In a Glass Grotesquely – Selected Picture Stories


By Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-797-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Pure and Primal Comics Wonderment… 9/10

Richard Sala is a lauded and much-deserving darling of the Literary Comics movement (if such a thing exists), blending beloved pop culture artefacts and conventions – particularly cheesy comics and old horror films – with a hypnotically effective ability to tell a graphic tale.

He grew up in Chicago and Arizona before earning a Masters in Fine Arts, and after beginning a career as an illustrator rediscovered his love of comicbooks. The potentially metafictional self-published Night Drive in 1984 led to appearances in legendary 1980s anthologies Raw and Blab! and animated adaptations of the series on Liquid Television.

His work is welcomingly atmospheric, dryly ironic, wittily quirky and mordantly funny; indulgently celebrating childhood terrors, gangsters, bizarre events, monsters and manic mysteries, with girl sleuth Judy Drood and the glorious trenchant storybook investigator Peculia the most well known characters in his gratifyingly large back catalogue.

Sala’s art is a joltingly jolly – if macabre – joy to behold and has also shone on many out-industry projects such as his work with Lemony Snickett, The Residents and even – posthumously – Jack Kerouac; illustrating the author’s outrageous Doctor Sax and The Great World Snake.

In a Glass Grotesquely is his latest irresistible tract of baroque pictorial enchantment, deftly combining his recent 2014 webcomic with a triptych of visceral and saturnine delusions from the end of the last century, all exploring the bleakest corners of the modern world’s communal fantasy landscape and applying his truly skewed raconteur’s gifts to giving us a thrill, a chill and a chortle…

The majority of this spookily sublime confrontation with the cartoon dark side is taken up with the gripping saga of ultimate enemy of America ‘Super-Enigmatix’, a diabolically inspired super-villain determined to avenge himself upon America for slights both imagined and tragically real…

Delivered in punchy alternating doses of surreal full-colour splashes and moody monochrome subplots, the story details how the brilliant weird-scientist, served by an army of beautiful female zealots and hidden race of mole people, tries to destroy modern society, only opposed by disenchanted ex-cop Natalie Charms and a dedicated band of “conspiracy nuts”…

The struggle against a self-created monster hiding behind a smoke screen of urban legend is fast-paced, Byzantine, and insidiously politically charged: a mesmerising chase-caper and delight of post-modern paranoia meeting classic pulp-fiction melodrama…

Like a bleakly mordant reinvention of the Catholic Church’s Stations of the Cross, ‘It Will All Be Over Before You Know It…’ is a sequence from single panel black and white epigrams building to a tableau of modern terrors for women seeking work, after which 1998’s ‘Stranger Street’ silently details the building tension as a psycho-killer haunts the streets of an already scary town…

The cracked chronicle then concludes with a Kafkaesque shaggy bird story delivered in barrage of grey wash, as an ineffectual nobody receives – and loses – a once-in-a-lifetime honour in ‘The Prestigious Banquet To Be Held In My Honour’

In a Glass Grotesquely amusingly exposes the seamy, scary underbelly of existence with these enigmatic, clever, compelling and staggeringly engaging yarns blending nostalgic escapism with the childish frisson of children scaring themselves silly under the bedcovers at night and will therefore make an ideal gift for the big kid in your life – whether he/she’s just you, imaginary or even relatively real…

In a Glass Grotesquely © 2014 Richard Sala. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Redcoats-ish: Jeff Martin’s War of 1812


By Jeff Martin (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-0-9921-5086-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for Making History Fun… 8/10

In recent years there seems to have been a glorious renaissance of Canadian mass culture. Being Erica, Rookie Blue, Orphan Black, Republic of Doyle, Murdoch Mysteries and a host of other intriguing TV shows all offer a slightly skewed look at entertainment standbys and standards – and that’s not even counting the hordes of individual Canucks who’ve made their mark in what we provincial Brits lazily consider the American monopoly of populist literature, movies, music, and assorted dramatic arts…

Comics and strips too have become reinvigorated, with scribes and pen-pushers producing some of the most interesting stuff since the mid-1980s when Cerebus the Aardvark was the undisputed acme of Indie publishing, Puma Blues invented a strikingly different aesthetic sensibility and a different Renegade Press put out such spellbindingly novel fare as Normalman, Neil the Horse, The Spiral Cage and a host of other off-kilter gems to liven up the world of cartoons and funnybooks.

Following on yesterdays review here’s an intriguing sidebar to one of the most badly-handled wars in history, which officially ended in December 1814, courtesy of well-fed diplomats in Ghent, but carried on killing folk and cocking up lives in the New World until somebody finally got around to telling the actual combatants in 1815…

During its bi-centennial those times of trans-border trouble were wittily reassessed by cartoon and illustrator Jeff Martin via a weekly webcomic and are now cunningly compiled here through the auspices of Renegade Arts Entertainment.

In ‘A Note from the Frontline’ author Martin describes his long interest in the source material of this clash of incompetents, after which comics maven – and self-confessed liquor-lover – Jay Bardyla offers some insightful perspective into the creator’s career and process in ‘Forward March!’

Then the raucous rounds of slapstick shot and snark-filled sarcasm bombs are unleashed when a couple of ill-prepared, reluctant and self-preservation-obsessed citizens find themselves somehow marching off to war with the Canadian militia…

At least stout and surly baker George is initially keen to serve, rushing off with no thought of danger (really… none at all…) but he insists on dragging wisely reluctant trapper and frustrated bread buyer John Pink with him into the woods in search of the front lines.

In truth nobody made them go, nobody really wants them there and, after tramping through the brush for a good long time, they realise that they have no idea what the invading Americans even look like.

