weird story. It has a beginning, middle and an end and if read under the right circumstances--midnight, pitch black room, maybe a hefty wind going outside--it can scare you. And like most weird stories: it's short--this is shorter than most--and gives the reader a sense of unease; an unease of the unknown and the unexplainable. Fuan no Tane takes this structure and idea and runs with it.

But before I continue, let me tell you what Fuan no tone is about: Fuan no Tane explores Japanese urban legends, horror and weird tales. These are the weird short stories, in which reality is lifted away in a person's life and the bizarre enter.

Fuan no Tane, like our short story, uses that quick and short structure to tell its tales, each one weirder than the last; it's an interesting structure to work in. It's highly economical, leaving the fluff out the door and working with only the essential. The downside is that it leaves things like characterization, nuance, texture and the like that you can see/read in novellas, novels, and serial comics out-in-the-cold; it's a somewhat hefty trade-off.

 I don't think this is a bad thing for Fuan no Tane, due to the nature of the stories. We're not interested in the characters' past, but that moment of time in which they experience the unknown; to look at that moment, almost crystallize it and then move on. I think that works really well because experiences like that are fleeting and almost dreamlike. At that moment, reality has stopped working, or what we think of as reality and it feels like something has invaded and violated us. Those strong feelings hit you hard but only for a few minutes and you then come back, if you're lucky.

The structure also works in a way that a person would react and think in a situation like that. What I mean by that is, we may think of this a just a random experience; wrong place, wrong time. For us, there's no slow build up the horror--actually, let me go back on that. There might be, we could have done something that leads us to this path, but we're not going to be thinking of that at the time. We're not going to be having an introspective look at the situation, but we're going to be thinking "Why me?" That builds up or lack thereof leads me to something else.

Let me go back to that very short story from the beginning. "A man awakes in the darkness and reaches over for his eyeglasses on the nightstand. The eyeglasses are placed in his hands." There's more than meets the eye here. Yes, it's a bare bones story that can be a frightful, but there's something more underneath: fate and inevitability. It was fate that the person reaching for the eyeglasses would come to bump into the unknown. That this small moment was inevitable, there was nothing that people could do to change that meeting with the unknown. It doesn't matter how hard they worked or what they did or how they lived, this meeting was inevitable. That you were born to experience this weirdness and maybe even die by its hands. It's a frightening prospect to think about.

You can make the argument that, maybe it's not fate or inevitability but random chance. But that too also has frightening consequences. There's no rhythm or reason to life, you could work your hardest and be a great person, but if the dice roll the wrong way, you're screwed. Both things have their own frightening consequences and can make you read and experience horror in very different ways.

I bring these themes up because they also play heavily in Fuan no Tane or any weird story. And reading Fuan no Tane with this in mind, can change the way one reads these stories. Are they a product of a chance? Or was a person born and prepped to meet the unknown? I really have no answer and neither does Fuan no Tane nor does the Weird. But what makes them so great, is that they aren't afraid to engage in these ideas and accept them whole heartily. To take the sheet from the reader's eyes and show that the universe is a scarier place than they imagined.

You can read all three volumes here (remember right to left when reading manga):

There's also a Fuan no Tane plus but imo, it's not as good as these three volumes. But if you want to read here it is:

Celebrated Summer by Charles Forsman

I apologize for the lack of updates these last few days; personal problems have come up.


Now enough of that and let's talk about Charles Forsman's Celebrated Summer; a highly anticipated  release. And man, what a comic.

Forsman is a cartoonist to be watching. He's one of those rare individuals who gets better and better with every release. With his debut release, The End of the Fucking World, showed an individual with a strong grasp of the comic medium; beautifully pairing word and imagery in sequential motion. Forsman continues this

Celebrated Summers tells of two youths dropping LSD and we follow them through their whole day of tripping.


This isn't you typical, WHHHOOAAA I'M TRIPPIN' BALLS type story. No, the LSD is mostly used as a way to explore the inner feelings, fears, inspirations and daily lives of these disfranchised youths. It's a beautiful slice of life story where life is heavily expounded on because of the LSD. And since Forsman's characters come from trouble homes or have troubled pasts, those troubles too are expounded. but those troubles aren't shown in full force. Forsman implies them or allows use to only see a small part of the overall image, letting the readers fill in the rest. Forsman does this through dialogue or through the actions of his characters. This allows a level of nuance and textured characters that linger in the brain for days to come.

I love when creators do this. It gives us a sense that we're part of the story, that Forsman isn't just telling us a story, but allowing us to work with him.

Forsman continues his tradition of having panels with just words. One of the many tools that Forsman uses in his narratives. For me, this allows a level of contemplation and characterization that sometimes only words can do. Then pair that up with wordless images, it adds to an interesting dynamic between the two. I think, there's a freedom to experiment and expound on your world and the characters that inhabit it when to do things like that. To disconnect or connect the two (words and images) in an interesting way.

Forsman also continues the Charles Schulz legacy. The big thing to say I know but when you read Forsman, you can't help but think of Peanuts; in Forsman's art-style, characters and in his stories. It's as if the Peanuts crew grew up and had to deal with teenage and adult problems. There only another person who is close to that is Sammy Harkham but he doesn't get to the level that Forsman does.

Now, I don't want to just make Forsman seem like a Schulz imitator, but as Forsman taking what made Schulz and Peanuts great and twisting into his own unique voice and vision.

And I think that's why I fucking love Forsman's work. I'm a huge Peanuts fan; I grew up with it. I still vividly remember picking up my first Peanuts comic, watching the TV specials and where I was when Schulz died. They all had a huge impact on life. Then there're Forsman's characters, they remind me of my friends and I. Dealing the with the same shit that some of the character in Forsman's comic deal with. I get lifted back to my teenage years and a wave of nostalgia, embarrassment, anger and disappoint just hit me. I don't mind reveling in that, it was something that was a part of me and made me who I am.

