Saturday, February 22, 2014

Milan K. Part 1: The Teenage Years by Sam Timel & Corentin

Milan K. is one of those European comics that are fantastic action from the first to the last page, but unlike American comics without the suits and spandex. Milan K. is much in the vein of XIII and probably even more like Largo Winch. So if those are the sort of books you enjoy, don't hesitate to pick up Milan K. from Humanoids.

In the first part of this collection we get to know Misha, the son of a billionaire oligarch named Khodorov. No problems on the horizon for this boy you'd think. However on the first few pages his father is asked by a Russian minister to "confess" he has sold crude oil under the table and thus avoided having to pay taxes. Khodorov tells the minister he hasn't made any such transaction and that he won't confess to anything. At the same moment the police arrests Khodorov and he's put into the Russian gulag. Misha from now on wil be taken care of by Igor, one of his father's friends.

Five years later we meet Misha again in a boarding school in Switzerland. His father is still imprisoned, but he calls Misha every now and then to tell him stories about his family. He also tells him Misha can fly to Russia with his stepmom and her three children. Unfortunately for Misha the plane will leave a day earlier which means he can't spend time with his girlfriend, who has just invited him to come over without Igor, if you know what I mean... Misha is stubborn though and he goes to her place anyway not caring aboutt the plane leaving with or without him. Laying on the bed together half undressed Igor lifts Misha of the bed and takes him to the airport anyway. Because they arrive late, Misha's stepmom is furious and decides to leave Misha behind. Luckily for Misha he wasn's allowed to come, since the plane is purposely shot from the sky by the Russians, killing his stepmom and her kids. Assumed dead, Misha and Igor go into hiding and adopt new names.

What follows is Misha and Igor in lots of action, but never stupid action if you know what I mean. Every action sequence has a meaning and serves Sam Timel's well thought out plot. Timel knows where he's going with the plot and gives more and more depth to every character that appears in this book as we get further into the story. Timel takes Misha, later known with other names and eventually as Milan, to places around the globe. The book starts in Moscow and Switzerland, but later while on the run Misha and Igor go to Los Angeles. Trying to save Igor from a coma Misga also  travels to the Cayman Islands and New York trying to get possession of one of his father's companies that could pay for Igor's operation....

Now a little about Corentin's art... Dynamic and full of detail is what would describe Corentin's art best. I've seen his art compared to Francois Boucq's somewhere else and I can certainly see that. However I think Corentin's drawings are more detailed and less sketchy. He really knows how to capture the environment the story is set in. Vivid colouring that's very well suited to the location. The action sequences pop off the pages and at times it feels like you're in the middle of a movie. That's not strange though, since Timel started writing this book as a movie script.

I can go on and on about the story and the art but I'll keep on telling spoilers then. Just remember this: Milan K. is an action packed thriller with a believable plot and wonderful art. The book is very accessible and if you want to venture into European comics, this is probably the best place to start. The story could have derailed easily or could have turned into cheesecake galore, but Timel and Corentin keep it all together and deliver a quality book, both plot and art wise.

Humanoids' release of Milan K. is a complete edition that features the three volumes as they were initially published in France. And at the same size as the original French release. I can only praise Humanoids for giving us the books as they were meant to be released. So check out Milan K.!

Milan K. is published by Humanoids | $29.95 | ISBN: 9781594650727 | Buy it here

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Boxer by Reinhard Kleist

Reinhard Kleist’s The Boxer – The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft tells the extraordinary and heartbreaking story of Hertzko “Harry” Haft, a Polish Jew who survived the German death camps in Poland.

At only 16 years of age, Hertzko Haft is deported by the Nazis and eventually taken to Jaworzno, part of the Auschwitz concentration camp. What follows is a story that defies belief so that at first you might think it fictitious. In the camp, Haft becomes a boxer for the entertainment of the staff and their families. Being made to leave Auschwitz in one of the infamous death marches when the Russian Red Army approaches, he is able to flee his tormentors. After the war has ended, he emigrates to the US to become a somewhat successful professional boxer until he loses a fight against Rocky Marciano, the Italian-American boxing legend who would eventually become the world heavyweight champ.