When they finally encounter some strangers by a river George and John spend so much time arguing what to do that their targets walk up and attack them first…

And so it goes as folk on both sides – none of whom have ever been trained to fight – shamble through the dense countryside, missing each other and only inflicting harm accidentally, whilst simultaneously wishing they’d never started the affair…

As our hapless halfwits stumble into more and more trouble, not particularly participating in the all-but forgotten Battle of Maguaga and being on hand but no help at all during the daft-but-true exploit of the fall of unconquerable American stronghold Fort Detroit, other incongruous characters are introduced such as the dryly laconic native Joseph and a barking mad-alcoholic serving British Sergeant, all contributing greatly to the aura to the fiasco.

However the real delights and most incisive jabs are reserved for actual personalities of the conflict: Indian messiah Tecumseh, charismatic Canadian Major-General Isaac Brock, staggeringly inept American commander General William Hull and venal Washington war hawk Henry Clay

Fast, funny and surprisingly informative, Redcoats-ish provides smart laughs, sharp observation and stylishly splendid cartoon comedy capers that no lover of history or hilarity will want to miss.
Redcoats-ish: Jeff Martin’s War of 1812 © 2014 Renegade Arts Entertainment.

Megahex


By Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-743-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: laugh-out-loud, falling-down-daft, crying from the heart … 8/10

Simon Hanselmann is a well-travelled cartoonist of Tasmanian origin who has been, since 2009, producing one of the best cartoon strips of all time.

Although mostly found on his girlmountain.tumblr site, other episodes of his engagingly deceptive, inappropriately pigeon-holed “stoner comedy” Megg, Mogg & Owl have appeared in places as varied as Kus, Smoke Signal, Gangbang Bong and assorted minicomics, but can now all be found in a sturdy, full colour hardback compilation which also boasts a further 69 pages of new and previously unseen material.

Hanselmann’s signature characters – loosely based on childhood memories of a series of British children’s books, filtered through a druggy haze and a desperate deadline – are Megg, a depression-afflicted druggie witch who lives with her mean-spirited feline familiar Mogg and sensitive, insecure, affection-starved Owl.

When not confronting or testing each other or hanging with the wrong crowd, they spend most of their time in a post-modern haze of self-inflicted ennui or on dope-fuelled junk-food binges in the apartment or in front of the TV…

They probably don’t like each or themselves much but dwell in a fug of dangerous co-dependency and their strange adventures have finally been collected into a sturdy and most improper tribute to a life lived more wryly through chemistry and sarcasm.

This book is packed with drug references, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think.

If the copy above hasn’t clued you in, please be warned that this book uses potentially disturbing images of abuse, sexual intimacy, excess and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls – and probably school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present – to make its artistic and narrative points.

If the mere thought of all that appals and offends you, read no further and don’t buy it. The rest of us will just have to enjoy some of the most astounding cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Lethargically anarchic and cruelly hilarious, the escapades of insecure Megg, malicious, experience-craving Mogg and their poor, pitiful companion open with ‘Fire’ as the pharmacologically paralysed Owl tries to dissuade his flatmates from testing his potential flammability after which ‘Beach’ finds Megg & Mogg defeated by the tantalising ever-expanding expanse between sand and surf…

‘Kate Bush’ reveals the embarrassment arising from catching someone in the act of singing along to something naff whilst ‘Horrible Party’ introduces wizard Mike and manic hedonist Werewolf Jones who will clearly go to obscene lengths to get noticed after which ‘Found Pills’ portrays some distressing transformations.

A first hint of darker intent is seen in ‘Drive Through’ when Owl passes out and his “friends” treat his body with an extreme lack of consideration and affection, whilst ‘Water’ goes straight to the gross-out core of slapstick before witch and familiar try to gatecrash a childrens’ show audition in ‘Theatre’ and Owl daydreams whilst passing through ‘Ham Parade’

Things get cattily scatological with an unattended plate of ‘Spaghetti’ and escalate when caught-short Owl is barred from the toilet and remanded to the ‘Yard’ after which Megg wires up her cat for an evocative rendition of ‘Mogg’s Noise Show’.

More casual cruelty ensues in ‘Taut Psychological Thriller’ when the flatmates palm off Owl with bogus drugs after which a rendezvous at the ‘Mall’ allows cat and conjuress to ruin the long-suffering dupe’s latest sexual conquest. This petty meanness is capped by the thrilling showboating of ‘Werewolf Jones’ Excitebike’ extravaganza…

‘Owl’s Birthday’ is as bad as the poor sap fears and his party ends with shocking abuse and assault, but even after he has moved on – without the intervention or apology of his buddies – a meeting with girl of his dreams ‘Peyote’ again leads to a situation of personal shame and legal terror…

Even fetching a ‘Sandwich’ can lead to unthinking humiliation for the avian also-ran, whilst for ‘Werewolf Jones & Friends’ every night is a party – but not one you’d want to attend…

After losing an appreciable amount of their lives to an iCarly marathon, Megg & Mogg head for the ‘Video Store’, utterly ignoring Owl’s cry for help regarding his AA meetings, and subsequently spike his health smoothie.

Owl is unfortunately a belligerent drunk and can’t understand why he’s abusing the other store patrons…

When “the munchies” hit, food crazed Megg & Mogg burgle a kebab shop but the guilt and fear engendered by the ‘Heist’ soon drives them to near madness, whilst ‘Scene Politics’ scares the crap out of everybody as Werewolf lays down his law.

‘Silver Sequin Mini-Skirt’ exposes Megg’s vulnerability after she receives some bad news, leading to an extended and keenly focused exploration of mental illness beginning with ‘Megg’s Depression’, ricocheting manically into ‘Megg’s Good Mood’, an interlude with her concerned house-sharers in ‘Bad Brains’ and a swingeing attack on mental health professions in ‘Megg’s Therapy’

After an odd encounter passing a ‘Graveyard’ Megg’s obsession with ‘Pregnancy’ kicks in again, but not in time to stop her friends tampering with her testing kits and, whilst reeling with indecision, she capitulates to her cat’s bizarre predilections in ‘Rimming’.

