Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo

Charles' family has moved to Echo City, and he is not happy about it. Not only is he removed from his friends, he has to live in a dilapidated, old house while his dad renovates it. When he starts hearing noises come from his closet, he is creeped out. When his belongings start disappearing he is disturbed. When he comes face to face with a giant, bug-eyed creature, he is terrified.
Then, a neighbor kid gives him a strange business card to contact Margo Maloo. Once he does his life is transformed and he becomes aware of a parallel world to our own, populated by ghosts, goblins, trolls, and ogres. And although all of this is exciting, it is also horrifying, because some of those creatures have it in for humans. Also, Charles, who is an avid blogger/kid journalist, cannot divulge any of those secrets, which is somewhat maddening.

The combination of youthful hi-jinks coupled with monsters and supernatural intrigue is a delight. I very much enjoyed the characters, the situations, and, perhaps most importantly, the creatures in this book. There is much to recommend it to upper elementary and middle school readers, or anyone who likes monster stories tinged with humor (like me). If it were in a classroom library, I would expect it to be in constant circulation.

Drew Weing is the artist/writer who created this wonderful book. He won a 2016 National Cartoonists Society award for long-form on-line comic for his work on Margo Maloo and has also published a prior graphic novel Set to Sea.  He speaks more about his work and this book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it "a beautifully conceived and executed trio of stories." In another starred review, Kirkus Reviews concluded that "A tough, ambitious, and courageous heroine is always welcome, and Margo and Charles are an odd couple kids will enjoy rooting for." Jessica Greenlee cited numerous strengths, including "humor in odd places" and how it "stresses the power of negotiation."

The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here. The webcomic is ongoing, so if you want to follow in further adventures check it out here.

Weing also has a Patreon page where a person can sponsor him and get some exclusive sneak peeks and additional content for a nominal monthly fee.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Geis: A Matter of Life & Death

Geis: A Matter of Life & Death is a fascinating and exciting graphic novel debut. Impressively, it is also the first book of  a trilogy. The plot here is set in a medieval time, when the Great Chief Matarka is dying without leaving an heir. In this land, the custom is to have a contest among 50 worthy people to determine who the new chief will be. The twist in the proceedings is that an evil sorceress has tricked those 50 participants into signing a geis, a taboo spell that bounds them to specific quests. Should they fail in those quests, they not only die but their souls will become bound to the sorceress.

I thought that the artwork and the plot of this book were both exceptional. There are multiple twists that kept me guessing and intrigued for what was to come, and the book ends on a cliffhanger. The artwork is expressive and elegantly detailed, even with its muted color palette. But perhaps the best part of the book is its characters, who are brilliantly complicated figures full of contradictions and nuance. I cannot wait to see where this series goes.

This book's creator Alexis Deacon is an accomplished children's book author, two-time winner of the The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books Award. Among his many works are Beegu, Slow Loris, and While You Are Sleeping. He speaks about his work on Geis in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been very positive. Kirkus Reviews wrote, "Scenes switch among the players with cinematic authority, offering both unforgettable images and unanswered questions aplenty." Matthew Garcia remarked that it was full of "spectacular storytelling." John Dubrawa called it "a wholly sensational piece of fiction" and "one beautiful looking nightmare."

Geis: A Matter of Life & Death was published by NoBrow Press. They have a preview and more available here.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Fade Out: Act One

I am a HUGE fan of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Their first collaboration, a combination of superheroes and espionage, Sleeper, was followed by Criminal, a series of  hard-boiled crime tales. Since then, they have created all sorts of crime series, like Fatale, where it was mixed with mystical horrors, and Incognito, where there were superheroes involved with the witness protection program. In The Fade Out, they turn back to a straight noir tale.
The narrative here is set in post-WWII Hollywood. It involves a drunken screenwriter, a dead starlet, a blacklisted screenwriter, a crazed director, and shady studio executives. The drunk screenwriter is privy to information that what was reported as a suicide was actually a murder and that there is a cover-up. Of course, there are multiple interested parties (suspects?) and the entire situation is as clear as mud. One of the strengths of this book is that the plot is extremely intricate and the characters are types of a sort but also intriguing because of their circumstances. I am trying not to spoil things and doing a poor job of describing just how great this book is. I should just say that if you are fan of noir, murder mysteries, or classic Hollywood, you should check this book out.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. Publishers Weekly concluded by calling it "a strong beginning to a serial mystery that offers a fresh spin on the genre." The reviewer at Comic Bastards summed up, "you should come to The Fade Out for the plot and the atmosphere, stay for the characters, and never think about McCarthyism the same way again." Sean M. Thompson wrote that it was full of "great characterization, excellent pacing, a great mystery, and brilliant art and color."

The Fade Out was published by Image Comics, and they have more information and previews available here. There are violence, sex, and nudity in this book, so it is suggested for mature readers.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Demon, Volume 1

Jason Shiga is a comics creator whose works I seek out. They are interesting in a cerebral way, as he often includes puzzles in his stories. I thought Bookhunter, his hard-boiled librarian yarn (who thought that would be a thing?), and the peril/escape story Fleep were both great pieces of action and intrigue. I was very much taken with the choose-your-own adventure tale Meanwhile, in both book and app form, and his sort-or-love-story Empire State was very well done. What is pretty funny to me is that the star of those last two books, Jimmy Yee, a sweet, naive character, also stars in Demon, but in a very different vein.

