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.

Lifelike


By Dara Naraghi & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-122-9

We do it for fame, we do it for fortune (or at least to pay bills), we do it for fun and the very best of us make comics because we absolutely have to. Every story we hear, every event we see provokes the reaction “how would I break that down into panels? How many on the page?” All data – from shopping lists to bad TV – is taken in, screened through an internal grid and then we worry about how we’ll draw the damn thing one day…

All creative people are a little bit chained to their art-form, and Dara Naraghi apparently more so than most. As well as his own celebrated BigCityBlues comic he keeps busy adapting licensed properties such as Robert Patterson’s Witch & Wizard novels, Terminator: Salvation, It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Ghostbusters into comics form, writing for DC, Image and IDW and running his own publishing house Ferret Press. He also scripts (and occasionally draws) utterly wonderful tales covering every aspect of the human experience from wild fantasy to chilling slice-of-life in a splendid series of webcomic features.

Wonderfully expansive in narrative scope and illustrated by an astounding gathering of talented graphic artisans, an exemplary bunch of these brief delights has been compiled into a fabulous hardcover compilation. All the stories in this anthology come from that webcomic site and are written (and lettered) by Naraghi, complete with commentary and context on the illustrators interpreting each piece.

The wonderment begins with ‘The Long Journey’ illustrated by Irapuan Luiz, which follows the dramatic escape of a disillusioned Iranian soldier determined to leave the Iran-Iraq War behind him forever. Naraghi is Iranian (born in Tehran in 1971) and no doubt his own journey to the west would make pretty interesting reading, although probably without the telling sting in the tale embedded here…

‘Imaginarians’ winningly crafted by award winning artist Tom Williams, takes a barbed look at how the media deals with artists on the promo circuit whilst equally lauded Marvin Mann’s atmospheric ‘Double Cross at the Double Down’ proves that even if crime doesn’t pay, stories about it definitely do.

‘Art/Life’ rendered by Neil Errar is a feel-good fable about a comics creator we all concur with, Jerry Lange’s moody, misty paint-and-Paintbox (showing my digital age there) treatment examines the exquisite pain of unconditional love lost with ‘Remembrance’ whilst Stephen Spenser Ledford opts for monochrome ink washes to recount a particularly trenchant tale of crime and ‘Punishment.’

Sex and booze and rock ‘n’ roll form the basis of the cheeky dating vignette ‘Intermission’, illustrated by Andy Bennett, whilst Jerry Lange’s watercolour expertise displays a different arena for the relationship dance in ‘Crush’ and ‘Comeback’ by Tim McClurg describes a the meteoric fall from stardom for a has-been actor.

Marvin Mann displays his artistic versatility in ‘Smoke Break’, a heartwarming look at modern life and ‘The Routine’ by Steve Black touchingly reminds us that even small victories count in our work-a-day world, whereas the stunning drawing of Adrian Barbu’s gritty thriller ‘Rooftop Philosophy’ adds acres of edge to a dark tale of criminal Darwinism. Tom Williams astounds again with ‘Skin Deep’ a charming semi-autobiographical shaggy-dog story and pictorial programme ends on a heartwarming high note with ‘Repair’ as Shom Bhuiya treats us to a view of the common man at his very best…

The 14 tales collected in Lifelike demonstrate the sheer breadth that material comics could and should be covering rather than the narrow band of easily defined genres usually seen. This book opens up all of human experience and imagination to the cartoonist’s particular skills and insights. Now it’s up to the rest of us to respond and react…

Created and © 2007 Dara Naraghi. All artwork © 2007 by its respective artist. © 2007 Idea and Design Workshop. All Rights Reserved.

Read Dara’s free webcomic, Lifelike under the Stan Lee’s Sunday Comics banner @ Komikwerks.com.