Sunday, September 28, 2014

Annihilation: A Novel by Jeff Vandermeer

“The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.” 

Annihilation tells the story of the twelfth expedition sent in to explore and hopefully answer the mysteries of Area X. The story is told through one of the members, the biologist: our characters' names are that of their profession. 

Area X, what an ominous name, but what is Area X? I can't answer that, but what I can tell you that it is a place-out-of-time and out-of-space. Area X is an island that's been overrun by nature. There's an Edenic and pristine look To Area X's nature to the point where it's too pristine. Its's pristineness is almost blinding the viewer; it's as if everything in Area X is hyper-real, but behind that hyper-realness is something insidious; something that will swallow you whole and regurgitate you and if you survive, you're drastically changed. This swallowing, regurgitating and changing isn't just something that occurs to the characters: it occurs to the reader as well.

Since reading Annihilation, it's buried itself in my subconscious, making me feel out-of-place whenever it pops up from its hiding place. There's a something in the book: a virus within the words that Vandermeer writes; I don't know what it is, but it infects you and changes you and you see the world around you slowly change. You go through the changes the characters go through and you come out the end a different person.

Then again, I could be feeling like this because I read Annihilation in the perfect conditions: feeling alienated during a dreary, rainy, overcast day.

It took me two days to read--it's a one day book, but I wanted to make it last--Annihilation, during which there was heavy raining and overcast when it wasn't it. I love rainy, overcast days, but those two days were different: there was a sense of dread and oppression in the air; I felt out-of-place and out-of-time;  it was as if I was being rejected by the universe and there was nothing I could do but accept the conditions that were handed to me and slowly slip away. Just when things couldn't get any weirder, I picked up Annihilation and started reading it: it only exacerbated my feelings.

After I got done, the world around me felt dreamlike: as if I was drifting through a waking dream. The edges of my vision were becoming wavy and distorted and I could feel myself slipping into another place, a place like Area X. These alterations lingered days after I got done with the book, I think this is due to Vandermeer's dreamlike prose and the dreamlike structure and logic of Annihilation. Vandermeer also has an amazing ability to vividly describe the place in which the twelfth expedition are in: Vandermeer can make it seem lived it, that there's a history behind the landscape and in an instant, change the dreamlike landscape into a nightmare. There's a feverish immediacy when we enter that nightmarish landscape that haunts you.

Annihilation is nothing like I've read before. Its weirdness and refusal to answer questions are its strength and in that adds the reading experience. Come into this book for the experience than for a cohesive narrative. And be prepared to have Area X invade you and forever change you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Michael Moorcock's Elric Vol. 1: The Ruby Throne by Julien Blondel, Didier Poli, Robin Recht, Jean Bastide

Right off the bat I have to admit that I have never read either Moorcock's original novels about the albino emperor and his decaying island of Melniboné nor any of the graphic novel versions that have been around since the 1970s, so don't expect me to tell you how faithful this French BD version is to Moorcock's vision or how it compares to those older Elric comics.

What I can tell you, however, is that Moorcock himself admits in his introduction that this is the closest anyone has ever come to what he had originally intended with the character and his world (no small feat, considering the talent that has laid their hands on the character in graphic novel form before: Philippe Druillet, Michael Kaluta, P. Craig Russell, Frank Miller and Mike Mignola, amongst others). 

But more importantly, I can tell you that this is an incredible fantasy graphic novel to behold - from start to finish.

Let's begin with the artwork: it is both complex and rushed, contrasts (little) light with (a lot of) dark, the organic with the lifeless – often at the same time, creating a feeling of chaos.

Just look at the opening page of the book: the reader faces a sheer endlessly tall tower, made of ivory and obsidian, and while the upper, white part is covered with artful ornaments and writings, it is juxtaposed with its bottom half – a dark tunnel of jagged rock, that opens and looks like a shark’s maw. And since this is the entrance to Melniboné, you’ll immediately get a sense of what to expect.
The tower that marks the entry to Melnibone
As a matter of fact, the artists (Poli, Recht and Bastide) often reference predators or the animals of our nightmares in their artwork. The lair of Doctor Jest, chief torturer of Melniboné, looks to be held together by spider-webs, while the Doctor himself has a parasite-like being (machine?) seemingly attached to his spine with long spider-legs that can – and do – pierce through his victims’ bodies. 

