May 22, 2017

, , , , , ,   |  

A Study in Legends #2 - Oracle of Season/Oracle of Ages

With the new release, Breath of the Wild, receiving all manner of accolade from the most unexpected of sources, The Legend of Zelda franchise has been revitalised and has never been more in vogue.

For the few who weren’t fortunate enough to grow up in the 90s saturated in video games, The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that is steeped in complex continuity, interweaving between worlds and throughout time. What remains constant, however, is a protagonist named Link that strives to save the titular heroine, Zelda.

Back in 1998, a staggering 19 years ago for those of you who want a reminder of your age, Nintendo commissioned the legendary manga duo Akira Himekawa (with pen names A. Honda and S. Nagano) to adapt their most popular game to date, The Ocarina of Time, into a serialised manga. As is discussed in the afterword to this collected volume, Akira Himekawa jumped at the chance to work on a game that they themselves were hotly anticipating.

Akira Himekawa would soon go on to adapt eight of the games in turn, putting their own little spin on each independent universe, which were released to wild acclaim in Japan and even found some success overseas. Fortunately for those of us who were unlucky enough not to have access to the material at the time of its initial release, Viz Media have been gradually re-releasing collected versions of the material in so-called “Legendary Editions”.

These editions include a limited portion of coloured pages at the beginning of each volume, while also bundling in supplementary material such as accompanying magazine interviews and bonus stories that hint at a world even broader than that seen in the games themselves. This column will cover each of these five collected “Legendary” volumes, analysing their commitment to the original source material and whether or not they can be judged on their own merits.

NOTE: All images in this article should be read from right to left, in the original manga style

If you were to analyse the Zelda stories that have been selected for adaptation into manga, you wouldn’t be remiss to consider the decision to take a pass through two relatively ignored games, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, a strange one. While the plot is not as immediately iconic as Ocarina of Time, once you've reached the final page of this volume and taken yourself through the same journey as our legendary hero, the choice becomes abundantly clear.

Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages were two games released concurrently in 2001 as two parts of a single whole. While each game was possible to play independently, there was an incentive to purchase both, following the model started by the original Pokémon. A code was provided upon completion of the first that would be inserted at the beginning of the second, bringing the seemingly disparate stories together into one. This "Legendary Edition" maintains this spirit, bringing the two separate manga volumes together for the first time, subsequently creating one complete story.

Seasons follows a dancer from a travelling troupe that reveals herself as the herald of seasons, whereas Ages tells the story of a kindly, Snow White figure that gets her ability to control the time-stream turned against her. Fighting against a towering brute and a Queen with a costume that begs for a Maleficent joke that I refuse to make, Link is struggling desperately against superior forces from the very beginning.

The overarching plot in these two sections is the story of how our protagonist, who goes by Link if you’d forgotten, attempts to become the hero that his family already see him to be. Born with the pattern of the legendary Triforce on his left hand and a family history of noble warriors, it’s a life that he’s been relentlessly pushed towards and, despite it being what he actually wants, one that he’s beginning to rebel against.

One of the main weaknesses of the Legend of Zelda series as a whole is its lack of character growth. For those who are unaware, a large proportion of the games follow different people, all of which possess the same name and affinity for green clothing. Beyond their status as silent protagonists, this single quality prevents any chance of us seeing the after-effects of each adventure and therefore actually watching these characters change and grow.

However, one accidental positive to original decision to make a silent protagonist is the excitement of seeing how Himekawa interpret the personality that Link is required to have to make each plot function correctly. While the aforementioned immature Link seen in these two stories draws parallels to that of the child version seen in Ocarina of Time, there’s a very believable brashness to this version that ages him down considerably, but also making his gradual transformation more rewarding.

Bringing these two divergent stories together with a single ending gives a view of Link’s journey that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. He begins Seasons as a precocious young teenager with a burgeoning ego and, through his interactions with both of the oracles and the supporting cast that he meets along the way, he emerges as the fully formed hero that we know him to be. The character progression is unmistakable and brings with it all of the swelling optimism that shines like a beacon in times like these.

Although both stories have their own merits, the overall quality of Seasons stands the most resolute: Link is forced to confront his intentions and values after finding himself faced with a villain, Vox, who is both stronger and vastly more experienced than he is. There’s a tangible unnerving quality to Vox from his first appearance, with his ability to decay the nature around him, while swatting our hero to the side effortlessly. For reasons that will hopefully be immediately apparent, the Oracle of Seasons, Din, takes issue with the way in which Vox conducts his business.

