Sunday, July 20, 2014

Even the Giants


Even the Giants is a wonderful experiment in geometry, emotion, and silent storytelling. From the snowflakes on the first pages to the first images of igloo building the artist is playing with form and tempo in telling a tale. These frosty pages convey a sense of peril but they communicate a coolness and a sense of unity.
There are multiple narratives happening here, with wordless passages about an Inuit and his dog,
a couple of monstrous giants cavorting and traversing the wastelands,

and a stowaway hiding in the cargo hold of a ship,
all interspersed with individual, surreal comic strips titled "One Million Mouths."
Somehow, elements of all these stories mingle, and even though it is not seemless, a sensational whole emerges from the combination. Feelings of community, isolation, survivalism, love, and loss emanate from the bizarre and stylized blue-toned drawings, and the pages coalesce in a way that highlights much craft and a deft storytelling touch. This book begs to be read and re-read, and it is rewardingly nuanced and detailed.

This was the impressive graphic novel debut of Jesse Jacobs, a Canadian artist with works in many areas including on the Adventure Time cartoon, skateboards, and gallery art. He has since published other graphic novels, By This Shall You Know Him and Safari Honeymoon. He was also honored with the 2008 Gene Day Award for Self-Publishing. He speaks more about his career and work on this book in this interview.

All the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise for its art and atmospheric qualities. The Comics Journal's Hayley Campbell praised it as "simple, sweet and a fine debut from an artist who makes beautiful and strange art that is instantly recognizable as his own." George at Crossover Comics called it "a beautifully stylized book" that seems "like a wonderful discovery the moment you pick it up." Grant Buist summed it up as "a sweet, surreal tale."

A preview and more about Even the Giants is available here from AdHouse Books.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Own Little Empire


My Own Little Empire is a comical, nostalgic look back at 1990, that I found very relatable, if a little cliched. The narrative follows a bunch of high school friends in Maryland as they rule their small town "empire," which means having crappy retail jobs, going to concerts, drinking, experimenting with drugs, and hanging out in an abandoned hospital that is said to be haunted.
The cast of characters
The bunch of characters in this book kind of ran together for me except for three: the main character Joe, who has a job and pines for Jacqueline, the only female who seems nice enough but dates Roop, who is a big dope who comes across as sort of a bully. This triangle gets explored some in the course of the book, but like the art the story is also pretty minimal. There are some funny bits as well, particularly those about Marty, the guy who walks around the mall in circles. However, except for the swearing and use of substances, I felt that most of this book was pretty sitcom-ish.
And because the story is about kids in 1990, there is a bunch of aimless driving around, drinking, and talking smack. The "verbal sparring" (mostly insulting) that happens between the characters was pretty realistic to me. I felt about this book that it was as if someone followed me and documented my high school years, only depicted them in snapshot fashion with little detail or development. I liked this book fine, but mostly in a hey-I-remember-that sort of way.
Zima! Do they even make that swill any more? Apparently not.

The art style here reminded me of the cartoon Ed, Edd, and Eddy, but even more minimal. Sometimes, I had difficulty figuring out who was who or what was happening, but for the most part I found the artwork pleasant and engaging. Writer/artist Scott Mills has done all kinds of comics over the years, including Zebediah the Hillbilly Zombie Redneck Bites the Dust, Big Clay Pot, and the Ignatz Award winning Trenches. He also makes all kinds of mini-comics, most notably the Xeric Award winning Cells. Mills speaks more about his comics works in this interview.

Reviews I have read about this book have been mixed. Tom Spurgeon wrote that it depicted "a recognizable and realistic youth experience" but also that it was "like eating pizza with a bunch of people you don't know and having them trade high school stories replete with personal shorthand and slang. You feel slightly sorry for the sheer tedium of their experiences, but mostly you just wish they'd change the subject." Whitey was more positive, but also admitted to being a big fan of Mills' work, writing, "His ear for dialogue is just about flawless and his art has gotten even more minimal (I mean that in the best possible way)." Matt Martin opined, "Mills’ artwork ranges from barely discernible to absolutely gorgeous, with the median quality falling somewhere on the more positive side of the scale, but his flair for realistic dialogue amongst high school seniors never fails to impress."
His ear for dialogue is just about flawless and his art has gotten even more minimal (I mean that in the best possible way). - See more at: http://www.opticalsloth.com/?tag=my-own-little-empire#sthash.mmGwr2Bz.dpuf
His ear for dialogue is just about flawless and his art has gotten even more minimal (I mean that in the best possible way). - See more at: http://www.opticalsloth.com/?tag=my-own-little-empire#sthash.mmGwr2Bz.dpuf

My Own Little Empire was published by Adhouse Books, naturally, and they provide a preview here.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Remake Special & 3xtra

