Tuesday, January 28, 2014

B+F - Gregory Benton

64 4C pages
10 " x 15 " HC
$24.95 US funds
ISBN 978-1-935233-25-1

I don't remember how B+F got on my radar but I'm so glad it did.

B+F is a wordless comic about a nameless woman and her dog going on a journey that's thrust upon them. B+F is an interesting meditation on the environmental exploration genre. Now I don't know if this is a real genre but it works on describing the overall picture of B+F.  Throughout their journey they meet and fight various denizens. With every meeting comes a new insight about the world they inhabit and of our characters.

There's pervasive feeling of strangeness that strikes the reader as you're discovering this world. Not only strangeness but a feeling of uneasiness. That you're glad your not part of this world and wish never to be part of it because how bizarre and alien it is. Benton does an amazing job drawing environments and situations that are constantly putting the reader in an uncomfortable place. It's rare to come to across a comic that has this constant feeling throughout the story. That alien feeling continues to build and build until the story's climax where it literally and figuratively explodes in the reader's face. And even after the climax, that feeling lingers on.
Benton's artwork is absolutely gorgeous and you can stare at it for days on end. As I said in the previous paragraph, Benton has an amazing ability at conjuring up strange and alien worlds/characters. Even though we see a human woman in the cover, we soon discover that she's not entirely human. Benton's artwork is able to convey a sense of otherworldliness in her.

Benton's colors perfectly match the strangeness of the world he's created. I know I keep harking on the strangeness of the comic but it's impossible not to, and it's a big part of the overall atmosphere of B+F. Benton's colors remind of some of the old 70s Heavy Metal comics that had very lurid and psychedelic coloring to them. I'm thinking along the lines of Druillet's and Croben's work. Though those colors were mostly the only thing the creators had to at the time, in B+F, the color palette seems more deliberate. That Benton had thought out what colors to use, why and how that affected the reader's perception of the world. 

B+F does a lot of things rights but one of the things that caught my eye how easy it is to follow the story. There's no panel confusion, the eye follows the action/story perfectly and there's a beautiful beat to the story. I usually go into a comic with the mindset of an experienced comic reader but also as a novice. I do this because I want to see if a comic can be read by someone completely new, and if the creator has set up their panel in a way that wouldn't overwhelm a new reader. Now, I don't mind when a creator or creators do a layout that confuses the reader, but it has to be tied in with the story. That such a chaotic layout should add to the overall experience and story of the comic. A good amount of comics today, the artist or creator, they don't seem to have a good grasp of telling a clear visual story. There are panels are cluttered and arranged in such a way that it's confusing and hard to understand what the hell is going on; luckily Benton never falls into this pit. Everything here is clear and I would be more than comfortable giving this to a new reader, and I wouldn't have to worry about them getting confused.
 B+F caught me completely off-guard with it's alien charm but it also made me heavily uneasy; and I really like that. It's rare for me to come across a comic that both grabbed and charmed me, but also made me feel so uncomfortable that I was a bit glad that I finally got done reading it. Do yourself a favor and go buy B+F, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Basil & Victoria: London Guttersnipes by Yann & Edith

Collection : Humanoids Inc.
Edition : Slightly Oversized Edition
240 pages - 8.5 x 11 inches - Color
EAN 9781594650659
$39.95 - £24.9
You can buy it here
 When I first delved into Basil & Victoria I knew nothing about it but of what the Humanoids site told me:
London, 1887. While the British Empire is at its peak, and influences the majority of the world, most of London still lives amid poverty, disease, and crime. Basil and Victoria are two of the thousands of orphaned street urchins who survive by hustling, selling rats, and sleeping on the docks. Helped by Cromwell, their faithful bulldog, the trio travel from the mean streets of Whitechapel to exotic distant lands, meeting famous, and infamous, historical and literary figures along the way, as they lovingly bicker and squabble the entire time!

