Necromantic


By Lovern Kindzierski, David Ross, Geof Isherwood, Chris Chuckry & Taylor Esposito (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-369-9 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-98890-373-6

Real and fictionalised espionage tales are equally gripping when done well, and modern drama demands a healthy dose of genre cross-fertilisation. A perfect example catering to modern tastes is this opening salvo from Lovern Kindzierski (author of the Shame trilogies, Underworld, VMT and colourist of most of your favourite US superhero comics) and veteran illustrators David Ross (Star Wars; X-Men; Alpha Flight; Rai) and Geof Isherwood (Suicide Squad; Conan the Barbarian; Silver Surfer; Doctor Strange). In case you’re wondering, the crucial backroom boys here are Chris Chuckry on colours, and Taylor Esposito delivering calligraphic sound, captions and dialogue…

This rowdy, raunchy introductory action-fest reveals a critical turning point in the life of top-gun US Special Forces operative Jesse Harris whose latest successful mission in North Africa is forever blighted in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ after she learns that her beloved Blake Williams has been killed in action.

Harris goes to pieces in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’: not simply from grief and anger, but also because she still sees him. It’s the kind of situation she has secretly endured and ignored since childhood, when she first discovered a facility for seeing and talking to people no one else can see…

Dragged out of shattering despondency by fellow ISA agent Rich Boon, she takes a “soft” mission in Afghanistan, only to find herself dragged to the edge of hell and a bittersweet reunion with Blake. In the course of her duties, she realises the local governor/warlord is a mortal agent of infernal demons pressganging recently deceased human souls into a legion intended to oust the devil, and install a new lord of the Damned. To aid the recruitment program, still-breathing Prince Minyar has bolstered his brutal living forces with rampaging zombies and ruthless killer ghosts only Jesse can perceive…

Facing modern arms and ancient devils revelling in another chance to spill blood, her team are swept away in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, but Harris gains valuable intel from the King’s vizier – an enslaved spirit determined to end the horrific recruitment program – and eventually a blessed ally when Blake escapes the Pit to render assistance and battle beside her to deliver earth and the afterlife from ‘The Tempest’

Savage, fast-paced and strictly for adult eyes only, Necromantic is a blockbuster thrill-ride for the action-movie generation and a manic joy for those who still crave their cathartic release in print of digital comics form.
© Lovern Kindzierski and Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd. 2020

The Clockwork Girl


By Sean O’Reilly & Kevin Hanna, illustrated by Mike Thomas, Grant Bond, Karen Krinbrink, Mirana Reveier & others (Arcana Studio)
ISBN: 978-0-9809204-1-3 (TPB Arcana) 978-0-06208-039-4 (HB Harper Design) 978-0062091291 (PB film edition)

The literary concept of autonomous automatons has been with us a long time now: my first exposure was wind-up warrior Tik-Tok from L. Frank Baum’s Ozma of Oz in 1907 (that’s when the book was published, not when my parents read it to me), but even he wasn’t the first. You could try tracking down 1868’s “Huge Hunter” AKA The Steam Man of the Prairies (by Edward S. Ellis) or dip into mythology for Talos, the bronze construct who defended Europa in ancient Crete to see how wedded we are to the notion of constructed comrades and champions.

“Mechanical Men” are one of those rare confabulations that existed in people’s heads long before we actually discovered, built or confirmed them – just like teleportation, the Higgs Boson or equal pay for women. It’s a rare person who doesn’t have some inner conception of what a robot should be…

As such a chimeric concept, hand-made beings fit almost anywhere in storytelling, as seen here in this modern fairy tale, crafted with the intention of becoming a film classic for kids of all ages. The 5-issue miniseries came out in 2008 and was collected as a graphic novel the same year, with the movie finally released in 2014…

In the fantastic city of Harfang, a metropolis both ancient and futuristic, wise men and savants, enquiring minds and inventors enjoy lives of wondrous creativity and hold regular contests to determine who is the most brilliant and inspired among them. Here Dendrus the Grafter specialises in resurrections, radical surgery and biological blending whilst his old friend and greatest rival Wilhelm the Tinkerer has devoted his life to mastering physics, engineering and all mechanical disciplines…

One night, just before the Haraway Fair that would determine this year’s greatest intellectual achievement, the Tinkerer finally succeeds in creating true life from cold metal, cogs and springs. Unlike his soulless, lumbering previous attempt T-Bolt, this latest effort is a sublime creature of wonder and delight who will show the world what genius is…

