A Sea of Love


By Wilfrid Lupano & Grégory Panaccione (Lion Forge/The Magnetic Collection)
ISBN: 978-1-942367-45-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Words Just Aren’t Enough… 10/10

The sheer breadth, variety and creative ambition of comics holds me breathless sometimes. It feels like there’s no subject or blend thereof; no tone or trope; no limits and absolutely no style or admixture that talented individuals can’t turn into heartrending, hilarious, thrilling, educational, evocative, uplifting and/or infuriating stories.

This completely silent saga from prolific French writer Wilfrid Lupano (Old Geezers; Azimut; Blanc Autour; Le Loup; Valerian spin-off Shingouzlooz Inc. and many more) and illustrator Grégory Panaccione (Someone to Talk To; Toby Mon Ami; Match; Âme perdue) somehow offers all of those in one delicious hardback or digital package.

Originally seen au continent as Un Océan d’amour in 2014, this wordless yet universally comprehensible pantomime is an unforgettable saga celebrating the timeless resilience of mature love. Here it is craftily concealed but constantly displayed in a tale of tetchy devotion between an aged diminutive fisherman and his quiet, timid, overly-flappable but formidably indomitable wife.

Every morning before the sun lights their rustic hovel, she makes him a wonderful breakfast before he heads out into the big ocean in his little boat. They have their fractious moments and he can be a trial sometimes, but their relationship is rock solid and never-ending.

This particular morning, however, the old coot finally falls foul of a changing world, when his little vessel is snagged in the nets of a vast trawler factory ship. Saving his idiot apprentice, the old git is soon swallowed up and gone…

At least, that’s what the sole survivor believes when he washes up ashore. However, the matronly fresh widow refuses to accept that and – disregarding decades of homey domestic programming – goes looking for him.

Oh, the incredible adventures she has and the people she meets…

He, meanwhile, is still very much alive. Stranded on his little tub, with nothing but tinned sardines and memories to sustain him, he is washed uncontrollably across the world. Befriended by a sardine-loving gull, he experiences first hand and close up the way we’ve befouled the seas and meets a wide variety of people he’s casually misjudged all his life, before eventually fighting his way back to his little cottage and the faithful one who’s waiting for him. At least, he complacently assumed she is…

Epic, hilarious, terrifying, shocking and sublimely satisfying, this is masterpiece of graphic narrative with so very much to say. Why not give your eyes a treat and have a good listen?
A Sea of Love © 2018 Editions Delcourt. All rights reserved.

Pass Me By: Gone Fishing and Pass Me By: Electric Vice



By Kyle Simmers & Ryan Danny Owen, with Derek Simmers (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-359-0 eISBN 978-1-98890-371-2 (Gone Fishing)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-385-9 eISBN 978-1-98890-385-8 (Electric Vice)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Enchanting and Chilling Exploration of Life at the End… 9/10

Once upon a time, comics were all thud & blunder action or spoofing slapstick shenanigans. I will always have a soft spot for those Good Old Days, but the world has moved on and is now a far more complex place with more sophisticated and variegated demands.

Oddly, that’s one of the underlying themes in a gently beguiling, award-winning graphic narrative sequence that began in 2019 with the release of Pass Me By: Gone Fishing – a bittersweet human-scaled reverie constructed by visual artist, author and Queer historian Ryan Danny Owen & artist/illustrator Kyle Simmers.

Both are Canadian and their collaboration is very much in the manner of the perceived national character: the kind of funny, weird, no-holds-barred, heartbreaking yet civil, decent human drama Canadian creators are so adept at pulling off (check out movies and shows like Men With Brooms, Slings and Arrows or Bon Cop, Bad Cop if you need further clarification of the easy je ne se quoi, we’re talking about…).

In a rural Northern Canadian town, old Ed is getting used to some distressing news. After the life he’s led and the things he’s done, it’s hard to adapt to his recent dementia diagnosis. As his innermost history, mental faculties and simple patience daily slip away, the few folk he’s allowed to get close try to watch over him, but that’s never been Ed’s way.

Increasingly, with the demands of his existence pressing in on him, Ed’s mind turns to the past he’s resolutely avoided and tried to forget; the travelling; the men he’s loved and the music he played… but some things can’t be erased by time, distance or desire…

Second volume Pass Me By: Electric Vice picks up the story in 1973 via a deferred coming-of-age/out event as a young, frustrated and confused country musician playing local bars and dives is lured away by an androgenous minor god of the glam rock circuit.

Ed has never met anyone like Lou or the bizarre assemblage of ambivalent personalities comprising Electric Vice. Despite being wracked with doubt, Ed jumps when Lou offers him a spot in the band, and they tour north America, making what then seemed like unforgettable memories…

Now, he can’t tell if it was opportunity or love that made him go and made him stay. Decades later, poor brain-addled old Ed is drowning in memories and still confused when life hits him hard yet again as Lou turns up like a tarnished bad penny…

Compelling, wry and cheerily laconic , this is a slyly seductive paean to being human and the obsession with our “Glory Days”, but conceals an emotional knockout punch ready to slip past your so-sophisticated, drama-hardened heart. Pass Me By allows its characters room to act and lets the pictures tell a simple but captivating story. Kyle Simmers’ illustration is straightforward with a winning charm, always promising more and even better to come.

I just can’t wait…

© 2019, 2021 Kyle Simmers and Ryan Danny Owen. All rights reserved.