When you get done reading this you get a picture of an all-age or teenage adventure story with some cutesy references of literary characters and places; but that idea is so far away from the truth. After reading a handful of pages, I found Basil & Victoria to be a mature take on a children's adventure story.

http://www.humanoids.com/assets/CatalogueArticle/493/BasilVictoria-Diamond-4_tmp.jpgWhat grabbed me was its complex take on children and a children's adventure. When I read most comics with children protagonists there's a feeling that they're too innocent, creators are afraid to give them a multi-faceted look. Yann & Edith do a beautiful job bring that faceted look to their main characters and the characters that they come across. Yes, they can be innocent and have a childish view of the world but they're not afraid to get mean. Not only mean but downright violent and willing to kill someone: either to survive or out of jealously or anger. These kids express real human emotions and not showing an ability to think ahead and live fully in the moment; I found this very refreshing. Yann and Edith aren't afraid to touch or put them in some taboo situations that most American kid comics would never go.
http://www.humano.com/assets/CatalogueArticle/35352/Basil_Victoria_T5_10_big.jpgMaybe I'm just giving too much gruff to most kid comics. I think that the kids in Basil & Victoria are like this because they are a product of their time and of their social class. Basil & Victoria takes place during Victorian times, so there is a  heavy class, racial and sexual rules and divisions in play. These rules and divisions are essential to understanding why these kids act and talk--not only kids but everyone else around them--the way they do. They're essentially doomed to be gutter-trash throughout their entire life with no chance of ever being more than that. Yes, they have grand adventures but those adventures leave them back to where they were originally: ungodly poor. I was also happy that Yann & Edith weren't afraid to de-romance the Victorian Era and show it how it was. Show those horrible sexual, class and racial divisions as they were and how that affected people, how they affect the story and how it builds the foundation of Basil & Victoria. 
Now all is not bleak, Basil and Victoria do go on some amazing adventures. They go at each others throat, fall in love--with each other and other people--and seeing/meet amazing people and places. It's an absolute joy reading their adventures and seeing where they take them and how they deal with the problems in front of them. There's also a subversive blackish humor that's pervasive throughout all the stories.
Yes stories, that's another thing that caught me off guard. All the books collected here are stand-alones. I read them all within two days, but they're stories you can read one in a week and go back to read the next one without having to remember what happened in the last story. I think it's good to read them almost right away without any big breaks in-between. Mostly because these stories build and feed off each other. So what happens in one story may have reverberating effects on the next one. But, Yann & Edith do a great job building their stories without having the reader having to know everything of the past story to understand the new story.
Edith's art is a mixture of charcoal, waterpaints and black markers. Edith's linework and coloring is jaw-dropping gorgeous and it brings the characters, world and story to life . There are some times where the story calls for some heavy atmosphere and Edith brings it fully with her art. The last story takes place during a wintry London and god, Edith brings that world to life. You feel the snow, cold, dirt, grim, and depressing atmosphere of a early London morning. There are going to be times where you come across a panel by Edith where it stops you on your tracks and you just have to stare at it for a while. Edith also does some amazing pillow shots that allow you to breath and take in what happened before you continue. I was absolutely taken by the artwork and amazed by how perfectly it fits the comic.

Basil & Victoria is a comic that delivers in its premise and continues to surprise it's reader. Stories that will leave you breathless and wanting more after you're done reading them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Polina - Bastien Vivès

Polina is an intimate character study of Polina Oulinov who wants to become a professional ballet dancer. The comic starts off with a very young Polina trying to get into Bojinsky Academy to learn ballet professionally. Polina makes it and from there starts a journey of a self-discovery and coming-of-age. Polina also takes an in-depth look at being a ballet and the emotional confidence and intelligence at becoming a ballet dancer.

Polina took me by surprise, I had no expectations coming in and by the time I was done reading it I was absolutely blown away. Polina takes place in Russia (mostly) and we get to see some of it, but it's a comic that's mostly interested in the inner-space of its characters. Polina can become very claustrophobic read because the inner spaces that Vivès navigates us through. Not only claustrophobic but downright stressful and depressing. But all is not negativity, Polina revels in those small moments or insights that change a person and who they view themselves and others.

One thing that caught me off guard is how time passes in Polina. Vivès doesn't rely on telling us that time has passed--actually, this is used only twice towards the end--but allowing the reader to find out that time has passed. Vivès's subtly changes Polina and the people around her by making them slightly taller, changing their facial structure and physical changes that occur during puberty. It's up to us to recognize those changes and internalize that time has passed.  These changes are so seamlessly integrated into the story that it never breaks the flow of the story and you internalize it almost instantly; I'm amazed how Vivès was able to pull this off.

