Bustin' on the ones -- Hibbs duz 6/12/2013

ON New Comics Day? What? Well, don't get used to it, but I felt bad about skipping last week, that I thought I'd get way ahead on this one.  Below the jump, and all.

A1 #1 (of 6): I'm certain I have mentioned this before, but anthologies are a wicked hard sell for American audiences -- despite being essentially the "default" option for other comics markets internationally (UK and Japan in particular) -- and I suspect someone much cleverer than I could figure out something about the Essential National Character of each culture based upon their comic markets. But that isn't me.

I will note that I think we don't like anthologies in the US because I believe we judge the entire package by the WEAKEST contribution, and that we want comics to Get To The Point a little more than others. a1 is a British production -- and, in fact, is the second go 'round at least for the name, as there was a pretty nice set of thick squarebound black & white comics also from packager Dave Elliot.

THAT set was a solid mix of "big names" with people I'd never heard of (back then), and, if you can find those original six, you might be surprised how much formative work there was on display there.

In this batch, however, I don't think we're going to look back at in two decades later with a "Wow!", because, if anything, this is kind of merely a comics-formatted 2000 AD, without the "boy's action!" angle. Plus? 2 of the three serials are written by Elliot.

The problem with those two is that (and this is often a problem with both anthologies AND, I would argue, UK creators specifically) that their premises are not explicit in the first chapter. "The Weirding Willows" seems like some sort of semi-LOEG literary mash-up, but there's no real reason to be interested in the protagonist, Alice,  other than "cute blonde" -- she walks through a bunch of supporting characters, but engages with virtually none of them and there's no narrative thrust on display. You can't spend your page count "world building" in 8 page installments until AFTER you've earned your audience's interest.

Elliot's  second serial, "Odyssey", doesn't even bother trying to provide a protagonist, just showing us a bunch of scientists and dire results in its WW2 milieu. Ugh, not THAT hoary chestnut again. Maybe maybe maybe I could deal with it if there was a single sympathetic character on display, but, literally, every character in this opening is loathsome.

In the hammock is "carpediem" by W.H. Rauf and Rhoald Marcellius which is much more palatable, introducing 7+ new characters AND giving them a complete adventure at the same time, while really having some very nice cartoony art attached to it, but too much of the heavy lifting is done by punning and British humor. Still, it's the one serial in the book I'd actually be willing to read more of.

So, overall, that's a pretty textbook EH.


SIX-GUN GORILLA #1 (of 6): See, you have a comic book called "Six-gun Gorilla" that stars a pistol-wielding gorilla, I am of the mind that you start and finish every damn page with the ape, and you don't wait until the last page or three to have the critter show up. It's that UK  world-building thing again (the world in question is, hm, a reality show of an eternal war, and it's rich enough) -- any 'murican should be able to tell ya you start with the explosion, and only ramp it up from there. In media res, byee-otch!

The shame of it is, I really did like this adequately, but who wants to wait for the second issue until the title character is a real presence? that makes this just OK.


SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #1: I wanted to like this, but I think that the reason I'm merely ambivalent is the Jim Lee art. He's simply not a Superman artist. That's not to say he can't draw Superman -- he does just fine -- but his line-style just really doesn't work on an ongoing Superman comic.  Oh, and the coloring? Too too too dark for the character (that cover, especially, doesn't scream "buy me!")

This also also features a fold out poster (though that's not cover-blurbed, go figure), which raises the price to a massive $4.99, but it's so awkward and stops the story cold (on page 5, to boot!) and it's not something that I see anyone hanging on their wall (Wow, Superman is fighting some wires!), so I really don't get the point (other than, y'know, market share games)

I liked Scott Snyder's story just fine (and that's the majority of the basis of my final grade), but, I just feel like the art is working against the story in every place. I sort of hope, kind of, that Jim stays on for just the first arc, and then they hand it off to someone with a REALLY clean style.

Anyway, I liked the writing enough to give a very low GOOD.


(Joe Hill's) THUMBPRINT #1 (of  3): Liked this.  Based on a novella by Hill (which I've never read), and it does a good job presenting a sympathetic protagonist, who could be an antagonist as well. The art by Vic Malhotra has a nice Aja / Samnee thing going on and was much of the drawing point for me (because at just three issues, this seems like it will read better in collection).  I really don't have much more to say, but I was trying to hit all of the #1s this week, so.... GOOD.


THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS #1 (of 6): Gerard Way's new comic (co-written with Shaun Simon) is pretty pants-shittingly terrific. This is a rich sci-fi world -- and one that I'm not entirely sure that I followed with each and every jump. But it didn't really matter, because I look forward to finding out the details.  It has backstory text pages and everything. I liked the characters, I liked the setup, and I especially liked some of the poetry of the writing ("One day... our bodies will only belong to each other, and the streets will be for shopping, not working" says one sex android to the other).

There is a crazy density to the world, which is so supremely helped by the fabulous artwork of Beck Cloonan. This is awesome comic which probably couldn't have been done in any other media, and my only regret about it is that it is only 6 issues. EXCELLENT.