This should already tell you that the artists are not holding anything back. There are live and naked human bodies being sacrificed or tortured by the people of Melniboné for entertainment, or even just because they feel like it. There’s blood and wounds, lots of them. And what else the Doctor does to his victims is best left unsaid. Death and decay are oozing from almost every page.
I mentioned above that the artwork looks rushed at times, but that is anything but bad inking. The empire of Melniboné is a decadent, chaotic and decaying place, and the “rushed” ink strokes underline this feeling. In fact, Blondel himself says in the section at the end of the book Didier Poli’s pencilwork looked too tame and pretty for this story. This is why Robin Recht was added to the team, whose inks made the pages more “impulsive and dynamic”, as Blondel puts it. 

“Elric” truly looks nightmarish then and conveys a sense of mindless decadence, of impending doom and decay - like a painting by Albrecht Dürer come alive.  

The graphic novel’s protagonist, the albino Elric, looks both regal and – more often than not - frail, with his skin “the colour of a bleached skull”, as Moorcock himself described him in his books. His outer appearance alone then is enough to make him look displaced, an outsider in his own empire, and there are many people at his court who let him know this. But it is the characterisation that Blondel (and Moorcock) give him which makes him not only an outsider, but also an anti-hero. This is not Frodo or John Carter we are dealing with here. While he is the main protagonist and the victim of the machinations of his cousin Prince Yyrkoon, I found it difficult to really root for him. And how can you if you see the way he lets himself be influenced by others and, more importantly, if he bathes in the blood of human sacrifices, albeit to preserve his health? That, however, does not mean “Elric” suffers from poor characterisation. What Moorcock/Blondel try to do here is to question morality and nostalgia and to lay bare the corruption behind the façades of society – something that Moorcock again admits to in his introduction and which comes across perfectly in the comic.
the brooding emperor
Similarly (though less) contradictory is Elric's antagonist Yyrkoon, who should be the classical villain. While fully immersed in its decadent life, he also sees the complacency of Melniboné as its own potential downfall. His aim then is to save the empire – although the question arises if this is an empire worth saving.

Then there are also the humans who attack the island. But read for yourselves to find out if you would really want them to win.
Blood. Just a taster, though.

I am not going to give away more of the story – on the one hand because this is only the first part of a series of (hopefully not only) four volumes which introduces us to the world of Elric and the main players, but on the other hand because you should do yourselves a favour and go read "Elric Vol. 1" yourselves - a graphic novel which ranks among the very best of the recent wave of English-language publications of French BD.

This review is based on the German version of Elric Vol.1 , published by SPLITTER Verlag (€14.80)

Michael Moorcock’s Elric Vol. 1: The Ruby Throne is published in English by Titan ($12.99/ISBN 13: 978-1782761242)

Vol. 2, "Stormbringer", will be released in April 2015.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Youth is Wasted by Noah Van Sciver

When I read Youth is Wasted it was an overcast day. The rains have been coming and going just like the sun. The world around me felt like it was ambered and everything was slowly coming to a still. It’s the perfect day for contemplation and to reflect on what’s been going on with my life.

This has been a busy year for me: my girlfriend of almost five years--three of which we lived together—broke up with me, I've finally come to terms with my sexual/gender identity, and one of my best friends is moving to Oregon. 

There’s another thing that’s been bugging me too: I moved from Ohio to California to be with my girlfriend--now ex--and I've been living in a state that’s so far away from home and my family, but it had one big purpose: to be with my girlfriend. Now that that’s gone, what do I do now to fill that one big purpose? That question has been hovering over my head for a while now. It’s a frightening thing to experience and deal with but there’s an air of excitement that comes with it too.   

I brought all these feelings and thoughts and reflections to my reading of Youth is Wasted, and I’m glad it did.

Reading Youth is Wasted while having all these ongoing made the stories hit closer home—more than usual. Whether it’s dealing with the aftermath of a break-up,” Expectations” and” I Don’t Love Anyone”, or facing a lonely winter existence in “Because I Have To” or feeling like a perpetual fuck-up and trying to figure out who you are, “Abbey’s Road” and “Who Are You, Jesus?”  All these stories hit me hard because I've been in most of these situations or have felt what Sciver’s characters felt or have known someone like them. It was also nice seeing the things I've felt and dealt with through someone else; made me feel a less alone. Reading Youth is Wasted was also a somewhat a cathartic read and made me to further contemplate everything I've been through recently. 

