Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Wytches, Volume 1

First, before I review Wytches, Volume 1, I have to admit three things:

1. I have been meaning to review this book here for a couple of years now, but I have always put it off. I wanted the review to land on Halloween, but some other title always cropped up and I laid it aside. It got to the point that I even deleted the draft (that was at least two years old) and the jpeg image of the cover I had. I just gave up on reading and reviewing this book. Then, a new one-shot (Wytches: Bad Egg) came out that Derek and I planned to review on today's episode of the Comics Alternative podcast, so I decided to do a little homework and read up on this series.

2. I am not the biggest fan of horror comics (or horror books/stories in print form in general), mostly because I don't really get the thrill of being scared when I read all that often. I'd rather watch horror movies or shows. I do love monster stories though, and the visuals that go along with them are some of my favorites (in comics and otherwise).

3. This book scared me like no other.

The tale here follows the Rook family, which consists of Charlie, the dad who writes children's books, Lucy the mom who was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident, and Sailor, their daughter who survived a harrowing experience with a sadistic, psychopathic bully. Trying to start things fresh, they move to a town in New Hampshire, unbeknownst of strange things that are going on not only in the woods but in the town itself.
And this is only the first four pages. It gets much worse!

I hate to ruin anything that follows, so suffice it to say this story hits on pretty much any fear a parent, child, or paranoid person could have. This book is the definition of a page-turner, and I sped through it with an equal amount of anxiety and intrigue. The story is briskly told, the artwork gleefully grotesque, and the coloring adds dimensions of dread and despair. These are some great comics.

This book was a collaboration between writer Scott Snyder, artist Jock, and colorist Matt Hollingsworth. Snyder is best known for his work on DC Comics titles like Batman and Swamp Thing, but he also co-wrote (with Stephen King) the Vertigo series American Vampire. Jock is renowned for his cover work and also had a long run on Batman as well as a revival of The Losers. Hollingsworth is a veteran colorist with a myriad of credits. All of their work here contributed to a dark, atmospheric, truly frightening reading experience. Snyder speaks in this interview about his experience writing Wytches.

The reviews I have read about it have all been glowing. Trevor Van As wrote, "If you’re a fan of horror done right, without the cheap thrills, then Wytches is a must read." Emily Solomon gushed that "Snyder and Jock have revolutionized the witch mythology for a new generation of horror junkies." Victoria called it "fantastic and a must-read for graphic novel and horror fans." I also really enjoyed this review/article by Susana Polo, but be warned it contains spoilers.

Wytches was published by Image Comics, and they offer a preview and more info about the series here. This book features violence, profanity, and many disturbing images so it is recommended for mature readers.

A follow-up series is in the works, for publication in 2019.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai

I wrote about my love of Usagi Yojimbo comics in the past, and I felt that this stand-alone graphic novel would be a great one to promote for reading around Halloween time. It was published to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Usagi's creation, and it tells a different kind of ghost story, one where the rabbit ronin finds himself in the middle of a forest and comes upon a weeping mother. Her child has been kidnapped by a fox spirit and she begs Usagi for help. Against his better judgment, he agrees to help, even though he knows his swords may be no help against a supernatural enemy.

It turns out that Usagi's instincts were spot on. This kidnapping is only one act in a series of appearances by yokai, Japanese spirits/monsters who are congregating in an evil plot to bring the witch queen into the human world. Usagi is certainly over his head here, but assistance arrives in his ally Sasuke the Demon Queller. However, both learn that dealing with these treacherous creatures is extremely hazardous, as they are incredibly underhanded and tricky.

This book's creator Stan Sakai is a multi-Eisner Award winning artist and letterer who is best known for creating Usagi Yojimbo as well as his work on the independent comic book series Groo. He speaks extensively about his career as well as his work on this graphic novel, which consists entirely of painted images, in this interview.

All the reviews I have read about this book sing its praises. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it "a genuine pleasure for readers of all ages." The review in Rolling Stone India stated that the watercolors gave "the story a Miyazaki-esque feel that wows you right from the first page." The reviewer at Reading for Sanity wrote that it featured "a lovely blend of humor mixed with drama."

Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai was published by Dark Horse Comics, and they have a preview and more here.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall

The first book in this series was one of my favorite books of 2016, and this follow-up is every bit as good. I love books about monsters, and this one is wonderful in how it places fantastical creatures into a real world context. The main plot follows our protagonist, Charles, as he tries to learn more about all the things that lurk in the dark of Echo City so he can blog about them. He purports to be a partner to the famed (to kids) monster expert Margo Maloo, but he's more like her sidekick who struggles to keep up.

