Friday, September 30, 2016

Mooncop

Mooncop is the latest book from Tom Gauld, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite comics creators. He excels at drawing in deceptively complex manner. His apparently simple drawings simultaneously end up carrying great dramatic weight and comedic potential at the same time, which is an amazing ability. Past works like Goliath and You're All Just Jealous of My Backpack also reflection his great craftsmenship, and I highly recommend you check them out.

Mooncop is a dark comedy/slice of life tale set on a lunar colony in some (not-so-distant?) future. It is the kind of comic Stanley Kubrick might have made, only by which I mean it shares a similar matter-of-fact sensibility about science fiction as well as an overall devotion to impeccable detail, craft, and style. The goings-on revolve around our titular police officer, whose job is not so fantastic or demanding as it might seem. There is surprisingly little happening on the moon, and the people who are there are law-abiding, so mostly we just see his daily routine.
Still, there are some pretty cool things on the Moon, like therapist-robots, automated donut dispensers, and neat, modular buildings. And the monotony is broken up by a few episodes, such as looking for a teenage runaway, dealing with a broke-down car, and helping find a lost dog.
This future is pretty bleak though, and more and more of the lunar population leaves to return to Earth because life on the Moon is pretty humdrum and drab, a bright future turned  disappointment. Still, the ordinary actions of the Mooncop are still quite compelling, if mundane. There is a sort of dignity in his endeavors, matched by the somewhat ridiculous ways technology affects his life. In the end, this book reads sort of like 2001 meets American Splendor, and that is actually quite a wonderful combination. The humanity and emotional life of the cop shine through all of the sci-fi trappings.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have sung its praises. Michell Buchman called it "a fun, clever meditation on what it means to be human." Greg Hunter wrote that it "may be best appreciated as a retro sci-fi tone poem, big on feel in its depictions of loneliness and depression but short on insight." Oliver Sava remarked, "Gauld is known for his minimalist aesthetic and deadpan sense of humor, and these two elements work wonderfully together to bring levity to the emotional crisis in these pages."

Mooncop was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they have a preview and more information available here.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mystery Girl

This book collects the first four issues of the series Mystery Girl. So far, I am not sure there will be further issues, but these were certainly very enjoyable and fun to read, so I hope so. The plot revolves around Trine Hampstead, a young woman who lives in London, England and has a very unique ability. She knows everything. Almost everything actually, because she does not know how she got her abilities. But she can solve pretty much any mystery you have, no matter how mundane or extraordinary, and that is how she earns her keep.
 
As you can see from the excerpt, she comes into contact with some colorful characters, including strippers, police officers, sleuths, rich folk, and assassins. Much of the fun of this book is getting to know those characters and seeing how Trine interacts with them. Also, there is a lot of intrigue as she embarks on an adventure to find a lost expedition that was searching for live woolly mammoths.

The story is a typically jaunty, joyful affair by Eisner Award-winning author Paul Tobin. He has worked on a great many comics I have admired, including Bandette, Gingerbread Girl, and a long run on various Marvel Adventures series. Here, his story is accompanied by playful, colorful artwork by Alberto J. Alburquerque and Marissa Louise. Alburquerque has worked on the series Letter 44, and Louise has colored a number of comic series, most notably licensed properties such as Escape from New York and Robocop. Tobin speaks more about Mystery Girl in this interview.

Most of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Jesse Shedeen stated that it first contained "more laid-back character study than high concept drama, though it has its flashy moments." Jennifer Cheng was more critical of it, writing that "Tobin’s script has one twist after another, each of them fanciful and offbeat, but the cost in believability might not be worth the charm and the unpredictability." Chris Sims remarked that "the book moves so fast and so well that it all comes together beautifully."

Mystery Girl was published by Dark Horse, and they have previews and much more available here. There are nudity, sexual situations, and profanity in this book, and I suggest it for readers mature enough to deal with those things.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Angel Catbird Volume 1

The first volume of a trilogy, Angel Catbird is a superhero comic by way of The Island of Doctor Moreau. It is a compelling, if a little strange, narrative in that it is peppered with service announcements for Nature Canada, a charity which here targets the well-being of cats and birds.
 
