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.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fantasy Sports No. 2: The Bandit of Barbel Bay

Fantasy Sports No. 1 was one of my favorite graphic novels of 2015, and it had a lot to live up to. This second volume in the series came out recently, and it is a worthy follow-up. It might not have made me laugh quite as much as the first book, but I did laugh in a few places. And I very much liked how it filled me in more about Wiz's background as well as the universe where all this takes place. I feel that the first book was more enjoyable perhaps, but this second volume is more substantial and the better of the two.

The set-up here is that our two mismatched mages, Wiz and Mug, are on another retrieval mission, and they end up stranded on an island of amphibious creatures.

The island's inhabitants have a low opinion of the Order of Mages, which sets our duo on edge. Still, circumstances follow where they lose their loot and have to take part in a tournament in order to win it back. The game here is beach volleyball, and Mug pretty much dominates through brute strength until they are faced with the island's champions, Yahma and Yahmi. Can Mug and Wiz figure out how to actually work together? You have to read the book to find out. But I will say that this volume ends in a much more open-ended manner than the first, and Fantasy Sports No. 3 cannot get here fast enough.

As with the first book, this one was a delight to read. The large-sized pages display the gorgeous artwork in excellent fashion. The story is fast, emotional, and suspenseful. The action sequences are well choreographed, and the details bring out a great sense of reality and humor. Sam Bosma, who is also known for his work as an artist on the cartoon show Steven Universe, has created another masterful graphic novel. He speaks more about his work on this book in these two interviews (1 and 2).

This second book in the series has received some great reviews. Publishers Weekly deemed it a "good-hearted and beautifully drawn sequel." Kirkus Reviews called "this second volume more substantial than the first." Dustin Cabeal remarked on the "strong storytelling with both the writing and the visuals."

Fantasy Sports No. 2 was published by NoBrow Press, and they have a preview and more available here.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


Today, the last stop on my Comixology Unlimited tour (for now).
Why I chose it: I have been reading Jim Woodring's comics for decades now. They are all extremely well rendered, dreamy, surprisingly complex, philosophical, and full of life. Weathercraft, Frank, and all his other works are well checking out. How could I not read this latest book of his?

An excerpt:
The Bottom Line: This book is simply fantastic. It is a wordless adventure that follows Fran and Frank's relationship, which is complicated when they find a gizmo that projects past experiences as a movie. Frank is enamored with it, and Fran hates it. After she wrecks the device, Frank loses his mind in anger, and she sets off on her own. Everything that follows can be read as a search for forgiveness or some larger allegory about love, relationships, and finding one's identity/place in the world. I loved this book, cannot recommend it enough, and really need to find and read its prequel/sequel The Congress of Animals.

Don't just take my word for it: Joe McCulloch wrote a great meditation about how this book comments on love, identity, and cycles. Derek Royal called it "a very enjoyable and approachable book." Henry Chamberlain wrote that this book only adds to the fact that "Jim Woodring is one of our greatest cartoonists."

Fran was published by Fantagraphics, and they have a preview and much more available here.

Thank you for checking in on me this week as I wrote about my borrowing habits of late. I will review more of these books in the future.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Faith: Hollywood and Vine

Day 5 of me rummaging through Comixology Unlimited!
Why I chose it: I jumped on the Valiant bandwagon a little while ago, and I thought I would see what this series was about. I have seen a bunch of folks extolling its virtues as a fresh, new take on superheroes, and I wanted to see what the hubbub was about.

An excerpt:

The Bottom Line: Faith has a lot of the trappings of a superhero, only slightly more contemporary. She maintains a secret identity, and instead of working at a newspaper, she creates content for an online publication that resembles Buzzfeed. There she has to deal with the matter of having to cover her ex-boyfriend/ex-teammate's new reality show, and she is supposed to savage it in print in order to make good with her boss, which places her in an awkward position. Also, in terms of superheroics, there is a shadowy organization that is hunting psiots (people with amazing mental abilities like Faiths, whose actual superhero name is Zephyr). Faith has a spunky and relatable personality, cracking wise, making lots of pop culture references, and having a slightly complicated love-life. I liked her as a character, and she seems very modern. Also, she does not physically resemble the typical superheroine, and that gets cited as a characteristic that endears her to some fans. In the end though, like yesterday, this was a comic I just liked but did not love. I am just not the target demographic, and I probably won't be following the new ongoing series. Still, I really liked the artwork, and I am glad that there are ever expanding choices for those who want more variety in their superheroes.

