Archive for the Graphic Novel review Category

The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone & Josh Neufeld

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 13, 2012 by brunswick

The Influencing Machine
by Brooke Gladstone & Josh Neufeld
W. W. Norton & Company, 2011

An engrossing study of the American media, its history and current troubles, presented in a graphic format familiar to any Understanding Comics fan. Broadcaster Gladstone puts herself into the story with a Scott McCloud-like avatar, and Neufeld’s clear, diagrammatic drawings convey information clearly and efficiently, covering the history of war reportage, censorship, bias and the variable fashions for objectivity and disclosure.

The most interesting sections cover the failure of US media to challenge the relentless lies and warmongering of the Bush II administration, and how modern American journalism has evolved from a government watchdog to propaganda tool and back again, several times, depending on the political climate and the ambivalence of the ruling administration towards journos.

The content is ultimately a bit thin, with many fascinating concepts covered only briefly (both Marshall McLuhan and Douglas Adams make an appearance), but you can only fit so much into 170 pages of images and text, and there’s detailed footnotes for further reading.

The Legacy by Andrew McGinn & David Neitzke

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 11, 2012 by brunswick

The Legacy
by Andrew McGinn & David Neitzke
Dragon Fish Comics, 2009

A one-shot book with a great premise – unsuccessful* alternative cartoonist Chas Brown inherits his father’s massively popular newspaper comic strip and is expected by the syndicate to carry on its tradition of unchallenging humour and fuzzy sentiment, like the execrable Family Circus, or Garfield if it had a soul.

Chas has other plans, though, and with the help of an attractive and subversive* associate editor, sets out to sabotage the strip by inserting increasingly inappropriate and hilarious material. To his dismay, the syndicate doesn’t care “as long as he doesn’t monkey with the character design”, which would affect merchandising. Once he discovers his father used to draw horror comics, but moved to newspaper strips because it would allow him to spend more time with his family, Chas begins to have second thoughts about trashing the comforting legacy of Simple Pleasures and develops a sense of responsibility.

At this point, a simile is employed to compare jazz appreciation with the avant-garde pleasures of graphic novels, versus the long-term simple entertainment of comic strips. Except, the comic strips are supposed to be like jazz.

Well, that makes perfect… WHAT?! Are they listening to the wrong sort of jazz here? Or reading the wrong sort of graphic novels? Or both? Isn’t inventive, original, colourful jazz more like graphic novels, while newspaper comics are more like dependable, traditional, sincere… blues?

Okay… Peanuts is jazz. But only Peanuts.

The epilogue, set in 2036, is subsequently horrifying.

*This may be a redundant adjective.
**Okay, this is definitely science fiction.

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot & Bryan Talbot

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 10, 2012 by brunswick

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes
by Mary M. Talbot & Bryan Talbot
Dark Horse, 2012

A thoughtful biography/autobiography by writer Mary M. Talbot and illustrated by her husband Bryan (Alice in Sunderland, Grandville). Talbot distaff contrasts her often unhappy childhood (as the daughter of noted Joycean scholar James S. Atherton) with the life of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia, a talented ballet dancer who dated Samuel Beckett (!) and was institutionalized for schizophrenia in Paris, 1935. Amazingly, she survived the Occupation, although she spent the rest of her life in an English psychiatric hospital, dying in 1982 at the age of 75.

Talbot comes out of it rather better than Lucia, despite the frequent nastiness and violent outbursts of her intense scholar father, who cared only for the language of Joyce. Joyce doesn’t come over as particularly nice either, as he blithely dismisses Lucia’s need for artistic expression because “[i]t’s enough if a woman can write a letter and carry an umbrella gracefully”. Talbot has to put up with the sexist recent-past of Britain the 1970s – luckily she escapes with the adorably dorky young Bryan and things end happily ever after.