Celebrated Summer is a short story, only 66 pages, but there's a lot of depth. It's a story that deserves more than one read to fully grasp Forsman's full realized characters and story.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Hartlepool Monkey by Wilfrid Lupano and Jeremie Moreau

Why is it that xenophobia and racism are most prevalent among those who have never come in contact with foreigners? And why is jingoism mainly found with people who have never left their home country?

During the war against Napoleon in 1814, a French ship sinks before the coast at Hartlepool, near Newcastle. One of its two survivors is immediately picked up by the townspeople after he has been washed ashore. Wearing a non-English uniform and speaking a 'language' the villagers cannot understand, the verdict is clear: he must be a French spy and part of an impending invasion that threatens the whole kingdom. The people of Hartlepool decide to take it upon themselves to stop the French. A brave plan – if the whole notion wasn’t based on a tiny error: their captive isn’t a spy but the mascot of the sunken ship – a monkey in a French uniform. But never having seen a Frenchman or a monkey before, this does not deter the brave Hartlepudlians in the slightest.
the end of the journey for the French captain - the beginning of the monkey's torment
What follows is a brilliantly crafted parable about xenophobia and jingoism. French writer Wilfrid Lupano and artist Jeremie Moreau have turned a local legend (Hartlepudlians are still known as “monkey hangers”) into a deeply serious and tragic graphic novel that also turns out to be one of the funniest books of 2013.

At the heart of racism and jingoism we often find prejudice and simple-mindedness that both defy logic, as The Hartlepool Monkey shows. Why would the French want to start their invasion in Hartlepool? "I mean Hartlepool is not exactly what you might call a crucial military target", objects one of the villagers. Alas, logic and reason are cast aside when prejudice takes over.

Conversely, the captain of the French ship states "I like things to be simple", after telling his men that the Age of Enlightenment has been a "terrible mistake". "On the one hand there's La France - everyone else is the enemy", a sentiment mirrored of course by the inhabitants of Hartlepool, just with reversed roles.

The serious actions of the grown-ups are mirrored by the local kids playing "Frenchies": one group of children playing the English has to catch another group playing the French with the goal of ‘shooting Napoleon’. While superficially this seems harmless enough, it shows that even the children are affected by xenophobia and bias already. They will certainly follow in the footsteps of their parents when they grow up.

The story seems - and at times is - hilarious, if it wasn't for the serious subject matter underlying it. And indeed, the ending of The Hartlepool Monkey is far from a happy one, even if the outlook of things to come that we find at the very end is more optimistic.

Lupano's pacing as a narrator is impeccable. Reading the book almost feels like watching an old animated Disney movie. He has an excellent handle on the interactions between his characters. And on top of that, he is able to blend the humorous with the serious. Jokes and puns that are being made often turn out to actually be based on prejudice and nationalism.
a funny remark about Catholics - but actually another example of xenophobia
His collaborator Jeremie Moreau won the "Young Talent Award” at Angouleme in 2011, and one can immediately see why. His art is at the same time dynamic, cartoony and raw - somewhere between Juanjo Guarnido and  Nicolas de Crecy, although not as detailed as either of them. But his style brilliantly reflects the dichotomy between the more comedy-oriented and serious aspects of the story. It is also a style fitting to depict the rough life in a northern English village near the coast. Where Moreau excels, however, is when he draws facial expressions and movement. Especially the latter adds to the feeling of watching an animated film.
an example of Moreau's dynamic style
Mention must also be made of the expressive use of colours in the book. This becomes especially apparent at the end of the book, during the trial of the "French spy" (I won't give away too much at this point).

Although it was originally written in French, I would recommend buying the English edition even if you understand the original. Knockabout have done a stellar job of making the Hartlepudlians speak the local dialect and idioms, adding realism to the story in doing so.

Being aimed primarily at a younger audience, The Hartlepool Monkey is not too subtle in delivering its message, but neither are most parables. This does not mean, however, that this brilliant little tragicomedy is not for adults as well - quite the contrary. Kudos to Knockabout for publishing The Hartlepool Monkey - an excellently crafted award-winning graphic novel by a writer/artist team that I am certain we will hear more of in future. 

The Hartlepool Monkey is published by Knockabout/£12.99/ISBN 13: 978-0-86166-226-5

Friday, December 13, 2013

Some more thoughts on some more things


I finally got done reading Langan's "Mother Stone". And it's my favorite Langan story right now because it employs a lot of the themes and postmodern tools that Langan uses in his fiction.

Langan is probably my favorite modern horror/weird writer. Though I think Strantzas, Hirshberg and Kiernan write some of the best and most effective horror I've ever read, Langan holds a special place in my heart.

The reason he holds a special place is, well, let me go back. I got into a heavy postmodern meta kick when I first read House of Leave by Mark Z. Danielewski awhile back ago, and that made me view how prose could be used differently and how the physical material in which the prose is published on could be a used as a narrative tool to add a depth not seen before. This postmodern kick was further reinforced by comic writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Dave Sims, Marc-Antoine Mathieu and others. So I bought as much comics, prose, illustrated works that employed such things. Works that referenced itself and other works, realized it's relationship with the reader and the reader's relationship with the work; a complete and alien deconstruction of linear narrative and genres; heavy fragmented paradoxes, absurdity and surrealism to the point where it turned itself and deconstructed itself. I love works that do that and Langan's work a lot of that. Not only does he do that, he also employs horror, another thing I love. It's a match made in heaven.

