Archive for February, 2008

But Think of the Children!


Monday, February 11, 2008

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Two of my favorite online writers about comics, Matthias Wivel and Joe “Jog” McCulloch, have recently weighed in on Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, and they were both able to articulate some of the issues I had with the book in a much more detailed, supported, and impressive way than I was capable of when I spoke to Tom Spurgeon about the book last December. (The Arrival section is about two-thirds of the way down that link, by the way. Look for the big ship.)

They’re both really smart, incisive reviews, but I guess overall I’m a bit more with the critical but relatively gentle Jog than the more scathing Wivel, if only because I do think Tan showed a pretty remarkable affinity for comics storytelling, completely apart from whether or not the book suffers from thematic and aesthetic shortcomings. (It does.) These two reviews made me think a bit harder about my own earlier judgment, though.

In the aforementioned interview, I eventually said that despite my problems with the book, “there’s a very plausible argument to be made that [the artistic style and simplicity of story] were appropriate choices considering the audience Tan was writing for…”

That audience, of course, being children, a fact that is conspicuously left unmentioned by either Wivel or Jog. Which doesn’t mean they’re wrong! If anything, I’m starting to wonder if my letting that fluke of marketing influence my criticism was a mistake. Is it condescending to give a children’s book a bye if it doesn’t fully address a complicated social (and political) situation? Shouldn’t we at least expect the attempt? I mean, of course, there are limitations to the form, but it’s not like The Arrival couldn’t have included a few more layers of subtlety without turning into a full-blown tract about xenophobia. A few changed panels here and there could have made all the difference.

Obviously there are shades of gray here, so I don’t know. This bears more thinking. For now, I’d just like to substitute the “very” in my quote with “somewhat”. I’m the Decider!

UPDATE: Wivel points to a relevant Shaun Tan interview in the comments.

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Aw geez…


Monday, February 11, 2008

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This is really sad news. RIP Steve Gerber.

UPDATE: More here and here.

UPDATE II: And lots, lots more here.


And the Winner Is…


Friday, February 8, 2008

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Sorry for the recent radio silence. As you no doubt have already noticed, the great Cage Match topic vote ended a while back, and it was a neck-and-neck race all the way to the end. In a surprise photo finish, Paul Pope’s Heavy Liquid ended up beating Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis by two votes.

For posterity, here’s the final tally:

All Star Batman and Robin: 9 votes (6%)
Army@Love: 7 (4%)
BĂȘte Noire: 8 (5%)
Gilbert Hernandez’s more mainstream work (Grip, Girl Crazy): 5 (3%)
Heavy Liquid: 41 (28%)
Late-period Kirby (Captain Victory, Silver Star): 9 (6%)
Marvel Zombies 2: 6 (4%)
Middle-late period Kirby (Kamandi, The Eternals): 17 (11%)
Persepolis: 39 (26%)
Ultra Gash Inferno: 5 (3%)

146 votes were cast in all.

Next time around, we probably won’t include quite so many books on the ballot, as it appears that so many choices may have split the votes to an unhealthy degree. But a lot of the also-rans will probably return in future polls.

As soon as we all read (or re-read) the book, we’ll get the Cage Match started. (I’ve been turning my apartment inside out for the past week looking for my copy, and have so far been unable to find it. This will surprise anyone who’s ever seen the meticulous state in which the Hodler/Weinstein household keeps its comics organized.)

So thanks for your patience and stay tuned. And thanks to all of you who voted.

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notebook reviews #1


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

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I wrote these notes while traveling this weekend. They’re sort of reviews, but really just riffing on color and composition. I’m obsessed with HOW color comics used to be made and want to write about it here for fun.
“The Inheritors”, by Bruce Jones and Scott Hampton
Alien Worlds no. 3
Pacific Comics, 1983
full color

Looks like Kaluta, Wrightson. Reads like an old Unknown Worlds ACG comic but is beautifully painted. Each panel like a small Frazetta fantasy world. And that’s sort of the problem. I like the story, but it’s so serious and heavy and important. No Twilight Zone economy, no pacing, just a slow, laborious plodding. “We were aliens; creatures from another world come to the salvation, not of humankind, but of the planet itself.” A story of immigration, essentially, hacked out by Jones. Tolerable stuff, not great. The art saves it but really it’s just a fairly authentic blend of Frazetta, Wrightson, Kaluta, Vess. Nothing special really but beautiful.