Seeking change she doses Mogg with ginger ‘Hair Dye’ which alters his look but sadly not his temperament after which a possible visit by the landlords provoke a hearty bout of ‘Paranoia’ that lasts until Werewolf arrives with a huge quantity of ‘Acid’ which takes everyone on the trip of their lives…

Change is in the air and when Owl tries to sort out his life with a real job Mogg & Megg have no choice but to tamper with the ‘Alarm Clock’ and other accoutrements of his longed-for normal life. As the shamed jobseeker simmers, Mogg returns to his own dark desires and ruins the concept of ‘Cinnamon’ for everybody else…

Events come to a life-changing head in ‘Cocktails’ when all the neurosis, blasé fronting, passive-aggression, negative feelings, overwhelming love, depression, drugs, sexual profligacy and cycles of dependency boil over and the gang break up forever…

Despite its similarity to some kind of no-harm, no-foul adult situation comedy – and believe me there are outrageous laughs by the bucketful – there is a strong, often overwhelming narrative progression to these quirky beguiling stories and Megahex navigates with easy confidence the tightrope between sordid and surreal, hilarity and horror, survival and sinking away.

Dark, affecting and unforgettable, this is a book no lover of truly mature fiction will be able to ignore.
Megahex © 2014 Simon Hanselmann. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Disenchanted volume 1


By Simon Spurrier & German Erramouspe (Avatar Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59291-230-8

Where has all the Magic gone?

If Simon Spurrier and German Erramouspe are to be believed – and they should because they are quite convincing – it hopped and flew out of the rural hills and hedgerows of Albion to resettle in an abandoned tube station below and behind a derelict sex-shop in London…

Disenchanted launched in September 2013 as a web-comic serial, taking a long loving look at Britain’s ancient affiliation with fairies and elves, leprechauns and pixies and, after careful consideration, kneecapping the lot of them before finishing off the twee magic bastards with crowbars, broken bottles and DDT…

Once upon a time the assorted magic races collectively known as the Little People left their old haunts as the Vast Folk increasingly ignored and forgot them. The Goblins were first, moving to the stinking, smoky Big City and laying claim to mothballed and forgotten Wardour Street Station.

They became owners and landlords beneath the feet of mankind, scavenging, supervising and profiting from the sprawling construction of a vast metropolis, assembled from discarded human trash and detritus.

The building of the colossal favela – eventually housing a million disparate souls all struggling to get along and make a life for themselves far from their roots and culture – made the Gob elite rich.

Rich enough, indeed, to move to palatial, elevated exclusive heights because their hidden kingdom soon became a teeming mass of aggression, hostility, criminality and suppressed prejudice waiting to boil over. It’s still growing bigger every day…

Vermintown is the worst of all possible worlds, but now it is home to all kind of creatures who previously despised and shunned each other. The older ones still bemoan and cherish the past; clinging to old customs and beliefs, but their children and grandchildren are different creatures, knowing nothing but urban sprawl, jostling elbows, frayed tempers and cultural pick-and-mix…

Tibitha Leveret is a fairy, the eldest of her kind in Vermintown and regarded by the masses as a Spiritual Leader. However she is plagued by the unshakable conviction that a foolish act in her youth caused the change in Fey fortunes. Head of a large household, she is secretly addicted to drugs and lethally dangerous sexual practises…

Her daughter Sal is a dedicated member of the Vermintown Militia: the officially integrated, racially diverse police force. She is one of the few officers not on the take or on the make… yet.

Her brother Stote is not so morally upstanding, even though he is a Wayfinder and official Community Leader. The single father of two sons has monstrous debts, a crappy job, a growing addiction and a surging, nearly out-of-control hunger for cathartic liberating violence…

Fig and Tael are his boys. Neither has any notion or memory of life outside the city and each struggles in his own way to find an identity or meaning in a world that makes no sense and offers no hope…

I’m reluctant to say any more than that as this shocking, beguiling and oh-so-clever blend of fantasy fable, horror story and crime thriller unfolds like a top-of-the-line soap opera as the three generations of Leverets all struggle to make their way whilst the city inexorably drags them further and further apart and down.

Encompassing the death of wonder, street gangs, political chicanery, mutative killer drugs, organised crime, disenfranchisement, seething ethnic tensions and cultural disassociation, guilty regret, youthful rebellion, social Darwinism, the forbidden allure of unsanctioned and unwise sex and a spiralling, universal fall from grace, Disenchanted is a dark, savage, blackly humorous and ferociously compulsive allegory of urbanisation, enforced ethnic multiculturalism, compromise and survival that will appeal to every lover of modern fantasy with a pinch of brains and an ounce of imagination.

Impressively foul-mouthed, engagingly raunchy and action-packed, the book is bolstered by a series of articles and guidebook entries describing the evolution and make-up of the sleazy super-slum including ‘Vermintown, an Introduction’, ‘The Call to Safety’, ‘Behold: the Shitty City’, ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Vermintown’, ‘The Gobfathers and the Founding of Vermintown’, ‘The Glamoured & the Vastfolk: a Comparative Treatise on Time and Scale’ plus a telling biography of ‘Tibitha Leveret’.

Imagine if On the Waterfront mugged Watership Down whilst hit-and-run victim the Sugarplum Fairy took refuge in Fort Apache: The Fey. Of course that will make no sense at all… unless you get this book…

© 2013 Avatar Press Inc. Disenchanted and all related properties ™ & © 2014 Avatar Press Inc.

