MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 27, 2012 by brunswick

by Art Spiegelman
Pantheon, 2011

An exceptional companion to the famous graphic novel Maus, far superior to anything published in relation to Alan Moore’s Watchmen when the film came out. Cartoonists will find it interesting for the insight it gives into the research and preparation required to produce a graphic novel where it’s very important that the historical detail is represented as accurately as possible. It includes a slightly awkwardly-placed DVD which contains a digital reference copy of Maus and lots of other goodies.

Although Spiegelman published the first Maus-related material in 1972, it’s dominated his life and output since then, even twenty years after the complete volume was published (for which he received a special Pulitzer). It even seeped into the hopelessly indulgent and padded-out In the Shadow of No Towers in 2004. MetaMaus is full of strips by Spiegelman where (in his familiar pose, glum and defeated, at his drawing board wearing a mouse mask) he agonizes about the legacy of Maus – at first I thought this was rare new material, but no! It’s from 15 years ago, ten years ago, 23 years ago… Spiegelman has become the curator of his own museum, and this book is the catalogue.

Storyboard Still from an Abandoned Music Video #5

Posted in Lovely pictures, Sound & Vision on April 26, 2012 by brunswick

The Someday Funnies edited by Michel Choquette

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 25, 2012 by brunswick

The Someday Funnies
edited by Michel Choquette
Abrams, 2011

This great big beautiful $110 book began in 1971 as a proposed 24-page colour spread in Rolling Stone, featuring the work of not only famous cartoonists, but authors and musicians from America and Europe, mainstream and underground, all commenting on the decade Rolling Stone has never left: the 1960s. Six years later the project had mushroomed beyond all economic sense and it was reluctantly shelved. By 2009, The Someday Funnies had achieved legendary status as a lost comic book, truly something from the shelves of Hicksville, and after a major article by Bob Levin in the Village Voice, the pages were finally disinterred from storage and turned into the huge coffee table book currently cutting off the circulation to my legs.

Some of the 129 comics are magnificent. Many are average. Most are very much of their own time: while putting the ’60s into perspective they become bogged down with their own ’70s baggage, which isn’t a pleasant reading experience from the ’10s. Some contributors (especially the writers who can draw) dazzle: witness Tom Wolfe’s advice to “Don’t do what you see me doing… wait two or three years”. There’s lost pages from Vaughn Bode, Goscinny & Uderzo and Will Eisner. There’s about four accounts of the Kennedy assassination, and no-one can draw the Beatles properly. So much for the actual content.

What’s the problem? Well, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing personally against the Boomers, but they’ve certainly proved themselves incapable of preserving their own legacy. From boxsets which cost more than the original “classic” album did to record, to easy-comfort jeans with extra room for their great big arses, everything the Boomers revisit turns to shit.

First the bloat: 121 pages of strips have been pumped up to a 216 page book. The rest is filled with essays about the ’60s, a brief history of Western comics, a preface, biographies of the 169 contributors (a third of whom are deceased, it’s cheerfully noted) and even biographies of the contemporary team who assembled the project. And an essay by Bob Levin about Choquette. And an index. And another index. Holy fuck, and an “abridged version”, which reprints the increasingly terse Do-Not-Want notes from Choquette’s potential publishers.

Then there’s the treatment of the material. The strips have been digitally coloured according to their original colour guides, but this has resulted in some very dark backgrounds and obscured some fine detail. The many foreign strips are printed in their original language to preserve some sort of integrity. The translations are waaaay at the back, and these pages aren’t exactly easy to flick back and forth. Worst of all, blank space was left on many of the pages to provide room for Robert Crumb to fill in with a sardonic commentary by Mr. Natural. Apparently he was never consulted about this, so instead the space has been filled by cute little contemporary drawings by Michael Fog of the adventures of the long-haired editor as he toddles around the world collecting pages.

Oh, but they’re whimsical! He gets mistaken for a girl in an English pub, steps in dog crap in Paris and wrestles with unwieldy portfolios in China! Meanwhile on the same pages Kennedy looses his head, Vietnam gets bombed and many, many people screw, drop acid and lose their trust in authority. So, only one problem with this fanciful “tongue-in-cheek-account” – no-one, not even the other characters on the page, fucking cares!

Heart of Darkness by Conrad, Anyango & Mairowitz

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 24, 2012 by brunswick

Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad, illustrated by Catherine Anyango, adapted by David Zane Mairowitz
Self Made Hero, 2010

Ironically, this graphic novel adaptation is longer than the original novella! It’s impossible to read without hearing ‘The End’ by The Doors playing in your head, and Anyango’s murky monochrome watercolour pencils* maintain a doomed atmosphere from beginning to end, so it’s certainly not a fun read – but Apocalypse Now wasn’t exactly a comedy, was it?

It’s let down somewhat by the layout and lettering. The blurry and indistinct illustrations are laid out in crisp rectangular panels, when a softer edge would’ve worked much better, and the dialogue and captions are almost lost in their semi-transparent balloons and spindly uppercase font.

Selections are incorporated from the diary Conrad kept on his trip up the Congo in 1890, and the rising dread and paranoia is palpable. There are few finer depictions of that glacial zone of the human psyche, past madness and on the other side, a calm and clear perception of your own monstrous nature. Heart of Darkness is referenced several times in T.S. Elliot’s famous poem The Hollow Men, and in a time when hollow men are firmly in charge, it continues to be dismally relevant.

* Like the splendid The Arrival if Shaun Tan had been having a really bad day.