And all this works because Sciver is great at creating believable characters and situations to put them in. There’s nothing that feels forced or pigeon-holed, every part has its place and it’s all tightly put together. Now this is years of Sciver working on his form and with this collection, we see him at his best—though he’s getting better and better with every release.

Sciver’s linework reminds me of Zak Sally’s linework. What I mean by that is not in a stylish way but more in their ability to show their characters’ interior (emotions, state-of-mind) through their characters’ exterior (their physical bodies); we see their inner conflicts and depressions and melancholia and the like slowly changing their physical appearance to the point they physically become their motions. We see it through how they talk and move through their space. There’s also a shaky quality to the line that makes it seem like Sciver’s characters are about to fall apart, that the smallest thing will completely tear them from the seams and their world will tumble down; and most of the time their world does tumble and Sciver doesn't pull the punches when it happens.

The best thing Sciver is good at is not his believable characters or situations, or his linework, but his ability to capture a place. In “Because I Have To”, I was sucked into the world the of the protagonist, Grant, lives in. I could feel the late fall weather, the wind, the leaves being blown, I inhabited the space that Grant was in. Another example is “Expectations”, seeing that mid-western/southern aesthetic/winter reminded me of home. Sciver was able to suck me into that place and make seem so homely and lived in and familiar; that’s an amazing thing to do. Not a lot of cartoonists can capture a place or setting and fully engulf you in it.

I can honestly say this my comic of the year. I say that because of all the baggage and feelings I brought to it. Now, if I wasn't dealing with all these things would it be my comic of the year? I don't know and I don't really care. I'm just really happy that I read Youth is Wasted and that cartoonist's like Sciver exist and continues to create stories.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy (Quai d'Orsay) by Abel Lanzac and ChristopheBlain

Heads up: Quai d'Orsay (Weapons of Mass Diplomacy) was originally going to be reviewed by Ralf (who couldn't be bothered anymore;-), so I (Lawrence B Vossler) will finish it for him. The few paragraph summary was written by him and I'm leaving it untouched and will pick up after it.

- What the hell is "Quai d'Orsay"?

Well, it's a street in Paris where the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located and has become a metonymy for the latter.

- Frankly, I'm not a francophile and don't know anything about the inner workings of French politics, so why should I care?

Great question. For one, Quai d'Orsay won the Grand Prize for best album at the Angouleme Comics Festival in 2013, which alone is reason enough to pick it up (More precisely, it was the second part of the original French version. SelfMadeHero are publishing it as a one-volume edition). But more importantly, you can replace "Quai d'Orsay" with "Harry S. Truman Building" or "King Charles Street" or wherever else your respective Foreign Ministry or actually any other political office is located since the machinations behind politics Lanzac describes here are universal.

Lanzac is the pseudonym of an assistant of former French foreign secretary (and then prime minister) Villepin, who famously led the coalition of nations who were against the war the US began against Iraq in 2003. - Ralf

Quai d'Orsay explores the beginnings and built up to the coalition through the eyes of various characters and we read about their contributions to the coalition. Quai d'Orsay is also one hell of a funny comic; it's a comic that relies heavily on comedy.

Comedy is a hard thing to pull off in any medium but in comics, you have to have a mastery of timing and pacing. When you read a comic whatever pages are in front of you can be potential spoilers and ruin whatever mystery or comedic set-ups/payoffs you have in mind. Lanzac and Blain understand this predicament and use it to their advantage. They fill the page with comedic set-ups and payoffs through dialogue or the character's motions/reactions; Lanzac and Blain overwhelm the reader. Every page has three or four (some lasting multiple pages, some only a couple panels) comedic set-ups/payoffs that look like a jumbled mess when you first come across it. You're brain can't process what's going on and so you're forced to read the individual panels instead of staring at the overall layout. Once you start reading the panels, what seemed chaotic is now structured. The complex workings of the jokes, payoffs, set-ups, slap-sticks all live and feed off each other. Blain does a beautiful job setting up his panels into a six to twelve grid structure that gives him have a tighter control over time and pacing. Sometimes Blain goes borderless with his panels and it makes the joke have a stream-of-consciousness feel to it.