Hip Hop Family Tree book 1: 1970s-1981


By Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-690-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: way better than Record Tokens… 8/10

Comics is an all-encompassing narrative medium and – even after 30 plus years in the game – I’m still frequently amazed and delighted at the new ways creators constantly find to use the simple combination of words and pictures in sequence to produce new and intoxicating ways of conveying information, tone, style and especially passion to their target audience.

A particularly brilliant case in point is this compulsive compilation of strips and extras from self-confessed Hip Hop Nerd and cyber geek Ed Piskor (author of the astonishing Hacker graphic novel Wizzywig) which originally appeared in serial form on the website Boing Boing.

In astounding detail and with a positively chillin’ attention to the art styles of the period, Piskor details the rise of the rhyme-and-rhythm musical art form (whilst paying close attention to the almost symbiotic growth of graffiti and street art) with wit, charm and astonishing clarity.

Charting the slow demise of the disco and punk status quo by intimately following fledgling stars and transcendent personalities of the era, ‘Straight Out of the Gutter’ begins in the mid 1970s with the South Bronx block parties and live music jams of such pioneers as DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Grandwizard Theodore and Afrika Bambaataa.

The new music is mired in the maze of inescapable gang culture but as early word-of-mouth success leads to at first rare vinyl pressings and the advent of the next generation, the inevitable interest of visionaries and converts leads to the circling of commercial sharks…

The technical and stylistic innovations, the musical battles and physical feuds, the management races by truly unsavoury characters to secure the first landmark history-making successes are all encyclopaedically yet engaging revealed through the lives – and, so often early deaths – of almost-stars and later household names such as Furious 4-plus-1, Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, the Furious Five, and even three kids who will become Run-DMC.

The story follows and connects a bewildering number of key and crucial personalities – with a wealth of star-struck music biz cameos and ends with Hip Hop on the very edge of global domination following the breakout single Rapture (from new wave icons and dedicated devotees Blondie) and the landmark TV documentary by Hugh Downs and Steve Fox on the national current affairs TV show 20/20 which brought the new music culture into the homes of unsuspecting middle America…

To Be Continued…

Produced in the tone and style of those halcyon, grimily urban times and manufactured to look just like an old Marvel Treasury Edition (an oversized – 334x234mm -reprint format from the 1970s which offered classic tales on huge and mouth-wateringly enticing pulp-paper pages), this compelling confection also includes a copious and erudite ‘Bibliography’, ‘Discography’ and ‘Funky Index’, an Afterword: the Hip Hop/Comic Book Connection (with additional art by Tom Scioli) and a fun-filled Author Bio.

Moreover there’s also a blistering collection of ‘Pin Ups and Burners’ with spectacular images from guest illustrators including The Beastie Boys by Jeffrey Brown, Afrika Bambaataa by Jim Mahfood, Fat Boys by Scioli, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five by Ben Marra, Vanilla Ice by Jim Rugg, Run-DMC by Dan Zettwoch, Eric B. and Rakim by John Porcellino, Salt-n-Pepa by Nate Powell, KRS-One by Brandon Graham & Snoop Dogg by Farel Dalrymple to get your pulses racing, if not your toes tapping…

Cool, informative and irresistible, Hip Hop Family Tree is wild fun and deliciously addictive. It will be a harsh wait for the next volume…
This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All Hip Hop comic strips by Ed Piskor © 2013 Ed Piskor. Pin ups and other material © 2013 their respective artists. All rights reserved.

Young, Talented… Exploited!


By Yatuu, translated by FNIC (Sloth Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-908830-02-9

Much as we’d like to think otherwise, the world of work is no longer possessed of purely national characteristics. These days we all slave under a universal system that sidesteps borders in the name of global corporate philosophy. Thus this stunning glimpse of one French woman’s frustrated struggle against modern employment practise is one that’s being repeated all over the planet every day.

This time however, Capitalism picked on the wrong person because Yatuu has enough spark, gumption and talent to fight back…

When Cyndi Barbero graduated from college and began looking for a job, all she was offered were unpaid internships. Eventually, she took one, still believing the mantra everyone with a job repeated: “if you work hard enough they may offer a permanent position”.

The work-placement role ran its legally-mandated course and she was promptly replaced by another sucker. After the third time it happened she began to blog (www.yatuu.fr/en) about and share her experiences, venting her opinions on such a manifestly unfair system and derive a soupçon of justifiable payback…

Just in case you’re unaware: an Intern takes a position in a company to learn the ropes, develop good working habits and establish contacts in order to make them more employable. The system used to work even though most kids ended up doing scut-work and never really learning anything.

These positions are unpaid and in recent times most employers realised that they could get free low grade temporary labourers and thereby cut their own running costs. Using, abusing and discarding the seemingly endless supply of optimistic hopefuls has become an accepted expense-control measure at most large businesses…

I know of only one large company where Interns are paid – and that’s only because the CEO put his foot down and insisted…

This subtly understated, over-the-top manga-styled, savagely comedic exposé tracks the exhilarated graduate’s progress from college to the world of no work through ‘At the End of the First Internship’ via ‘At the End of the Second Internship’ to ‘At the End of the Third Internship’ when even she began to smell a rat.

That didn’t daunt her (much) and, after much soul-searching, she took her dream job at a major Ad Agency. At least it would have been, were she not the latest addition to a small army of Interns expending their creative energies for insane hours, no thanks or acknowledgement and at their own financial expense…

From ‘Some Words Get Instant Reactions at Interviews’ through her ‘First Day’ – via memorable digressions on expected behaviour and hilariously familiar vignettes of types (I spent 30 years as an advertising freelancer and I think I’ve actually gone drinking with many of these guys’ British cousins…) – to the accepted seven-days-a-week grind of ‘This Place is Great because You Learn to Laugh on Cue’ and ‘Nothing Out of the Ordinary’, Yatuu grew accustomed to her voluntary slavery… although her barely-suppressed sense of rebellion was unquenchable.