Flogging a dead language

Posted in Jitterati, Lovely pictures on April 23, 2012 by brunswick

Hellraisers by Robert Sellers & Jake

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 22, 2012 by brunswick

Hellraisers: A Graphic Biography
by Robert Sellers & Jake
Self Made Hero, 2011

An interesting approach to the increasingly-popular graphic biography genre featuring four awful role models: Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed, famous for their acting, drinking, rogering and fighting (in approximately that order).

There’s a framing story featuring Martin, a violent drinker on the verge of losing his family who is visited in the night by his dead smoker father, his head studded with cigarettes like Pinhead from Hellblazer. Martin is warned that he is to be haunted by four spirits (“Spirits being the appropriate word”) who will show him the error of his ways. Instead of being the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, they turn out to be four undeniably charismatic but dangerous alcoholic thespians, who take Martin on a fairly comprehensive cautionary tour through their lives.

Sellers has assembled many entertaining anecdotes about the actors, and part of the joy of this book is working out what film they’re involved with from their costumes. Jake’s artwork (probably best known from his work with The Prodigy) is thick-lined and craggy, but completely appropriate for the subjects. Amazingly, Keith Moon doesn’t turn up until page 113.

Understandably, as the only living subject*, O’Toole’s life is recounted in a slightly less lurid manner than the others, but the details are still unsparing. It’s hard to tell what moral to derive from this work – basically, they all lived great excessive lives, did exactly what they pleased, utterly ruined the lives of any women they encountered, and (mostly) died prematurely and messily from the consequences of their hedonism. Oh, and made a few films as well. Good biography material, in other words.

* His survival is attributed here to having most of his stomach removed in the 1970s, which slowed down his drinking just a tiny bit.

Nelson edited by Rob Davis & Woodrow Phoenix

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 21, 2012 by brunswick

edited by Rob Davis & Woodrow Phoenix
Blank Slate Books, 2011

An ambitious project involving 54 UK artists who have collaborated to illustrate the life of a single character year-by-year from her birth in 1968 to the present day. The artists are an impressive collection of editorial cartoonists, children’s book illustrators and comic book artists, and there’s some very fine work here – Philip Bond brings some Tank Girl grunginess to 1982, while Kate Charlesworth displays her mastery of layout in 1987. Talented NZ expat Roger Langridge does his best with four different locations in five pages in 1998 (including Heaven and Hell) while (his possible influence) Hunt Emerson brings some typical Knockabout chaos to 2001. The venerable Posy Simmonds appears to have been a bit busy to fully participate, breezing in and out of 2008 with a single lacklustre panel.

Despite the wildly varying styles, the story hangs together well, the only clanger a desire to shoehorn historical events into the storyline, which results in the characters climbing the Berlin Wall in 1990, asserting “Oh, poor Kurt! I was a wreck when I heard” in 1994, and (cringingly) booking a flight to New York in September 2001.

The artist biographies are presented in an entertaining way, with their photographs in chronological order from 1967 to 2010, so we get baby photos from the 1960s, orange 1970s children, snotty punks from the 1980s, awkward Gen-Xers from the 1990s (including an unmistakably New Zild snap of Langridge) and professional artist shots from the 2000s.

Post-It Note Diaries edited by Arthur Jones

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 20, 2012 by brunswick

Post-it Note Diaries
edited and illustrated by Arthur Jones
Plume, 2011

An engrossing and well-presented collection of talkative anecdotes by twenty different authors, illustrated by Jones on Post-it notes. It takes skill to illustrate the essence of each paragraph of a short story in a manner which flows, but the results are extremely readable, although there’s a tiny bit of fakery involved – instead of drawing every panel on an actual Post-it note and scanning it, most of the images have just been pasted into a Post-it note template, complete with slight creases and shadows. Never mind, it’s still a great concept.

The illustration style is very clear and looks a bit like the work of Dylan Horrocks. The only real variable is the skill of the writers – some contributions work well, like lecturer Andrew Solomon’s account of his ndeup (an exorcism ceremony to cure depression) in Dakar, and musician Andrew Bird’s anecdote about how his music career was saved by an actual Post-it note. A few are unexpectedly threadbare, but only if you like the author and you’re disappointed that they’re not super-entertaining, like Kristen Schaal’s story about her job as Miss Peppermint Twist at famous NYC toystore FAO Schwarz.

Storyboard Still from an Abandoned Music Video #4

Posted in Lovely pictures, Sound & Vision on April 19, 2012 by brunswick

Feeding Ground by Swifty Lang & Michael Lapinski

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 18, 2012 by brunswick

Feeding Ground
by Swifty Lang & Michael Lapinski
Archaia, 2011

While ‘coyote’ Diego Busqueda is guiding a group through the unpleasant Devil’s Highway from Mexico to Arizona, the vile Don Oso pays his attractive wife a visit, and one dead Don and burnt house later, his family is on the run. Oh, and werewolves.

An evil American company on the border picks up unfortunate crossers to experiment on, unleashing the chupacabric results into the desert to wreak havoc on both illegal immigrants and the loutish rednecks who pierce their water caches. There’s a fair bit of sharp satire here.

The vivid artwork appears to be based on photo reference and is coloured with a striking and carefully controlled palette, with occasional strategic colour plate-misalignments to give panels an edge of psychological dislocation, and feral woodcut images. The only weakness is the depiction of the actual werewolves, which look a bit Lon Chaney Jr.-ish.