Yesterday, I reviewed Remake, and now I am looking at its two sequels:

In this first follow-up volume, Max Guy and a couple friends descend into the sewer to get vengeance on the doo doo monster that keeps tormenting Max at night. He, Magma Boy, and Sick Rick find many interesting characters underground, including an alligator DJ and a family of poop monsters. Like its predecessor, this book is full of silliness and surreal happenings. Even though it has a creepy edge, the outcomes are still surprising and delightful.
Lamar Abrams has made another fun comic book, tinged with sarcasm and just enough acidic wit to make things interesting. I agree with the review by comicsgirl, who stated, "While I wouldn’t necessarily hand this to a child (although maybe leave it out where they could find it, but that’s different), the kid-like qualities of it make it joyful." I should also add that I thought it was also good to see a full-length story here. Afterward, I wanted to read even more Max Guy adventures, and lucky there is one more entry in the series...

3xtra is a collection of three separate stories. In the first, Max's roommate Cardigan and friends go out dancing at a club where the alligator DJ is performing. Unexpectedly, their night of frivolity turns into a journey through time and space.
In the second, Max watches TV with his cat and battles the villainous Black Ice, who has frozen the city.
In the third, we meet Max's mother after Max starts experiencing some technical difficulties and requires maintenance.
All three stories are full of snarky comments and absurd situations. Although the third tale is the shortest and perhaps slightest, it has a punchy ending that rounds the book out well. I have to say that Abrams certainly is consistent on delivering fun comics. I was not able to find many reviews of this book, but Jonathan B rightfully recommends it for those who enjoy "fun video game references and people communicating by playful insults."

That's all the Max Guy adventures for now. Hopefully we will see some more in the future...

Both books are available from Adhouse Books.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Remake


Remake stars Max Guy, a robot boy who is a cross between Mega Man and Astro Boy. He loves bread pudding and Marshmallow Kitties cereal. He has a robot roommate named Cardigan. One of his friends is a boy made of magma and another is Sick Rick, who is covered with mucus. Max is trying to fit into the rest of the world and live his life, but many things complicate matters. Like the villainous King of Stretching. And a giant cat monster made of vomit. And Cy-Baby, a destructive robot baby that tricks women into taking care of him and being his mommy. Luckily, Max has a Max Blaster which can do all kinds of things, like shoot bananas or turn a dog into a fashionable pair of shoes.
Exhibit A
This book is weirdly funny but not overly cloying, mostly because Max is a tumultuous kind of kid. Sometimes he is kind and friendly and others he is surly and jerkish. The dash of acid is welcome in this narrative concoction, especially because the art is so sweet and playful. The episodes contained in this volume often end abruptly, which opens up possibilities for future storytelling and emphasizes just how kooky and fun these situations are. Overall, I enjoy the lack of satisfying resolutions, because it makes Max Guy's adventures as compelling as they are difficult to predict.
Exhibit B
Lamar Abrams is the writer/artist behind this bunch of surreal silliness, which originally was published as mini-comics. He has a couple of sequels to this book, including a Special and a compilation called 3xtra. He speaks about his work on Remake in this interview.

All of the reviews I read about this book have been positive. Dustin Harbin called it the "bomb-diggety" and went on to write, "I have found myself looking at this book again and again–there’s something really effortless and engaging about Lamar’s comics, as if he’s channeling the kind of silly comics you’d make when you were 8, but employing man-sized talents to those comics." Heather stated, "I appreciate the light hearted  nature of Abrams' art and storytelling. Max Guy is a robot I would want to hang out with to see what trouble he's going to get himself into next." Comicsgirl offered her opinion that "much of the humor here is slapsticky and ridiculous, but it’s all pretty delightful."

Remake was published by AdHouse Books, who provide a preview and more here. There is a smattering of swearing (nothing worse than found in a typical YA book), which means that I suggest an adult preview the book before giving it to younger readers.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Youth is Wasted


I met and spoke with Adhouse Books Publisher Chris Pitzer at this year's HeroesCon, and he gave this book on the house, so thank you very much!

Before getting this volume, I had heard much about Noah Van Sciver's mini-comics, but the only one I had read - and I just read it a couple of weeks ago - was The Lizard Laughed, which came out earlier this year from Oily Comics. That comic, about a young man who travels across the country to meet the biological father he had never known, was full of energy, emotion, and such drama. I highly recommend it. A couple of years ago, I tried getting his 1999 comic from Retrofit, but it was sold out. Luckily for me, it is included in the selection of stories reprinted in this volume.