Vivès simple but elegant line takes this comic to another level not seen in most comics.Since Polina deals with ballet, you need a cartoonist that is able to fully express it in all its motions and emotions; Vivès does this flawlessly. Vivès has the eye for motion and being able to express that in the least minimal lines while making it look elegant and full of motion. When Vivès not drawing characters in motion, he's able to express the inner emotions and conflicts within his characters and between with just with lines; it's breathtaking to see.
Vivès does an amazing job creating Polina, the characters around her and the world she inhabits and making them fully complex and alive. Polina is available in English but only in the UK. The best way to get this without the heavy import prices is through Kindle. You'll have to go through Amazon UK and change you kindle address for the UK. It'll only take few or more minutes but after you done, you can purchase Polina. It may sound like a lot to do, but it isn't and this comic is more than worth it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

5,000 Kilometers Per Second by Manuele Fior

Winner of the prestigious award for "Best Album" at Angouleme in 2011 and described by publisher Fantagraphics as a “masterpiece”, Manuele Fior's 5,000 Kilometers Per Second is one of those graphic novels that stay with you long after you have turned the last page. 

5,000 Kilometers Per Second tells the story of three teenagers, Piero, Nicola and Lucy. When Piero falls in love with Lucy, it will be life-changing for both of them. At first reluctant to leave his hometown after finishing school, Piero studies archeology and is even convinced by Lucy to leave the country while she herself spends time studying in Norway. Set in Italy, Norway and Egypt, Fior's book is about a love triangle in our modern, fast-lived times, spanning time and continents. It is a quiet but engrossing graphic novel dealing with love, home and change and the insight that leaving is sometimes a necessity today, but not one without its consequences.
Piero in Egypt - large parts of the book take place on different means of transportation
Neither staying nor leaving seems to be the right choice for the protagonists. If they stay, they are unable to develop. But if they leave, they leave family, friends and lovers behind as well while at the same time belonging neither here nor there. And even if they return, trying fit into their old lives again, they realise that this is impossible - life abroad has changed them too much and turning back the clock proves an impossible task. All this will have a tragic effect on the relationship between Lucy and Piero.
"Nothing has changed. Apart from yourself."

Movement and stillness are recurring motifs in Fior's graphic novel. Apart from the protagonists moving and staying, the book is full of plants and houses, pyramids and cafes (stillness/roots) as well as motorcycles, planes, cars and boats (movement/mobility). In fact, a lot of the story takes place on motorcycles, in trains and on boats.

The title of Fior’s graphic novel alludes to this modern-day mobility and the false sense of proximity and normality that being able to stay in contact with others via phone or other forms of communication over long distances (5,000 kilometers is the distance a phone call bridges from Norway to Egypt per second) gives us.

Stillness, on the other hand, is often implied by showing us houses – which are of course “homes” to people. The very first page of the story opens with a depiction of a set of apartments where Lucy and her mother have just moved in. The concept of “home” is directly introduced to the reader as well this way and repeated again throughout the book.
three panels, each of which contrasts one moving with one immobile element
As already seen, Fior is a master of using symbolism. If the characters feel the need for change, “breathing” is used as a metaphor. Take Lucy, for example. We find out that she and her mother - her father has left them - have a history of moving. And while she is in tears about having to get used to new surroundings again at the beginning of the book, she later decides to leave Italy and study in Norway for a while, where she at first seems to be relieved because of the change, describing herself to be able to breathe for the first time in a long while. Another instance can be seen early on in the story when Nicola teases Piero about the prospect of staying instead of leaving for university while playfully holding him in a headlock: "I can't breathe!", Piero says. He is of course able to “breathe” once he does leave his hometown.

Another example is the double splash page of just rain that the last chapter opens with – rain, symbolising (in true Hemingway fashion) that a change, a phase of transition has occurred.

Fior also expertly uses colours and setting to show different moods and stages in the development of his protagonists. The story starts off in Italy, a place depicted using mostly yellow and green tones which convey life and youth/growth and perhaps hope. Once the story moves to Norway, blue tones take over, signifying a sort of coldness and estrangement.
time to leave again
Astonishing is as well how complex yet real and lifelike the characters are. One almost gets the feeling that this is an autobiographical work because everyone acts, talks and develops like actual human beings - something that is often missing in comics, even non-mainstream books.

Although 2014 has barely begun, Manuele Fior’s 5,000 Kilometers Per Second is one of the best books you will read all year. And while I usually do not place much value on praise a publisher puts in their own solicitations, in this case I have to agree with Fantagraphics: I cannot think of a better term than “masterpiece” for this book.


Because of Kim Thompson’s passing away, the publication of 5,000 Kilometers Per Second has been postponed by Fantagraphics and as of yet, no new release date has been confirmed. I urge you to write them emails, send letters by carrier pigeon, go to their Seattle offices and stage a sit-in. I don’t care. Do whatever it takes to get this book published. 