Those type of themes and narratives come out in "Mother Stone". Though we don't see heavy surrealism but a more deconstruction of the relationship between protagonist and reader. In "Mother Stone" we see Langan's multiple narrative, academia, themes and different levels of trauma, alienation, and relationship with memories come into play through a second person narrative. Though it is used as a way to alienate the protagonist from herself, viewing herself  as a whole different person that she doesn't recognize. I viewed it more as the relationship with the reader. Every time a you is read and perspectives are flipped, moved from one body to another, one memory to another  and forced into a story, we become more active and engaged than we would if written traditionally. Our relationship with the story become more entangled and more emotional resonant. And this all comes to a heavy conclusion, where the protagonist comes to terms with herself. Instead of being thrown around by Langan, by us, she must take reigns of the story and become independent. In that moment, she also realizes she is her own story and we're finally kicked out. But sadly, in that moment of epiphany, she's doomed because she's kicked the creator and invader out and in doing so, she has made her own ending as just as she's made her own beginning.

It's hard for me to explain just how much this story resonated with me. How it hit all the horror and postmodern funny bones. Even looking back at what I've written, I just.. I don't, but I do know I fucking love this story and I can't wait to see what else Langan has in store for us.

OH MAN! Occultation, my favorite Barron collection.

This is just a quick write up and I'll do more in another post. 

Occultation's stories like Mother Stone, heavily resonated with me. I think that has to do with the different types of protagonists. In Imago and The Beautiful Thing, we mostly read about lone tough hard-hitting men fighting against being assimilated and ruined by a landscape that's infinitely older and chaotic than they could ever imagine. In Occultation, we see not tough men but somewhat regular folks in relationships. And most of the time, the reason the horror and their ruin starts is because of those relationships. There's an almost cannibalistic and leachous end to these people and relationships. 

It's interesting to read these stories from Barron and I think these are his most effective stories he's ever written. And I think that's to do with the relationships within these stories and how the mold and bend and adapt to the horrors they come across. This is also why I love "The Redfield Girls". A story that's not only molded through the relationships of the Redfield Girls but their individual relationships with legacy, ghost stories and past generations. It's a story that has a lot of nooks and crannies in it that don't jump out in your first time read, but as you re-read and you discover them, you view the story and relationship in a whole new light.

I need to re-read these stories again. Not only to fully grasp what Barron is doing but because they're so well written and horrific.


He claimed to be working on a book called A Thousand Different Outcomes To The Malvinas War, but he'd never shown a single page to anyone, perhaps fearing that, if he did, one ending or another would become fixed for ever. I'd never come across anything like that in the English bibliography on the Malvinas war. The winners, it seems, reach their destination believing they've walked a straight line to victory; it's us losers who are always left to fret over the multiple possibilities of history.
Another quick thought. I use these quick thoughts as springboards for the future posts I'll do for these works but also to quickly share them to our readers.

 The Islands, my novel of the year. This outdoes Krasznahorkai's Seibo There Below, Ferrante's The Story of a New Name, Vasque's The Sound of Things Falling and Marias's The Infatuations; wow, that's one hell of a novel.

The Islands tells of the Malvinas islands but through Catch-22 filter. Felipe Felix is a professional hacker who live in Buenos Aires and a veteran of the Malvinas/Farkland war. He is hired by a wealthy person to solve a mystery. From there starts an absurdist romp through the Argentinian mindscape, Malvina veterans, a thrilling murder mystery, and a dissection of the Malvina/Farkland island matched with heavy surreal humor and dsytopian view.

The Islands does not want to be a realistic noir, crime, and historical fiction but to push such themes to satirical ends, also wanting to push the boundaries of reality. The book really did a number on me and I can't wait to further dissect it and write a further detailed post.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bad Break by Philippe Riche

This has been a great year of Humanoids, month after month of releasing high quality comics from Europe, and Bad Break continues that string.

Humanoids first released Alliance of the Curious and the characters we met there are the exact same characters we see in Bad Break. Bad Break is a prequel to Alliance and here, we see their beginnings. Bad Break also continues Riche's fascination with Neo-Noir and Crime genres. Being able to work within the genres and expand them to places not seen regularly. Bad Break starts with one of our protagonists, somewhat bandaged and in a mission to get to certain place. It's really a very striking introduction to the character and comic. We follow him for a while until he slowly meets up with our other two protagonists and from there our story goes into full gear. Bad Break is a story that's high in black humor, convolution (not a bad thing) and silence; Bad Break is a comic that loves its silence.

The characters in Bad Break mostly talk through actions and expressions and reactions to situations presented to them. It's a tricky thing to pull off, especially if you're working within the comic medium. You have to be a skilled artist to pull off the nuances of human expression and behavior. Luckily for us, Riche is a highly skilled artist.

Riche's linework is bold, thin and straight to the point. He draws what is needed to move the story or to add dimensions to his characters. His chiaroscuro black and whites with gray overtones add to the story's unrelenting pace. It also gives an atmosphere of paranoia.

Not only is Riche a skilled artist, but he has a strong grasp of the inner-working of Neo-Noir. There's that word again. For those who don't know, Neo-Noir takes a unique spin on Noir. Neo-Noir takes in account modern technology and it's social ramifications while using things like memory lapses, somewhat convoluted narratives, identity crisis, and a distance between the view or reader with their protagonists. Instead of having the viewer or reader build a relationship, like you would in most Noir works, Neo-Noir keeps a distance that makes that relationship unattainable. You realize you're watching or reading a story by the way Neo-Noir utilizes unconventional camera angles and a schizophrenic plot progression. That's what Riche does with Bad Break.  He takes the themes, tropes and motifs that Neo-Noir utilizes and turns them on their head and almost deconstructs them.

Sadly, that inspection is sometimes stifled by the way he does his page and panel layouts. There's a stiffness in them that breaks the flow of the narrative when things start to pick up. Just when you get into the rhythm or beat of the story, Riche does a weird panel or page layout and it breaks that flow; you get jolted out of the story. Good thing these stifles are few and far apart and they don't ruin the overall reading experience.