The main character of 1999 is stuck in a rut, working at a sub shop, without a social life or any prospects. After he gets involved with a married co-worker, he thinks he finds a kindred spirit, but things fall apart pretty quickly. This is how the story starts, just so you get a flavor of the impending drama:
One of the recurrent themes in several of the stories in this collection is a kind of arrested development, with people trying to figure out their places in the world. These stories are full of gritty details, and Van Sciver's earthy art really helps sell the entire enterprise. I love how his use of blacks in particular help to set the tone for many scenes. And his characters are simultaneously likeable, somewhat empathetic, and also quite revolting at times. His ability to hit all those notes is very impressive. Even his portrait of a 20-something, in Abby's Road, who is dating a high school girl is not entirely without merit (though he comes close). He is sort of like a modern-day Holden Caufield, puffing his chest and raging to hide his own inadequacies and vulnerabilities.
Many of his stories focus on the idiosyncrasies of growing up and the weird in-between place many people find themselves in, but there are other kinds of tales in here, too. A few forays into humor are well appreciated, like a split look at a roommate situation, or a dream involving a masturbating cyclops, or the goings-on of a pompous Victorian-era cartoonist. Most are very visceral, almost primal, and just demand your attention, such as versions of  Grimm's fairy tales, some legends, and this horrific one-pager:
I very much enjoy Van Sciver's artwork and storytelling. It is raw, unflinching, and also very human. He certainly is expert at evoking emotion and visceral responses, I can tell you that. He gets compared to R. Crumb on the book cover, and I can see similarities in the blunt, almost confessional aspects of his narratives and his power-packed artwork. In addition, he has consistently delivered great comics. His first graphic novel, The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln was very well received and appeared on many "best of" lists.

Others' reviews I have read about this book are very positive. Rob Clough wrote that it is "a substantial collection, one that provides both an introduction to and an insight regarding the evolution of Van Sciver as an artist." Bart Croonenborghs called it his "must-buy of the week." You can read a lot more about the artist in this lengthy interview with Tom Spurgeon.

A preview and more about Youth is Wasted is available here from Adhouse Books. Also, as you should be able to tell by now (definitely by the time you read "masturbating cyclops"), although I loved this book I do not recommend it for children as there is frequent strong language and sexual content.

Coincidentally, yesterday was Noah Van Sciver's 30th birthday and to commemorate the event, 2D Cloud is selling a new mini-comic. Check it out here.

Thank you again, Chris, for the review copy. I enjoyed it very much!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

B+F


B+F is a delightful reading experience. It is an oversized, wordless story about a woman and a dog making their way through a primordial world. Along the way, they encounter exotic landscapes and creatures. There are an adorable and puckish skeleton puppy, horrific mole-creatures, and exotic and teeming mini-animals that defy description. And the artwork, as you can see below, is beautiful, colorful, and evocative.

I know many educators might shy away from this book because of the nudity of the female character, but there is nothing prurient about her in the visuals or her actions. She just does not wear any clothes, just like the dog does not either. I found myself completely taken up in their adventures, and there is much here to thrill, delight, frighten, and bewilder readers of all ages. I should also say I was shocked at how everything resolved. I cannot rightly say that I enjoyed the ending, but I also loved it. I felt it was an incredible, moving, and thought-provoking book as well as an admirable narrative achievement.
Those mole critters are up to no good.
Author/artist Gregory Benton has been making comics since the early 1990s for a diverse bunch of publishers including Nickelodeon, Vertigo, Entertainment Weekly, Disney, Tower Records, DC Comics, and World War 3 Illustrated. Benton speaks more about his career and work on this book in this interview.

This book won the 2013 MoCCA Award of Excellence, and it has received great reviews. Publishers Weekly wrote that the story might be a "bit insubstantial, both in terms of length and in character and thematic development, "but that "the artwork is absolutely beautiful, with breathtaking treatment of light." Larry Vossler commented that "B+F caught me completely off-guard with it's alien charm but it also made me heavily uneasy; and I really like that." Patrick Hess called it "an achievement in using art in the purest sense of the word to take the reader on a journey of wonder and reflection."

B+F was published by AdHouse Books, who provide a preview here.

I met Gregory Benton at this year's HeroesCon, and I totally gushed about his work to him. He was a great guy to talk to, and he drew this beautiful dédicace for me.
It is too good for me not to share. Thank you, Gregory!
Ruff!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Adhouse Month Begins!


This July, I am showcasing Adhouse Books, the Richmond, Virginia-based publisher of many fine comics, including some of my all time favorites like Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg's Street Angel and Jay Stephens' Welcome to Oddville.

I bought a bunch of books from them in April, and I also met their publisher Chris Pitzer at HeroesCon this past month where we chatted and I bought a few more books from him. He also gave me a copy of Noah Van Sciver's new book, which I will be reviewing soon.

Adhouse publishes a wide array of creator-driven books for all kinds of audiences. Now I am going to spend my "off" month reading and reviewing them. I hope you enjoy!