Metropolis


By Thea von Harbou, illustrated by Michael W. Kaluta (Donning/Starblaze)
ISBN: 0-89865-519-6 (HB)

People who work in comics adore their earliest influences, and will spout for hours about them. Not only did they initially fire the young imagination and spark the drive to create but they always provide the creative yardstick by which a writer or artist measures their own achievements and worth. Books, comics, posters, even gum cards (which mysteriously mutated into “Trading Cards” in the 1990s) all fed the colossal hungry Art-sponge which was the developing brain of the kids who make comics.

But by the 1970s an odd phenomenon was increasingly apparent. It became clear that new talent coming into the industry was increasingly aware only of comic-books as a source of pictorial fuel. The great illustrators and storytellers who had inspired the likes of Howard Chaykin, Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, P. Craig Russell, Charles Vess, Mike Grell, and a host of other top professionals were virtually unknown to many youngsters and aspirants. I suspect the reason for this was the decline of illustrated fiction in magazines – and general magazines in general.

Photographs became a cheaper option than artwork in the late 1960s and, as a broad rule, populations read less and less each year from that time onwards.

In the late 1980s, publisher Donning created a line of oversized deluxe editions reprinting “lost” prose classics of fantasy, illustrated by major comics talents who felt an affinity for the selected texts. Charles Vess illustrated Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, P. Craig Russell created magic for The Thief of Bagdad and Mike Grell revisited Pyle’s take on the world’s greatest archer in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire.

Arch period stylist Mike Kaluta lucked in to something a little more exotic; illustrating the original film scenario (a broad shooting script used by movie-makers in the days before dialogue) written by Thea von Harbou after her husband returned from a trip to America.

Herr “von Harbou” was German expressionist genius Fritz Lang, and his account of his fevered impressions, responses and reminiscences became the ultimate social futurist fiction film Metropolis – possibly the most stirring, visually rich and influential movie of the silent era – and officially the most expensive film ever made during the pre-Talkies era.

If you haven’t seen the film… Do. Go now, a new re-re-restored version was released in 2010 – the most complete yet. I’ll wait…

The plot – in simple terms – concerns the battle between proletarian workers and the rich, educated elite of a colossal city where workers toil in hellish, conformist subterranean regiments to provide a paradise for the bosses and managers who live like gods in the lofty clouds above.

It would be the perfect life for Freder, son of the grand architect Joh Fredersen, except for the fact that he has become besotted with Maria, an activist girl from the depths. The boy will move Heaven and Earth to have her love him. He even abandons his luxuries to become a worker near her…

Distraught Fredersen renews his tempestuous relationship with the crazed science-wizard Rotwang, once an ally and rival for the love of the seductive woman Hel.

Rotwang offers his aid but it is a double-edged sword. He kidnaps Maria and constructs an incredible robotic replacement of her, to derail her passive crusade and exact his own long-deferred revenge…

This “novelisation” – for want of a better term – is as engrossing as the film in many ways, but the story is elevated by the incredible illustrations produced by Kaluta: 5 full page artworks in evocative chalk-and-pastel colour, two incredible double-page spreads in black line plus 32 assorted monochrome half-frames and full pages rendered in black & white line, grey-tones, charcoal, chalk monotones and pastel tints – an absolute banquet for lovers of art deco in particular and immaculate drawing in general.

Whilst no substitute for the actual filmic experience, this magnificent book is a spectacular combination of art and story that is the perfect companion to that so-influential fantasy masterpiece beloved by generations of youngsters. Well overdue for refit, recovery and revival…
© 1988 by the Donning Company/publishers. Art © 1988 Michael W. Kaluta. All rights reserved.

Malinky Robot – Collected Stories and Other Bits


By Sonny Liew & various (Image)
ISBN: 978-1-60706-406-0 (TPB)

The concept of man-made servants and their subsequent moral and spiritual plight has been with us for centuries, long before Czech playwright Karel Čapek coined the term “robot” in his drama R.U.R. (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti). Automata, clockwork toys and mechanoids have fascinated humans both for their connotations of childlike innocence and the terrifying potential they harbour. For many, robots also insights into what it means to be human…

Sonny Liew (The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye; Godshaper; Wonderland; Liquid City; Marvel Adventures Spider-Man; Re-Gifters; Flight and more) was born in Malaysia, educated in Singapore and at Clare College, Cambridge where he took Philosophy. In 2001, he studied illustration under David Mazzucchelli at Rhode Island School of Design, but had already been a comics pro since 1995: crafting the strip Frankie and Poo for Singapore’s The New Paper. From Rhode Island he moved to DC’s Vertigo imprint working with Mike Carey & Marc Hempel on My Faith in Frankie. Since then, he’s become a celebrated, award-winning global force of comics wonder.

In 2011, he released this selection of charm-drenched tales featuring tough street kids just getting by. As revealed in the author’s Introduction, the lads and their world had been around for a decade or so, popping up in various publications and al over Europe before finally settling in here in a fancy trade paperback/digital edition…

Very much a love letter to bustling, vibrant Southeast Asian urban life, the tales are set in San’ya city: a sprawling, semi-derelict, intensely inhabited – if not overpopulated – metropolis of the future with shabby survivors Oliver and Atariintroducing themselves and their lives as in ‘Stinky Fish Blues’ as the city is suddenly saturated with an odour that cannot be ignored.