This review is based on the German version of 5,000 Kilometers Per Second, published by Avant-Verlag (€19,95)

5,000 Kilometers Per Second will (hopefully) by published in English by Fantagraphics sometime this year ($19.99/ISBN 13: 978-1606996669)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Occultation and Other Stories- Laird Barron

"The world had descended into a primeval well while she'd been partying in their motel room; it had slipped backward and now the desert truly was an ancient and haunted place." - Occultation
When I first read Barron's work it was through Imago Sequence and Other Stories, and reading that collection was mindblowing. A collection of horror stories that mashed a ton of genres, cosmic horror and philosophical ideas through a highly literary filter. When you read the stories in Imago, you didn't get the feeling that you were reading pastiches, or genre self-realization irony, no this was the real thing. There a labor of love and wanting to scary the shit out of the reader. Barron believed in what he was doing and brought a real life experience of primordial horror to his stories and characters. After Imago, I read The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and was again blown away by the level of high quality and consistency that Barron brought to the stories.

Both collections mostly dealt with lone men who were rugged and mean and highly capable with their hands and mind. But then those high capability men were utterly destroyed by the tide of cosmic, biological, and genetic horror that washed over them. A horror that brought some of humankind's best men and grinded them into nothing. It showed us--the normal folk--that we had no chance in hell of surviving. Each story was carefully crafted and fully realized, done through a tapestry of horror in which we sometimes got to see the whole picture; but mostly the whole picture is often never seen and never will be. I thought these books were some of the best horror and Barron stories I've read.

And then I read Occultation; and it was a revelation. Occultation collects some of the best horror stories ever written. Not only the best horror stories but each story is Barron at the height of his storytelling power.

While Imago and Beautiful dealt with hard men, Occultation is different. Occultation deals with a diverse crowd of ordinary people surrounded by a horrific tide waiting to swallow. Each of these characters are multidimensional and textured with their own thoughts and feelings. Most of them have a feeling or small idea of what they're up against or walking into, but such knowledge doesn't help them. These characters are doomed from the first word and Barron does a beautiful job making us care for them and sadly, making us read their impeding doom.

The sad thing about their doom is that it is brought forth from the people they love, from their relationship to them. Couples doomed because of their love for each other and lone men and women doomed through their past or present relationships; this is a big change from Imago and Beautiful. No longer are there lone hardy men but just ordinary people trying to eke a living in a harsh world, but they're unable t.

Barron's cosmic and biological horror is further hidden than Imago and Beautiful. They seep through the cracks of our world but only reveal themselves to those who are emotionally unstable or extreme. These horrors too, are seek out by the doomed, as if they were made specially for them. Just like the horrors in Imago and Beautiful, they transform the person into something more, something higher. These transformations are the new evolution in the human genome and that the current human designed is flawed and unstable. This theme is followed in all of Barron's work and it is absolutely terrifying to think about.

Occultation is a gut-wrenching collection that shows Barron is more than lone men. That he is a highly diverse storyteller and can write any type of story or character he sets his mind to.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Advance Review: Foligatto - Alexios Tjojas & Nicolas de Crécy

Edition : Oversized Deluxe Edition
64 pages - 9.5 x 12.5 inches - Color
EAN 9781594650604
You can buy Foligatto here.

Foligatto tells the story of a town called Eccenihilo and it's need for revival and to quell the violence within it. The local government and bourgeois come up with a plan to set up a three day carnival. A carnival that will quell the lust of the town's populace; a carnival that will transform the Eccenihilo and set it unto a better path; a carnival that would have the local and highly famous opera singer, Foligatto.

But before I continue, you'll see four images underneath this paragraph. These four images tell you a lot about what you need to about the world of Foligatto, Eccenihilo, and it's themes. So before you continue: click on the images, gaze at them and take them in.
Taken them in?

We start with a rat's head that seems to come from the ground, literally, following a hand. A hand that has taken the bone and made it part of a bone harp. Cars drive up to where our three characters are, a cock fight ensues and a man's head is cut off for cheating; but the man doesn't die. No, he takes his head, puts a cigarette in his lips, lights a match and walks away smiling. Crécy does an amazing bring this all to life, from his linework to his luscious warm brown coloring that add a glow of nostalgia.   As you can tell, Foligatto is profoundly surreal comic.

This surrealist theme is matched with a darkly-humored sense of absurdity that is pervasive throughout the comic. This surrealism is also imbued within its characters: how they talk and treat each other, how they view violence, how they use violence, how they view their world, and their place within it . Foligatto is a comic that revels in it's own madness and isn't afraid to be nonsensical and disgusting at times. A comic in which its creators have built up its foundation through their own dream logic and then right away break it. If you're going to read Foligatto, you must accept it in its own terms and mustn't be afraid of where it will take you.