Don't just take my word for it: Jason P. called it "a new book that captures all of the exciting elements of reading a superhero story but with a fresh perspective and a health dose of satire and positivity." Steve Bennett called it "deftly written and beautifully drawn." Starshine5050 remarked that "she might be my new favorite comic character."

Faith: Hollywood and Vine was published by Valiant Comics, and they have previews and more available here.

Tune in tomorrow for the grand conclusion of my week-long review of borrowed e-graphic novels! Come see if I am still a Debbie Downer...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues

Day 4 of my sojourn through the offerings on Comixology Unlimited!
Why I chose it: Like with Hellboy, Red Sonja was a series I used to read when I was way younger. It was sword and sorcery stories starring a woman who wore a chain-mail bikini, and the Frank Thorne artwork was something to behold. Seeing this revived version offered here, written by Gail Simone, whose Secret Six comics are one of the few bright spots for DC over the past decade, I was intrigued to check it out.

An excerpt:

The Bottom Line: This book was well written, and the artwork was bold and action-packed. There was much less cheesecake than in the past and more of an emphasis on the characters. Also, the backstory was updated (in a positive way) to put more of a focus on Sonja's resilience and strength rather than her sexuality. I was also taken with the plot, which involved revenge, a coup, lots of blood, and revelations about Sonja's past. Still, much of what transpired just seemed like stories I had read before, like this was a pretty typical sword and sorcery tale. I think these are some very solid comics, but I am not very inspired to peruse the series any further. In the end, I am glad I checked up into what the new Red Sonja was about, but there was nothing that I found exceptional. These are some good, not great comics.

Don't just take my word for it: Patrick Hester was more taken with the updated Red Sonja and he exhorted that people "should go read her story." Courtney Simpson wrote, "There are also times when some of the characters do not wear a lot of clothes, but I honestly thought that the story itself made up for that." Paul Fiander opined that "in Gail Simone Red Sonja has found a wonder storyteller who can give her the stories a character of her stature deserves."

Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues was published by Dynamite Entertainment, and they have a preview and much more here. This series is also available as a motion comic.

3 out of 4 is not so bad, but will Comixology Unlimited raise their batting average tomorrow? Come back and see!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Here were go on Day 3 of my report on borrowing books from Comixology Unlimited. Today I talk about three books I recently read, all of them starring Hellboy.

Why I chose it: Hellboy is pretty well known, one of the few non-superhero comic book properties to be made into not just one, but two feature films. I wrote an encyclopedia entry on him, but I have not really kept up on his adventures in at least a decade. So I thought I would revisit these stories and see how they held up.

From Book 1

Book 2
Book 3
The Bottom Line: These comics hold up very well, and I daresay they are modern classics. They are exceptional tales of monsters, magic, and adventure that incorporate many novelistic, historical, fairy tale, and classic movie elements in creating a fully realized and detailed world. The set-up that there is a secret government agency staffed by paranormal creatures to deal with large-scale threats is a simple and fascinating one. The artwork is beautiful, moody, dark, and gleeful in its depictions of strange creatures and magic. The first two volumes form more of a connected storyline involving Nazis, the Russian mystic Rasputin, and a prolonged plot to destroy the world. The third one is more a collection of stories, and that one is probably my favorite of the three, only because they are dense, wonderful, and full of horrific fancy. The first two books are very compelling and suspenseful, but the third one really fleshes out the characters and situates them firmly in their universe. All of these books are well worth reading, and I may just have to keep going and catch up on some excellent comics I have missed featuring these characters.