I love the way these old Pacific Comics look. The colors on all the stories are great. All the Pacific Comics back then were done with that crazy process that was called “Greyline”. Steve Oliff actually colored a story in the back, but the Hampton story in the front is colored by Hampton I believe. Anyways, it looks fantastic like some comic straight out of “The Studio.” Plus, I bought it for a quarter. Whatever.

Oh, yes, back to the story. Well, I never finished reading it. I do love this passage (above, bottom panel) however, where a landscape panel has no black-line “overlay.” The landscape is not delineated by black marks, lines that are colored, filled in with paint. The landscape is just pastel colors that recede and allow the inserted black ink’d shadowed image — and the panel itself — to “float” above the color plane. That’s why I bought this one.
Special Forces no.2, by Kyle Baker
DC, 2007
full color

I don’t really want to review this comic, I just want to write about the color and how fresh it looks. Plus, I’m such a Baker fan it’s hard for me to review anything of his fairly. I mean, I could give a shit about a war comic but Baker’s approach, his humor and his vantage point (read: not white) on the subject makes it, um, enjoyable. Remember this is the comic whose opening volley was a (black) guy getting his head blown off.

Baker has been creating his comics on computer for over ten years now. They “worked” for me back in the ’90s; I always thought he struck a balance between the generic Photoshop look of all computer “constructed” comics (meaning: no inked panel borders, floating computer fonts and text all arranged in Photoshop). It’s an interesting mix of approaches that Baker has developed. He seems to be using all the same filters and settings that everyone else is in Photoshop, but since he can draw better than just about anyone (uses no photo references for the figures as far as I can tell, has mastered a sort of Aragones-inspired comical realism, plus he has a real eye for movement, no staged “realistic” photo ref’d scenes that jar the narrative flow to a halt, no spending days playing photo-shoot director, dressing up as the characters for “believability.” Nah … none of these games for Baker, who’s got the time? He’s got kids, man. Plus he can draw. Did I mention that?), and since his use of color is so inventive and comic-booky and fresh — it all simply overrides the sensors in my brain that normally dismiss such “computerized” comics. In fact I actually like the economy of the easy-to-read simplistic layouts. I think they allow his drawings & sequences to breathe. There’s a real organic feel to his customized approach that carries the narrative along quite beautifully.

I really just want to write about the color tho’, so here goes: in many sequences, Baker will switch from the “realistic” color of the Iraqi landscape and replace it with “knockout” color in the action sequences. Meaning Baker will reduce entire backgrounds to a single color like blue while figures in said background are, say, red. This was very common in the four-color era of comics, but it’s rather uncommon these days to switch from “realism” to “symbolism” on the same page.

Baker’s “realistic” color is, I think, a perfect example of using the contemporary approach to color (Hyper-realism: everything molded and highlighted, shiny and video game-like), but using it with restraint so that the drawings are not overpowered by the colors. His “realism” is also served by alternating back to knockouts and the use of pure flat color. This approach develops a rhythm that allows Baker to use the symbolic and “the real” within the same sequence to great effect.
Archie no.170, by Harry Lucey

This is an all Harry Lucey issue. You don’t know who Harry Lucey is? He was the best Archie artist. That’s all you need to know. The whole issue is an amazing display of composition, pure drawing, and gag humor cartooning. It’s a fucking clinic, actually. I’ve been doing these warm-up exercises everyday where I just draw from Lucey. I just look and learn.

Anyway, check out the color in this splash page. Stare at it and break it down. Remember this is four-color process, so its simplicity may fool you. For me, it’s the super simple use of the black and green of the girl’s dress in the foreground, which is a darker green and blue, playing off the wall behind her which is a lighter, 50% green and blue behind her. Big deal, you say? Well, look how the shapes unite and allow the central figures to remain on the left of the composition. The lines of the the wall AND the united color shapes create a plane and piece the wall and the foreground girl together in a really pleasing way. It’s a minor thing, really, but these masterful touches throughout each of the 4 stories in this comic all add up to one remarkable reading experience. (For 3 bux.)

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Well If Nobody Else Will


Monday, February 4, 2008

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Then I guess I have to. I keep waiting for some happy blogger to find this, but no one ever does. It’s our dedicated site, courtesy of Ben Jones, for the upcoming back breaker/door stop/weapon of love Gary Panter.
Bookmark it now.

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