This level of surrealism is fully realized by Crécy's amazing linework. I have talked about Crécy linework before. Crécy has an amazing ability of drawing skin and making it look absolutely beaten down, trampled, spit on, used up and destroyed. Crécy can draw characters that are absolutely disgusting to look at and have inhuman qualities. Then out of nowhere, Crécy can draw characters that look completely innocent and beautiful. This back and forth from ugly to immaculate is something we see a lot in Foligatto. And it isn't just characters but it's also the world they inhabit. Just as his characters can be ugly or beautiful or both, so can the world they live in.

Foligatto is a comic that refuses to be pigeonholed into just one thing. It is a comic that isn't afraid to reach a place not yet seen in comics before. And if it fails, by god, it's going to fail big and it's something that you'll never forget. I can't recommend this comic enough. It's hard to come by a comic that is wholly original in it's vision and when after reading, lingers in your mind for days to come.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sammy the Mouse Vol 1 & 2 - Zak Sally and Life Zone - Simon Hanselmann

And thus begins the adventure for Sammy and in which start a chain of events. These events lead Sammy and his friends in a hallucinatory elaborate adventure that is yet to be fully completed.

http://zaksally.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/zs.com_sammy_011.jpgSammy the Mouse is an interesting comic. It's one of those rare comics that takes its time; really takes it's time and I love it. Something along the vein of B.P.R.D. or Cerebus, where Sally is setting things up that won't be resolved until way later in series. The comics also reads that's more interested in setting up and feeling out the world and the characters that live in it. More focused journey: how the journey changes Sammy and it's inhabitants, and where it takes them instead of it's ending. Sally is wanting to get into the mindscapes and space of his characters and their world and explore them.

Now this might sound boring to some people but it isn't. What makes this comic amazing and work is the great characterization, darkly-humored dialogue, masterful pacing, and Sally almost immaculate ability to time his jokes; there's a feeling that everything just builds and feeds off each other.

Reading Sammy the Mouse is great but seeing it is a revelation; Sally's linework is amazing. Master cartoonists have had problems making their lines full of life and emotions, but for Sally makes it seems easy; like it's second-hand nature for him. You can see the character's personalities, their frailties, and past mistakes. Though these characters are rather pathetic, Sally cares for them and wants to live a good life. All these emotions and feelings just burst out through his line, it's really amazing to see and experience.
Throughout the story, we see there's a disembodied voice that talks to Sammy at certain times in the comic and at times takes control of the people around Sammy. I have an idea about this voice; I think it's Zack Sally. It's Zack Sally talking to his creations, creations that have come to life and are able to live almost without Sally. When we first see Sammy he's doing nothing, and would probably continue to do nothing until nudged into action. That nudge comes from the voice from the sky. I think that's Sally talking to his creation while moving the story and certain plots forward. If there wasn't voice didn't push Sammy into action, Sammy would probably still be in his house doing nothing and us readers, would not have much to go on.

You can get Sammy the Mouse from Uncivilized Books.

Life Zone is darkly-humored and absurdist slice-of-life story that follow the lives of Megg, Mogg, & Owl. Characters that Hanselmann has created and worked on for five years now.

In Life Zone, Hanselmann intensely focuses on four separate moments in theses characters' lives. While these stories are told through vignettes, they build off each other. So what happens in one story has rippled through the rest of the stories.

What makes Life Zone so great is Hanselmann's ability to start off with broad characterizations and slowly and with precise hone in further with the characters, so by the end, we're read more realized and textured characters then what we had in the beginning. This is great for readers coming into Hanselmann's work for the first time. Hanselmann also has a great grasp at setting up jokes and timing the pay off perfectly. This timing is helped by Hanselmann using a four-tier twelve panel layout. With this layout, Hanselmann has a tight control over pacing and setting things up.

Hanselmann has improved as an artist. Hanselmann has a great ability to capture the mundane things in life--just look at the image above--with his artwork and make them larger than life. Her linework has a lineage from C.F. and the Fort Thunder era. He's highly influenced by their stories but especially their art style and is continuing their style through his work.  There's also a touch of ligne claire. That ligne claire touch is almost a subversion of the style.

Life Zone is a hilarious a comic that will leave laughing long after you've read the comic. It's also a touching and very poignant comic. Where Hanselmann has sneaked a peek into the human condition and brought forth through his linework and characters. This is why Life Zone was my comic of the year for 2013 and should be yours too.