In this book, he has to brave several frightful situations, such as riding the subway by himself, exploring a seemingly haunted house in the suburbs, listening to a teenage goth band, and going to an abandoned shopping mall inhabited by vampires. It features a good amount of humor and fascinating takes on monster life and how it is affected by humans. In a way, there is an ecological message that echos how wildlife species are displaced  by human construction. Only here, the hapless (and often misunderstood) parties are imps, ogres, and trolls. In a great twist, Margo is more an advocate/peace broker than monster hunter.

Still, there is much mystery to explore, such as how and Margo got into her vocation. Also, there are a few clues dropped about who her family might be, and there is much possibility for exploration there. In the end, I loved this book just as much as the first, and I am very hopeful there will be more adventures to come. You can see those at the webcomic's homepage.

Drew Weing continues to be the artist/writer who created this excellent series. 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.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been full of praise. Gwen and Krystal speak about it extensively in this episode of the Comics Alternative Young Readers podcast. Kirkus Reviews concluded, "The graphic narrative points out that different is not necessarily bad and that humans and monsters are afraid of one another primarily because of misinformation and miscommunication—a valuable lesson for human-human relations as well." Rob Clough wrote that "Weing has a way of keeping things fairly low-key while still dropping bread crumbs of more menacing events down the line." Katrina called it "a fun book that neither of us [she and her 9-year-old daughter] wanted to put down!"

The Monster Mall was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and much more here.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

My Pretty Vampire

My Pretty Vampire is a bloody, sexy book.It focuses on the tale of Clover, a gorgeous vampire who is easy to take for an ingenue. On the onset of the book she is struggling for freedom from the machinations of her brother, who seems controlling and obsessed with her in an incestuous manner.

Soon afterward, however, her powers of manipulation and murder come to bear as she orchestrates her escape and leaves a trail of bodies in her wake.What follows is a series of plot twists and turns as well as seductions, and if I had one criticism of the book it's that it is too short. I loved reading it and wallowing in the horrors its pages contain. I feel it is a wonderful choice for a horror fan who is into comics.

This book is the creation of Katie Skelly whose prior comics works include Operation Margarine, Nurse Nurse, and various Agent webcomics (NSFW) that were recently collected into hard copy. My Pretty Vampire is striking in her works because it is so much larger than her digest-sized books I have read in the past. The album-sized pages here feature the artwork quite nicely, and it is striking just how much they pop off the page. I hope to see more of Clover's (mis)adventures sometime in the future.

Most of the reviews I have read for this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly offered a mixed review, writing, "When the tension between Clover’s beauty and the violence that fuels her actions is the focus, the book is at its best. That said, it often feels like a first draft: certain page and panel transitions are clumsy, angles are often awkward, and the simplicity of Skelly’s visuals sometimes makes it difficult to discern what’s going on." Rob Clough called it "a book that matches up her exquisite color sense, delightfully lurid sense of humor, eye for style and aesthetics and acidly satirical, feminist take on gothic/horror tropes." Andy Oliver noted that it was "her most accomplished work to date."

My Pretty Vampire was published by Fantagraphics, and they offer a preview and more here. It features horror, violence, profanity, and sexual situations and is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil

This follow-up to the Black Hammer series delves a lot deeper into the complex history and intriguing characters of this alternative superheroic world. With the absence of the super team who have saved the world, there is great sadness and a vacuum as well. Lucy Weber, whose father was Black Hammer, has grown up and become an investigative reporter, and she begins exploring what may have happened to him and his cohorts. Her tactic is to trace the exploits of the extremely cool-named Sherlock Frankenstein, who was their greatest adversary, to find out what his role may have been.
I do not want to spoil much about the plot, but she has a lot of difficulty tracking the villain as he had gone underground soon after the heroes saved the world and mysteriously vanished. What is more, she finds that his actions are somewhat suspect but also puzzling. As she delves deeper and deeper into that mystery, she also finds herself being followed, and all kinds of other complications arise.
I know I am being purposefully vague, but I hope that it comes through just how well plotted this book is, with lots of twists and turns of the screw. My expectations were confounded a few times in the course of this relatively short volume. Also, I was thrilled to see all kinds of inventive new characters, most notably Cthu-Louise, who will get her own one-shot soon. If you are into superheroes but are sick of the same-old, same-old, this book and series are for you. I love how it plays with the conventions of superhero comics and weaves them into something fun, poignant, and unique.

This impressive bit of adventure and world-building is a collaboration between two of my favorite creators, writer Jeff Lemire and artist David Rubín. Lemire has a huge list of comics credits and has won a few major awards along the way to boot. Rubín may have fewer credits, but he has drawn an impressive bunch of comics, including the series Rumble and the graphic novel Fall of the House of West. Lemire speaks about his work on this book in this interview, while Rubín discusses his role in it in this interview.