Throughout Quai d'Orsay we're introduced to a wide range of interesting characters, each with their own idiosyncratic look, expressions, and manner of speaking. What blew me away was how every character in Quai d'Orsay is given their own unique look, each character is radically different. Even characters that only get one panel screen time are given their own unique look and personality. This due to Blain's amazing skill as a cartoonist. Blain doesn't go the lazy route and give us characters that have the same face/body structure with small differences; no, he builds all the characters from the ground up. What we get is a comic full of diverse characters.
Quai d'Orsay relies heavily on dialogue. There are times where the word bubbles just fill the page and panels and it overtakes the characters and readers. Just like the break-neck pacing the comic moves in, the dialogue comes at us at an even faster speed. Terse and hard-hitting, Lanzac's dialogue feels like it could fit into a crime/hard-boiled novel. The image below shows us how overwhelming and fast the dialogue can come at you. Blain does a smart job by taking borders away from the panels, this allows the character and dialogue to breath and move around without restriction. The borderless panel also gives it a stream-of-consciousness feel to it, that we're moving from one flow of thought to the next with De Vorms, and it gives us a sneak peek into his thought process. Even when the dialogue is within the panels, it feels like it's going to burst through the panel borders and overwhelm the page.

Though we're being pushed forward at break-neck speed throughout the comic, Lanzac and Blain know that this speed can make burn a reader out. Lanzac and Blain take little detours or have character moments that allows us to breath and take in what we just read and explore the characters more. The image below Lanzac and Blain do a beautiful job exploring an aspect of De Vorm we rarely see. Lanzac and Blain take a step-back from the chaos that surrounds Quai d'Orsay. When De Vorms meets up with Jeffrey (Colin Powell) they have a somewhat terse conversion about what's going on their lives and the politics around them. Right away we see that De Vorms & Jeffrey lose their defensive postures and they're comforted by each other. Though this page is used to show what type of relationship De Vorms has with Jeffrey (which is important later on), it's also used as a breathing space between the chaos and insanity. Lanzac and Blain uses close-up shots to show how intimate these men are and to drive how comfortable they are around each other. It works beautifully and allows us, the readers, to relax with them.

As a teenage I used to watch a show called Fist of the North Star. The main protagonist, Kenshiro, uses a move called Hokuto Hyakuretsu-ken (which translates to Hundred Cracking Fist of the North Star). It's a technique which "consists of numerous rapid punches that result in the illusion of several arms appearing at the same time" that Kenshiro uses to obliterate his enemy. When in Hokuto Hyakuretsu-ken mode, Kenshiro releases a battle cry which goes like, “AH-TATATATATA!" and finishes off with a “You are already dead." The funny thing is that throughout Quai d'Orsay Villepin is portrayed in almost an exact way Kenshiro is during Hokuto Hyakuretsu-ken. It makes me wonder if either Lanzac or Blain or both were influenced by Fist of the North Star and this is their take on Hokuto Hyakurestu-ken. Which would make sense because when De Vorms goes into that mode, he usually gets the final word. In a way, he's figuratively obliterating everyone with his knowledge, and shows them time and time again that he's one to three steps ahead of everyone. Then again, this just could be ramblings of a mind-addled reviewer whose spent too much of his life reading and watching Fist of the North Star. Influenced or not, Lanzac and Blain have created a stunning comic that shows us the complex world of French and international foreign politics through a Pythonesque view. - Lawrence B Vossler

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Station 16 by Hermann & Yves H.

I'll tell you I'm quite surprised to see an uprise in the number of English translations we get for European comics, or bande dessinées (BD). Why is this surprising though? Well I haven't seen many translated European works in the past years, let alone uncensored translated works. So kudos to the publishers who take the gamble. Of course we have all those Humanoids publications. Humanoids who have recently even moved their headquarters from Paris Los Angeles and also opened a branche in London. They mean serious business, and show this is a profitable business too... The larger publishers though seem a little wary about getting into translations of BD's. But as Humanoids proves there definitely is a market for translated works. And why wouldn't there be? I mean the market for BD's is at least as diverse as comics and graphic novels originally written and published in English.
So where the larger publishers leave a gap, smaller publishers, such as SelfMadeHero, Drawn & Quarterly, Titan Comics and Fantagraphics jump in bringing (even more) diversity to the market. To give you an idea of the announced titles for 2014 by some of these and other publishers I suggest you take a look at Eurocomics USA Invasion's Facebook page. Of the larger publishers Dark Horse seems to have jumped onto the bandwagon too. They gave us translations of Blacksad, Milo Manara stories and Jeremiah to name a few. The last one there is by Hermann, of which Dark Horse has recently announced they will also translate "Blood Ties", "Manhattan Beach 1957" and "The Girl From Ipanema" and publish these stories in one book aptly titled "Trilogy USA". These stories are a little older, which makes it all the more surprising they also announced Hermann's latest "Station 16", that saw a French released in January 2014. I really enjoyed reading Station 16 in Dutch, so I decided I'd write a review right away to get you all excited for the Dark Horse release in October.