You can buy Life Zone from the Space Face Books

Friday, January 10, 2014

Everything Together - Sammy Harkham and another small update

I'm late to the Harkham party. I didn't discover his works until mid-2012? I think. But it was a revelation and I made a huge effort to try to find and read everything by him. Then PictureBox stepped into the equation, heard my call for a collection of his works, thought it a good idea and did it. I bought it when it came out but I didn't read it until the end of 2013. The reason for that is....... I don't know but I'm glad I finally got around to reading.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/81og-dTeoEL.jpgEverything Together is a collection of Harkham's comic short stories. In this collection, we read stories about a relationship that's at the peak of its downfall, Napoleon trying to make a funny strip, the daily life of a religious scroll writer, and a number of other down-to-earth mixed with absurdity stories. As you can read, the tone and mood of these stories can vary  heavily.

I'm a huge fan of short stories. A lot of the prose I read is short stories, so I was excited to delve into this collection. I think short stories are a form that is very hard to master. It demands a lot from its writer: being economical with you plotting, your words, your characters your ideas/themes and distilling them into their essentials while giving them a nuanced and complex take. Harkham is able to pull all that off with ease. Some stories only take a whole page while others take only half a page or less.

A good amount of his stories seems to jump right in the middle of change. Whether that's change in a character's relationship with someone else or to the world around them or within themselves. These changes bring a lot of strong emotions, and we get to see those emotions/changes play out. But Harkham doesn't elevate or melodrama them. He makes them very down-to-earth and makes them feel like every day. That these feelings and changes are a part of life and that we shouldn't be surprised by them. That's this is life and these things occur to everyone. I enjoy that subtle and subdued take on situations in which other writers would heavily dramatize them.

Harkham's linework is a treat for the eyes. It's great to see his linework and his ability to express his character's inner turmoil and more nuanced feelings get better and better with each story. We're reading a cartoonist hone his tool kits, his narratives, and characters, and distil them to their absolute essentials; it's beautiful to see.

A small update: I'm trying to post as much as I can but school is going to be starting up soon. So, my posts will be a bit few and far. What I mean by that is instead of trying to do every day, I'm going for once or twice or three times out of the week. I'm going to do my most damn to keep this blog alive because there are numerous amounts of books and comics and film I want to share with you all.

So I leave you with some Kris Kristofferson and do yourself a favor and go buy Everything Together

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

Circumnavigating Early Earth, a storyteller from the land of Nord meets his soul mate, a woman from the South Pole. Immediately, the two fall in love.  Basically sounds like your bog-standard love story, doesn’t it? Well, think again, since there is nothing ordinary about this love story at all: Little does the Nord man know that his travels have affected the magnetic field of Early Earth so that the two experience a magnetic repulsion - though being in love, Nord man and South Pole woman can never touch. 

So begins Isabel Greenberg's beautiful and highly imaginative Encyclopedia of Early Earth, a collection of tales about “Gods, monsters, mad kings, wise old crones, shamans, medicine men, brothers and sisters, strife, mystery, bad science, worse geography and […] true love” - tales that are at the same time familiar and strange. And Greenberg does not only pick up familiar literary motifs like “true love” or “mad kings”, but also well-known elements from legend, human history and religion and puts a twist on them. Thus, the Nord man meets a Cyclops on his travels and can escape him when some bird droppings fall into the Cyclops’ eye. Later on, he is swallowed by a whale who turns out to be “Kid”, the son of Early Earth’s supreme deity “BirdMan”. His daughter “Kiddo”, on the other hand, falls in love with a human. When “BirdMan” finds out, he is “beside himself, livid. Quite frankly he [is] hopping mad”, we are told, and accordingly wants to destroy the world with a flood. It is this familiarity which draws the reader into the book, but the changes Greenberg applies are what keeps him interested.
"true love"...
Greenberg connects her tales from a fictional ancient and forgotten age in world history by framing them with the story of the Nord man, who is a young storyteller searching for a missing part of his soul. His profession is no coincidence, since at its heart the whole graphic novel is about storytelling and the power of stories.
... and "mad kings"
And like her hero, Greenberg herself is a master storyteller. She is able to create a whole world here, including different cultures (each with their individual histories), a religion and geography. The book even includes and appendix, in which Greenberg shows us amongst other things the hunting and fishing gear of the Nords, explains the 1001 varieties of snow and depicts different “birds & beasts” from Early Earth.
map of a region on Early Earth

from the appendix
One aspect I really enjoyed is that while the framing narrative is linear, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth at times unfolds like Russian matryoshka doll - there are stories within stories within stories and you never know what to expect next. All this adds up to a magical graphic novel that literally makes you lose track of time and place and fills one with a sense of wonder which makes you feel like a child again.