Riche does a lot interesting character and narrative work in Bad Break. He has a unique vision and voice that we don't see much of with other creators working in the genre. This is also a great introduction to Riche's work and to his characters that we will hopefully see more of in the future. If you're a fan of Noir, Neo-Noir, Crime or anything the like, do yourself a favor and buy Riche's Bad Break and while you're at it, buy Alliance of the Curious too.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Some thoughts on John Langan and Klein's Dark Gods


A little heads up, this isn't an academic breakdown of Langan's stories but some thoughts that came to me when reading Langan.

John Langan is interesting. He's interesting because of his postmodern metafictional and at times, highly experimental narrative take on the horror genre. Not only postmodern but an academic deconstruction and subtle reconstruction while commenting on what makes horror, horror. Reminds me a bit of Tarantino. He's commenting on the films and genres he likes, taking it apart and then building it right up with a joyish glee to it; Langan does the same but with horror. 

Let's take "The Revel", a werewolf story. But it's narrative is built around a somewhat academic break down of the werewolf genre and story and it's characters. He's begins the werewolf story, how one might start, with a chase. Within the chase, he breaks down the components of a chase scene with werewolf and it's victim. Describing it, telling us the important of it while slowly and subtly building a werewolf story out of it's deconstruction. In a way, we're getting two or more stories out of these; it's break down, why it matters and a building of an actual werewolf story. He continues this through out the story, deconstructing a werewolf's stories setting, characters and motivations. Giving us a multi-perspective view on the werewolf genre/story and then making a story out of it, just like he did in the first part with the chase. It's hard to explain because this is something that only works when there's a reader to it. I say that because, we, are part of Langan's story. We are giving the deconstructive and reconstruction life and meaning. Hell, Langan even deconstructs us, the reader, and how we play a role in reading. How we put ourselves in the shoes of the predator and the prey and the people trying to solve the mystery. How the reader plays a role in bring the words to life and giving meaning and adds our perspective the already mulch-perspective world that Langan has created; it's beautiful to read and experience.

In "On Suka Island" he's doing the same thing, well almost, that the did in "The Revel". "On Suka Island" he starts the story with his characters commenting on the horror genre as a whole and it's metaphors and symbolism. Then the topic gets on mummies and how horror stories start and from there, Langan beings his reconstruction of a horror story. He starts with the thing he just deconstructed, mummies and how horror stories start; an old archeologist starts his mummy story he's experienced with the exact way the character were just commenting on how horror stories start. I know I'm repeating myself, but it's hard not to when you're describing a Langan story. 

An other example is "Technicolor". In "Technicolor", we see a professor talking to his class about Poe's The Masque of the Red Death. The professor is slowly taking Poe's story apart and seeing what makes it tick and what makes it work. While this goes on, Langan starts to slowly build his story into the professor's breakdown of Poe's story and building his on Masque of the Red Death. Just like "The Revel", we have a lot of stories and components being broken down, rebuilt and inserted. As "Technicolor" continues, the story gets more and more surreal and we see that Poe and The Masque of the Red Death become more than an academic breakdown and becomes something that will harm us. I don't want to get to deep into it because it will ruin the surprise.

When he's not doing postmodern stories, he's working with the usual tropes and theme of a horror story but giving them a unique and modern twist. And this is why I love reading Langan's work; it's so unique. 

I have yet to finish Klein's book but I'm halfway through it (only have two more stories), so this is more of first thoughts than a breakdown.

Klein's work is something that gets a lot of praise and talk around horror writers and readers. A masterpiece, highly influential and widely accepted as one of the best horror books ever written. I have never heard of Klein and Dark Gods and when I first heard this, I had to seek it out and read it. Sadly, it's out-of-print but getting a copy isn't too expensive. Bought myself a copy and was excited to sit down and delve right into. After reading two of the four novellas, I can easily see why it's so loved; Klein knows how to tell a great fucking horror story.

When you read Klein and if you know something about the boom of horror that occurred in the 80s, this book does a great job capturing that boom and why it happened. I'll expand on that when I do a full post on Dark Gods.

The characters, mostly men, remind me of some of Fritz Lieber's men. That is, they're highly rational, educated but somewhat uncaring to feelings of the people around them. They can be unfaithful and complete dicks to those they love and are highly flawed. So when the horror strikes them, they can't deal. They try to rational it away but the horror is too strong, too huge and too horrific for them to do so and they get hurt; they get hurt bad.

Also, Klein's amazing ability to to slowly build his horror out of the smallest things and decisions is amazing to experience. Small decision or spots that we don't think much of but they play an important role to the overall picture. So, they all build off each other and add to the growing tension and horror of the story. To the point where it climaxes and overtake our protagonists. Klein is one hell of a skilled writer. 

I'm very happy that I decided to check this book out. Because with this, I get to see the how it influenced the horror genre and some of my favorite writers.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Heartless by Nina Bunjevac

2012 was an amazing year for comics. Humanoids, Selfmadehero, IDW, Top Shelf, Picture Box, Fantagraphics and other were releasing a host of amazing comics. Conundrum Press was one of those publishers whose releases, to my knowledge, didn't get a lot of screen time. Which is sad because they publish some amazing comics from highly original creators. So go check them out. Now. http://www.conundrumpress.com/

One of the comics they released was a compendium HC called Heartless, which collects Bunjevac's short stories and imo, was one of the best comics to come out in 2012. Sadly, it too didn't get a lot of talk. 

Bunjevac's stories intensely focusing on the displaced, the American Dream and then subverting it, the people on the outside of society but seen and felt through female perspective. Not only a female perspective but through a Central and Southeast European perspective too. Which is something I haven't comic across a lot in comics. Yet, even though there is a bit of cultural disconnect when I read these stories, but for the most, a majority of her characters deal with everyday problems. Though most of the problems are hefty, you can recognize and understand and feel for her protagonists.