A little investigation reveals a crucial part of the waste-processing infrastructure has gone extinct – except perhaps for the singular specimen of Foetidus Piscis the boys have lucked into… and are keen to sell…

Another day and another fresh hope dawns as Atari and Oliver “borrow” a ‘Bicycle’ or two and voyage all the way to Sanreo to see old pal Misha. As well as lethal traffic and noxious fumes, they find a world of placid wonder and green joy which expands as Misha buys them lunch and shares a kaleidoscope of miracles from the Sunday Funnies section of the newspaper and Oliver dreams of a career in cartooning…

This delicious pastiche features a welter of parodies to delight – or maybe outrage – fans of Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side and many others. Sadly, the consequences of their earlier velocipede liberations are drawing closer…

The gritty, Dickensian whimsy continues with ‘Karakuri’ as the cheery chancers help old Mr. Nabisco move to a new apartment. While carting boxes they strike up a relationship with his battered old, home-made robot, sparking a furious discussion of just what makes a real mechanoid…

Liew’s superb imagination is highlighted in a wealth of ‘Sketches’, including Mr. Bon Bon, Atari, Dakota & Friends, the Bums of San’ya and lots more, after which the strip fun resumes with bittersweet vignette ‘New Year’s Day’ as Nabisco’s makeshift metal man makes his desolate and lonely way home after being left in a bar. Thankfully, people are mostly kind with directions and fuel top-ups…

‘Dead Soul’s Day Out’ – with fonts by Blambot.com – flashes back to the day the boys were begging and found beaucoup bucks – a large denomination bill! – in a junk pile. It was the day Misha left town for Sanreo and their splurge of excesses was tinged with sadness and joy…

Wrapping up proceedings is a glorious and evocative ‘Guest Gallery’, with delightful contributions from Gene Yang, Roger Langridge, Koh Hong Teng, Nancy Zhang, Aaron McConnell, Bannister, Evan Larson, Skottie Young, F.S.C., Tony Sandoval, Mike Allred, Gary Choo, Nick Jainschigg and Robb Mommaerts.

Witty, moving, contemplative and beguiling, these tales of kids surviving the “hard-knocks life” are a lovely counterpoint to colossal combat, sexualised terror and weaponized angst: a true discourse on folks – artificial or otherwise – becoming heroes by just getting by and being friends.

Go. Do. Enjoy!
™ & © 2011 Sonny Liew. All rights reserved.

Archie: 1941


By Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, Peter Krause, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Jack Morelli & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68255-823-2 (TPB)

Since his debut in Pep Comics #22 (cover-dated December 1941) Archie Andrews has epitomised good, safe, wholesome cartoon fun, but the company that now bears his name has always been a deviously subversive one. Family-friendly iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci fi thrills, licensed properties and genre yarns of every stripe have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s clean-cut teens.

As initially realised by John L. Goldwater and Bob Montana, the first escapade set the scene and ground rules for decades to come Archie has spent his entire existence chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league debutante Veronica Lodge, whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocked and abetted his romantic endeavours and class rival Reggie Mantle sought to scuttle every move…

Crafted over time by a veritable legion of writers and artists who’ve skilfully created the stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small town of Riverdale, these timeless tales of decent, upstanding, fun-loving kids have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide both on comic pages and in other media such as film, television, radio, newspaper strips, music and even fast food.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always looked to modern trends with which to expand upon their archetypal storytelling brief. In times past they cross-fertilised their stable of stars through such unlikely team-ups as Archie Meets the Punisher or Archie Meets Kiss, whilst every type of fashion fad and youth culture sensation has invariably been accommodated into and explored within the pages of the regular titles. The gang has been reinvented and remodelled numerous times, even stepping outside the parameters of broad comedy to offer dramatic – albeit light-hearted – “real-world” iterations of the immortal cast of characters and clowns…

With a major Anniversary in sight, in 2019 the publishers took an extraordinarily bold step and recast the characters in memorable “What If?” scenario and took the gang back to the origin days in a way never seen before…

Devised by comics superstars Brian Augustyn (Gotham by Gaslight; Crimson; Black Mask; Flash) & Mark Waid (pretty much everything, but especially Flash; Daredevil; JLA; X-Men; Kingdom Come; Captain America; Empire; Incorruptible; Impact Comics; Archie) and illustrated by Peter Krause (Star Trek; Irredeemable; Superman; Power of Shazam; Birds of Prey) with moody colours from Kelly Fitzpatrick and letters by veteran Jack Morelli, Archie: 1941 takes a disturbingly hard look at what that year would have meant to real teenagers…

It begins in May as graduating seniors Archibald Andrews and Forsythe Pendleton “Jughead” Jones join their classmates in celebrating and frittering away ‘The Last Summer’. However, generally happy-go-lucky Arch is increasingly sullen and withdrawn, fixated on news and newsreels of the “European Conflict”…

His dad is angry: concerned that the kid is frittering away his time, but Pop Tate at the Diner which was the school kids’ hangout fears the war news means another generation will be lost…

Even the lifelong rivalry with Reggie Mantle has taken on a more serious, violent overtone, especially since rich kid Veronica Lodge returned to Riverdale. She had been in Paris where her millionaire dad was making deals in preparation for future bad times…

Even Betty cannot shake Archie’s despondent mood, which proves prescient as passing, wasted days lead to shocking events on December 7th and ‘It’s War!’