This effect is underlined by the simplistic and stylised artwork which creates the feeling of reading a children's book. And even though it at times looks woodcut-like, it is still extremely expressive and playful.

Fascinating is also that although parts like the love story between Nord man and South Pole woman should be heartbreaking they actually are not, because Greenberg always manages to give her tales an underlying positive tone and light-heartedness. In fact, while reading the Encyclopedia I often found myself laughing out loud. This often happened because of the contrasts in the language used. While we mostly find dramatic language like “We swore vengeance on the savages who dwell there” or “It still lies, stagnant and dark, outside the city, a reminder of the power of the Gods”, this is often juxtaposed by modern-day colloquialisms such as “Pipe down, naysayer” or “Kiddo has been shacking up with a human”.
"BirdMan" and his children, "Kid" and "Kiddo"
But because of the aforementioned sense of wonder I had when reading The Encyclopedia of Early Earth it kind of feels wrong to analyse the book too much and I think that being analytical is the exact opposite of what Greenberg tried to achieve here. Instead, you should just read this fascinating piece of graphic narration and let it carry you away.

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is published by Jonathan Cape in the UK (£16.99/ISBN-13: 978-0224097192) and Little, Brown and Compnay in the US ($23.00/ISBN-13: 978-0316225816)

S.F. #3 - Ryan Cecil Smith & Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream - Laura Parka


I wish I read this last year because it would have made my top ten list. I've been a fan of Smith's work since I've came across it in 2012. I don't remember how I came across it but I'm glad I did because Smith's is so damn fun, beautiful and inventive. I feel like a kid when I read his S.F.

http://25.media.tumblr.com/08c67b8df25e81345a49b3999b2ead7b/tumblr_myszeadH2X1rwdxzqo4_1280.jpgSmith has been working on a series called S.F. which tells the story of Hupa Dupa, a kid who inadvertently gets caught up in a galactic war and has to join the S.F.S.F.S.F. (The Space Fleet Scientific Foundation Special Forces) and go against the Pirate Nation. As you can tell from our heroes' name, that S.F.  is going to have a jokey not-take-itself-too-seriously quality to it and Smith works that angle really well.

That jokey quality plays a HUGE part in the S.F. series; it's actually essential to S.F.. S.F. playfully riffs on Leiji Matsumoto and Kazuo Umezu's work, mangas, Japanese culture (where he lives), and indie comics. Using tropes, motifs, themes seen in those mediums, Smith subverts and turns them into something new and refreshing.

S.F. #3 continues where he left off from S.F. #2. The great thing about this comic is that you don't need to have ad his previous works to understand it. Smith does a great job introduction the new reader into the world he's created and making them it feel familiar to them; that's a hard job to do but he pulls it off marvelously. You get sucked into the world and the characters and before you know it, you're done reading and left wanting more.

With S.F. #3, Smith has progressed exponentially as storyteller and artist. He has a tighter control over pacing and parsing out information. Smith also has a great ability to set up jokes and playful satire the things he loves without it coming out ironic. He loves what he's satirizing and knows some of the inherit problems within it, but there's a sincerity; I like that, I like a lot actually. I'm a huge fan of manga and indie comics and I love reading and capturing the little references in Smith's work.

http://koyamapress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/image31.jpgSmith's art leaves you drooling. Smith's linework has this thinly loose kinetic feel it. It bends and flows from Smith's hands and it's only gotten better in time. You can see the Leiji Matsumoto and Umezu Kazuo influence in his work. He's great at drawing epic sci-fi environments, ships, aliens and characters; none of them ever seeming to be recycled things of other sci-fi work but of Smith's own imagination.

Smith has created an amazing piece of sci-fi work. A work that is accessible to all-ages and that leaves every reader with a sense of childish glee and awe.
When I bought this mini, I knew nothing about it. I didn't know the creator or what the comic was about but something about that cover and it's title drew me in.  So I decided to buy it and give it try.

If you've a consistent reader of our blog, then you know that I do a lot of blind buys. If a comic attracts me, even if I know nothing about it, I'll buy it and check it out. Then you know that a lot of my blind buys, I enjoy and I'm glad that I bought them; this mini falls into.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-S5SNY3fZwYQ/Uh6B0NreXaI/AAAAAAAAJZE/WoZZECm0kro/s1600/do_not_0_p2.jpgDo Not Disturb My Waking Dream is a collection of very short vignettes which follow the life of it's creator, Laura Park. They range from joking to depressing but neither really having a dominating force. Park balances the far ranging emotions really well. Park knows when to inject humor into a depressing situation or taking a seemingly boring situation and making it feel intense and full of life. This mini really caught me off guard and I ended up re-reading it right away after I got done.