The Black Hammer series has already won an Eisner Award, and this volume was nominated for another this year. The reviews I could find of this trade paperback have been very positive. Phillip Kelly called it "a truly satisfying emotional arc" and "also a necessary piece to the greater world of Black Hammer." A.J. Jones wrote, "The writing is quintessential Lemire, carefully plotted and filled with dialogue that amuses and intrigues by turns," and added further, "Rubín’s distinctive style is a joy to the eye, demonstrating the power of the graphic medium to transcend mere representation."

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil was published by Dark Horse, and they provide previews and more info here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Calla Cthulhu

Calla Cthulhu originally appeared as a webcomic on the Stela platform, but it has recently been published as a trade paperback. I know that H.P. Lovecraft has a lot of fans, but I have never read any of his work (I tried "The Color Out of Space" once, I just could not get into it...). Still, I know that this book/character title is a pun, and I am a sucker for those. Also, I am a big fan of the writers, so I checked it out. Spoiler: my lack of specific Lovecraft knowledge did not keep me from enjoying this book.

The plot here follows an orphaned, young woman named Calla Trifali who learns that she is descended from the Great Old Ones, elder gods/inter-dimensional beings who hope to invade Earth and spread destruction and mayhem. Of course, her being raised to respect human life brings her into direct conflict with her uncle, AKA The King in Yellow.

What results is a lot of action and intrigue where Calla finds herself battling tentacled beings in sewers, old houses, and other gruesome locales. I do not want to spoil much, but this book acts as a great introduction to the character and her world. Also, it concludes in very open-ended fashion, which is not so satisfying to those seeking definite narrative closure. Still, the door is wide open for her further adventures, and I hope we get more of them. This book is a fun read in the vein of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with a badass young woman battling all kinds of vicious creatures.
This book is a collaboration between writers Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer (who are married) and artist Erin Humiston. Dorkin is most known as the writer of Beasts of Burden, but I am also partial to his work as writer/artist of the series Dork and Milk and Cheese. He is a multiple Eisner Award winner. Dyer is known in comics mostly for her edited series Action Girl. They have also done a bunch of television work, including scripts for Superman Adventures and Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Humiston works primarily as an animator who has contributed to a wide array of works. Dorkin and Dyer speak more about their work on this series in this interview (or if listening is more your thing, this interview).

I was not able to locate many reviews of this book, but the ones I found were very positive. J. Caleb Mozzocco called it "a pretty killer riff on Lovecraft’s labyrinthine mythology." Kittie Pop gushed that "this story brings me such a gravitational amount of joy that I want to share it with everyone I care about."

Calla Cthulhu was published by Dark Horse, and they have a preview and more available here.

I saw Dorkin and Dyer this year at HeroesCon, where they sold me a copy of this book and were kind enough to also sign it. They are great!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Cecil & Jordan in New York

Cecil & Jordan in New York is a re-issue of a graphic short story collection, with a few hard-to-find additions. I had never read it before, and I was very glad to experience it with fresh eyes. This book's creator is Gabrielle Bell, a comics artist's comics artist who is revered by many (or at least many of the people I pay attention to). Her semi-autobiographical series Lucky is regarded by many of those folks as a stellar work of comics, a touchstone publication, and I am a big fan of her latest book Everything is Flammable.

What sets this book apart from her other works is that it largely contains works of fiction. It contains 13 stories, which were mostly published in anthologies in the more formative years of her career. For me the most powerful one was "Felix," about a struggling artist who finds herself teaching drawing to the young son of a famous, successful artist. It features commentary on the world (and business) of art and undefined, palpable relationships between various characters. I found it deeply moving and somewhat troubling, with touches of irony and dark humor throughout.

I found this book to have a unique, idiosyncratic voice, with a keen sense of observation that colors many of the stories from this collection. The title story features a fantastic element, that a person can transform themselves into a chair, and the resolution is simultaneously sad and darkly humorous. Overall, throughout the book, it is the strongly defined characters situated in a random, often hostile world that really stands out to me. They are often positioned as outsiders, trying to somehow to fit in. Some try to forge connections with others, but they are often tentative, and the connections themselves strain, surprise, and often break. Nothing really comes easy for the characters in this book, but for the reader, I felt myself readily impressed by Bell's characters, storytelling, and world-creating abilities. She is a world-class comics maker.

I was not able to locate any reviews of this edition of the book, but the ones of a prior edition were mostly positive. Rob Clough wrote that "she's a master of subtlety, restraint, and repressed emotion--yet this volume sees her veering in some unusual, even fantastical, directions." Karin L. Cross was more critical of the stories collected here, stating that they, "though perceptively written and executed with technical skill, are weighed down by their relentlessly heavy mood and self-consciousness." Paul Doyle called the book "funny" and added that it "shows some inventive story telling ideas."

This expanded version of Cecil & Jordan in New York was published by uncivilized books, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.