In the aftermath, a surprising number of young and old Riverdale residents seek to enlist – many with shocking results and consequences – but ultimately ‘Home & Away’ finds Archie at boot camp in Speck, Alabama in May 1942, still sparring with his nemesis and fellow soldier Reggie, while those left behind due to infirmity or family pressure discover how the crisis has brought out the very worst in their fellow citizens – and even civic leaders such as Hiram Lodge who turn profiteer as rationing bites hard…

Wit tensions rising everywhere, ‘Into the Fire’ sees the Riverdale boys deployed to North Africa in November 1942 even as tensions boil over in the old home town. Unable to face her father’s actions, Ronnie makes a defiant move. She and Betty are cruelly unaware just how much Archie is missing them or the changes his new life have wrought. Unable to join them, Jughead learns all about war from Pop Tate and makes a decision to change his own path.

And, far, far away, Archie’s unit enters history at Kasserine Pass…

Final chapter ‘The Lost’ begins in Riverdale after the telegrams have been opened and funerals arranged. The place has forever changed and the gang are preparing to part forever, but then something quite miraculous happens. Be warned though, it’s not a happy ending for everyone…

Packed with delicious in-jokes for the cognoscenti (like the gang’s opinions on Mickey Rooney as teen archetype Andy Hardy), searing tension when appropriate, and all the warmth and heart of contemporary melodramas like Best Years of Our Lives or trauma-tinged fantasies such as A Matter of Life and Death and It’s a Wonderful Life, this moving extrapolation captures perfectly what life must have felt like in those distant, doom-laden days.

The novel experience is further enhanced by Special Features including a scene-setting Introduction; cover concept sketches by Krause and a full covers-&-variants gallery by him, Rosario “Tito” Peña, Sanya Anwar, Francesco Francavilla, Dave Johnson, Aaron Lopresti, Dan Parent, Audrey Mok, Marguerite Sauvage, Derek Charm, Ray Anthony Height, Jon Lam, Cory Smith, Tula Lotay and Jerry Ordway & Glenn Whitmore. There’s also character designs, alternate logo concepts and a fascinating interview with the entire creative team, who also plug the inescapable Rock n’ roll follow-up Archie! ’55
© 2019 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The System


By Peter Kuper (DC-Vertigo/PM Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60486-811-1 (PMP HB) 978-1-56389-322-3 (Vertigo TPB)

Artist, storyteller and activist Peter Kuper was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1958, before the family moved to Cleveland when he was six. There the youngster met fellow comics fan Seth Tobocman and they progressed through the school system together, catching the bug for self-publishing early.

They then attended Kent State University together. On graduation in 1979, they moved to New York and – whilst both studying at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute – created groundbreaking political art/comics magazine World War 3 Illustrated.

Both separately and in conjunction, in comics, illustration and through art events, Kuper & Tobocman have championed social causes, highlighted judicial and cultural inequities and spearheaded the use of narrative art as an effective means of political activism.

Many of Kuper’s most impressive works have stemmed from his far-flung travels but at heart he is truly a son of New York, with a huge amount of his work using the city as bit player or star attraction.

In 1993, he created Eye of the BeholderThe New York Times’ first continuing strip – and adapted such modern literary classics as Franz Kafka’s Give It Up! (1995) and The Metamorphosis (2003) to strip form, whilst always creating his own canon of intriguing graphic novels and visual memoirs.

Amongst the many strings to his bow – and certainly the most high-profile – has been his brilliant stewardship of Mad Magazine’s beloved Spy Vs. Spy strip which he inherited from creator Antonio Prohias in 1997.

In 1995 he undertook a bold creative challenge for Vertigo (DC’s Mature Reader imprint) by crafting a mute yet fantastically expressive 3-part thriller and swingeing social commentary released under the Vertigo Verité imprint. The System was repackaged and released as a softcover graphic album in 1997 and evolved into a magnificent and lavish hardback edition from PM Press. It now also accessible as an eBook.

Following a moving Preface from the author describing the genesis of the project, Senior News Editor at Publisher’s Weekly, Carl Reid offers an effusive appreciation in ‘Bright Lights, Scary City’ before the truly urban drama begins…

As if relating a beguiling, interlinked portmanteau tale of many lives interweaving and intersecting – and often nastily ending – in the Big City without benefit of word-balloons, captions or sound effects was not challenge enough, Kuper pushed his own storytelling abilities to the limit by constructing his pages and panels from cut stencils, creating the narrative in a form akin to street art.

It is astoundingly immediate, evocative and effective…

A stripper is murdered by a maniac. An old, weary detective ruminates on his failures. A boy and girl from different neighbourhoods find love. A derelict and his dog eke out a precarious daily existence and a beat cop does his rounds, collecting payoffs from the crooked dealers and helpless shopkeepers he’s supposed to protect. Religious zealots harass gay men and an Asian cabbie gets grief from white fares who despise him whilst depending on his services.

The streets rattle with subway trains below and elevated trains above.

Strippers keep dying, children go missing, love keeps going and the airport brings a cruel-faced man with radioactive death in his carry-on luggage…

There are so many million stories in The City and they are all connected through the unceasing urban pulse and incessant, unending forward motion of The System

Clever, compulsive and breathtakingly engrossing, this delicious exercise in dramatic interconnectivity and carefully constructed symbolism is a brilliant example of how smart and powerful comics can be.
© 2014 Peter Kuper. All rights reserved.