The females in her stories are heavy subjugated, dealing with sexism and overall feelings of xenophobia from the people around them. Bunjevac holds no punches with her stories and most of the characters we meet have endings that are emotionally gut-wrenching. But Bunjevac has a great ability to make us feel for her characters. Yes, some of them may never be able to redeem themselves but you care for them and hope for the best for them. The characters almost know or have a feeling that failure will be coming their way but they persist and try to make the best of their situation.  You can see that glimmer of good in them and it's amazing to experience that within a few pages; that tells a lot about Bunjevac's amazing skill as a cartoonist and storyteller. There's also a heavy gallows/black humor throughout the book. One of my favorite stories dealt around a character called Zorka Petrovic. We see her interacting with various characters, who too get the spotlight, and in the end we see Zorka dealing with failed love and an abortion. It was an intensely sad tale in which there are no real outs. Just inspecting the damage done to by us and then trying to move on and make the best out of it.

Bunjevac's art is a fucking gorgeous. A mixture of heavy pointillism, Robert Crumb, early Drew Friedman and hyper-realism that leaves you feeling a bit uncomfortable but unable to look away because of how gorgeous it is. Her art really makes the characters and their situations pop, and it adds more gravitas to them. I found myself staring at pages or panels for god knows how long, just studying her art and her ability show motion (when it's used) and emotion through her characters. You get a feeling these are real people, and that everything they do and feel is real and not part of a comic.

There's been a wave of female cartoonists entering the comic scene as of lately, leaving a mark that has and will change scene forever. Their new voice and perspective is well needed and well welcomed (though there are those who fight against this wave of change, tsk). And I think if Bunjevac gets the spotlight and popularity she deserves, she could be a huge player in scene and shake things up.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advance Review - District 14: Season 2 by Pierre Gabus & Romuald Reutimann

Once again, Gabus & Reutimann do the impossible with District 14: Season Two. They raised the bar high in Season One, but in Season Two they not only to get over the bar, but they raise it even higher.

http://www.humanoids.com/assets/CatalogueArticle/477/District-14-Season-2-Diamond-3_big.jpgSome time has passed since Season One and we're introduced to two new character. As we continue to read, these characters become essential to Season Two and they add depth to a character that wasn't given too much thought in Season One. This is something we will come across in Season Two, the small things in Season One are now important and expanded on in Season Two. We also continue the story of Hector, Vanita, Michael, Bigoodee, The Telegraph, and the aftermath of their actions in Season One. Gabus & Reutimann also introduce a lot of new characters and concepts in Season Two. These characters and concepts become very important and move narrative forward, tie up loose ends and change attitudes and prejudices of the main characters.

District 14 has always been about the journey of its characters with relation to their place in the city. In Season One, we were exploring new areas through the eyes of Michael with Hector as a tour guide. Gabus & Reutimann were introducing a new world to their readers, so there had to be a feeling of exuberance, ecstasy and that unique feeling of being in a new place and exploring it for the first time.  Now that we've moved past those feelings and have an idea what District 14 is as a city, Season Two slows down and becomes more about fleshing out its characters, their motivations, the city and closing up loose ends that Season One had. In each page, Gabus & Reutimann are building off the foundations they've place in Season One for a more rich and nuanced reading experience.

http://www.humanoids.com/assets/CatalogueArticle/477/District-14-Season-2-Diamond-6_big.jpgGabus & Reutimann are also peeling away at the layers of District 14, revealing the mechanics of the city and showing us makes it ticks. We start to see how the economy and certain government branches are run. Gabus & Reutimann show us different areas and businesses of city and how the citizens in those areas affect the overall picture in District 14, and how the city takes to those changes and evolves because of those changes. We're also shown the alien ghetto that was talking about in Season One and we explore their place in the city and how that too, affects how the city is run.

The characters are also given space to bea fleshed out. Actions and motivations that puzzled us in Season One are now explained in Season Two. Certain characters' background that were hinted upon in Season One are now fully explored. Our main characters are slowly changing as the story progresses. Hector is slowly getting used to Belinda's death, Michael's disease is tearing him apart and making him violent, Vanita becomes depressed because of Michael's absents, Bigoodee and his sisters' background are explored further and characters who played small roles in Season One are now front and center and are fleshed out.

http://www.li-an.fr/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/page-438-case-4-cite-14.jpgAnother change is Reutimann's inks. In Season One, they were light, thin and at times, a bit sketchy. Now, Reutimann's inking is more bolder, thicker and confident than before. He's also working with a lot more blacks than before and there's more of a noirish feel and look than Season One had. There some beautiful panels here. Also, his a lot delicate when portraying his characters. He's always been great at conveying the emotions and personalities of his characters, but more so now than before.

District 14: Season Two is a smart, fleshed out and mature sophomore release to their explosive and robust Season One. Gabus & Reutimann show a high level of confidence in where they want to take their story and characters and you see that confidence when you read District 14: Season Two. District 14: Season Two has been scheduled to come out on January of next year, so be on the look out for it. For this is a comic that's in line for comic for the year for 2014.

District 14: Season 2 is published by Humanoids | $39.95 | ISBN:  9781594650598

Blacksad 5: Amarillo by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido

I don’t usually buy comics on Wednesday, but today I made a special trip to my favourite comic shop. Why? A new installment of Blacksad was released today!!! Part 5 already and did it take Díaz Canales and Guarnido a long time or not? Volume 4, or Silent Hell as it’s called, was already two years ago. Needless to say my expectations were high going into Amarillo. I mean Guarnido took his time, we’ve seen this killer cover and some preview art to boot. And then the hype over here in Europe… Blacksad has been one of the most anticipated books of 2013. Will this new volume in the Blacksad saga live up to my expectations and the hype? And will it be as brilliant as the second volume White Nation?