Dendrus, meanwhile, is having problems with a previous triumph. Last year Huxley was a sensation: a masterpiece of biological cross-pollination and reconstructive surgery, but lately the lad has been living up to his daunting appearance and – undeserved – reputation, increasingly becoming an unruly handful and headache for his “father”…

Leaving the “monster boy” to check out the usual parade of insane experiments on display (by the usual scientific suspects), Dendrus is there when the Tinkerer unveils his metal marvel: a beautiful, beguiling Clockwork Girl who is truly alive. He proudly awards Wilhelm first prize, but is too distracted by the chaos of the Botanist’s exhibit escaping to notice the effect the gleaming gamin has on awestruck Huxley…

Utterly enraptured, the beast boy can talk of nothing else to best pal Maddox, and soon they are trailing the victor’s carriage back to the Tinkerer’s castle and risking their lives to get in and meet her. Persistence overcomes all odds and soon they are in her tower chamber, chatting with the charming innocent. Huxley is astonished to discover she has no name. At his insistence she christens herself, plucking the name “Tesla” out of thin air and her imagination…

Before they leave, Huxley agrees to meet with her again tomorrow, and show her the world her neglectful, fame-besotted father has brought her into…

Meanwhile, Wilhelm broods, remembering the fiasco of T-Bolt’s debut at last year’s fair; how Dendrus betrayed him and his abominable monster-boy denied him of his glorious due – a rather one-sided and inaccurate summation of what actually happened…

Next day, in the wilds around the castle, Huxley is amazed at Tesla’s joyous response to each new observation and experience, but wonder turns to terror as a sudden rain shower sparks pain and terror in the mechanical maid. Saving her day-old life through prompt action, he shares his unique origins with her as they shelter whilst she – literally – opens her heart to him, inadvertently proving how alike they truly are…

It’s an innocent moment presaging heartbreak, as when the kids return to their respective homes, their perpetually meddling parents forbid any further contact. It’s a recipe for disaster…

Unable to stay apart, the kids disobey and in the melee that follows, Maddox is grievously injured and Huxley driven off, with Tesla rushing out into the deadly rain to somehow make things right.

As Dendrus and Wilhelm recover their wits and finally reconcile, it may be too late to save the children that have brought them back together. Thankfully, science and cooperation will provide the solution…

An enchanting pastiche of Romeo and Juliet, The Clockwork Girl blends whimsy, humour and the drama of first love in a charming romp with a happy ending, and comes with a bonus section that includes ‘Origins’ of the project, ‘Story Concepts’ and sketches by Sean O’Reilly & Kevin Hanna, plus Pin-Ups from illustrators and guest artists Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, Mirana Reveier, Jose Lopez & Aron Lusen, Barnaby Ward, Paul Adam, Vincent Perea, Hanna, Javier Giangiacomo, Royden Lepp and Bengal.

A wonderful confection proving the power of diversity and confirming the rewards of inclusion, this is a timeless treat long overdue for a revisit and some serious acclaim.
© 2008 Arcana Studio, Inc. All rights reserved.

You Brought Me the Ocean


By Alex Sanchez, Julie Maroh & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9081-8 (TPB)

In recent years DC has opened up its shared superhero universe to generate Original Graphic Novels featuring its stars in stand-alone(ish) adventures for the demographic clumsily dubbed Young Adult. To date, results have been rather hit or miss, but when they’re good they are very good indeed…

An ideal example is You Brought Me the Ocean, which reinterprets the origin of modern day Aqualad, concentrating on the comic book character’s Gay credentials rather than his costumed career.

Crafted by Alex Sanchez (Rainbow Boys; So Hard to Say; The God Box; The Greatest Superpower) and Julie Maroh (Blue is the Warmest Color; Body Music) and available in paperback and eBook editions, this dreamily-rendered, salty sea tale details the graduating year of High School student Jake Hyde who lives in the driest part of New Mexico but dreams of deep-sea kingdoms and fantastic marine adventure.