Station 16 is an abandoned outpost on Nova Zembla, a Russian island in the Arctic Sea. During the Cold War (1955-1990) the Russians used Nova Zembla to perform nuclear tests intensively. Not just random tests, no... tests with the power 4,000 times more powerful than the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. This Tsar Bomba had the power of 50 megatons, compared to 15 kilotons for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The heaviest bomb the USA used was the Castle Bravo in 1954 with a weight of 'just' 15 megaton. There's a lot more information about Nova Zembla, nuclear bombs and the Cold War in the back of Station 16. The purpose for this is to illustrate how Yves H. (Hermann's son and author of Station 16) got the idea for the story of this forgotten piece of Russian polar region.

Now on with the book, but before that, to get you into the mood, check out the book's video trailer.

Station 16 starts in 1997 Severnaja, Nova Zembla, when new recruit Grisjka gets a distress call from weather station 16. The sergeant is suspicious though, since weather station 16 has been abandoned for half a century. The distress call sounded disturbing though so the sergeant, Grisjka and two other men take the helicopter the next morning and fly out to station 16 to see what's going on. During the flight the weather changes and the helicopter gets into trouble, almost crashing into a mountain. Luckily it lands safely on the ground. The four men head out into the snowstorm to investigate the weather station that indeed seems to be completely abandoned. What they find is a lot of dust, empty bullet shells an old Stalin poster, but most of all they find nothing. However they also find an operation room, dried up blood. What happened here?! Furthermore they find a radio. They're baffled and don't understand what radio was used to make the distress call, since this dust covered radio seems to not have been used for over 50 years and it's the only one they found.

Back outside in the snowstorm they decide the station is abandoned. Heading back to the helicopter suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the snow storm is gone and the northern light is visible. This is the moment when inexplainable things start to happen. The helicopter seems to have disappeared into thin air without having made a single noise. And when they turn around looking back at weather station the lights inside the cabins they just investigated have flicked on. Suddenly it doesn't look abandoned anymore. What on earth is going on? The four men decide to go back to the station to investigate further. But is that a smart thing to do? What happened in that operation room? What's in the jars they found? And whose dried up blood was it that they found earlier? Will the helicopter return and will they make it back to Severnaja?

This book by Hermann and Yves H. is one very special book. Yves H. is a writer here that knows how to draw you into the story and piles mystery upon mystery. Page by page you are wondering what is going on and what the given clues will lead to. What will the men (and you as a reader) discover. Piling up clues and mysteries like this could lead to an unsatisfactory ending. Not here though... the end is well... it's... I'll tell you it's quite scary and horrific!

Hermann also does a pretty good job here. He knows how to set the scene with his beautiful paintings. Hermann creates these drawings that leave you anguished. The vast empty spaces, a nuclear explosion, a snowstorm, hungry for human flesh polar bears, jars that contain human parts, blood etc. etc. There is just too much to applaud. I'm not sure if this is his best work, but it's still pretty damned good.

Dark Horse have a winner on their hands! Station 16 is a book you will cherish. A book like this doesn't come around very often. It's based off of historical events, but it adds some twisted mysteries that in the end will leave you anguished and horrified. Highly recommended!
Station 16 will be published by Dark Horse in October 2014 | $24.99 | ISBN: 9781616554811

Monday, April 14, 2014

Advance Review: Benito Mambo - Christian Durieux

Edition : Oversized Deluxe Edition
120 pages - 10 x 13 inches - Color
EAN 9781594650857
$34.95 - £19.99
Benito Mambo's release date is April 30, 2014. So when that date comes, buy it here!