Well to answer that straight away… no I don't think it’s as good as White Nation and in my opinion not as good as the other volumes either. I think that has to do with Amarillo not being set up like a detective story as was the case in the other volumes. It’s got more of an adventure type story vibe to it. Also I felt the story didn’t really tackle any heavy issues like discrimination or racism. Well there is some racial joking somewhere in this volume, with all due respect, but it’s not as heavily handled as it has been in other volumes. So I think it lacked some depth. Would I disqualify this entry in the Blacksad series though? Absolutely not. It’s just different to what came before. Amarillo is not as dark and I think that is exactly what Díaz Canales intended when he wrote this story. It feels like he wanted to have some fun in this story and that is what Amarillo turned out to be. Just a fun story!

The book starts with Blacksad and Weekly at the Moisant Airpot in New Orleans. Weekly is taking a flight to New York, but Blacksad will stay behind to chill out a little bit. He doesn’t have a whole lot of money left, but with an honest gesture and some luck he lands a job and a cool 50’s Cadillac Eldorado that needs relocating to Tulsa, Oklahoma, before he even leaves the airport. After arrival in Tulsa, Blacksad stops at the petrol station to fill the Eldorado up. At the same moment authors Abraham and Chad arrive at the petrol station with a broken car. They decide to abandon the broken down car and attempt stealing a motorbike. The attempt fails though and the motorbike clan doesn’t take this lightly. Blacksad jumps in between and tries to avoid violence. However when he’s talking to the motorbike guys Chad and Abraham steal the Cadillac! The two guys end up in a sleazy bar in Amarillo and drink stupid amounts of alcohol. You just know someone’s going to die eventually when you mix lots of booze and lots of guns. BANG! Someone dies! But who dies? Will this be reported to the police? And how does Blacksad get messed up in all of this. He only wanted to chill out, right?

On with Guarnido’s art now. Well nothing new here and that’s a good thing. The art is as stunning as we have come familiar with from Guarnido. His drawings are detailed, his faces show great expressions, are dynamic and overall beautiful to look at. Guarnido knows how to capture the atmosphere of the American South. I mean I’ve never been there, but I’d like to think that I now even know how it smells over there. Of course the cover will draw you right into the story. You know where this story is supposed to take place just by looking at that cover, but with all the little details, such as those oil pumps, iconic cars, Mobil Oil petrol stations, typical American architecture and wide open landscapes, clear blue skies and the way in which the sun is used, Guarnido transports you there for the duration of the book. Well done!!

So that’s it. I told you my complaints, but I also said it is a great addition to the series. Amarillo is a fun story and you’ll find yourself laughing out loud quite a couple of times, because of the silly, sometimes even cheesy jokes. The art is gorgeous and just that would be worth the investment.

So when will Dark Horse bring us an English translation? I wish I could tell you, but I really don’t know. The previous two books that contained volume 1-3 and volume 4 were very successful and are still top of mind with many comic lovers. Hopefully Dark Horse will announce an English edition soon, so the rest of the world can catch up with Blacksad’s new adventure too. 

Review is based on the Dutch release by Dargaud. Originally published in French by Dargaud.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sunny Vol 1 by Taiyo Matsumoto and a bit on Matsumoto himself

Praise be to Jehovah, a new Matsumoto comic came out this year. Well, not just one but two! The second volume just recently came out and once I get my hands on it, I'll be posting about it but for now, vol 1.
Sunny tells the story of a group of orphans who live together in a home. It goes in and out of their individual lives, each story building of each other and adding to the overall picture of their lives and the world in they inhibit. With each chapter Matsumoto focuses on one of the characters, gives some background on them and what they did that day and how that affects them and the people around them. This isn't a plot driven narrative but character and world driven. Matsumoto lets the characters and world show him where to go and let them take lead.

This type of narrative isn't new for Matsumoto. Actually, this is the type of narrative he usually works in. On TekkonKinkreet, he let the children and especially the world lead the narrative and his drawing pen. With GoGo Monster, it was one of the character's wild imagination in a claustrophobic area and with Blue Spring, he did a series of short stories revolving around young delinquents and he weaved in and out of their lives.

http://www.mangakong.com/manga/mangas/Tekkon%20Kinkreet%20-%20Black%20And%20White/033%20-%20Epilogue%20-%20Let%27s%20Go,%20Cats/Black%20&%20White%20v03%20187.jpgIf you've picked up on it, Matsumoto works with youth. He's one of those rare cartoonists, like Lynda Barry, who understand what makes children tick, how they think and how they talk. The kids in his comics come off as real kids, not an adult's image of what kids are. He also does something special with kids, he writes them in that cusp where kids are getting ready to grow up. A lot of his children are just a few away from transiting and becoming ready for adulthood. He writes about the before, the during and after of this type of phase in childhood.

Some spoilers ahead. In Tekkon, our two main characters, Black and White, are the heroes of Treasure City. As the story progresses, the kids start to realize that they can't really protect the city and that it's going to change without them. If they continue to live like they did before (as kids), they're just going to hurt themselves. Black and White have to come to terms that the city is changing and so are they. They're growing up and have to leave childish things behind them and that growing up isn't bad. There's freedom in it that you didn't have before. In GoGo Monster the main character's wild imagination is literally doing him emotional and physical harm. So he has to overcome it, grow up and realize it's not bad to be an adult. In Sunny, his working with the same themes but we're only starting to see the whole pictures, but I wouldn't be surprised that it goes down the same path, theme wise, like his previous works.

Another theme he has is that there are no parents or adults to be found; if there are, they're usually benevolent or they don't care about the kids. And the kids themselves don't trust adults and it's up to them to fix their problems and find their path into adulthood. This probably has to do with Matsumoto living as an orphan and his parents abandoning him. So that frustration, distrust and anger comes through through his characters. 

Another thing is, his kids are heavily resilient and have to rely on themselves and each other. They might go at each others throat and fight but in the end, they only have each other and they have to take care of each other. They have to help each other overcome the obstacles in front of them and help each other find their own path into adulthood.