This is a story of survival. Haft encounters anti-Semitism from very early on in his life, but he immediately realizes that things will worsen dramatically for the Jews when the Germans invade Poland and reach his hometown in late autumn 1939. During the early days of the German occupation, Haft tries to help his family survive by smuggling goods into the ghetto. Then, in Auschwitz, survival becomes an issue of even greater importance. Hertzko does jobs for a high-ranking SS-officer who has ulterior motives in protecting him. However, this helps him stay alive and saves him from the abuse of the Kapos, the prisoners turned overseers employed by the SS. One of these jobs is to become a boxer for the entertainment of the guards and other members of the SS and their families in the camps. 
Kleist like to work with contrasts: the first deportations from Belchatow - driving downhill, into the darkness, with telephone poles that more and more resemble crosses

In contrast to this: his departure to America later on in the book. He leaves the "darkness" behind him and sails (notice the slightly upward direction of the ship) towards a seemingly brighter future
Also later on, when Haft escapes the Nazis and then has gone to the US, survival is his main concern – by whatever means possible. 

However, The Boxer’s story of survival is inseparable from the love story between Hertzko and Leah Pablanski, a girl from his hometown that Haft falls in love with as a teenager and who he loses sight of when he is taken away to the concentration camp. As it turns out, hoping to find Leah again is actually what keeps Hertzko alive and makes him do what he has to in order to survive.
Hertzko and Leah, who he wants to marry

Based on a book by Haft's son Alan, The Boxer then is a multi-layered story about love, hope and survival, but also darker aspects of human life. In addition, it deals with the relationship between Alan and his father who is often abusive and shows outbursts of violent temper towards his family.

One example of the aforementioned darker aspects in the book are the boxing matches. Haft knows that the prisoners he defeats in his fights will have lost their last chance of survival. In fact, one opponent is shot right in front of him after a fight. But the circumstances of living in the camps leave little room for ethical concerns if one wants to stay alive. Kleist picks up on this issue again later on in the book when Hertzko meets one of the Kapos (a former Jewish friend of his) back in his hometown and confronts him. That Kleist does not judge Haft’s behaviour in the camp – something that we readers from the safety of our armchairs are often prone to do – is made clear in these scenes.
an example of the atrocities committed by the Germans in the ghettos
I honestly do not believe that there is a graphic novelist out there right now who is better at biographical comics than Kleist. From Cash - I see a darkness to Castro and now The Boxer, Kleist has shown again and again that he is able to get to the heart of his protagonists' stories without ever losing sight of the narrative aspects of great storytelling. While biographical works by necessity have to span decades worth of events, facts and developments, he manages to focus on the most relevant ones and is able to connect these and turn them into a coherent whole that does not look like a series of snapshots or becomes episodical – a problem that many other biographical comics suffer from.
"If you want to survive, you have to learn how to howl with the wolves," the SS- officer tells Hertzko a few pages earlier. Here, he seems to have managed to do just that as his fight is accompanied by German shepherds that look more like their wild relatives than domesticated dogs.

Kleist also has a talent for choosing quotes to introduce his biographical works that fit the stories like a glove. In this case, it is a quote by Haft himself: "After everything I've gone through, what is a man with a boxing glove going to do to me?" This quote is at the same time defeatist and optimistic and so exactly mirrors Haft's life which is tragic yet life-affirming.

Mention has to be made as well of Kleist’s artistic style. His expressionistic way of drawing is particularly fitting when he depicts the crematories in the death camps, where flames, darkness, smoke and human faces meld and seem to lose coherence in the face of the unbelievably atrocious events.

Despite all the horrific experiences Haft has made while being in the camp and on the death marches (and Kleist by no means belittles the crimes committed there), it is a scene at the end of the book that is a real punch to the gut. I don't want to spoil the book here. You'll know what I mean when you read it. I honestly had to suppress tears at the end. It is a very rare thing that a book touches me as emotionally as this.