And thus starts Benito's adventure as a Mambo dancer. Right away Durieux shows us a peek of the world that Benito inhabits. The world that's very restricting and exhausting and filled with "adulthood". Benito wants nothing to do with that world and because of that, he is thrown into a pit to die. Within the pit Benito is visited by his unknown savior:

As you can tell Benito Mambo is fill with outlandish caricatures and situations. Actually, almost every page, every panel is filled with outlandish characters and situations. Durieux almost never gives us time to relax and keeps us moving from joke to another, one crazy situation to another, one outlandish character to another. One would think that Durieux would run out of jokes/situations/characters but he doesn't and he keeps bombarding us with them. This bombardment never overwhelms the reader; it's actually quite essential to the story. It matches the almost breakneck speed of Benito's journey and quick-draw dialogue of the characters.

Durieux can really build up to a joke. Something that might seem as throw away comes back with a hilarious fury. When Durieux is not building a joke, he can pull off amazing six to nine-panel gags that leave you laughing for a while. Each joke and gag feeds off each other and builds on top of each other, so by the end you have multiple jokes going on, each running off each other; it's amazing to read.

Benito Mambo is also filled with just beautiful single splash pages. Durieux masterfully builds up to these splash pages that when the reader comes across it, POW! You're taken aback by its beauty and color. This level of beauty is something we see regularly throughout Benito Mambo especially with the vivid and at lush colors that Durieux uses. Durieux's colors beautifully capture the everyday absurdity that these characters go through.

One thing that really bugged me about Benito Mambo was that the only female (her name is Angelica)  in the comic was never given much agency. Angelica is seen as a motivator, a goal point for Benito to grab. Angelica is used to making Benito strive for something better. It also doesn't help that Angelica locked up and out of sight (literally, they're a shades that cover her cage) for most of the comic. For someone who's a major player and motivator for our main character, I wish she was given more depth and complexity. Even most of the secondary characters get more depth than her. Yes, she does fight back from her captors and gets some nice shots in but that's it! Nothing more! I wish Durieux fleshed her out more in Benito Mambo.

Even with this problem, Benito Mambo is still worth your time. It brings to the table a magical fable about mambo dancing, humor, and individuality through an absurdest filter. Benito Mambo is a great spring read and a comic that will you leaving smiling for the entire day.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Advance Review: Genesis - Nathan Edmondson, Alison Sampson, & Jason Wordie

We all want to change something in the world, whether it be within our family or on a more macro level or both, for better or worse. In Genesis Edmondson, Sampson & Wordie explore that issue and how far a person is willing to push themselves to do so. Edmondson, Sampson & Wordie also use this to investigate and explore what would happen if someone was given absolute power to do so and how creative and destructive it can become to the world and to one's self. 

Right from page one we're given a good amount of information about our main character, Adam. Adam is a child of creativity, he creates and transforms his ordinary blocks into something more substantial, more tangible. We're also given that his parents instilled in him the need to change the world, to leave his mark, they were building him up to be something more than the rest. As Adam gets older, he uses his creativity and his need to make to change the world through building a church and becoming a preacher. What better of a way to change the world around you by becoming a man of the holy word but things never work out the way you want them to.

As the story progresses Adam receives a special power that allows him to change the world, to make the world his own building blocks. Adams now has the ability to create whatever enters his mind and to change reality into his own. And what starts out as a something special becomes a nightmare.
Reading Genesis is like entering a surreal and dreamlike landscape that twists and turns and gets bent-out-of-shape as we keep reading; always changing and surprising us. What we think we know as real gets questioned multiple times. The conscious and the subconscious invade Adam's waking life and twist his world into something beautiful and horrific. Whatever personal and open space the world had is now melded together. Adam's landscape becomes something out of a David Lynch and Cronenberg film.
I love little touches like these. Sampson & Wordie are showing us a landscape
 that has become personified, that has changed into something
more insidious and personal.
All this happens because someone wanted to change the world. Adam was groomed from an early age to be better, to be something more, and Genesis follows this idea thoroughly throughout the comic. From the seed of  "wanting to change the world" do we get into the predicament that Adam gets himself into in the comic. Edmondson, Sampson & Wordie follow the ripples of a person getting such power to do so. We read how a creative and driven person can create and ultimately destroy the people around him and his world. We're given some explanations of the thing who gave him his powers and the overall picture of the powers, but it's never fully explained; that's fine. Edmondson, Sampson & Wordie are not interested in giving a full-depth explanation of the powers but explore the how a person changes through such powers and its ramifications. 