His mother is a constant worrier: always telling him to eat properly, dress appropriately and stay hydrated. Ironically though, ever since his all-but-forgotten dad drowned years ago, she has never let him near large bodies of water… or even allowed him to swim…

Always a loner, Jake’s absolute best friend in the one-horse town of Truth or Consequences (formerly Hot Springs, NM) is Maria Mendez. She has already mapped out their future together and has no idea he yearns for the nautical life and has already applied to University of Miami to study Oceanography…

The Mendez’s are neighbours and a second family, and far more amenable to Jake’s aspirations of leaving New Mexico, whilst his own mother shuts down every attempt to discuss the issue. She’s far more concerned with why Jake and Maria haven’t started dating yet. Sadly, Jake has never – ever – thought of her that way and has resigned himself to going it alone if he wants to realise his ambitions…

One day, things change dramatically as Jake suddenly notices class rebel Kenny Liu. He’s known the strange, outspoken outsider since Middle School, but has stayed well away – painfully aware of the target the outsider’s actions made him. Now though, the bully-defying, openly-Gay swim team star-athlete seems irresistibly fascinating…

And apparently, the interest is mutual…

Life changes forever when Jake agrees to accompany Kenny on a hike into the desert. The far more mature misfit has plenty of solid advice – on Maria, leaving town and life choices – but all that is forgotten when a sudden flash-flood interrupts their first kiss and activates tattoo-like birthmarks all over Jake’s body. Suddenly, he starts to glow and project water-manipulating energies…

With Jake’s world suddenly shaken to flotsam and jetsam, shock follows shock and calamity arrives in its wake. Jake’s attempts to explore his sexuality bring heartbreak and chaos, but even that’s dwarfed when he comes out to his mom and learns the truth about his father and how he is connected to both superhero Aquaman and one of the most dangerous villains on Earth…

Moreover, in the throes of these astounding revelations and an irresistible attraction, it’s too easy to forget that not only metahuman maniacs respond with bigotry and mindless violence to what they deem “unnatural”…

A truly magical treatment exploring the processes of coming out and finding yourself, deftly cloaked in the shiny trappings of costumed heroics, the search for belonging and teen feelings of alienation, You Brought Me the Ocean is an intriguing tale to warm the heart and comes with a contact page detailing Resources available to those affected by the issues herein; personal messages from Sanchez and Maroh and an extensive section of designs and drawings from the illustrator’s Sketchbook.
© 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

O Human Star volume One


By Blue Delliquanti (Blue Delliquanti)
ISBN: 978-0-9909956-0-9 (TPB)

Sexuality and identity appear to be inextricably conjoined. We’re not quite there yet in the disappointingly real world, but fiction and fantasy have extensively explored the potential ramifications and repercussions of the topic, and none more so or as stylishly as self-identified non-binary creator Blue Delliquanti (Meal; Smut Peddler; The Sleep of Reason & Beyond) in compelling voyage of personal discovery O Human Star.

The epic tale launched as a weekly webcomic on January 25th 2012 and ran until 27th August 2020, with the first collection (compiling chapters 1-3 in paperback and digital formats) released in book and digital formats in 2015.

The plot premise is potently simple and delivered through a complex network of enticingly engaging characters, beginning as mystery with ‘His Own Image’ wherein inventor Alastair Sterling dies alone and wakes up 16 years later. In the future, robotic lifeforms are simply part of the world, “Synthetic Beings” who comprise everything from simple manufacturing tools to fully autonomous independent individuals.

Apparently, Sterling’s discoveries changed everything and now his personality has been installed in a fully-artificial replica of his failed body. The creatures who greet him on awakening seem benevolent, and inform that his return has been commissioned by the estate of his former protégé, assistant beneficiary and lover Brendan Pinsky.

Bizarrely, after a fraught reunion with the angry, confused middle-aged guardian and administrator of his legacy, Alastair realises he’s been lied to. Of course, Brendan has tried to revive Sterling in the past, but without success. The who, how and why of the unasked-for true return is a complete – and very suspicious – mystery…

Part of the reason for Brendan’s reticence becomes apparent when a precocious young female synthetic flies into the compound and, with a storm of inexpressible emotions, Alastair realises Sulla is a teenaged girl version of himself…

She didn’t start out that way, though. Originally, the body was a gradually, methodically constructed boy child, but three years previously she chose to become female…

With no place to go, Alastair settles in and attempts to come to terms with an incredible new world, new lives and disappointment and confusion beyond belief…

Chapter Two ‘In the Morning of the Magicians’ finds the aggrieved resurrected man still bewildered as Sulla – desperately seeking his approval – appoints herself his guide and protector. This causes ructions with notional father Brendan who has spent his years trying to restore Alastair, while turning their company – Sterling Inc. – into one of the most powerful organisations on Earth. He also cannot navigate the situation as a flashback draws him back to the day when a shy young MIT graduate first met maverick inventor Alastair Sterling and sparks first flew…

Ostensibly trapped in the big house with his memories and constant unbelievable new experiences, Sterling relives his relationship with Brendan and seeks shards of himself in Sulla until eventually everyone agrees it’s time for him to explore the world his ideas built in concluding chapter ‘Mansions of the Soul’

When corporate duties call Brendan away, Alastair is left with Sulla who treats his growing future shock with rowdy enthusiasm as they tour the city. Dumbfounded, Sterling thinks back to the moment of his greatest breakthroughs, but still cannot decide if that was opening his protective emotional shell and accepting young Brendan as a lover or finding ways to liberate robotic consciousness.

