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.