The Boxer will be published by SelfMadeHero in March ($22.95/£14.99ISBN 13: 978-1906838775)

Also check out Kleist's Castro

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thoughts on Beautiful Darkness - Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët

I'm a huge fan of Fabien Vehlmann's work: Marquis d'Anaon, La nuit de l'inca, Green Manor, Last Days of an Immortal, Isle of 100,000 Graves & Suel (which is getting an English release as The Vanishing later this year and well worth your time). So when I heard Drawn & Quarterly was releasing Jolies ténèbres (Beautiful Darkness), I was insanely excited. I was a bit sad when the release date got pushed back, but the wait was definitely worth it. 

I LOVE this comic! Vehlmann and Kerascoët have created a comic in the vein of The Borrows superposed with a Lynchian landscape while mixing the senseless violence of McCarthy--I don't mean this as an insult, the senseless violence has meaning within McCarthy's work and within this comic as well--with the dark fairy tales of days past; that's a lot of adjectives and ideas to describe Beautiful Darkness but I think these successfully describes what to expect from when reading the comic.

Beautiful Darkness starts of with our main character, Aurora, having a tea date with someone she has feelings for, a prince pixie; yes, our characters are pixies. Out of nowhere their ceiling starts to melt... The melting ceiling ruins their tea party and threatens to drown them. They have to escape their current environment to survive and from there the comic takes a spin that just utterly jolts you, and in which I consider one of the great introductions for a comic:
What a way to introduce: what type of characters you're going read about, their environment, what to expect from the story, the brutal existentialist themes we're going to be facing, and a way to just grab you by the throat and push your face into the page. Vehlmann & Kerascoët do this within eight pages. EIGHT PAGES! I've read a lot of comics in my time but most of them take their time to build up their tone, themes, atmosphere and what to expect. Beautiful Darkness does all this in eight pages and they do it perfectly. It reminds me a bit of Roberto Bolaño's work and his amazing ability to change the tone and the overall picture into something new and alien that the reader would never expect within a sentence or a paragraph. Vehlmann & Kerascoët do that exact thing and they drastically alter your reading and throw whatever expectations you had, out the window. 

I'm really glad that Vehlmann & Kerascoët created this story through a fairytale filter. Fairy tales have been told as cautionary tales mixed with bits of morality and wisdom for people take, digest and use in their daily lives. Through this, Vehlmann & Kerascoët is able to tell a nihilistic cautionary story of civilization and when put in place or put in extreme situations, it can easily fall apart and just evolved people can be so unrelentingly shitty to each other. And that in the end, it doesn't matter because such actions will eventually be overtaken and forgotten by time and nature. Not only is that but there's a slew of blackish slapstick humor and gags that run throughout the comic that mesh so well with the message it's trying to say.
The lighted and childish look of the characters are masterfully are juxtaposed with the beautifully realized landscape surrounding them. Our cast of characters look so out of place, you can't help but think of them as anomalies. It reminds me of Shigeru Mizuki's Onward Towards Our Noble Death. Where Japanese are brutally fighting against the United States but are surrounded by nature that is so beautiful, that them being there doing such a senseless act looks so out of place. Both these comics show their characters as being so disconnected, so goofy looking from nature, you can't believe they came from it.

Even the violence is juxtaposed with nature. At least when nature strikes at these pixies there's a sense of it being right. That there's an order to it, that it's just nature being nature and that's what these animals or insects have to do to survive. But when you see these characters do violence, they do it and don't look back at it; it's senseless most of the time. Most of the pixies are killed for no reason at the hands of other pixies and the pixies that do the deed don't blink. They don't care and run off in a childish glee to do more damage to other pixies. The pixies will do a depraved action: from cannibalism to burying people alive to brutally lashing out against animals and insects for no reason. This is how violence works within their society and I would say in our real life too. There's no rhythm or reason to violence, it just happens, and god helps you if you're on the receiving end of it. Watching this type of violence against the backdrop of nature gives you such a disconnect between the pixies and nature you can't help to think of them as abnormalities that nature is just waiting for their eventual doom through their own hands.
Beautiful Darkness was my first exposure to Kerascoët's artwork and it just shines throughout this comic. Kerascoët does a beautiful job water-coloring and breathing into life the world of the pixies and the pixies themselves. The world of the pixies is rendered in an impressionistic fashion while the pixies are drawn more in a looser and cartoony fashion. I was just taken away by how varied and different each pixie look. Kerascoët has painstakingly rendered each pixie as it's own unique being with a different look. I was also taken aback by how express the pixies were. Kerascoët is able to draw very dramatically to nuanced, textured expressions.