Amongst so many short pithy lessons we see and sympathise with ‘Intensive Training’, observe ‘The Pleasure of Feeling Useful’ and realise there’s ‘Nothing to Lose’, before an intriguing game of office ‘Dilemma’ explores whether to have lunch with the Employees or Interns and what to do if asked to do ‘Overtime’

As much diary as educational warning, this collection reveals how the hapless ever-hopeful victim developed survival strategies – such as finding a long-suffering workmate prepared to lend a floor, couch or bed for those frequent nights when the last train leaves before you do…

Mostly however, this addictive collection deals with the author’s personal responses to an untenable but inescapable situation for far too many young people: revealing insane episodes of exhaustion, despondency and work (but not job)-related stress, such as too many scary midnight cab rides home, constant nightmares and grinding daily insecurity.

What’s amazing is that it’s done with style, bravery and an astonishing degree of good-natured humour – especially when dealing with ‘The Idea Thief’, planning ‘Retaliation’ or perfecting ‘The Ultimate Revenge Technique!!!’

Collected as Moi, 20 Ans, Diplômée, Motivée… Exploitée, Yatuu’s trenchant cartoon retaliations have recently been published in English and make for fascinating reading. Although it really should be, you probably won’t find Young, Talented… Exploited! discussed in any school Careers lessons or part of any college Job seminar and it’s almost certainly banned from every employers’ Orientation and Training package, but that’s just a sign of how good it is.

Best get your own copy and be ready for the worst scams, indignities and excesses that the Exploiters and Bosses will try to spring on you…

At least once you’ve paid for it you can be assured that it will deliver on its promise…
© 2013 Yatuu & 12bis. English translation and layout © 2013 Sloth Publishing, Ltd.

Sailor Twain or the Mermaid of the Hudson


By Mark Siegel (First Second)
ISBN: 978-1-59643-636-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: genuinely unmissable… 10/10

Even after decades in the business every so often something comes along that makes me feel like a drooling delirious fanboy again. This time it’s the superb hardback compilation of a fabulous weird tales webcomic that’s certain to become a certifiable classic.

Mark Siegel was born inMichiganand raised inFrance; one of those story-obsessed prodigies who began drawing wonders as a kid and never grew out of it… only better at shaping them.

After a childhood concocting yarns, comics, cartoons, posters and animated films he returned to the USA to study Creative writing and Fine Arts at Brown University. Upon graduation he stayed stateside, tentatively beginning life as a jobbing designer/illustrator.

He got his big break with the award-winning strip-book Seadogs, written by Lisa Wheeler. This was followed by Long Night Moon, To Dance, Boogie Knights and more.

Increasingly intrigued and fascinated by the history and geography of theHudson RiverValleywhere he lives with wife and creative collaborator Sienna Cherson Siegel, the artist began to craft a lyrically beguiling mystery tale from the glittering, sophisticated and callous brutal days of the Riverboats which once plied their glamorous trade along that famed and fabled watercourse. This he published online at sailortwain.com.

Rendered in mercurial melancholic charcoal tones, Sailor Twain tells the tale of a poet who has lost his muse and becomes a riverboat captain to pay for his invalid wife’s medical treatment.

It’s also the tale of French wastrel Dieudonné who inherited his entrepreneurial older brother’s exclusive, high society river boat business when the inspirational Jacques Henri de Lafayette had a breakdown and vanished…

…And finally, it is the sad and sobering tale of a lady who could not accept her place or fate in a savagely proscribed and repressionistic masculine culture…

Set in the transitional era of 1880s New York where and when science and rationality began at last to supersede wonder, mystery and romance, and specifically during the months May to December 1887, the story opens with an enigmatic meeting in ‘Overture’ before ‘Part I: Twain’s Secret’ begins with ‘The Frenchman’s Steamboat’ as the diligent captain of the luxurious Lorelei recalls how the dissolute young European assumed control of a hugely profitable touring business after the elder Lafayette vanished. Also introduced are below-decks crew Horatio and Aloysius, Negro engineers who know more of the route’s peculiar history than they’re willing to share in ‘An Unlikely Survivor’

The new owner seems a bad sort. In ‘A Prayer Down Below’, he demonstrates an indecent and almost unhealthy interest in bedding women, but after Twain rescues ‘The Mermaid in the Hudson’ and secretes her battered and wounded body in his cabin the trusty salt’s judgemental world is forever changed.

‘Beaverton’s New Book’ introduces another intriguing strand as a publicity-shy yet popular author’s latest sensational publication offers to reveal the “Secrets and Mysteries of the River Hudson” – everything from love-sick ghosts to the cure for a mermaid’s siren song – to both Twain and his increasingly odd employer.

The Captain, obsessed with ministering to the silent, wounded creature hidden in his cabin, is amazed when he is asked to post ‘Lafayette’s Letter’ to the enigmatic author, whilst in ‘South’s Promise’ Lafayette’s debauched dalliances multiply manically as Twain remembers his far-off wife and how her beautiful voice was stilled by disease. Nevertheless ‘Pearl’s Song’ is slowly being forgotten as the seaman becomes increasingly closer to the mythical beauty recovering in his bunk…

The lascivious Frenchman is rapidly losing touch with reality, constantly throwing messages in bottles to the murky roiling river waters as ‘Three Prisoners’ sees the now voluble sea-woman eagerly communicating with Twain just as Lafayette takes him into his confidences over his amorous actions…

Inspired again to write, Twain’s fevered imagination is sent reeling when he realises his employer is seeking ‘The Cure for Mermaids’ and, thanks to the Beaverton book, discovers his uncanny charge’s origins in ‘South of the North River’

Entranced in a way no other man has been, the worthy Captain is utterly unaware of how the situation is spiralling madly in ‘The Missing Muse’ after which ‘Part II: Camomille’ takes a closer look at the louche Lafayette when ‘The Beaverton Revelation’ exposes the author’s shocking identity and New York Society gathers itself to take its chilly revenge in ‘Ink Stains’

Lafayette’s carnal campaign hits a strange snag in ‘“The Dame’s Audacious”’, leading to most peculiar dinner conversation in ‘Eclipse’ and the culmination of long-laid plans in ‘Sevening’, all whilst Twain finds to his horror that his submersible companion has vanished in ‘Enticement’.