Ofelia – A Love and Rockets Book: 11


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-806-9 (TPB)

Please pay attention: this book contains stories and images of an extremely adult nature – specifically designed for consumption by mature readers – as well as coarse vulgar language most kids are fluent in by the age of ten.

If reading about such things offends you, please stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll do something with violence and explosions, so come back then.

In addition to being part of the ongoing graphic literary revolution that is Love and Rockets (where his astonishingly compulsive tales of Palomar gained vast critical acclaim), Gilbert Hernandez has produced stand-alone tales such as Sloth, Girl Crazy, Julio’s Day and Hypnotwist: all distinguished by his bold, simplified line artwork and sensitive use of the literary techniques of Magical Realist writers Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez: techniques which he has added to and made his own.

Love and Rockets – by Gilbert and brothers Jaime and Mario – was/is an anthology comics publication featuring sleek, intriguing, sci-fi-ish larks, heart-warming, gut-wrenching soap-opera fantasies, terrifying manic monster stories and experimental comic narratives that pretty much defy classification. To this day, the Hernandez boys continue to captivate with incredible stories sampling a thousand influences conceptual and actual – everything from Archie Comics and alternative music to German Expressionism and masked wrestlers.

Originally conceived for extended serial Heartbreak Soup, Palomar was a conceptual playground and cultural toybox; an impoverished Latin-American village with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast. Everything from life, death, adultery, alien infiltration, magic making, hauntings, serial-killing and especially gossip happened in its meta-fictional environs as Gilbert plundered his own post-punk influences – comics, music, drugs, comics, strong women, gangs, sex, family and comics – in a style informed by everything from Tarzan strips to Saturday morning cartoons and The Lucy Show.

Beto – as he signs himself – returns to Palomar constantly, usually with tales involving formidable matriarch Luba, who ran the village’s bath house and cinema; acted as Mayor and sometimes law enforcer – as well as adding regularly and copiously to the general population. Her children, brought up with no acknowledged fathers in sight, are Maricela, Guadalupe, Doralis, Casimira, Socorro, Joselito and Conchita.

Luba is a character who defies easy description and I don’t actually want to: As one of the most complex women in literature, let alone comics, she’s somebody you need to experience, not learn of second-hand. You will certainly notice that she has absolutely enormous breasts. Deal with it. These stories are casually, graphically, sexually explicit, and appalling violence is also never far from the players lives…

Luba’s story is about Life, and sex and death happen, casually and often, usually to and with the wrong people at the wrong time. If harsh language and cartoon nudity (male and female) are an insurmountable problem for you, don’t read these tales; but it is genuinely your loss.

Throughout all those eventful years, normally always in the background and frequently sidelined, was Luba’s cousin Ofelia: confidante, babysitter, surrogate mum, family conscience and keen – if not especially detached – observer…

After a run of spectacular stories (all of which have been collected in a variety of formats and editions which I really must get around to reviewing in their entirety), the first incarnation of Love and Rockets ended. Luba and her extended family graduated to a succession of mini-series which focussed on her relocation to the USA to reunite with her half-sisters Rosalba (“Fritz”) and Petra Martinez. The tone and content ranged from surreal to sad to funny to thrilling. The entire world can be found in those pages.

Although in an ideal world you would read that aforementioned older material first, there’s absolutely no need to. Reminiscence and the force of memory are as much a part of this potent passion-play as family feeling, music, infidelity, survival, punk rock philosophy, and laughter – lots and lots of laughter.

Brilliantly illustrated, these are human tales as earthy any as any Chaucer’s Pilgrims could tell, as varied and appetising as any of Boccaccio’s Decameron and as universally human as the best of that bloke Shakespeare…

This particular monochrome family album – available in paperback and digital editions -compiles assorted material first seen in Luba #3-9; Luba’s Comics and Stories #2-5 and Measles #3 and sees so-often sidelined “sister” Ofelia notionally promoted to headliner. Following a pictorial reintroduction to ‘Luba’s Family’, the ever-unfolding saga resumes with ‘Remember Me’ as the youngest kids swap tales of the fathers they have never known.

‘Luba and the Little Ones’ finds the ferocious matron calming down her very excitable progeny, beforeSocorro…’details that girl’s educational problems. Apparently, she is too smart and her teachers want her transferred to a special school…

‘The Book of Ofelia Part One’ sees Luba and her mute, maimed and possibly former gangster husband Khamo reeling from the news that their faithful major domo is considering writing a book based on her cousin’s drama-drenched life. With friction mounting, the frustrated author and perennial babysitter casts her mind back to Palomar, where she sacrificed her relationship with lover Rico (“call me Ooli”) to raise a wild toddler called Luba.

Back in the now, wise-beyond-her-years Casimira knows her quiet guardian is in contact with an old flame on the internet…

‘The Book of Ofelia Part Two’ expands on the theme as the prospective writer recalls years of fighting with her wilful, almost elemental charge, whilst pondering a too-long deferred decision…

‘Spot Marks the Ex’ then exposes more family scandals as entrepreneurial Pipo tries to get rid of her former husband Gatoand deal with the ongoing problems caused by Luba’s daughter Doralis.