While I was researching Kerascoët I found out that it's a moniker for two people: Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset. This makes a lot of sense because when I came across the title page Beautiful Darkness it said, "Based on an original idea by Marie Pommepuy. Story by Marie Pommepuy & Fabien Vehlmann." I wondered who Marie Pommepuy was and now I know.

Beautiful Darkness is one of those rare comics that grasp for higher concepts and themes in comic and succeed wholly heartily. It's a comic that will leave a mark and keep you awake for nights on end.

I also recommend checking out Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Lévy & Frederik Peeters. Another one of those rare comics that aims to deal with hefty themes and concepts and succeeds.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sorry for the lack of updates

Sorry y'all, but we've all been busy with school and work. We'll try to pick thing up in the future but for now, updates will be a tad erratic.

-Larry B Vossler

Monday, February 3, 2014

Brooklyn Quesadillas - Antony Huchette & Skyway Sleepless - Tom Kaczynski

ISBN 1-894994-79-5
6.5x9.5 inches, 72 pages, b/w softcover

I gotta thanks Joe McCulloch for getting Brooklyn Quesadillas into my attention. His quick description got me hooked.

Brooklyn Quesadillas tells the story of a new father trying to make it as a director. He's trying to produce a talk show that has a coffeepot as a host and a handful of talking animals. As this production continues and as we learn more about our character, he is kidnapped by a gang of 80s/90s sitcom actresses that use him to revive their careers. The actresses live in an island together and have a technology that keeps them forever young. Yep. As you can tell Brooklyn Quesadillas is a very interesting read.
Reading Brooklyn Quesadillas is like reading a Pee-Wee Herman Playhouse episode written by David Lynch. There's a lot of quirky surrealistic landscapes and situations that make reading Brooklyn Quesadillas a treat. Huchette does a great job keeping the reader on their toes and the reader never knows what will happen next. Even when you think you know what will happen, Huchette pulls the wool over your eyes and completely changes the game up. 

Hachette's linework really captured me. It reminds me of a mixture of Blutch and DeForge's linework. He has a great ability of capturing the weird and fantastical and absurdity of his characters and the world they inhabit; which is reminiscent of some of DeForge's work. Just like Blutch, Hachette can really capture very expressive and melodramatic movements that really caught my eye and got me grinning.

Brooklyn Quesadillas is the first English release of Huchette. I hope the success of this will make more of his work available to an English audience. I believe Huchette deserves all the attention because he is a new creator to be on the look out for and I can't wait to see what else he will do.

Skyway Sleepless

I got into Kaczynski's work because of Beta Testing the Apocalypse and reading his short stories was a revelation to me. Kaczynski's amazing ability to bring abstract philosophical, political and scientific thought and match it with his unique offbeat speculative sci-fi makes for an interesting read; a read where you can almost feel and touch such ideas and see them actually affecting individual lives to society as a whole. In a sense his mini-comics read more like essays done through a comic narrative.  
In Skyway Sleepless Kaczynski's envisions a future in which humans live in a vast and complex skyway system, in which architectural philosophy, Skylab and future crime/terrorism are interweave through noir/detective filter. 

Kaczynski puts us in a certain moment in which the skways are about to be drastically changed and we gain a sneak peak into the life and culture of the skways. There's a lot going on in Skyway Sleepless but a lot of its hefty ideas are underneath the skin, teased at but never fully explored or talked about: from the social class system to the prediction of future crimes to the structure and rules of the skyway. This leaves a lot to imagine for the reader and allows a level of openness for us to fill in the gaps.

Kaczynski's linework just keeps getting better and better with every release. There's more confidence in what he's trying to visually tell. He's gotten more realistic with his line and his ability to express his characters emotions has gotten a lot better too. His linework has an ability of giving the reader a foreboding and paranoid feel. That there's always something around the corner and when you face it, it will hurt you.

I was really taken by
Skyway Sleepless and it's exercise on future prediction of crime and its ability to capture a state of emotional uncertainty at one perspective on the future.