Before the tragedy moves towards the impossible endgame, she suddenly returns to assuage ‘The Strains of Absence’ prompting fantastic delirium when ‘Twain Dreams’

‘Part III: World’s End’ moves fully towards otherworldly experiences ‘In the Other Realm’ of ghosts, drowned men and stranger things where the desperately querulous Twain finds ‘The Lost Brother’, learns of ‘A Lady Beguiled’ and discovers the power of ‘The Chained Heart’ as his tumultuous affair ploughs on to an astonishing denouement…

It all comes crashing down in stormy disaster as ‘Part IV: The Twain Shall Meet’ delivers another dreadful blow to the Captain’s divided heart as he and Lafayette mutually incur and endure ‘The Siren’s Wrath’

…And with the world reshaped and set to (some sort of) rights, an evocative ‘Coda’ lends fruitful finality to the fearsomely fantastic proceedings…

Intoxicatingly complex, expansive and enchanting, seditiously, scarily seductive, the supernatural odyssey of the Lorelei and its doom-gripped crew is a gloriously baroque and simultaneously gothic epic of unnatural desire and supernal suspense that absolutely unwrites the twee, safely sexy modern mythology of marine maidens and restores to them the dolorous drama of sinister, implacable, irresistible sirens.

A perfect fantasy fable for adults, Sailor Twain is a truly graphic novel that every devoted dark dreamer must read.
© 2012 Mark Siegel. All rights reserved.

Copper

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: still readily available and utterly essential because everybody needs to dream big and wild… 10/10


By Kazu Kibuishi (Scholastic)
ISBN: 978-0-545-09893-9

Every so often a strip comes along that perfectly encapsulates the astonished joyous awe, suspenseful sadness and gleeful terror of being young, simultaneously managing to regress every adult who reads it back to those halcyon days of sheer, wide-eyed wonder. Little Nemo, Pogo, Barnaby, Akiko on the Planet Smoo, Eric Shanower’s assorted forays into the worlds of Oz and especially Calvin and Hobbes all possess that amazing facility to utterly beguile young and old alike, and I’m sure I detect the faintest echoes of all of them in this superb and far too infrequent online series from cartoonist, designer, author and editor Kazu Kibuishi which began life as a kind of personal art-therapy webcomic in 2002.

According to his introduction, Kibuishi – whose other works include the successful Amulet sequence of supernatural junior graphic novels, Explorer – the Mystery Boxes, Flight and other fine graphic marvels – turned an unused T-shirt design into a purely creative exercise during a low period in his personal life.

The monochrome and wordless ‘Rocket Pack Fantasy’ introduced a nervous but inquisitive little kid and his morose dog in a wild-riding daydream, but the real beginning was the full-colour page ‘Big Robot’ – another off-hand tribute to Winsor McCay which gave the characters voices and names in another action-packed dream – after which the boy Copper and his stalwart canine Fred met monsters and pursued an adorable little red-headed girl trapped in ‘Bubbles’.

Fred became stroppier and more surly with every instalment: ‘Waves’ found the boisterous buddies surfing Hokusai breakers whilst ‘Climbing’ found the dog and his boy pondering the pros and cons of scaling the mountains above the clouds and ‘Ruins’ saw an explorer’s enthusiasm brought low by canine pessimism, although they were in total agreement about the necessity of an epic voyage to get genuine Aunt Koko ‘Melon Bread’ – accept no substitutes…

‘Mushroom Crossing’ was the first extended exploit: an 8-page visual extravaganza which found the duo negotiating a chasm via spectacular fungoid stepping stones, before returning to single page thrills such as jogging with the ‘Racing Shrimp’

Another unobtainable and enigmatic young lady mischievously introduced her dark-haired self in ‘Bridges’ after which Fred humiliated himself before a jury of his peers by performing ‘Somersaults’ and only perked up after a visit to the ‘Tide Pool’.

A baffling world of ‘Freestyle’ art led to a frustrating chase as Copper narrowly missed both his dream girls in ‘Ballads’, whilst a sad seasonal celebration left the oneiric adventurers ‘Blue’ leaving Fred to ponder the perils of venturing ‘Outside’.

‘Picnic’ is a silent 4-page rumination on travel by balloon which first appeared in the aforementioned themed-anthology Flight whilst ‘Fall’ examines Autumnal sensitivities and Fred’s latest bout of amour, before the ramblers return to the seas in time to get caught in a staggering ‘Storm’.

That elusive dark minx then left Fred a little present whilst Copper examined an imaginary ‘Summer House’, but the preoccupied pair missed both her and a cute blonde number in ‘Transit’, after which another seaside excursion on a surfboard offered a very deceptive ‘Lull’ in their action-packed lives…

‘Happy’ introduced a couple of effusively weird and needy characters but building a boat in ‘Sail’ soon restored our unlikely heroes’ grouchy equilibrium and visiting a beautiful ‘Waterfall’ did the same for their contemplative calm.