Don't just take my word for it: Keith Dooley called Seed of Destruction "an introduction of a distinct character and unique world that is overflowing with endless possibility." Conor Kilpatrick wrote about the first two books, "These are big, fun, crazy adventures that are laugh out loud funny, goose bump-inducing scary, and most importantly – they are smart." Nick Brownlow remarked that "THE CHAINED COFFIN AND OTHERS is the perfect introduction to HELLBOY, so if you're not already reading the adventures of Mignola's hell-spawned hero, now would be an excellent time to start."

All of these books were published by Dark Horse Comics, who still publish his adventures. They have previews available for these three volumes if you click the links: Seed of Destruction, Wake the Devil, The Chained Coffin and Others.

So far, I am thrilled with using Comixology Unlimited. Will this streak continue? Tune in tomorrow and see!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


I am continuing my exploration of Comixology Unlimited. Today's selection is a book that I was eager to check out but hesitant to buy.
Why I chose it: I have read a few of Jeremy Baum's prior comics, and I was fascinated with his art and dreamlike storylines.

An excerpt:

The Bottom Line: This might not be a graphic novel for everyone. It has a meandering plot that shifts from sci-fi to fantasy locales with very similar looking characters. I have read this book a few times now, trying to make sense of things, and it is definitely more a tonal work than a linear one. Those looking for conclusions or a straight plot will come away disappointed. Still, I think the intricate artwork is a marvel to observe, and I like visiting the worlds created here, even if there are not very definitive. This was a great comics experiment, and in parts the story feels like a video game sequence, which invokes some sense of nostalgia as well as wonder. In all, I feel the book is well worth checking out. It seems to me perfect for borrowing.

Don't just take my word for it: Jason Sacks called it "fascinating and haunting." J. Caleb Mozzocco summed up, "Readers will likely end up as lost as the protagonist, but Baum’s illustrated meditation on genre tropes, video games and eroticism at least makes for good company." Tom Murphy concluded, "The deeply hypnagogic feel of Dörfler means that it certainly won’t be a book for everyone. However, the boldness of Baum’s approach and the rich texture of his craft make it worth a punt if you don’t mind finishing a piece of work with more questions than answers."

Dörfler was published by Fantagraphics, and they have a preview and more available here.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life

So, Like I wrote earlier, I signed up for Comixology Unlimited. I have been diving into a few books lately, seeing what is offered and if the service is worth my while. Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life was a title offered by one of my favorite publishers, and although I had not heard of the book (despite it being a multiple award winner-Where have I been?), it sounded intriguing and I thought I would give it a shot. It turns out that this chance reading ended up ending up being pretty lengthy, almost 500 pages of comics(!).

As it turns out, I was entirely enthralled by this book and I took it down in a few sittings. It was utterly compelling, raw, suspenseful, and revelatory. The narrative focused on a young Austrian woman who was into punk rock and decided to go on a trek with some friends in the summer of 1984. These women take off in search of a good time, and in turn they have many adventures, party, face the menace of sexual violence, and try to scrounge up money or food. They take part in many illegal activities and run afoul of displaced artists, pimps, wanna-be pimps, and organized crime.
The story is sort of nostalgic, but not sickeningly sweet or overly romanticized. I thought that the characters were very well defined, and the drama of all these situations was quite powerful and moving. I am very glad I took the time to explore this service and find this gem of a book.

This book's creator and main character is Ulli Lust, winner of an Ignatz and an Eisner Award nominee. I love her rough-edged artwork and masterful storytelling as well as the limited color palate that lend the proceedings a grungy authenticity. She speaks extensively about her life and career in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been very positive. Robert Kirby opined that this book is so successful because Lust had so much time to reflect on these events, and he wrote, "She captures perfectly and without judgment the complex social, cultural, and personal maelstrom she willingly entered into that summer, offering readers a wonderfully vicarious thrill in the process." Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and wrote, "Her recollections willfully expose the dark side of an anarchic lifestyle, yet are void of any didactic embellishment, and instead form a genuine and nonjudgmental look at aimless youth and rebellion." Eddie Campbell likened it to "a person who came to stay and I didn’t realize how much I was enjoying their company until after they’d left."