Much to the sponsors’ horror the teen star of Pipo’s popular Spanish-language kid’s show plans to come out as a lesbian, someone at the studio is giving the newspapers salacious scandals for their holier-than-thou gossip pages and her beloved son Sergio Jimenez (a soccer superstar and celebrity bad boy) is having an affair with Fritz Martinez – the very woman Pipo cannot get out of her own libidinously supercharged mind…

Fritz is a terrifyingly complex creature: psychiatrist, therapist, B-Movie actress, belly dancer, amorous drunk, gun-fetishist, sexually aggressive and a manipulative serial spouse. Beautiful, enticingly emotionally damaged, her “high soft lisp” more likely an affectation than genuine speech impediment, she sashays from crisis to triumph and back again, and (almost) everybody who wants hers can apparently have her – except increasingly impatient Pipo…

Moreover, as strident accountant Boots signs on to save Pipo’s company, the stressed and busy businesswoman begins to suspect Sergio and his stepfather Gato have some strange connection and are up to no good…

‘El Show Super Duper Sensacional Fantastico de Doralis’ reveals the controversial gay star’s story of the irresistibly beguiling merfolk who live in secret amongst us, after which ‘Snail Trail’ introduces well-meaning young Hector who rescues Socorro and Joselito after they steal and crash a car.

He sees and is instantly enchanted by their Tia (that’s Aunt in Spanish, hombre) Fritz in ‘Bromear’ and in ‘Meeting Cute, Fucking Cuter’ falls hopelessly for the sexual predator: so much so, in fact, that he agrees to her request to date her quirky, buff, bodybuilding older sister Petra, thus leaving Fritz free for a sordid secret affair with toyboy acquaintance Sergio…

Sadly, whipped Hector finds he has more in common with Petra’s little daughter Venus. They both love the same comicbooks, movies and music and she doesn’t make him do things he’d rather not…

A garden party bids ‘Buen Viaje, Socorro’ and sees the smart girl’s last family fun before heading off to smart kid boarding school, after which ‘Luba One’ finds the downhearted mum dragged to a fetish party by Fritz and Pipo where she finds blonde sex god Fortunato: a man no woman can resist and a perfect lover who derives no joy from his conquests…

Boots, mindful of the merman legend, speculates on his origins in ‘The Fortunato Files’ after which ‘The Goddess and the Goof’ finds Hector finally capitulating to pressure and taking gloriously gorgeous, Amazonian Petra out only to discover she is every inch as bewitching and satisfying as her sister. Conflicted by a surfeit of physical riches he ponders a big decision…

After a little dance madness in ‘El Biale’, Venus and Doralis share a moment with one of the fallen star’s fans in ‘The Glamorous Life’ whilst ‘Boots Takes the Case’ has the tenacious little accountant assume a larger role. With Gato exposed as the source of the leaks and sorrowfully reaping his reward in ‘And So…’, Boots proceeds to pry out more secrets in ‘Kisses for Pipo’; appraising key moments since the entrepreneur entered America as a teen, disclosing her past interactions with Sergio, Gato (and his current wife Guadalupe), Fortunato and Pipo’s latest fling Igor

‘In Bed with Pipo’ targets her bizarrely twisted relationship with gun-obsessed Fritz, the men they occasionally share and a terrifying past experience when both were stranded in a country in the midst of an anti-Christian genocide…

Revelations include the horrific tale of how High-School junior Rosalba fell into an abusive relationship with a middle-aged cop, offering telling insights for her modern personas…

‘Luba Two’ delves deep into Khamo’s off-kilter arrangements with both cops and drug dealers whilst – after surreal sight-gag ‘Uno Dos Tres’‘The New Adventures of Venus’ proves the latest generation can be just as determined and violently forceful. When the little comics lover discovers her best friend is a potential romantic rival, Venus takes excessive punitive action on the soccer field…

With the entire world on tenterhooks as a colossal meteor hurtles towards Earth, Fritz’s exploitative ex-husband Scott gets up to his old tricks in ‘The Beloved and the Damned’. He couldn’t have expected the savage beating a mysterious stranger delivers after ripping off kickboxing Petra’s baby sister though.

Unfortunately, the Avenger in question gets a taste for vigilantism and begins looking for other jerks in need of straightening out…

Khamo’s underworld connections then lead to a disquieting abduction and ‘Luba’s Science Lesson’ before ever-more conflicted Hector returns, still unable to choose between Petra and Fritz but currently distracted by his ex-girlfriend taking him to court as part of a whacko ploy to get him back in ‘And Justice for Some’.

That plan goes badly wrong after a stranger beats her to a pulp in the parking lot of the strip club she works at…

Boot’s ongoing investigations resurface as she explains ‘The Tao of Doralis’ before a very stoned ‘Hector’ rescues non-English-speaking Luba from a bar, leading into flashbacks of ‘Khamo’ and her early days. That long, weird walk home also delivers more revelations about the enigmatic Fortunato before Luba and her taciturn husband at last reconcile in ‘Lovers and Hector’

Events then take a dark turn in ‘Sergio Rocks’ as the wild child is targeted by gangster gamblers, even as belly-dancing novice ‘Guadalupe’ strives to escape the overwhelming influence of her charismatic Tia Fritz…

Receding Ofelia resurfaces in ‘Luba Again’ as the cousins bitterly and violently argue over the proposed warts-and-all book and, after visual aside ‘Click!’, the determined author visits Socorro in ‘La Luba’ whilst long ostracised Maricela has a rather one-sided chat with step-dad Khamo in ‘Burning for You’