Outer space beckoned in ‘Mission Control’ but gambling held no fascination for them in ‘Arcade’, although dabbling with Ham Radio ‘Signals’ brought the boy frustratingly close to that little blonde girl, even as his far-from-shopping-savvy canine companion found no solace at all in his latest impulse ‘Purchase’

‘Dive’ then uncovered the dog’s deepest secrets and the pair soon discovered that robots made great ‘Dancers’ before an 18-page epic (also from Flight) offered a delightful extended exploit as Copper built his own airplane – despite Fred’s help – and they embark upon a truly fantastic ‘Maiden Voyage’

Even Fred’s pessimistic musings couldn’t spoil a quiet afternoon of the ‘Good Life’, though Copper’s crazy quest for adrenaline thrills – such as leaping off the ‘Jump Station’ – just might. Still, riding a giant turtle in ‘Slowrider’ was pretty restful even if scooter-riding through a bustling ‘Metropolitan’ centre was a mixed blessing…

After hurdling giant flying mushroom ‘Steps’ Fred learned a sad lesson about pet-keeping in ‘Bunny’ before the wanderers encountered the strangest ‘Signpost’ ever and the boy joined a maritime mission in the role of aquatic ‘Observer’. Ruminations on labour then stemmed from messing with ‘Clockwork’ and Fred’s shaky self-esteem got a battering in the ‘Marketplace’.

‘Angler’ proved that the dog just doesn’t get the point of fishing whilst laser-tag received a dramatic boost when the lads played ‘Shooter’.

The beguiling peregrinations in this printed compilation end with an all-original 8-page adventure when the boys go for a walk in the woods and meet a monkey who seems – at first – only interested in their ‘Lunch Pack’. Of course, they couldn’t be more wrong…

This glorious and enthralling chronicle also includes a comprehensive and extremely informative look at the process of webcomic creation in ‘Behind the Scenes’ which will certainly aid any keen would-be creators make their own comics.

Kibuishi happily shares all his work secrets in ‘The Drawing Board’, ‘Thumbnails’, ‘Panels’, ‘Pencilling’, ‘Lettering’, ‘Inking’, before offering some instruction in the scientific arts of ‘Going Digital’ and ‘Colouring’.

Sheer whimsical surreality wedded to exuberant questing creativity, beautifully illustrated with warmth and subtle invention, makes Copper an utterly captivating read for young and old alike. This is a book unafraid to use poignant yearning, loss and introspection as well as slyly gentle humour and bold action and this series – hopefully to resume with new material one day – should sit happy in every nursery and on every family’s bookshelf.
© 2010 Kazu Kibuishi. All rights reserved.

Networked: Carabella on the Run


By Gerard Jones & Mark Badger (Privacy Activism/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-586-3

Comics are an immensely effective teaching tool and not just for youngsters, either. The organisation Privacy Activism is a non-profit organisation which seeks to educate and inform the public about online safety, democratic principles in a global commercial environment and personal information protection through a variety of methods and after a couple of video game projects has worked here with comicbook creators Gerard Jones and Mark Badger and publisher NBM to produce a graphic novel starring their proprietary character Carabella; a blue-skinned teenaged girl from someplace stranger and nastier than here…

In Networked: Carabella on the Run the defensive, secretive lass is starting college and horrified at how easily her anonymity can be destroyed by even well-meaning friends through online social networking and messaging. Even her picture is soon being beamed all over the planet – all without her permission or knowledge.

Still, it’s not as if she has anything to hide, is it?

She soon strikes up a tentative relationship with Nick, an engineering student who has invented shoes which can film and monitor the wearer’s movement’s, record and broadcast physical responses and generally turn each owner into a walking market research report. Of course that wasn’t his intention – he just though it would be cool for friends to share their lives with others…

Unfortunately where Carabella comes from such information has long been used to oversee, segregate, program and control the population, so when hunters seeking her return align themselves with aggressive venture capitalists and sections of the Government she realises that the privacy, liberty and choices available to her and her friends might become just as obsolete as on her own world…

Combining a sensible, well-reasoned argument for common sense and practical personal protection with solid adventure-thriller plotting and the requisite amount of romance, action and fun, this is a great read with an important message that doesn’t overload the necessity to keep things interesting and enjoyable.

Most of Networked is available online in a slightly altered form if you want a peek, and the printed form is a perfect and potentially reassuring gift for parents to buy their kids alongside the mobile-phones and think-pods they’ll be clamouring for this year.

© 2010 Privacy Activism.

Heroes volume 1


By various (WildStorm/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-706-8

Some people are never satisfied. When I was a kid constantly defending or even hiding my reading preferences, I and so many others, used to dream of a day when “normal” people – especially grown-ups and girls – would appreciate and love the superheroes, pulp fiction and space-opera that we devoured in comics. One day, I muttered, they’ll get it too…

These days not only are the concepts and traditions of my childhood inamoratas common currency, but actual favourite characters have been shared with the general populace to such a broad extent and with such ruthless commercial interpretation that often I can’t recognise the cheery costumed champions I once longed for others to partake of…

The world’s Batman isn’t mine, the celluloid (do we even use celluloid anymore?) Spider-Man is a complete stranger and I won’t have Daredevil or the X-Men in my house… Moreover I cringe inside when “the comicbook plot” appears in any cop or fantasy show: Nobody in the industry actually considers themselves “graphic novelists” – nobody I know would be that poncey…

So I was understandably a little nervous when a prime-time TV series debuted steeped in the fictive concepts of meta-humanity and attempted to bring the fringe experience and continuity shenanigans of the empowered outsider to the wider audience of soap fans and armchair sportsmen…

Tim Kring’s pedigree is admittedly quite good. He has worked extensively with fantasy concepts and clever adventure heroes on TV: Knight Rider, Strange World, Crossing Jordan, Teen Wolf Too (which he co-wrote with long-time collaborator Jeph Loeb) and the spectacularly under-appreciated Misfits of Science, an earlier and wittily cool attempt at a silver screen super-team.

Heroes ran for four controversial seasons, beginning in 2006, initially garnering huge audience figures and critical acclaim but gradually tapering off in popularity and direction before being finally euthanised by NBC in February 2010.