A possible clue then presents itself when he uncharacteristically convinces Sulla to go and join a group of similarly aged human kids and talk to one who has particularly caught her attention…

After an eventful day all around, human and synthetics head home to the safety of the mansion compound, each profoundly changed by their recent interactions and all terrified that further revelations cannot help but spark further transformations…

Powerfully but subtly gripping, and rendered in a mesmerising, manga-influenced style, O Human Star is fundamentally a love story that explores notions of identity, perception, inclusion, gender and the drive to belong via the comfortably familiar cultural neutral zones of science fiction standards and landscapes. It also powerfully pulverises the concept of what “normal” means: using emotional conflict and the apparent quest for factual knowledge to unearth the spiritual data that makes humanity universal.

The series concluded last year and has been collected in three volumes which – just like this one – also offer story extras; behind-the-scenes notes; commentary and design sketches.

Absolutely one of the best graphic novels you’ll ever read, so don’t let this star pass you by.
© 2015 Blue Delliquanti. 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.

Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy


By Dan Parent, Bill Galvan, Rich Koslowski & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-58-7 (TPB)

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were merely one of many publishers to jump on the mystery-man bandwagon, generating their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily-clad crusaders.

In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, and swiftly followed up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the era’s standard mix of masked champions, clean-cut, two-fisted adventurers, genre prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming yet crowded market. In December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, heaving he-man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far less imposing hero; an ordinary teenager having everyday adventures just like the readership, laden with companionable laughs, good times and budding romance.

Goldwater developed the youthful everyman protagonist concept, tasking writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with making it all work. Inspired by and referencing the successful Andy Hardy movies (starring Mickey Rooney), their new notion premiered in Pep Comics #22. The unlikely star was a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid desperate to impress the pretty blonde girl next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely fetching Betty Cooper. The boy’s wry, unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that vignette, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. The piece was a huge hit with readers and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own series and latterly a solo-starring title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began an inexorable transformation of the company. With the debut of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946, the kids were in charge and MLJ officially reinvented itself as Archie Comics, retiring the majority of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age to become, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies.

The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating Jughead to assist or deter and scurrilous love-rat rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with fans, but was somehow infinitely fresh and engaging…

Like Superman, Archie’s success forced a change in content at every other US publisher (except Gilberton’s dryly po-faced Classics Illustrated), creating a culture-shifting multi-media brand encompassing TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and – in the swinging sixties – a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar (taken from the animated TV cartoon) became a global summer smash hit. Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since just waiting for the comeback hit…

The perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, thrilling, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas expressing everything from surreal wit to frantic, frenetic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily; genial giant jock Big Moose and occasional guest Sabrina the Teenage Witch amongst so many others): growing into a national institution and part of America’s cultural landscape.

The feature thrives by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly, seamlessly adapting to a changing world outside its bright and cheerful pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, fashion trends and even topical events into its infallible mix of comedy and young romance. Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and over the decades the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck Clayton and his girlfriend Nancy Woods, fashion-diva Ginger Lopez, Hispanic couple Frankie Valdez and Maria Rodriguez, student film-maker Raj Patel and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a wide, refreshingly diverse and broad-minded scenario.

In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle – for decades a seemingly insurmountable one for kids comicbooks – when openly gay student Kevin Keller joined the gang: becoming an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski, Kevin Keller debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010), a charming, good-looking and exceedingly-together young man who utterly bowled over the rich go-getter. Ronnie was totally smitten with him, but Kevin was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with Jughead

When he finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became Keller’s best buddy as they had so much in common – stylish clothes, shopping and cute guys…

Immensely popular from the outset (Veronica #202 was the first comic book in the company’s long history to go into a second printing), Kevin struck a chord with the readership. Soon, frequent guest shots evolved into a miniseries before the new kid on the block inevitably won his own ongoing title.

Trade paperback & digital compilation Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy collects issues #5-8 of his groundbreaking solo title and opens with an effusive Introduction from actor, author and rights activist George Takei, in anticipation of his walk-on part in the opening chapter here.