Again Sampson & Wordie show us the world in turmoil and a world
personified through Adam's subconscious.
I was taken aback time and time again by Sampson & Wordie work. Genesis would not have the impact it had on me if it wasn't for Sampson & Wordie. Everything I've written about the world of Genesis is fully realized and brought to life by the amazing skills of Sampson & Wordie.
Sampson is an interesting artist because of the many different influences I pick up from her work; incidental or not. Looking at her line I see many different artists and cartoonists being brought to life: I see the loose, abstract line-work of Alberto Breccia during his later years as a cartoonist, the wild yet mathematically structured composition of Sergio Toppi, the sketchy and scratchy aesthetic of Egon Schiele backed by Sampson's eye and hand as an architecture. Sampson is able to bring all these different visuals and distil it into something unique that comes alive in Genesis.
Jason Wordie does a beautiful job matching those unique visuals with a very soft palette that gives the narrative and Sampson's artwork more emotion depth and feeling. Reading through some interviews with Sampson and Edmondson, I see that they asked for coloring to be influenced by Hiroshi Yoshida. This is a very interesting choice because looking through Yoshida's work, his use of color is a bit strange but it gives his paintings and woodblocks a certain emotional feeling. It's this idea that Wordie used to color Genesis and give it that same unique feeling that you would get from a Yoshida painting/woodblock. With all the destruction that takes place, there's a feeling of placidity that washes over the reader and I don't think that would have happened if Wordie used a different color palette.
There's an odd calmness even in the most destructive scenes.
Genesis is a fascinating comic that explores ramification of wanting to change the world & explore the meanings of creation and destruction. The synergy that Edmondson, Sampson & Wordie bring to Genesis is breathtaking and will leave you reeling for days.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Advance Review: Metabarons Genesis: Castaka - Alexandro Jodorowsky & Das Pastoras

Edition : Oversized Deluxe Edition

112 pages - 9.4 x 12.6 inches - Color

EAN 9781594650536
$49.95 - £29.99

The comic gets released on March 26. So when the 26 comes you can buy it here!
I'm not a big fan of Space Operas. They never really grabbed me and the ones I did read never did much for me. Then steps in The Metabarons by Jodorowsky and Gimenez. 

I was skeptical about it but that skepticism disappeared when I was a few pages in and found  something new, something different than most the space operas I've read before. The Metabarons brought me a sense of excitement, wonder, and awe, it's also a series full of sadness, paranoia, and betrayal. It took me to a whole different universe filled with technological cults, mysticism, and esotericism.  Showed me a unique anthropological look at the different cultures that inhabit the universe but filtered through the mystical symbolic madness of Jodorowsky. 
So when I read that Humanoids were going to release Metabarons Genesis: Castaka, I was worried. Worried because the post-Gimenez Metabaron comics haven't really captured me. Weapons of the Metabarons (by Jodorowsky, Charest, and Janjetov), which told how the last Metabaron (the last of his line) gained his position as the most powerful warrior in the universe, was rather a dull read and how had none of the wonder. I thought that Metabarons Genesis: Castaka could fall into that pit; that thought couldn't be further from the truth. Castaka really captures everything I loved about the original Metabarons series. 

Metabarons Genesis: Castaka starts off with Baron Berard of Castaka fighting his daughter's (Edna) husband for succession. Also, the beginning of Castaka take places between the pages 22-26 of The Metabarons and Das Pastoras does an amazing job taking those pages and re-imagines them into his own vision. 
Through this generational transference, our story starts and we learn about the Amakuras clan and the Castaka clan. Two warring clans fighting over the space of their small planet.
Das Pastoras, like Gimenez, does an amazing job drawing fight scenes and sequences. They're able to perfectly compose and draw their characters in a way that you can feel their swords swinging, you can feel the anger and blood and grit coming from the page. They also don't glorify the violence, they show it in all its sadness and ugliness.
As the story continues, the queen of the Castaka clan gets raped by the king of the Amakuras clan and has his child; through this singularly horrific action the two clans get horrible intertwined. From there we experience the rise and fall and rise of the Castaka clan throughout the comic.
Das Pastoras is amazing with facial expressions. He's able to portray a range of
emotions through his characters' face.
The Metabaron series is rife with epic Greek tragedies. The series deals with rape, incest, family betrayal and with individuals who are so powerful, so singular in their approach that they are their worst enemies and they are their own downfall. Metabarons Genesis: Castaka deals with this issues just like the original series did. Jodorowsky & Das Pastoras don't shy away from these very hard issues and they follow them through. They don't glorify the rape, it's not used to make the comic gritty/dark, and Jodorowsky & Das Pastoras touch how the queen is affected by this and how an overly masculine culture deals with such a horrible offense. But they only touch and don't delve into the damages of such a horrible act. Now, they do further delve into the aftermath of the rape and how it damages and twists its future generations.

