Ratfist by Doug Tennapel

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 17, 2012 by brunswick

by Doug Tennapel
Image Comics, 2011

Poor Ratfist! Life takes a turn for the worse for this slightly unbalanced vigilante with disembodied Mickey Mouse ears when he breaks into a laboratory and is transformed into a giant human rat – when he has to wear a mask of himself to maintain his normal daytime identity, he becomes “a rat disguised as a rat disguised as a human”. There’s also the matter of the talking tail he uses to swing around the city (one of many jokes at the expense of Spider-Man), the space tiki who can cure cancer, and the grotesque Monkey Trout, who is prone to eye injuries.

This story first appeared as an ambitious 5-page-per-week webcomic and was only ever intended to be 150 pages long, which gives it a satisfying (and slightly sad) story arc. The only casualty of the frantic production rate is the frangible plot, but it zips along due to its exuberant brush artwork and consciously silly humour.

When in doubt: in-jokes

Posted in Jitterati, Lovely pictures on April 16, 2012 by brunswick

Fantastic Life by Kevin Mutch

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 15, 2012 by brunswick

Fantastic Life
by Kevin Mutch
Blurred Books, 2011

Kind of an ode to early Dan Clowes, with some very close references to the paranoid dream logic of the almost-forgotten Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron and the hipster pretensions of Art School Confidential. It’s Winnipeg in 1982 (Ooh! Spooky already!) and musician Adam is having an extremely unsettling night with a personal timeline that seems to be out of sequence. He wakes up after a party in bed with an artists’ model who he thought had left with someone else earlier, and finds his apartment full of paintings – his paintings, with his name signed to him. He discovers he’s expected to present a massive canvas he hastily names Miss Twin Volcanoes of Boob Island to what turns out to be a feminist art class. Also, zombies!

It turns out to be the fault of the gespensterfeld. Again! This book was the result of a Xeric grant, so it’s perfectly entitled to discuss quantum mechanics and quote The Fall. The rest of us have no such excuse.

Finding Frank and his Friend by Melvin Goodge

Posted in Graphic Novel review on April 14, 2012 by brunswick

Finding Frank and his Friend
edited by Melvin Goodge
Curio & Co., 2010

An interesting behind-the scenes look at the creation of the seminal strip Frank and his Friend by Clarence ‘Otis’ Dooley, which ran in American newspapers from 1975 to 1984 and was an obvious influence on Calvin & Hobbes.

Comics professor Goodge has collected together 52 previously unpublished strips, together with their preparatory sketches, and has exhaustively annotated them based on his detailed knowledge of Dooley’s life. This ranges from the informative: identifying different cartoon techniques by their commonly-used Nat Tatisms, to the slightly creepy: identifying the model numbers of items of household furniture used in the strip based on Dooley’s catalogue illustrations for Cudworth-Hooper Industrial.

The strip was published in New Zealand in the Hastings Herald Tribune, but the subtle colours were ruined by being printed in black and white and it only lasted for a few months before being replaced by Footrot Flats. The story of an over-imaginative boy and his ever-present doll companion Frank is slightly cutesy for modern tastes, but any notional cartoonist would be honoured by a detailed analysis like this.

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.

Storyboard Still from an Abandoned Music Video #3

Posted in Lovely pictures, Sound & Vision on April 12, 2012 by brunswick

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.

Digital pencil sketch

Posted in Jitterati, Lovely pictures on April 9, 2012 by brunswick

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.