‘Pipo’s Burden’ revisits her still-growing obsession with Fritz whilst ‘Of Two Minds’ highlights Hector’s suspicions when he attends one of Petra’s boxing bouts and Fortunato works his magic on schoolteacher Guadalupe and Ofelia in ‘But the Little Girls Understand’ after which ‘Luba Three’ ushers in the beginning of the end of this family’s affairs…

‘Fritz and Pipo, Sittin’ in a Tree’ sees Sergio growing aggressively intolerant of his mother’s dilemma whilst still making casual use of Fritz himself. Soon the still-active vigilante has hospitalised the entrepreneur, and more tragedy strikes when Ofelia has a heart attack in ‘God Willing’

Once the violence begins it seems impossible to stop and in ‘Luba Four’ the so-dysfunctional family splinters even further when an abduction and punishment beating goes too far…

I’m certainly more obtuse – just plain dense or blinkered – than most, but for years I thought this stuff was all about the force of Family Ties, but it’s not: at least not fundamentally. Palomar is about love. Not the sappy one-sided happy-ever-after stuff in chick-flicks, but LOVE, that mighty, hungry beast that makes you instinctively protect the child that betrays you, that has you look for a better partner whilst you’re in the arms of your one true love, and hate the place you wanted to live in all your life. The love of cars and hair-cuts and biscuits and paper-cuts and stray cats that bite you: selfish, self-sacrificing, dutiful, urgent, patient, uncomprehending, a feeling beyond words. A Love that can hurt and even kill…

A bit like the love of a great comic…

Funny, deeply moving, compelling and deftly capable of delivering shock after breathtaking shock, Ofelia is remarkable and unmissable: no true fan of the medium can afford to forego this treat.

All contents © 2015 Gilbert Hernandez. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Graylight


By Naomi Nowak (NBM)
ISBN13: 978-1-56163-567-2 (PB)

There are a number of uncomfortable if not altogether unpleasant truisms that still dominate the narrative arts, particularly in terms of gender appeasement: most prevalent and dominant of those – after “chuck in some sex scenes” – are “guys need to see mindless action as often as possible” and “women require moments of pretty, contemplative stillness in their stories.”

Mercifully, these hoary Tinseltown-spawned dictums are being constantly challenged and disproved these days (just take a look at the frighteningly charged stillness of the “quiet bits” in many European and particularly Scandi-crime screen gems such as the original Professor T), especially in the burgeoning yet still largely experimental graphic novel market, where the rules of narration are still being laid down…

In her third book, Graylight, painter and illustrator Naomi Nowak (House of Clay; Unholy Kinship) composes another dreamy, symbol-drenched inquiry into the complexities of love in a surreal, quasi-mystical tale of a troubled young woman whose complacency and bad habits suck her into an unimaginable amount of difficulty.

Sasha is beautiful, affable, friendly, utterly self-absorbed and an unrepentant thief. If she sees something see likes, she simply knows it will be better off with her. Sadly, that applies to people as much as objects…

Years ago, a man killed himself, and his widow swore to their infant son Edmund that she would always protect her baby boy from bad things – such as women who drive husbands to their deaths…

As usual, Sasha is the centre of attention in the bar when journalist Erik spots her. She is holding court, shocking friends with her honesty about how wicked she is. She can feel no remorse for taking the things she wants. Erik is in town to interview reclusive author Aurora, and – now besotted with Sasha – brings her with him as his “photographer.”

The interview goes badly. Aurora is hostile, rearing a son nobody knew of: a sheltered young man called Edmund, who is protective of his mother but drawn to the moodily effervescent Sasha. Flirting with the reclusive boy as a matter of habit, Sasha is most attracted to an antique book, so she takes it.

Initially setting out to retrieve the book, Edmund is increasingly ensnared in Sasha’s charismatic spell. Aurora, seeing Sasha to be just the kind of woman she swore to protect her son from, knows a few spells of her own, and is quite prepared to use any and every means to keep her ancient promise…

Colourful in misty pastels and shockingly bold lines, this oneiric, supernaturally-tinged drama blends the sensibilities of shōjo manga (romantic stories for young girls) with the bleak, moody naturalism of Scandinavian landscape painting and the rich, sexually-charged texture of teen soap operas to produce a compellingly sinister love story of desire and consequence that is lyrical, often reflective and occasionally pretentious, but always eminently readable and utterly beautiful to look upon.

And here’s my point: this quiet, contemplative breed of graphic narrative has a great deal to offer readers seeking something a little different. This decrepit heterosexual male felt no need for a fistfight or car chase to keep my attention from wandering, and those dreamy, floaty moments greatly added to my appreciation of atmosphere and mood. If the action is starting to pall, why not try a little classic mood magic…?
© 2007 Naomi Nowak. All rights reserved.

David Boring


By Daniel Clowes (Pantheon/Jonathan Cape)
ISBN: 978-0-37540-692-8 (Pantheon HB) 978-1-022406-323-4 (Jonathan Cape PB)

One of the greatest assets of the comics medium is the ostensibly straightforward nature of its storytelling. With pictures wedded to text, what you see is so clearly what you get. So, whenever a master creator deliberately subverts that implicit convention, the result might be occasionally obscure or confusing, but is always utterly engrossing.