Otherwise, the story reads like a classic superhero yarn from the Golden Age of comics, with an evil scientist and a couple of work colleagues who seem attracted to each other. The artwork is certainly indicative of a superhero story, with bold colors and strong action and costume design. Where the story veers into a different direction is that there are all kinds of animal characteristics at play, so territorial posturing and other biological considerations loom large.
Also, matters quickly dive into a fantastic realm of cat-people, bird-people, and rat-people. Entire hybrid societies are exposed and explored, and there are many fun features in seeing how they live, party, and function. I have to say that I found the whole thing peculiar in a good way, and I may just have to check out what happens in the next two volumes.

One of the most remarkable things about this book is that it was written by Margaret Atwood, a well-respected and awarded author/poet known for the novels The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin. She includes an interesting essay at the beginning of this book that detail her unlikely decision to get into making comics. The artwork is by Johnnie Christmas and coloring by Tamra Bonvillain. Christmas has worked on a number of comics series, including Firebug (appearing in  Island) and Sheltered. Bonvillain works on many comics series such as Rat Queens, Wayward, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. Atwood speaks more about her ideas about this book in this interview, and Christmas talks about their collaboration here.

All of the reviews I have read have praised this quirky, strange, and fun book. Etelka Lehoczky wrote that Atwood was "so busy exploring the possibilities of her interspecies world, she neglects to have her hero fight crime. But that's no shortcoming; actually, it may be the smartest way to deal with her themes." Oliver Sava remarked on the beautiful art and coloring and added that the "moments of humor are when Angel Catbird most strongly distinguishes itself from other superhero stories." Scott Stewart summed up simply, "I absolutely loved this book, and can’t wait for volume two to arrive in February 2017."

Angel Catbird was published by Dark Horse, and they have a preview and more available here.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trump: A Graphic Biography

Trump is a biography of an egomaniacal, litigious real estate businessman turned reality star and unlikely politician but more importantly an examination of the social, economic, and political contexts that made it possible for him to rise as he has. It chronicles the high points in his life, including a look at his childhood and upbringing:
His many, often public, relationships with women:
As well as his often incendiary political rhetoric and actions:

As you can see from the excerpts, the text is print-heavy, and the artwork is more functional than aesthetically pleasing. Still, I found this a pretty compelling and informative book. Certainly, I expected a particular critical viewpoint from Rall, and for the most part he is damning of this "proto-fascist" candidate (comparing his rise to that of Hitler in a few places). Although he lambasts and lampoons the Donald, he portrays Trump as a threat to freedom and not merely as a clown worthy of derision. Still there were a few instances where I felt that he gave Trump more credit than some others I have read, and the adherence to facts in the face of ideology are appreciated. You may or may not share the opinions here, but there is no denying that the journalism is solid and well-referenced.

This book's creator, Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Ted Rall has been writing and drawing political comics and journalism for decades now. He has written critically about all stripes of politicians and leaders, including George W. Bush (Generallisimo El Busho) and Barak Obama (The Book of Obama), and lately has done a series of biographies on prominent political figures like Edward Snowden and Bernie Sanders. In the past he was an imbedded journalist in Afghanistan and a political cartoonist for a number of high profile publications, including the Los Angeles Times (who seem to have unjustly fired him).

All of the reviews I have read about this book have praised it, though some in rather tepid tones. Publishers Weekly called it "a concise and decently footnoted pocket political biography." Bruce Handy called it "an able if familiar telling." Martha Cornog summed up, "Sympathetically written, readable, and accessible to a wide range of audiences, this careful effort goes heavy on evidence and light on hyperbole to lend insight about this unexpected, would-be world leader."

Trump: A Graphic Biography was published by Seven Stories Press, and they have information about the book here.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Night Air

One of the most surprising things about Night Air is that it is an all ages book. It certainly did not feel like one to me as I read it, because it is fun, smart, and full of excellent things, and I wish more comics were like it. The plot revolves around a "boy and his robot." Its protagonist is Plus Man, a goggle-wearing guy who is pretty single-minded and borderline unlikable. He just wants to get rich and have fun and look cool in the process. He is accompanied by a robot with great capabilities who looks out for him and saves his hide on more than one occasion.

Plus Man starts the book by getting into some trouble cheating at the poker table and by the end he ends up searching for valuable minerals in a haunted house. In between are all kinds of chases, scrapes, and traps that he must avoid. Despite his actions, I found myself still rooting for Plus Man, because he is a scalawag. I  enjoyed his adventures, laughed more than once at the jokes, and marveled at the gorgeously rendered artwork in this book. It contains pretty much everything a great comic should have.