Din’s first appearance in this story is its most visually defining moment. One of the most challenging aspects of creating comic book/manga art is conveying motion in an inherently static medium; with Din taking the vocation of “dancer”, the issue is compounded further. Fortunately, Himekawa’s tendency to exceed the borders of panels adds a degree of fluidity to Din's movements that transcends anything else happening on the page at the time. Din is unquestionably stunning, without the need for any objectification. Take note American comic artists - this is how you create visual appeal without sexualisation.

Similarly, the oracle in Ages, Nayru, maintains a regal and dignified air that demands your attention whenever she’s on panel. Nayru commands the flow of time in the way that us regular folk chew gum. However, her antagonist, and the person who takes control of her body, is the needlessly sadistic Veran, that flits between bodies with a similar ease. Who-can-we-trust-when-the-villain-could-be-any-of-us tales are far from unique, but one of the bodies in particular has a fascinating backstory and a stunning design.

Queen Ambi, the royal that Possessed Nayru corrupts, has two prominent spikes as part of her headdress that make her appearance striking, if not particularly unique (due to the obvious comparisons). Fortunately, seeing Veran looming over her shoulder, whispering into her ear as she talks, strips all of the levity away, reminding us of the damage that an autocratic power can enact on a population.

With Nayru, Queen Ambi and Veran taking up prominent, if often antagonist, roles in this story, Ages passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. Himekawa delve further into each character's unique personality and backstory than has been seen before, making them feel like the fleshed-out female characters that are often scarce in what is otherwise a remarkably progressive franchise.

The plot itself is a very standard one: rescue the princess, celebrate, rescue the second princess. If one wished to be reductive and pair it down to its basic elements, that is how the story plays out. The Legend of Zelda franchise is one that is known primarily for its remarkable ability to build worlds and infer a substantial amount of history; fortunately, these stories deliver that in spades.

In particular, Oracle of Seasons has a very straightforward "Save the Princess" story, but Himekawa have focused more on fleshing out the ancillary characters. These include a delightfully bombastic witch named Maple and a boxing kangaroo who goes by the name of Rocky Ricky. Team-ups are a rarity in this universe, so it makes the innocent friendship between these three youngsters all the more endearing. Unfortunately, Oracle of Ages doesn't manage to compensate significantly enough.

As someone with a hunger for convoluted time travel stories that I can't fully wrap my brain around, the original Oracle of Ages game provided a fun, twisted analysis of the effects that wreaking havoc on the time-stream can create. While there are some flashes of what time travel has wrought on the general populace in this manga, the focus is almost entirely drawn to a single point of the country’s history: a moment in Link's direct past. It’s understandable that needs must when simplifying an vastly complex story down, but it lost a lot of the charm that the original game had.

With the heroine after which this franchise is eponymously named taking a back-seat, you get the first look at the countries which exist outside of the land, Hyrule, in which the majority of the other games take place. You see the familial bonds of a travelling circus troupe in Seasons and the heartbreak of a Queen in Ages. This volume gives you a chance to see story beats and overall plotlines that usually get relegated to the background by a spunky, young boy saving the world.

If you come into this franchise for the almighty battles against world-destroying forces and the continuity-heavy arcs, then the Oracle of Season/Oracle of Ages saga isn't going to be the one for you. Similarly, if you dislike your original canon being simplified, then this won't work for you either. Stripped down though they may be from the original games, the fact remains that the world in which all of these wonderful stories take place just got that little bit wider, giving these adaptations a very special place in my heart.

May 21, 2017

, ,   |  

Death Isn't Proud, But She Is Funny in Kim Reaper by Sarah Graley

Written and Illustrated by Sarah Graley
Published by Oni Press

Don't even pretend that you haven't kept staring at a classmate because you have a crush on them, then make it a little weird by jumping into a dimensional vortex with them.

Okay, maybe not. But Becka, a young woman who digs the Goth look of fellow student Kim, does just that, only to discover that the potential love of her life, whom she hilariously refers to as "fine art" and "100% cutie with a booty," is actually the Grim Reaper.

Sort of.

You see, apparently they contract out to college students who need money, kind of like that Student Painters scam that was all the rage in the 90s, and Kim's job is to help people's pets move on to the afterlife. It comes with some great perks, including the ability to travel anywhere, but when you have a chaotic wanna-be love interest tagging along, mixing work and pleasure complicates things in a story that's both full of over the top comedy moments and really strong plotting.

A comic like this isn't really a hard sell for me. As soon as I saw the cover above, I knew this was one I wanted to check out, but the question was: Would it live up to the promise of that cover?

The answer is a resounding yes, yes it does.

From the opening pages, where Graley makes it clear that Becka is obsessed with Kim, we see the tone of the book. Becka claims she is Goth because she has a skeleton inside her, a line that made me laugh out loud as I was reading. Naturally Becka reacts strongly to the idea of a portal, and then again once she sees Kim doing her job. Meanwhile, Kim plays the perfect straight man, upset at the interruption to her work, which she finds perfectly normal. When the pair get caught, things go into joke overdrive, as an energy-drink freak turns out to be the owner of the soon-to-be-dead pet and finds them mid-reaping. 