This graphic novel is the tale of a man trying to kill himself in various ways. He checks into a motel, writes a note and then hangs himself, only to awake in the same motel minutes later. I am not going to spoil what is going on, but after multiple further attempts at suicide, he figures out what is happening and then the story really goes into some depraved territory. Jimmy does not really care about his life, or the lives of others it becomes clear, and a spree of violence ensues. Of course the authorities take great interest in these events, resulting in a clever cat and mouse game. Jimmy is wily and tough to trap, they find.
I found this book to be completely compelling, well-plotted, and enjoyable, even as it revels in its depravity. Jimmy is a surprisingly dark but hilarious figure, and I found myself rooting for him in sort of the same way I rooted for Light in Deathnote. He's despicable, but his resourcefulness is quite admirable.

All of the reviews I have read have lauded this book for its smart, humorous, and dark features. Rob Clough praised various elements of the book: "There are clever action setpieces. There are mysteries within mysteries. There’s squirm humor that gets its charge from violating social norms and expectations." Greg McElhatton wrote, "Don’t get fooled by the simple nature of his figures; Shiga really knows what he’s doing here and he’s a genuine talent." Lauren Davis opined, "While Demon has a much more morbid—not to mention violent—tone than Shiga's recent work, it still has that pleasantly mind-bending quality that makes Bookhunter and Meanwhile so much fun."

Demon, Volume 1 was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here. This series was first published as a webcomic, but now only the first chapter is available online. The entire story will be published in what will be a 4-volume series.

It contains a lot of violence, some profanity, and some sexual content, so I advise it for mature readers.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Richard Stark's Parker, Book 1: The Hunter

I am kicking myself for not reading this one sooner. Richard Stark's Parker books are among my favorites to read, and I have long admired Darwyn Cooke's comic works, especially New Frontier and his version of Catwoman. He had won multiple comics awards, including the Eisner, Harvey, and Joe Shuster Awards, but he died of cancer at the young age of 53. Now, maybe it was just an assemblage of big expectations, but I keep thinking I would just be disappointed by this book, because of all my admiration for the source material and the creator. But boy was I not disappointed at all. This book is fantastic, and I cannot wait to read the other three adaptations in the series.

The title character in this book, Parker, is not a nice guy. He is a thief who trusts no one, well almost no one. But that trust is mislaid, and his wife Lynn betrays and shoots him during a heist gone wrong. Years later, he escapes prison and goes out for revenge on those who wronged him. He is a violent but calculating man, and nothing could satisfy him except laying his hands on Mal, the man who led the scheme to double-cross him.

Now, the plot of this book would seem to be pretty apt stuff for a noir novel, but what really makes it work is how spare and direct the prose is. An expectation of losing that voice and tone was why I avoided this adaptation for as long as I did, but I am happy to report that the artwork does much of the heavy lifting in terms of conveying the narrative, with the net effect of a story that is still brutal and impactful.
Other parts of the book rely on some of the prose from the novel, but paired with the pictures they still pack quite a punch. This book is a masterful retelling of a great novel.

All of the reviews I have read have praised this adaptation. The reviewer at The Violent World of Parker fansite called it "a bravura performance." This article by Geoff Boucher sheds much light on Cooke's process of creating this book, calling it "a meticulously faithful adaptation." Douglas Wolk called it "a near-perfect match of artist and character."

The Hunter was published by IDW, and they have more info about it here. This book contains some sex, nudity, and violence so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Lady Killer

Lady Killer is a comic series about  an assassin turned housewife set in the 1960s. Josie Schuller is a wife and mom, trying to maintain a marriage, raise her children, deal with her busybody/nosy mother-in-law, all while secretly working as an assassin. One of the themes of this book is trying to strike a balance between home and work, and there are a few clever plays on this trope in how she uses various roles to get close to her victims (e.g. pretending to be a cosmetics seller or cocktail waitress).
Avon calling!
Complicating her already complicated lifestyle are her bosses at work, who think perhaps she is losing her edge. They also wonder if she is threatening her cover and their secrecy, which leads to some pretty hairy situations where she has to defend her family. I feel the book is an interesting mix of drama/satire/social commentary.
They don't always go quietly...
And as you can see from the excerpts here, the action sequences and artwork are superb. In the end, this book is a delight to look at.

This book is a collaboration between writer Jamie S. Rich and artist Joëlle Jones, and I have to say that while I enjoyed the story, the real star of this book is the artwork. It is full of energy, detail, and emotion, elevating the whole enterprise to another level. Industry experts echoed my view, as Jones was nominated for a 2016 Eisner Award for Best Penciller, while the series was nominated for Best Limited Series. This is her first ongoing comics series, but she is a sought after cover artist who has worked for a few companies. Rich has written a good number of comics series for multiple publishers, and my favorites have been Madame Frankenstein and The Double Life of Miranda Turner. Both creators speak more about their work on this series in this interview.

The reviews I have read about this comic series have been mostly positive. Craig Neilson-Adams wrote that it was "an utterly captivating read from start to finish, both in terms of concept and execution." RJ Casey was more critical of the book, concluding that it "excels when Jones’s art distances itself from the bad stiff shit genre that is often Dark Horse’s bread and butter, but it still can’t slice and dice itself from the rest of the chaff." Greg McElhatton remarked on its "darkly comic tone and a huge amount of potential."

Lady Killer was published by Dark Horse, and they have a preview and more info available here. There is a lot of blood and violence in this book, and it is intended for mature readers.