Sunny (MATSUMOTO Taiyou) 4 - Page 19And all of this is refined into perfection in Sunny. We're seeing all the motifs, themes, and tropes that Matsumoto has built his narratives around at their absolute best. Sunny is a comic made by a creator at his peak; both narrative and visually (I'll get to visuals later). A group of orphans living life, trying to get better at it and helping each other. Not just each other but the adults around them. One of the orphans has a drunken deadbeat Dad, whose slowly killing himself through alcohol; he's fucking teeth are rotting away. And yet, his son gives him money to fix his teeth and is looking after him. And even though the father wasted he child's money on more beer, the kids is going to give him more and trying to force him to fix his teeth. As you can see, tables are turning and Matsumoto is still exploring the kids becoming adults.

Visually, this is one of the most beautiful comics I've read in a while and Matsumoto is on his A game. It almost has an old Japanese woodblock style to it but modernized and filtered through a manga lenses. It's hard for me to describe, mostly because I'm not an artists and most of the technical terms would be lost on me.
 Sunny is a masterpiece comic that I have a feeling will only get better and I have read it does get better; so my feelings are reinforced, haha. But really, do yourself a favor and buy Sunny. Hell, buy all of Matsumoto's work. You won't be disappointed.

The Fantastic Voyage of Lady Rozenbilt by Pierre Gabus and Romuald Reutimann

A few weeks ago Larry wrote a review about District 14, of which season 2 will be published in English later this month. To get you in the mood again before you can buy season 2 Humanoids have published this spin-off title The Fantastic Voyage of Lady Rozenbilt that takes place in the same universe as District 14. How much do we need this spin-off though and aren't we bored of these spin-off's that seem to be the norm these days?

One of my favourite characters in District 14 has to be the cat, Bigoodee, and luckily for me The Fantastic Voyage of Lady Rozenbilt gives him a lot exposition. Bigoodee or Alfred as he is known for in most of this book is a co-pilot on lady Rozenbilt's rather large and luxurious airplane. The plane is full of guests she invited. As a special surprise she went out of her way to bring some collector's items on board too. Three rather particular caged collector's items. In the first cage we find diamond thief Robert Meadows, who is a rather handsome fellow according to some of the lady guests. Next is Russel Kemper, a mass murderer that received the death penalty for brutally killing 21 people. Finally there is this huge aquatic monster, the one that also features on the cover if this book. Sounds like a recipe for distaster does it not? Well it is and the events that are about to take place in this book will forever change young Bigoodee's life.

In our District 14 review of a couple of weeks ago we spoke about the mysteriousness of that story, and how page to page and panel to panel you dive even deeper into the mystery. Gabus and Reutimann continue that vibe in The Fantastic Voyage of Lady Rozenbilt, but they also deliver some answers. In Season 1 of District 14 for example we see Bigoode using his mysterious powers. In The Fantastic Voyage we discover the origins of this super power. But when we do though it doesn't really matter. And that's not a bad thing, instead it shows us how good this story is, how well fleshed out Bigoodee and these other characters are. You really care for them from the get go, whether they are animals or not. Or you don't want to care about some of the characters at all, because they're not very likable, such as Lady Rozenbilt's son, who is without a doubt the most annoying character in the book. So yeah very well profiled characters that each have their own story on and off the page.

So what type of story are we reviewing here actually? In essence The Fantastic Voyage of Lady Rozenbilt is an adventurous love story. However that is not all that's going on. It's also a social critique. And presented in a very well done package that mixes various literary genres. There's animals from children's books, aliens from science-fiction and superpowers from comics for example.  Gabus and Reutimann really went over top in mixing all of this together and that works surprisingly well for them. You are sucked into the story from page 1 and keep reading without interruptions until you finish, constantly wondering what is going to happen next. Every happening in this book happens for a reason and what's cool about that is that you will find yourself going back a couple of pages here and there to verify whether you completely understood all that you've been presented with. This makes The Fantastic Voyage of Lady Rozenbilt one of the most rewarding reads of the year!

Now let's switch to the art for a moment. Compared to District 14 the easiest difference spotted is of course the use of colour in The Fantastic Voyage. Delphine Rieu did a beautiful job here. Her use of colour really enhances Reutimann's art. We know his art can do without colour, but it really adds some extra vividness to the art. Hopefully the pretty colours will attract a wider audience, so Humanoids can sell more copies of District 14. I really hope this is the case so we can get more of these spin-off titles and more seasons of District 14. But first let Humanoids bring Season 2 of District 14 to us.

The Fantastic Voyage of Lady Rozenbilt is another highlight of the year and that's not the first Humanoids title that can claim that! Highly recommended and for those that enjoyed reading District 14 this is a definite must buy.

The Fantastic Voyage of Lady Rozenbilt is published by Humanoids | $29.95 | ISBN13: 9781594650550

Monday, December 2, 2013

Some quick thoughts on Memories of Murder

Memories of Murder is directed by Bong Joon-ho and tells the story of a series of unsolved murders that occurred in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. It starts off with a group of kids finding the first murder victim and local detective Park Doo-man is sent to the scene to investigate the murder. Within minutes of his arrival director Joon-ho sets up that detective Doo-man is ill prepared to take on just a crime and is almost immediately overwhelmed. Doo-man is later accompanied by another local detective Cho Yong-koo, but we then soon realize he's just as ill prepared, if not worse than Doo-man. As the crimes continue, the two detectives a further accompanied by out-of-towner Detective Seo Tae-Yoon to help them out.

Right from the start Joon-ho sets up the movie to be more of a character study and exploration of the three detectives, especially detective Park Doo-man who is the main character in a somewhat big cast. While exploration these character, Joon-ho also explores the murders, their aftermath and how lives and towns are affected with just heinous crime. How a group of lives (the people investigating the murders) can be so drastically altered when dealing with such a crime. Joon-ho does a beautiful job exploring these themes through a complex nuanced filter that never puts judgement on the murders, characters and the situation they're all in. Joon-ho puts the situation in our face and it's up to us to, not the director, to judge.