Bryan has drawn the Lucia story in black ink with a dark blue wash and rendered his wife’s life in sepia with the pencil sketch still visible. Mary adds an occasional editorial comment to Bryan’s artwork, noting how he inserts his own favourite book into a montage of her own, and how it gets suspiciously colourful once he appears in the story. The dual life stories are often sad and infuriating, both dealing with the complicated relationships between preoccupied fathers and their intelligent daughters, and despite the separation of the stories by roughly forty years, fewer things have changed than you’d hope.

Goliath by Tom Gauld

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 8, 2012 by brunswick

by Tom Gauld
Drawn & Quarterly, 2011

The halpless Goliath is a paper-pusher for the Philistine army until an ambitious captain selects him for a mission of psychological intimidation against the opposing Israelites on the other side of the valley. The tall but mild administrator is given a suit of tacky ceremonial armour and forced to issue a challenge every day to the enemy. And so the month drags on…

With no company except for his young shieldbearer, Goliath begins to like it out in the wilderness. Unfortunately war demands results, and one day David emerges from the Israelite side with a sling and a rock.

Knowing how the story is going to end only adds to its pathos (see: Titanic) and Gauld has sketched out a wry, minimalist study of how bureaucracy and progress will screw you over every time.

Chimichanga by Eric Powell

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 5, 2012 by brunswick

by Eric Powell
Dark Horse, 2011

A delightful all-ages work by The Goon’s Powell, showcasing the adventures of Lula, the tiny Bearded Girl of Wrinkle’s Travelling Circus, who acquires a giant green ogre from a flatulence-prone witch. Lula has the gee-whiz indefatigability of Little Orphan Annie and the whiskers of Rasputin, and faces every obstacle with gumption and a colourful G-rated vocabulary.

The eccentric story rips along thanks to the exuberant and skillful digital artwork, although younger readers might be put off by Powell’s barely-restrained fondness for the grotesque and the surprising amount of (cartoonish) violence.

The Scribblings of a Madcap Shambleton by Noel Fielding

Posted in Graphic Novel review, Sound & Vision on April 1, 2012 by brunswick

The Scribblings of a Madcap Shambleton
by Noel Fielding
Canongate, 2011

The Mighty Boosh was one of the most art-designed British comedy shows in years. Just as the “look” of Monty Python will always be defined by Terry Gilliam’s gleefully violent cut-outs, the Boosh’s memorably colourful, angular cartoony design style was seen in everything from the homemade costumes (Polo mint accessories and broadly-applied face paint) to the show’s title sequence.

This book is a collection of Noel Fielding’s non-Boosh artwork, mostly large acrylic canvases with the occasional surreal short story thrown in. Would it have been published if he weren’t on the telly? Probably not, but it’s still lots of fun. Some of it’s a bit like a Level 2 NCEA art portfolio, particularly the fannish portraits of the Stones and Ramones, but this is taken to amusing lengths in an installation featuring a terrified Fielding cowering in bed surrounded by portraits of Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry.

The last Boosh project to date was Journey of the Childmen, a draggy behind-the scenes documentary from their 2008 tour which revealed a depressed and drugged-out Fielding. The job clearly wasn’t fun anymore, a decline which can be seen by comparing their two tour DVDs. It’s good to see that he’s regained his enthusiasm in Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy, a brightly coloured high-sugar low-budget romp with several Boosh regulars (including his rather game brother Michael). It’s like playing Candy Land while trapped inside an energy drink with a walrus.

Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly” by Harvey Pekar

Posted in Graphic Novel review on March 30, 2012 by brunswick

Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly”
Written by Harvey Pekar, artwork by Summer McClinton
Villard Books, 2011

This second posthumous collection of Pekar’s work contains anecdotes and interviews culled from the time after the extraordinary quasi-documentary American Splendor brought him international fame and speaking engagements across America. A famously bad traveller, Pekar suffers every inconvenience of airports and hotels, but takes the opportunity to talk to several interesting people about their lives. This is what he always did best, although it’s sheer hyperbole to say his work “transformed comics from escapist fantasy into social commentary with voice balloons”, as claimed on the back cover. He certainly broadened people’s perceptions of what comics could be, but escapist fantasy in comics will always be with us, and why should that be a bad thing?