This book's creator Ben Sears has published various works in zines, mini-comics, a few anthologies, and the back-up of an issue of Adventure Time. The characters in this book originally appeared in a webcomic called Double +. He speaks about his work on Night Air in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise. Oliver Sava remarked about how Sears' work is marked by "bold designs, immersive compositions, and atmospheric colors." John Seven called it "a good effort from Koyama for kid-oriented comics, providing thrills and laughs, but not at the expense of clever and intelligent work." RJ Casey concluded that these are some "fun comics with no icky strings attached."

Night Air was published by Koyama Press, and they have a preview and more available here.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hilda and the Troll

Hilda is a little Scandinavian girl with an excellent vocabulary. She enjoys the finer things in life, like camping out during rainstorms, snuggling with pets, and going on trips to draw things in nature. Complications arise in this book when she goes off on such a trip and encounters a rock troll. She has read up on the folklore about those creatures, but she may have skimmed so quickly that she missed an important detail or two. Still, she is clever and manages to find a resolution to the situation with quick thinking and some help from her antlered pet Twig.

This book is larger than your typical graphic novel, more like picture book size, which features the artwork beautifully. And as you can see in the excerpt below, Hilda and the rest of the cast are depicted in an adorable way:
Not only is the artwork excellent, but the scenes and characters are also well defined in quick and easy fashion. This book is so approachable and endearing. It is simultaneously new and familiar, which is a tough trick to pull off. Also, even though there is some action, suspense, and drama, I felt it all was not so extreme. Subtle touches of humor and heart tone things down and also make the book feel more human. Reading this book felt like a visit with a well-traveled, fanciful, and loquacious friend than a series of stressful escapades.

Artist/illustrator Luke Pearson created this book, and Hilda's adventures have been spun out into multiple volumes. He speaks more about his life, work, and Hilda comics in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book sing its praises. Janelle Asselin commented that the world depicted here is complex and that the story is "sweet and charming, but not saccharine." Richard Bruton wrote that the entire production "screams quality and class." Alexandra Lange summed up, "Pearson has found a lovely new way to dramatize childhood demons, while also making you long for your own cruise down the fjords."

Hilda and the Troll was published by NoBrow Press, and they have a preview and more available here. You can find subsequent volumes in the series by searching here. Also, these stories are being adapted into a Netflix series due in 2018.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus

I have been a fan of Chester Brown's comics for a long while now. He is a well established and respected graphic novelist who broke into the comics world in the 1980s with his series Yummy Fur. This eclectic comic book contained serial stories, autobiographical material, and adaptations of the New Testament Gospels. These stories have been published individually as Ed, The Happy Clown, The Playboy, and I Never Liked You. He has also delved into nonfiction, creating a graphic biography of Louis Riel, a controversial figure in Canadian history. Most recently, he published a defense of prostitution called Paying For It. He is a multiple Harvey Award winner.

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is a melding of some of his first comics works and his latest interests. It builds from the theories of a few religious scholars to interpret certain Bible stories and passages in New Testament that point to Jesus actually being the son of a prostitute. But it also follows a thesis that the Biblical God does not so much reward blind following as he does those who actively question and push against the boundaries of faith. So, Brown here adapts Bible stories having to do with prostitution as well as The Book of Job, and provides copious endpapers, which contain essays, footnotes, and justifications, and take up about a third of the book. Not just a straight adaptation, this is a work of scholarship that goes into territory that will be uncomfortable, if not blasphemous, to many.

Still, I feel this is a very strong book, full of food for thought. It is well reasoned and well presented. I also think that Brown's spare artwork is extraordinary. These stories take on iconographic import, almost like black and white stained windows. Their lack of affect also lends a sort of omniscience, the narration a sort of authority-from-on-high, to the proceedings. I know this book will not be for everyone, but it is certainly the work of an adept and accomplished artist/thinker.

All of the reviews I have read of this book identify it as a work well worth exploring. Oliver Sava called it "a fascinating look at how women in the Bible used their bodies for personal gain without incurring the wrath of God." Charles Hatfield wrote that it "may be heretical and strange, but it’s also honest and generous." Etelka Lehoczky remarked that it "brims over with earnest faith and compassion."

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they have a preview and much more about the book available here. Brown speaks about his inspirations and work on it in this interview.