Recounting the secret history and evolution of a broad and disparate offshoot of superhumans amongst us the series attempted to transfer comicbook sensibilities to the television audience, following up to dozen separate metahumans as they came to terms with their abilities in a dangerously out of kilter world.

An overarching narrative thread was provided by Indian scientist Mohinder Suresh who had inherited his dead biologist father’s secret research into and fascination with these hidden but rapidly evolving beings, whilst constant menace was provided by a covert organisation hunting the paranormals and a rogue superhuman dubbed Sylar, who also stalked them – but only to kill them and steal their powers.

The concept’s lowly pop culture origins were coyly and constantly referenced in the show by including a meta-fictional comic, Ninth Wonder, written and drawn by a future-gazing character, into the ongoing plots. There was also a weekly webcomic produced to supplement the series and those webisodes are compiled in this book, comprising a stream of sidebar stories to enhance the overall experience, crafted by some of our industry’s leading talents.

Obviously if you never saw or didn’t like the show this would be the time to stop reading this review, but as I’m going to carry on regardless feel free to accompany me as I attempt to weigh the merits of the comics strips collection on its own terms…

Numbered as Ninth Wonder #1-34 these short stories – averaging 4-6 pages and a cover per instalment – begin with ‘Monsters’ by Aron Eli Coleite and artists Michael Turner & Koi Turnbull, wherein Mohinder moves to America, reintroducing the core concepts to us whilst investigating his father’s death, after which time-bending Japanese salaryman Hiro offers a peek into his own past with ‘The Crane’ by Coleite, Micah Gunnell & Mark Roslan.

Flying politician Nathan Petrelli experiences an eye-opening ‘Trial by Fire’ (Chuck Kim, Marcus To & Roslan)’ whilst invulnerable cheerleader Claire realises how much her life has changed after teaching a date-rapist a brutal lesson in ‘Aftermath’ (Joe Pokaski, Gunnell & Roslan). In ‘Snapshot’ by Pokaski, To & Peter Steigerwald, intangible convict DL Sanders breaks out of jail, unaware that his wife Niki is also abhuman and currently beginning a part-time career as a violent criminal in ‘Stolen Time’ (Pokaski, To & Roslan)…

Telepathic cop Matt Parkman feels his orderly life slipping away in ‘Control’ (Oliver Grigsby, Gunnell & Roslan) and that aforementioned precog artist discovers his powers in Coleite, Gunnell & Roslan’s ‘Isaac’s First Time’. Then Pierluigi Cothran, To & Roslan introduce a very special, irresistible little girl in ‘Life Before Eden’.

The tenth episode featured the sinister Sylar in ‘Turning Point’ (Christopher Zatta, Gunnell & Roslan), we got a look into the life of the chief agent hunting paranormals in ‘Fathers and Daughters’ (Andrew Chambliss, Travis Kotzebue, Gunnell & Steigerwald), power-magnet Peter Petrelli dreamed of ‘Super-Heroics’ (Harrison Wilcox, Gunnell & Steigerwald) before the format got an overdue upgrade with a continued story and an all new character.

‘Wireless’ (Coleite, Pokaski, Gunnell, Phil Jimenez & Roslan) introduced Israeli soldier Hana Gitelman who had the ability to interact with computers and electronic data-streams and recounted how she was recruited by the agency that hunts Heroes, a four-part tale of frustrated vengeance, fraud and disillusionment, followed in #17-18 with ‘How Do You Stop an Exploding Man?’ (Jesse Alexander, Coleite, Travis & Jordan Kotzebue & Roslan) as Hana tracks down the tragic Ted Sprague, fugitive paranormal cursed with the ability to explode like a nuke…

DL and Niki have a son and little Micah also has an ability – controlling machinery, but that’s not a great deal of help in ‘Bully’ (Kim, Gunnell & Roslan), whilst Sylar experiences a setback of his own in ‘Road Kill’ (Pokaski & Jason Badower). Hana returns in ‘The Path of the Righteous’ (Coleite & Staz Johnson), protecting the innocent from internet predators whilst cheerleader Claire’s unorthodox adoption is examined in Jesse Alexander & Michael Gaydos’ ‘Hell’s Angel’.

Episode #23 ‘Family Man’ (Alexander & Staz Johnson) deals with the aftermath of Claire’s exposure as a metahuman as her adoptive father, chief agent for the organisation that hunts her kind, makes a life changing decision, before another extended saga opens with ‘War Buddies: The Lonestar File’ (Mark Warshaw & Steven Lejeune).

Deep undercover Hana discovers the story of a previous generation of superhumans in ‘Unknown Soldiers’ (Chambliss, Cothran, DJ Doyle, Wilcox, Adam Archer, Roslan & Badower) detailing the story of a special ops mission in the Mekong Delta in 1968.

After incalculable horror the two survivors of the US team realise they are both more than mortal and lay plans that will eventually shake the world: a scheme that comes closer to fruition in ‘War Buddies: Call to Arms’ (Warshaw & Johnson)…

Time traveler Hiro Nakamura meets himself in the portentous ‘String Theory’ (Pokaski & Johnson) and events spiral to a climax – or more accurately Season Finale – with the 2 parter ‘Walls’ from Pokaski, Tom Grummett & Gaydos, as the heroes of a possible future strive to change their past. This volume then closes with a final 2-part thriller ‘The Death of Hana Gitelman’ by Coleite & Badower. It’s not what you think…

The book also contains a number of extra text features, the webisode covers and TV show art by Tim Sale and others such as Jim Lee and Alex Ross and despite my initial misgivings does actually present a fairly cohesive picture that most readers should enjoy and appreciate even with no prior experience of the primary material. And of course with Boxed set DVDs make ideal presents – almost as good as graphic novels, in fact…

© 2007 Universal Studios. Heroes is ™ & © NBC Studios, Inc. All rights reserved.