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life was published in the US by Fantagraphics Books, and they have a preview and more available here. If it is not clear by now, this is not a book for children.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Plutona has a pretty simple set-up: It is about five young people who happen upon the dead body of their city's greatest superheroine in the woods. So, in a way it is like a bizarro version of Stand By Me, but like that movie what really makes this narrative hum is the synergy between its protagonists. The superhero elements are the backdrop, and the human drama takes center stage. The players here are a motley bunch, starting with goody-goody superhero fanboy Teddy,
trying to be cool Diane,
proto-juvenile delinquent Ray,
tough-girl Mie, and her little brother Mike (who constantly annoys her):
Of course there is a bunch of in-fighting between these kids, but what transpires crosses over into surprisingly dark territory. There are lies and betrayals aplenty, and alliances and relationships form, shift, and morph in almost unrecognizable ways. This book is much more about identity and finding one's place in the world than it is about a murder mystery. And I found the characters and constant twists highly satisfying, because the characters were so well-defined and the plot was so compellingly complex.

Part of what makes this book work so well is that it looks very cartoony and bright, which juxtaposes very well with the darkness and seriousness of the plot. Writer Jeff Lemire and artists Emi Lenox and Jordie Bellaire have collaborated in excellent fashion, and this tale is simply masterful. Lemire has a laundry list of comics credits for all sorts of genres at all sorts of publishers. Lenox is a relative newcomer, and Bellaire is the reigning Eisner Award winner for Best Colorist. Lemire and Lenox speak about their work on the book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise. Doug Zawisza wrote, "I was ready to dismiss "'Plutona" #1 as "Stand By Me" meets super heroes, but Lemire, Lenox, Bellaire and Wands bring along a balanced cast and fun, lively art." Paul Bowler wrote that it is "one of those new comic book series that arrives like a bolt from the blue, capturing the imagination and completely blowing you away with its thoughtful premise, great writing, and beautiful artwork." Caitlin Rosberg called it "a mystery worth waiting for."

Plutona was originally published as a 5-issue limited series. This collection was published by Image Comics, and they have a preview and more information available here.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Bera The One-Headed Troll

Trolls get a pretty bad rap in our world. On the internet, they are annoying, bait people into arguments, and are all-around jerks. Or in movies, they are monsters who attack people. But if all trolls were like the eponymous protagonist in this book, we would be singing an entirely different tune. Bera the One-Headed Troll features one of my favorite characters ever, and I have to say it is one of the most enjoyable graphic novels I have read in a while. Bera is the official pumpkin farmer for the Troll King, and she is excellent at her job. Because of her job she is pretty isolated, but over the course of this book we learn that she is also caring, resourceful, brave, and steadfast. And seriously, I am crushing on her pretty hard.
The set-up of the story is this: Bera finds a human baby on her island, and she wants to protect it from an evil witch and her nefarious plots. Not really knowing how to care for a human baby nor thinking herself a match for a witch, she seeks the help of legendary heroes and sets out on a quest with her owl friend as a guide. Along the way they encounter a host of baddies, vile mermaids, goons, and goblins. They also find a few unlikely allies in the form of hedgehogs and rats. Also, Bera learns that those who are venerated do not always end up being as heroic as advertised.
I was very much taken by this book. It is charming. Bera is a phenomenal character. And It struck just the right balance between classic (think Grimm Brothers) fairy tale/epic quest/heart-warmer. In short, I loved it, and I would recommend it to pretty much any reader, young or old.

This book's creator Eric Orchard has another graphic novel Maddy Kettle, under his belt. He has also illustrated a number of children's books. His artwork here is wonderfully muted and dingy, which suits the tone of the tale but is also surprisingly evocative. He speaks a bit more about his inspirations and work on this book in this article.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been very positive. Kirkus Reviews summed it up as "An old-fashioned quest with a lovable protagonist." Rosemary Kiladitis wrote, "I love the storytelling, I enjoy Orchard’s art, and once again, great graphic storytelling brings an important message to readers in a powerful yet sweet fashion." Dustin Cabeal called it "memorable" as well as "touching, full of adventure, and just heartwarming."

Bera The One-Headed Troll was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here.