I also fell in love with her art. Park has an amazing sketchy crosshatching line. It can capture the most creepy moments in ones life to the happiest. Park also has an uncanny ability to capture facial expression with the least minimal work. I was taken aback by the expressions of her and the people around her.

This is definitely a mini you shouldn't pass up. It's a quick read, only 20 pages, but it's a satisfying quick read.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Another best of 2013 list

A few days ago Larry posted his favourites of 2013. Let me give you a quick summary of what I enjoyed most about 2013 when it comes to comics, tv-series and music.


1. Blast 3 by Manu Larcenet
2. March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell
3. Munch by Steffen Kverneland
4. The Fantastic Voyage of Lady Rozenbilt by Pierre Gabus & Romuald Reutimann
5. The Park by Oscar Zarate
6. Julio's Day by Gilbert Hernandez
7. The Property by Rutu Modan
8. Pachyderme by Frederik Peeters
9. Red Handed by Matt Kindt
10. Long John Silver 4 by Xavier Dorison & Mathieu Lauffray

1. The Bridge (Bron/Broen)
2. Game of Thrones
3. Top of the Lake
4. Breaking Bad
5. Borgen
6. Ray Donovan
7. Generation War (Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter)
8. Under the Dome
9. Magic City
10. Suits


1. José James - No Beginning No End
2. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
3. Moderat - II
4. Kraak & Smaak - Chrome Waves
5. Jake Bugg - Shangri La
6. Bonobo - The North Borders
7. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
8. Arctic Monkeys - AM
9. Valerie June - Pushin' Against A Stone
10. London Grammar - If You Wait

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Aama - The Smell of Warm Dust by Frederik Peeters

Moebius already said he was a fan of Frederik Peeters' art and world building in the introduction to Pachyderme and I can certainly see why he is. Peeters' world building is grand in scope, just like Moebius' and both can create characters that, whether they are likable or not each have their own flaws and inner compass. These aspects are also present in Aama and makes us readers care about the story from the first page.
The abandoned space ship of the colony
In Aama - The Smell of Warm Dust we follow the story of Verloc Nim, who wakes up in the middle of a bizarre landscape, not knowing how he got there, or even knowing who he is. In the distance a giant and übercool cigar smoking ape, that turns out to be a robot, strolls towards him and calls out his name. Verloc asks the ape, Churchill, how he got there and who he is. Churchill hands over Verloc's diary and tells him to read it. The diary serves as the vehicle for telling both Verloc and us readers who Verloc is, what his miserable story is, and the events and choices made that lead up to his present situation and location.

In The Smell of Warm Dust we get to know about this world Verloc wakes up in. He discovers by reading his diary that this is where an eight person colony lives, but that they were abandoned by an organisation from Verloc's home planet Radiant. Verloc's brother now works for this organisation. So what is this organisation? What is the disaster that happened causing them to abandon their own people on some strange otherworldly planet? What did Verloc's life look like when he decided to join his brother on this trip? These questions and a whole set of others is what you can expect to ask yourself when reading this book. It's a great set up for future volumes, three thus far have been published in French.

As with other Peeters stories we get drawn into this futuristic world with all these odd characters from the get go, but again it's all so believable. We get introduced to likable characters, characters that we can emotionally attach ourselves to. Peeter's throws all these situations at them that they have to either solve or undergo. These situations lead to various choices, but what to choose and how to cope with the choices made? How to survive in this world? As you can probably tell by now Peeters delivers us another blend of existentialism and mystery, but adds an extra dose of action that has not been very present in his previous work.

It is not difficult to see, not even after reading just the first volume of this planned four volume story, that Aama won the award for best ongoing series at 2013's Angoulême festival in France. Winning that award is no mean feat, especially if you look at the other nominees. SelfMadeHero picked this title up for the English language market and I can see why. Frederik Peeter creates another unique futuristic world with characters you can emotionally attach yourself to. Aama is a blend of the action in Koma (published by Humanoids) and mystery of Pachyderme. This first volume is now available in the UK and Europe and will be published in the US and Canada in March. Highly recommended!
Aama vol. 1 - The Smell of Warm Dust is published in English by SelfMadeHero | £12.99 | ISBN: 9781906838737