The content of the book is as strong as ever as Pekar talks to a famous limo driver, a friend who battled to restore a vintage diner and then lost it, and a cartoon archivist couple. The longest section is devoted to a single trip to a book festival in West Virginia where he meets a bunch of interesting creative people, buys shoes, worries about his per diem cheque and does a film cameo. The artwork is a bit scratchy and wobbles a bit when it isn’t based on a photo, but at least the unfortunate behind-the-scenes trouble with Pekar’s legacy doesn’t seem to be affecting the quality of his posthumous output.

Zahra’s Paradise by Amir & Khalil

Posted in Graphic Novel review on March 28, 2012 by brunswick

Zahra’s Paradise
by Amir & Khalil
First Second, 2011

A devastating work of semi-fictional comic journalism, a story compiled from many different true accounts of the disappearance of a young Iran activist during the controversial 2009 elections. His family’s dogged search for him plunge them into Iran’s nightmare bureaucracy, a corrupt and violent system designed to choke dissent and prop up the country’s ruling class and their perverted appropriation of Islam.

The filmed murder of Neda Agha-Soltan during the same protests briefly put Iran under an international spotlight – the anonymous authors vividly portray a system where the government is practically at war with its citizens and the status quo must be maintained at any cost.

Pinocchio by Winshluss

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

by Winshluss
Last Gasp, 2011

An ambitious, crass, hilarious mindfuck. French cartoonist Winshluss (Vincent Paronnaud) largely de-Disneyfies Pinocchio and reintroduces the sadism of the original Carlo Collodi story. There’s no dialogue in this new version except for the sordid reveries of Jiminy Cricket, now an alcoholic cockroach and failed writer who crawls into Pinocchio’s head and stays there watching TV for most of the story.

Pinocchio is now a mute robot, designed by Geppetto as a military killing machine. Instead he turns out to be quite the innocent, wandering from one exploitative situation to the the next and doing whatever he’s bid, whether it’s assembling toys in a child-labour sweatshop or participating in a bizarre fascist coup on tarnished Enchanted Isle – wayward boys transformed into gun-toting wolves marching under a candycane-swastika flag.

Among the new characters are a disturbed gumshoe with a dead cat in the fridge and a head like an Easter Island statue, a bereaved father, a lesbian surfer and a rather sweet penguin who Geppetto befriends when he’s swallowed by Dogzilla, and is later turned into a suicide bomber. The integration of these diverse and grotesque story strands is extremely well done – the structure is as impressive as the wicked humour.

Rascal Raccoon’s Raging Revenge! by Hay & Wagner

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

Rascal Raccoon’s Raging Revenge!
by Brendan Hay & Justin Wagner
Oni Press, 2011

Bit of a between-the-stools one, this. Rascal Raccoon, resident villain of Toonie Terrace, has been locked in an unhealthy symbiotic relationship with cheeky extrovert Jumpin’ Jackalope for decades. He concocts endless elaborate plans to kill Jumpin’, which naturally backfire. Jumpin’ always outsmarts him and wins the day. Repeat. Except… for the one time Rascal Raccoon actually succeeds. So, with his nemesis dead, what does he do with his life now?

This could’ve been an interesting meditation on misguided ambition and the purpose of life, except it’s not quite sure what audience it should be aiming for, which also affected the success of progenitor Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. The artwork is pleasantly bright and cartoony, but it has a ‘Teen Age 13+’ rating on the back. There’s a little blood, but they chickened out and drew it black, which apparently makes it less gory. The story would’ve benefitted from a more adult treatment – see Rich Koslowski’s Three Fingers (Top Shelf, 2002) for a confidently dark take on toon realism.