Sacrificing chronological order for star attraction, ‘By George!’ comes from Kevin Keller #6 (January 2013) wherein a class project about inspirational heroes leads to the kids invading a local comic convention headlined by the Star Trek star, after which Mr. Takei surprises all concerned by returning the favour at Riverdale High. If only Kevin wasn’t so distracted by the return of old flame Brian and the promise of new romance…

Eponymous tale ‘Drive Me Crazy!’ (Kevin Keller #5 December 2012) then targets the next milestone in a young man’s life as the affable pedestrian finally gains independence with the arrival of his first car. It is, in fact, an old jeep belonging to his dad (a retired army colonel) and the fun really hits high gear after Moose and Dilton offer to spruce it up and make it roadworthy in their own inimitable manner… just in time to play havoc with Kevin’s date with old pal Todd.

Back on track for #7 (March, 2013), ‘Decisions, decisions!’ finds Kevin dating aggressive bad boy Devon: a student determined to keep his status as a macho hetero male. Patience, love and understanding only go so far though, and when Kevin convinces Devon to finally come out, the misunderstood lout faces repercussions from his family and friends that Kevin never anticipated…

Piling on the pressure, an old secret admirer who remained anonymous chooses this moment to identify himself to the ever-popular Mr. Keller…

Everything boils over in concluding episode ‘Play by the Rules!’ (Kevin Keller #8, June 2013) when Veronica cons Kevin into starring in her self-penned stage drama Teenagers: The Musical! His proximity to former secret admirer Pauldrives Devon to jealousy and stalking, but thankfully in the unavoidable denouement, the only real casualty is Ronnie’s atrocity of a show…

Following the compelling comics is an ‘Official Kevin Keller Bonus Features’ section offering ‘Kevin, Betty and Veronica Fashions’, to supplement a cover gallery that includes modern cartoon masterpieces, remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century all-star and variant covers spoofing Star Trek and Superman.

Drive Me Crazy is superbly diverse, hilariously welcoming and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Menkui! Volume 1


By Suzuki Tanaka (Blu/TokyoPop)
ISBN: 1-59816-358-2 (Tankōbon PB)

It’s Pride Month and not all comics are about earthdoom and racial slaughter. Here’s a lost diamond long overdue for another run in the sun – or at least a new English language revival on paper or in digital form…

Here’s a Yaoi story, (romanticised fantasy relationship tales of beautiful young men created for female audiences; like Shonen-Ai but with a more explicit erotic content) although very mild – to the point of chaste gentility – by that standard.

Kotori is a shyly demure young man living in the big shadow of his older brother Kujaku, who’s smarter, prettier and much more successful, however that’s measured in terms of school life. This gentle tale of first love recounts Kotori’s growing confidence and closeness with “Boy-Hottie” Akaiwa whose attentions, though heartfelt, are constantly questioned by the insecure second son.

Set in the crucible of a Japanese high school, populated with a lovely-looking, manipulative bunch of gossips and back-stabbers – Yaoi guys are apparently all the same sort of snotty mean-yet-popular princesses beloved by TV teen soap operas – the tentative pair meander down the path of true love, hampered by eternal obstacles of misapprehension, misunderstanding and the impossible dream of a little privacy.

Funny, unassuming, charmingly and painfully romantic, the main narrative tells a very familiar story but tells it exceedingly well, with minor characters adding to the mix in their own sub-adventures in separate chapters, rather than as scene-stealers in the major text. This can seem a little disconcerting to western sensibilities, but these drastic jumps soon resolve into the big picture, so bear with it.

I personally couldn’t grasp the oddly unwholesome concentration – an almost veiled sexual subtext – regarding the physical attraction between brothers, but I might be reading too much into the family relationships of another culture, so you should really decide for yourselves or trade siblings like I did…

Menkui translates as “shallow” or “superficial” and although this everyday saga of pretty-boy angst might seem to condemn itself with this title, these characters had the potential for a genuinely moving tale. Sadly, the series never got the chance. After running in from July 2000 to June 2003, the series closed abruptly. The tales were released in English as three volumes and are still available if you are a grown-up romantic and desire to continue…
© 2000 Suzuki Tanaka. All Rights Reserved. First published in Japan by BIBLOS Co., Ltd. English text ©2006.

The Last Lonely Saturday


By Jordan Crane (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-743-8 (HB)

Award-winning Jordan Crane is a child of the 1970s and first garnered notice in comics circles with his 1996 anthology NON: an experimental vehicle very much in the manner of Art Spiegelman’s Raw and latterly quarterly anthology Uptight.