A USERS GUIDE TO NEGLECTFUL PARENTING GN: I think Guy Delisle is a splendid cartoonist -- he's got a strong line, and his timing is perfect and impeccable. The stories in this book are hysterical and universal and absolutely heart-felt and True. And yet, for all of that, I'm ultimately going to pan this book. Why?


This is presented as a paperback sized package with two panels per page. 192 pages, with a $12.95 cover price (which is much much better than the original solicited $16.95 cover price -- it has a sticker over the original price, yikes, so I don't know whether it was an exchange rate thing, or that someone got it in their hand, and realized they couldn't possibly charge that much). And I, no shit, TORE through this on a single bus ride home. Under 13 minutes from cover to cover, even stopping and going back a few times to admire his pacing on the jokes. Ow.  That makes the $5 SUPERMAN UNCHAINED look like a friggin' bargain.  It is simply 2-3 times what this should cost for the actual density of the content.

Again: that content is GREAT, and would rate a VERY GOOD, at least, on its own (I only wish that the [few] "Shit" and "Fuck"s had been dropped, otherwise this would be a GREAT all-ages title.. my 9 year old woulda loved reading these, and laughing at old dad commonalities), but the package is so criminally egregious that I have to drag it all the way down to EH. *sad panda*


Right, that's me for today at least.... what did YOU think?





Je vais prendre ta douleur: Graeme likes the French Canadians, really.

If ever there was a back-cover blurb to strike fear into the heart of the average reader, it's probably going to be one that starts "Guy Delisle is a wry 37-year-old French Canadian cartoonist..." Not, I should immediately add, that I have anything against Mr. Delisle himself, as you're just about to read. But there's just something so matter-of-fact and dry about that opening that your average - if you will - "punter" will read it and more than likely think "Wow, that sounds like something I'd avoid on NPR" and go on to the latest issue of Tarot or something to make fun of it. And that's a shame, because PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA is Excellent. (A small aside, though, about that NPR line above. I was listening to This American Life the other week, and Ira Glass talked about hearing Summer Roberts from The OC describe his show as "that show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are," and if I didn't already love This American Life, Glass's reaction would've sealed the deal for me: "I had this experience [after hearing that] where I was like, it was like having fictional characters from the Fox network saying... They said my name... And, like, did that just happen? It was totally just like, Is this on everybody's TiVo?" Arune, if you haven't heard this episode, you have to track it down - Glass then talks about his OC fandom (And I feel completely vindicated for loving the show, now; Ira Glass likes it, you snarky bastards) and admits that not only did he and his wife sing the theme song every week, but he also cried during the last episode. It's almost enough to make me sign up for Showtime to see the new TV version of TAL, I'm telling you.)

(Anyway, back to Pyongyang.)

It's not that there's anything wrong about that clinical back-cover blurb, as such - certainly, it's factually correct - it's just that there's so much more to the book than the just-the-facts presentation that the blurb provides. Yes, Delisle does "depict [the] sojourns into the heart of isolation" of working in North Korea as an animation producer while living in "'cold and soulless' hotel rooms where he suffers the usual maladies of the long-term boarder," but it's the way in which he does that that makes the book so special, so worth reading. Delisle's is both present and absent from the book, giving the book warmth and humor without overpowering the experience of the alien culture to the point where all you can perceive are his perceptions. He gives his opinion full rein on the people that he meets, and even on his work experience in North Korea, but allows the reader to make up their own minds when it comes to the oppressive regime of "the world's only Communist dynasty," as he calls it in a throwaway gag midway through the book. It's a skillful mix of reportage and memoir, each balanced perfectly against each other in a way that humanizes the reportage and legitimizes the memoir, if that makes sense - There are two pages towards the end of the book where another cartoonist takes over to tell one of their own experiences, because it adds to Delisle's own experience and also to his own fears and expectations of North Korea itself (perhaps going so far as to fulfill his fears). Going from those pages back to his own, the next line of dialogue is the perfect "It's always interesting to get another perspective on things!" which may be Delisle's guiding principle in the creation of this book.

The art also follows the same principle: Abstracted and cartoony enough so as to allow interpretation, but not so much as to genericize everything. For want of a better way of putting it, Delisle makes himself very French - a particularly European-looking cartoon for reasons I couldn't really explain coherently (It's something about the angles, and the nose in particular) - which helps him stand out against the more detailed Koreans he encounters. The greyscale wash adds weight (both visual and dramatic) to the simple linework, and the whole thing works in unison with the writing, invisible in the best way in service of the overall story.

It's a wonderful book, and highly recommended - I picked up my copy second-hand at Green Apple this weekend on one of my traditional "I have trade-in credit, so feel as if I can take a bit more of a chance on what I'm buying" visits, but as soon as I'd finished it, I immediately wanted to read Delisle's second travelogue, Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China even at full-price. And when you're as cheap as me, that means a lot.