Just as Joon-ho explores some hefty themes, his characters are just as interesting as the themes. The two local detectives, while have good intentions, do some shady shit and are completely under-prepared and overwhelming. The first "person of interest" they get in for interrogations, they get him undress to his underwear and detective Yong-koo starts to kick the living shit out of him with his steel-toed boots. Both local detectives verbally and physically abuse the suspect and try to put words in his mouth to make him the killer. But then we got to one of my favorite scenes in the movie where we see both the detectives and the suspect eating cup noodles together watching an old cop drama tv show. They both talk about how great it is and the detectives are treating the suspect with a love and care that you see small town people tend to do with each other. A few minutes pass and then the detectives go back to verbally and physically abusing the suspect again. Thinking more of this scene, it really encapsulates the two local detectives: who they are and how they try to solve the crime. Now these local detectives aren't simple folk or stupid, but just two somewhat regular people caught up in something that's so far over their heads they don't know what to do or where to start. And Joon-ho never puts judgement on them or any of his characters, he just shows them as they are and here's what they do.

Joon-hodoes a bang-up job with this movie especially with his eye for composition. Jesus Christ, this is one beautifully shot film. Not only is it beautifully shot but it has some of the best long takes I've seen since Children of Men and some of Malick's & all of Tarkovsky's films. Just the way he positions certain characters in a scene or how he uses the landscape to add a layer to the film; it's beautiful to see.

This is a masterpiece movie that is an emotional roller-coaster and will get burnt into your memory. 

Luckily for you and thank god for internets and youtubes, you can watch the entire film on youtube! And in high quality. But if you like, remember to buy it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sabertooth Swordsman and Black Science

Man, Sabertooth Swordsman has everything I love! A realized fantastical world, over exaggerated character & personalities, fenzied sword fights, uber-detailed drawings that completely over take you and a heroes journey that isn't your typical heroes journey. God, it's been a while since I've had this much fun reading a comic. If you're a fan of Stokeo's Orc Stain, Rafael Grampá's Mesmo Delivery and Miller/Darrow comics work, then this is a comic for you.

Sabertooth starts story with a horribly drawing of a horribly beaten man. We then find out the beaten man is our protagonist and he's in a journey to get revenge on the people who did this to him and who stole his girlfriend. The way he gets revenge is through a flier for Sasquatch Mountain promising power and strength; a great nod to the Atlas ads in comics. He makes it to Sasquatch Mountain and meets the mischievous Cloud God who transform him to Sabertooth Swordsman. From there starts our journey of revenge and reclamation.

Damon Gentry and Aaron Conley do an amazing job fully realizing the world of Sabertooth Swordsman; they do this within a few pages. Everything they show us makes us believe more in the world and there's this beautiful page where we see Sabertooth going down Sasquatch Moutain. We see that on his way down he has these amazing battles, but we only get a glimpse of them. But Gentry and Conley have done a great job building the world and its characters, that we believe there's history behind those glimpses. That we believe Sabertooth had a hell of a journey going down the mountain and that's only through one page. Also, we don't know all the mechanics but they make us believe there are mechanics that make the world work. So you get a feeling that there's history behind all the places Sabertooth journeys to.

This is all helped by Conley's amazing artwork; it's so beautifully drawn and detailed and he uses black and white to it's fulliest. His art reminds of Stokeo's disgustingly realized and inventive characters with Darrow's eye for heavy detail matched with Grampá's wavy, liney and almost wrinkled look all filtered through Conley unique vision. Conley also an eye for setting up scenes, anatomy, making the characters seem alive and being able to use the characters to convey a multitudes of emotions.

Sabertooth Swordsman is one of those great comics that comes once a decade. Where it restores your love for comics, why you got into comics, and what makes the medium so special. So do yourself a favor and go buy it.

Black Science is the new comic by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalero, Dean White and Rus Wooton. Man, this is a comic that brought all it's promises and more. Remender said he wanted to do a tribute and something new to the EC and Sci-fi comics he read as a child and he brought it. He brought it with Scalera, White  and Wooton.

Black Science tells the story of Grant McKay whose part of an Order of Anarchistic Scientists and by using Black Science, broke through the boundaries of reality, space and time.

This is a first issue so there's a tendency for over expositions and inner-narrative to show the world and situation the characters are in, and to do a broad stroke approach on characterization to show us readers who the characters they are and get acquainted with them. Luckily for us, Remender know how to use these approaches and add another dimension and naunce to his exposition and characterizations. Black Science also seems to be a more mature approach from a veteran comic writer on people who tend to make situations worse through their actions. While they do have good intentions, their choices and background just seems to make the situation worse and further alienate Remender's protagonists from themselves and other people. The type of people who learn the hard way in life and tend to bloom and be at their best when they're older and more experienced.

But, as great as Remender is a writer the big draw is Scalero's art and White's top notch coloring matched with Wooton's lettering. 

Scalero's art is beatuiful to view. As you can see with the image above, the guy knows how to set up a scene and build an atmosphere and world that's choking. He's great at conveying expressions with the characters and show little naunces that add an layer to the characters and the world.

Now, match Scalero's art with White's eye for coloring. Man... You're in for one hell of a treat. I'm glad this is a team that understands how color works in a color and how it can add or detract from a comic. It's great that White understands how a certain colors or palette can drastically the way we view a comic and change the way we view its narrative. So White uses a certain palette to convey an atmosphere of urgency and chaos and it works beautifully, but while maintaining a feeling of wonder.If you're going to do Sci-Fi comic, I think, the feeling of awe and wonder has to be there and color can change the way we see those emotions. But we're in good hands and so is Scalero's amazing artwork.

Overall, this is just a solid first issue from a team that seems to be in-sync. They know what they can bring to the table and they use it to their fullest potential. Black Science seems to be classic Sci-Fi comic in the making, so don't miss out on it.