Working far too slowly for my greedy appetites, he’s also released a trio of graphic novels to date, Col-Dee, children’s adventure The Clouds Above and this one – his first and most moving.

Available in both hardcover and digital editions, The Last Lonely Saturday is crafted in a strange blend of vivid-yet-muted reds and yellows and comedically lugubrious cartoon style. Delivered in two panels per page, it recounts – almost exclusively without dialogue – one quiet day in August when a lonely widower once again diligently makes his way to the florist’s, the cemetery and inevitably the grave of his beloved Elenore.

It’s a ritual he’s enacted for many years, indulging in bittersweet memories as he clings to life while yearning to be reunited with his truly beloved. However, as the endless duty unfolds, events take an oblique turn and melancholy whimsy becomes something more as we’re reminded that it’s not just the living who feel the pangs of loss or yearn for reunion…

Smart, charming, witty and devilishly wry, this is a lost delight that proves the deceptive potency of comics and enduring power of love.
© 2000 Jordan Crane. All rights reserved.

Beauty and the Feast volume 1


By Satomi U, translated by Sheldon Drzka (Square Enix)
ISNB: 978-1-64609-062-4 (Tankōbon PB)

Not all manga is gorily action-packed and overflowing with astoundingly robust wonder warriors or deeply introspective and socially redeeming: some Japanese comics just want you to have a good time and some gentle enjoyment.

Here’s one of those in the form of a jolly and uncomplicated semi rom-com, rich and redolent with cultural confusion and pretty illustration from enigmatic creator Satomi U.

It all begins with a revelation in ‘Yakumo-San Wants to Feed You!’ as pretty widow Shuko Yakumo invites a rather unprepossessing young man into her apartment. It’s not the first time Shohei Yamato has come around from his next door flat and, without preamble or converse, tucks into a vast display of succulent home-cooked food.

He’s a first year High School student at prestigious Tosei Academy, on the equivalent of a baseball scholarship, with strict orders to bulk up. Shohei sees nothing amiss in a stranger and single lady indulging him in a strictly-platonic relationship: feeding up the socially-awkward, tongue-tied baseball prodigy who is unable gain necessary poundage due to a lack of funds…

He doesn’t seem very bright – or even communicative – but sure can pack away the glorious meals she happily produces, apparently, just for the sheer joy of cooking again.

It’s not a normal relationship, but both seem to get what they need out of the ritual…

Determined to be the best she can, the delirious domestic goddess constantly considers new recipes and bigger portions before ‘Yakumo-San Buys a Rice Cooker’ sees a change in the status quo as the human locust gradually shares details of his past before we see what his life currently demands in ‘A Day in the Life of Shohei Yamato’.

‘A Day in the Life of Shuko Yakumo’ moves into new territory as school pressure makes the lad miss a few visits, prompting his culinary custodian to start following him with mobile morsels and picnic treats, culminating in an actual and mutual emotional connection on ‘A Night for Cherry Blossoms’

An old complication resurfaces as ‘Enter Rui, the Reckless High School Girl’ sees an extremely raucous and proprietary former classmate of the sporting cadet reinsert herself in his life. Little Rui Nishihara believes she’s responsible for Shohei’s accomplishments and intends to be the wife of a major baseball superstar, and instantly recognizes a potential rival in the “old lady” with the big boobs and always-open kitchen…

Given to histrionics, Rui is determined to regain the boy’s attention, and refuses to listen to the advice of her super-sensible best pal Ritsuko Nagai, who calmly and constantly reminds her that she never had it in the first place…

Shuko is largely unaware of the impending storm, spending a day at her husband’s grave and catching up with old friend Yuri who reminds her that ‘Nothing Stays the Same’. It’s a fact hammered home that night when Shohei again decimates her larder, only this time something else – something new – happens…

Supplemented by Bonus Manga ‘A Day in the Life of Rui and Ritsuko’ offering insight into the little firecracker’s backstory; design and fact pages on Shuko, Shohei, Rui and Ritsuko via ‘The Inside Scoop’ before ending on a slapstick excerpt from Satomi U’s ‘Baseball Team Research Journal’, this is a bright, breezy and silly, salivatory saga that will satisfy any cravings for something more tastily intriguing than substantial and heavy.
Beauty and the Feast volume 1 © 2016 Satomi U/SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. English translation © 2021 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All rights reserved.