Man, that's your instrument

Hi, I'm Dick, and I'm really excited about being here since this is one of the first comics blogs I remember reading obsessively (two of the others were Fanboy Rampage and Jog the Blog, so TRIPLE excitement, actually). It really is a great privilege to write on the same site as those folks you see on the sidebar. And now that I have this forum, I can devote my personal blog to my true passions: reviewing frozen food, complaining about video game stores, and posting pictures of disgusting MMA injuries. What I'll mostly be doing here, at least over the next year, is continuing my obsession with year's best lists. Or in this case, decade's best list. Savage Critics will be the home of my ongoing Best of the 00s Diary Thing, in which I'll revisit some of the best comics of the last decade, and look at some for the first time as well, probably. By the end of the year I'll hopefully have a pretty good idea of what I'd put on my own personal best of the decade list. And since I'm such a fiend for discourse, I will encourage all those reading to consider this as well. What are the best comics of the 00s? Should we consider reprints and translations as well as original material? And many other rhetorical questions.

For now (after the break, actually) I'm going to review a couple of things I picked up in one of my rare trips to an actual comic shop, after 10 long hours of flying and running from gate to gate. If only there were a way to avoid flying through O'Hare for the rest of my life. . . .

Jin and Jam #1 by Hellen Jo Preview

Flipping through this, the Taiyo Matsumoto influence leapt off the page--check out those preview pages and it's about as obvious as one could imagine. I considered this a very good thing: a North American comic with such an obvious art manga influence. Don't see that as often as you'd hope or expect; could be interesting.

The Matsumoto connection isn't just heavy influence, it turns out, since the first page includes a quote from Matsumoto's Tekkon Kinkreet (which Jo refers to by its alternate/original English translation title, Black and White). Given the art and the story, you'd want to look at Jin and Jam as a kind of gynocentric Tekkon Kinkreet anyway: a pair of teenage girls, alienated from their surroundings and prone to fits of extreme violence. But by providing that quote from Tekkon Kinkreet, Jo is making explicit that this is, in fact, a commentary on Matsumoto's most famous work. Or maybe it's a commentary on what it's like to be an Asian American teenage girl, using Tekkon Kinkreet as a sort of cipher?

By the end of the book, it looks like Jo's leaning towards the latter. Jin doesn't want to borrow Jam's hoodie because it reeks of fish sauce. Jam is surprised that Jin wants to go to college to escape their unnamed town (presumably San Jose). In the preceding pages, you get as good a Matsumoto pastiche as once could hope for. Like, it's not just the puddles of black ink and leering, grinning faces; this thing is composed like a Matsumoto comic as well. It's precise enough that one might wonder if such a thing is necessary, given that Tekkon Kinkreet is available, but Jo makes clear her intentions to create something beyond a Matsumoto tribute. And I came away from this thinking that Jo might really be on to something; those last five pages suggest great potential in her characters and approach.

There may be more style and potential than substance so far, but this is issue #1, thus implying further material yet to come. Whether or not Diamond's new policies will allow for additional pamphlet-format issues is an open question, of course. Hopefully we'll at least see more of Jin and Jam in an eventual graphic novel, because this is very worthwhile material. Somewhere between EXCELLENT and VERY GOOD on the Savage Critics scale. (EQUIVICATION!~) Certainly those who enjoyed Tekkon Kinkreet should seek it out, but those who admire Jaime Hernandez' work may also appreciate the relationship between Jin and Jam. And by the time Hellen Jo completes Jin and Jam, we may want to place it alongside American Born Chinese and Same Difference in the growing field of comics about the Asian-American experience. So yeah, I really do hope to see a lot more.

Never Land by David Kiersh Preview

Okay, first might I suggest that Bodega (an otherwise excellent publisher, one of my favorite small presses) make sure to put prices on all their publications? There's a UPC, an ISBN, and even contact information for Kiersh and Bodega, but no price! I mean, it's not like this is going to stop me from buying Bodega titles in the future, and I doubt it will have any effect on the ordering policies of the store where I bought it, but it's kind of a strange oversight. Maybe there was a price sticker on the back which peeled off.

As for the book itself, I think David Kiersh is several steps removed from fulfilling the potential he shows here. The first half of the book is strongly reminiscent of Art Spiegelman's Breakdowns-period work. Kiersh's art is sort of like a rounder, softer version of Spiegelman's in the German Expressionist-influenced "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" (especially if viewed in the postage stamped-sized reproduction in Maus). The pacing resembles "Don't Get Around Much Anymore": odd breaks in the captions between panels, a general sense of stillness (see that preview above). The end result is a bit off-putting at times, however. The narrator considers the changing nature of his town and the way place ties into his own memories and regret. That's fine, interesting even, but there's the execution to consider. Again I direct you to that preview--the narrator (angrily!) shedding tears over his aging and the distance he feels from the roller rink of his youth. Kind of a silly image, one that undercuts the effectiveness of the preceding pages.

The second half of the book deals with the narrator's inability to deal with the disappointments of the present (he works in a grocery store) and desire for escape. Hence the title--Kiersh depicts the narrator's escapist impulses in the vernacular of fairy tales. A female Peter Pan flies off with the narrator, stopping to fight a female Captain Hook--Captain Hooker, actually. These fairy tale fantasies are sexualized, leading to criticism from the Peter Pan figure ("You're such a boy" and "You have a perverted sense of humor") .

By the end, the narrator has relocated his escapist tendencies into a relationship with an actual woman (who may or may not be the Peter Pan figure from earlier). This is the point where the comic gets most saccharine; as the narrator and his unnamed companion soar into the sky, the caption reads "But now that I've learned to fly, I want to fly with you . . . to a place where we never have to land." Yeesh.

That's about the size of it: the narrator moves from bittersweet nostalgia to fantasy to rescue by a woman who we don't really know anything about other than that the narrator is in love with her. This kind of story might work with a different sort of execution, but that's not the case here. Kiersh's art is pleasant, even evocative at times, but the dense fairy tale imagery is repetitive and so cutesy as to only add sweetness to an already cloying comic. There are a few images that hint at possible future discord--the Peter Pan lady walks away from the narrator with tears in her eyes at one point--but Kiersh doesn't follow up on it. It's an isolated image in an otherwise jolly montage.

There's a lot to like about Dave Kiersh's art, and there are some promising sequences scattered throughout Never Land. I'm under impression from the dedication that this is a rather personal project for him, but that doesn't really add to my appreciation of this "love conquers all" story. I'd say it's at least an OK for the craft, possibly a GOOD if (like me) you place a premium on such things.