Das Pastoras's artwork just shines throughout this comic. As you can see from the images above, he does an amazing job combining Richard Corben and Moebius into his own vision. Das Pastora's use of watercolors and his mastery of the anatomy brings the visuals and visual storytelling to another level in Metabarons Genesis: Castaka. 

One problem I did have with Das Pastoras's art is the way he textures his colors. There are times where I felt the characters were colored in a way that they came off as clay figures than actual people and it threw off the rest of the coloring feeling of the comic. This is an artistic choice of Das Pastoras and a choice I really don't like but it doesn't lessen the comic.

Metabarons Genesis: Castaka brings me back to the way day I first read The Metabarons. I get transported away into a universe that's full of tragedies and hope, a universe and bloodline so fully realized, vast, and complex that with every re-reading I keep finding new things to discover and changes the way I see how comics can be done.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rembrandt - Typex

As we open Rembrandt we are welcomed with a single splash page of an elephant inside of a ship's cargo. It's weary, beaten, alone and in complete darkness. Typex portrays this in a way that's reminiscent of woodblock carving.  
This choice intensifies the feelings of the reader towards the elephant and of the elephant's loneliness and complete alienation from its environment. And serves as a foreshadowing of Rembrandt's journey: a man who was at the peak of popularity, now a shadow of himself. 

In the next couple pages, the elephant is rudely awakened and is viciously hauled out of the cargo.
Through this action we are rudely introduced into Rembrandt's world, Amsterdam 1642, but also introduced to Rembrandt himself; a man who knows how great he is and how great his skills are.

Typex does this all within nine pages; nine silent pages. There's no word bubbles, no thought bubbles, no narration boxes, just the images. It's a testament to Typex' skills as a cartoonist. And these nine pages are a great introduction to Rembrandt, in which Typex will flesh out and texturize throughout the comic.

After those nine pages, Typex begins the autobiography of Rembrandt and he tells the biography through vignettes. Rembrandt is not told linearly, but instead Typex hones in at special moments in Rembrandt's life. This is a smart move because it doesn't bore the reader in a linear path of this happens and then this happens and then this happens and so on. It also allows Typex a level of flexibility to move his narrative pieces around and have a tighter control of pacing. Because the story shifts around from the past to present to future a lot, it gives the story a level of mystery within the character motivations and actions. What may befuddle a reader at the beginning will get explained later on, giving the story a feeling that you're slowly peeling its skin.  

Throughout the story Typex portrays the world and an artist that's at odds with itself; Typex doesn't hold back and isn't afraid to show the ugly side of Rembrandt and the world he occupies. A world and artist that is full of life and wonder and beauty, but isn't afraid to destroy that beauty and wonder and not think twice of it. These stark contrasts between the two serves as a way to ground the reader, but also fill us with a sense of awe and wonder.

Typex also has an eye for composition: every panel is filled with the beautiful composition. You get a feeling that Typex meticulously placed every character and word bubbles within his panels. The eye for compositions gives the reader a sense of beauty and it also helps guide the reader to where Typex wants them to look at.
Throughout reading Rembrandt I was absolutely gobsmacked by Typex' ability to portray facial and bodily expressions. If you've read some of my past reviews, I love when cartoonists are able to use their character's face and body to express their inner thoughts and feelings. Typex does this perfectly; from the exaggerated to the nuanced to everything in-between, Typex shows he can do it all.

Another thing that caught my eye was Typex' ability to draw and color skin; I was really taken by it. Typex is able to draw skin as skin, but give it a little extra sense of flexibility, flabbiness, and softness that's not present in real life. When I see his characters' skin I feel that I can stick my hand through the comic and play around with it; there's a malleability to it. I'm finding it hard to articulate how much I love Typex' skin. The only other cartoonist who can give me this feeling of skin is Nicolas De Crécy.
Rembrandt is a modern masterpiece created by a cartoonist at the peak of his power. Typex is able to conjure its atmosphere and mood of Rembrandt, the 1600s and the world at that time. This is a comic that deserves more than one read, not to fully grasp what's going on, but because you'll want to re-experience that sense of awe you got when you first opened it.