At the forefront of comics storytelling for almost four decades Daniel Clowes is, for many, an acquired taste. However, once he’s in your brain there’s certainly no shaking the things he can do with pen and ink, motive, character and the special kind of situational magic that inhabits the world of pictures and words on paper.

Born in Chicago in 1961, he began his career as a cartoonist with humour magazine Cracked before creating uniquely skewed short comic tales for Fantagraphics. His first piece debuted in Love and Rockets # 13 (September 1985): an introductory prelude to his retro-chic detective magazine Lloyd Llewellyn which launched soon after and ran in various incarnations for three years.

In 1989 he created anthology vehicle Eightball and began producing a variety of tales – short and serial-lengths – ranging from social satire, nostalgic absurdist anthropomorphic yarns to surreal, penetrating human dramas, all viewed through the lens of iconic popular cultures and social motifs. All that material has since been collected into graphic novels and two of these, Ghost World and Art School Confidential, have been adapted into critically acclaimed feature films.

His experiences in Hollywood combined with deep-seated childhood influences of noir movies and comics books combined and resulted in ‘David Boring’ – originally serialised in Eightball #19-21 before being collected by Pantheon Books in America and Jonathan Cape in Britain.

David Boring is the narrator of his own story, living a life of unsatisfactory gratification, harassed by his mother and obsessed by his absentee father – a second rate cartoonist and comic book artist who disappeared decades previously. David spends his days with his only real friend, a lesbian named Dot he has known since High School. David is listlessly indulging in his life’s work by searching for his perfect woman when an old friend suddenly shows up, triggering a series of bizarre events that should make his life a living action movie, but instead just steers him into increasingly unpalatable and mundane tragedies and horrors…

Set against a backdrop of impending catastrophes, ranging from murder to the end of the world, David’s progress is trenchantly plebeian and low-key: an odyssey rendered drama-free by the protagonist’s relentless lack of – or rather resistance to – passion and unwillingness to fully engage in events occurring around him.

His world is full of sexual encounters, assaults, murders, chases and even global holocausts, but he passively accepts and adapts to it all.

Clowes has stated that he crafted this stunningly engaging and challenging tale as an exercise in writing an un-filmable comic. He has, but it was still optioned by Hollywood…

This is another of those too-rare productions that shouldn’t really be reviewed, just read, with themes of adolescence, maturity, quest for self and the impending end of life delivered via a landscape of comics, film noir, mock-heroics and the irreducible knowledge that families make individuals; sublimely combining in a truly personal experience for every reader.

Be warned: the most telling narrative device used here is uncertainty. A tremendous amount of the story is left unstated: this is a saga littered with reader’s conclusions not the characters’ actions. Events are set in motion and consequences are noted, but the course of intervening actions if not experienced by David can only be surmised or extrapolated: David Boring is a protagonist with few of the overt drives of a regular narrative hero and his story is one that can’t happen to any one of us…

Brilliant, compelling, utterly wonderful? That’s up to you…
© 2000, 2002 Daniel Clowes. All rights reserved.

Championess


By Tarun Shanker, Kelly Zekas, Amanda Perez Puentes, & various (Legendary Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68116-076-4 (TPB)

Legendary Comics (a print adjunct of Legendary Pictures – responsible for the Batman/Dark Knight movies as well as The Hangover, Man of Steel and 300) specialises in graphic narratives tailored for big screen film franchises, and this latest trade paperback may be a sleeper hit and potential contemporary blockbuster…

Women’s boxing is a rapidly growing sport and Britain is apparently a global leader. You might be surprised to know that – apart from an aberration of those deeply disturbed, morally hypocritical, history-rewriting Victorians – ‘twas ever so…

Championess is a hugely enjoyable melodramatic romp based on Georgian Elizabeth Wilkinson (nee Stokes) of Clerkenwell: a woman bareknuckle prize-fighter active between 1722-1728, and acclaimed star of a sport deliberately excised from history by those aforementioned, socially-censorious commentators and scribes.

Here, thanks to writers Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas – who have themselves taken a few literary liberties to deliver a knockout blow for racial diversity and female empowerment – Wilkinson is resurrected as a shunned but determined young woman of mixed race (British and Lascar/Indian) who wants to be a champion pugilist at a time when women fighters are commonplace, but considered simply as clowns and novelties.

Elizabeth fights for money to save her poor but saintly sister – who can “pass” for English – from debtors’ prison; she does it for revenge on an old friend who betrayed her; she does it to prove men don’t run the world; she eventually does it for and beside a man she

learns to trust and love, but mostly Elizabeth fights because she wants to and she’s really good at it. All she has to do is prove it to the scurrilous, bout-fixing fight arranger who runs the game in London, the public and in the end, herself…

Illustrated in monochrome grey washes by Amanda Perez Puentes, this is a bright, breezy, modernistic costume drama that would win plenty of notice on big and small screens. There’s not much in the way of narrative nuance or novelty, but it enthusiastically follows the arc of all good sports comics like Roy of the Rovers or the Tough of the Track, and Sport’s all about the action and the moment, right?

Backed up by sketch and design pages, cover gallery and variants and a feature on the process of script to finished art page, this tale is an unsophisticated but enthralling feelgood tale which I can certainly see fulfilling Legendary Comics’ remit and being adapted – assuming I and others can stifle that old-world, chauvinistic response to seeing women (or anybody, in fact) hitting each other for money and other peoples’ gratification…
© 2021, Legendary Comics, LLC. All rights reserved. Continue reading “Championess”