The whole thing is absolutely absurd, and Graley knows it. Instead of trying to keep a lid on the premise, she blows it open in a splash page that's so great I don't want to spoil it by including it here. Suffice it to say: Never mess with a crazy cat owner of either gender, ok?

And that's another thing I really like about Kim Reaper. Across these first two issues, Graley doesn't worry about what gender usually is assigned to what role. Becka's antics at the opening are particularly funny to me because she's a parody of the geeky boy who wants the girl. (Ironically, the one that first came to mind as I thought about this was Oni's own Scott Pilgrim!) The gender flip on the crazy cat person also works well, because we expect one thing and get another. Graley does a great job with this in the first two issues, including a dramatic change in Becka's feelings, once she comes face to face with what it might be like to be part of Kim's life. Understanding tropes is a key part to subverting them, and Graley shows off her knowledge at every turn.

After setting up the premise in issue one, Graley shifts the focus in issue two to what it might be like to wield Kim's power. What starts off as being pretty cool (especially to love-struck Becka) turns increasingly dangerous, as we see that Kim's enjoyment of her job as a part-time reaper comes from a desire to take risks. In this way, she's a walking metaphor for those who seek thrills, by both living close to death and working for it. It's absolutely brilliant. Becka's reaction to this revelation puts a different spin on the premise, as Kim keeps making decisions that could hurt her--and those around her. The consequences of which look to be playing out as we move into issue three.

It's a great story, and Graley's art style works well by making everything slightly exaggerated in the first place. Her people have gigantic heads on top of spindly necks, allowing her to have them emote with expressive eyes and eyebrows. Mouths grow and shrink as needed, and pupils are easily replaced by symbols. She does a great job with making clear how Kim and Becka feel based on their facial expressions. We can tell when Kim is starting to show her love of danger, for example, based entirely on how she looks, even as we can tell that Becka is losing her interest in her new crush. Graley's bodies are short, only about three heads big, and they don't change much from panel to panel, as the focus is on the oversized faces and their features. However, I do like that her body shapes are different for each character, something we don't always see from creators.

The background panels are also designed to be functional, rather than the focus. Taking a cue from manga, there are a lot of times where Graley opts for the fictional representation, such as when Becka has pastries surrounding her after trying to talk Kim into working with her at the bakery instead of stealing cat souls. Most of the time, however, it's easy to see where we are, whether it's in an old pirate ship or inside a crazy cat person's home. Helping this is a willingness to adjust the panel grid structure as the story dictates, being willing to cut panels diagonally, for example, to heighten the effect of a scene.

I really enjoyed the first two issues of Kim Reaper, and I'm looking forward to more. Sarah Graley is clearly having a lot of fun creating a story about a person who might just be in over her head, and the slightly serious touch to an otherwise outsized concept is a lot of fun. If you haven't tried this one yet but you enjoy romantic comedies, make sure you pick up this one right away. I think you'll dig it!

May 20, 2017

, , ,   |  

Graphic Nonfiction: Ben Passmore on those New Orleans Monuments

It's awesome that New Orleans is finally taking down their statues that honor the legacy of racism and murder, and I say that as a person who has probably read more on the Civil War than about 90% of America. We can no longer tolerate leaving these statues up (or, if they must be up, surround them with the context of their hate, which was the solution Baltimore, MD came up with).

As the push to knock hate off its pedestal was reaching critical mass, Ben Passmore over at our friends The Nib took some time to explain just what was going on. I bring attention to that column here as a way to celebrate a little victory against hate in an era where bigots and racists run the Executive Branch. We can fight and win!

Plus, I really dig Ben's style on this comic. He adopts a very conversational style, while continuing t give you the context you need. His comics use exaggeration, little manga-ish side arrows, and a bit of creator insertion into the narrative. Here's a few panels to show you what I mean:

You can and should read the whole comic here.

It's a take on non-fiction comics that blends the research of a third-person article with a bit of the flair of an auto-bio comic, even as we realize it's unlikely that some scenes happened as depicted. This feels like someone writing a comic column, and it's a neat idea. This wouldn't work for every subject, but Ben really nails it here, keeping the reader engaged (and angry, I hope), while still making sure you know the history, including political reluctance to get rid of these damn things.

By now, we have a bit of an ending for the story, with the monuments going down one by one. I hope Ben was there to see it and get the last laugh on those who hold these pathetic, horrible figures in a place of honor.

May 18, 2017

, ,   |  

Exploring Life After Hockey and Family in Jeff Lemire's Roughneck

Sometimes the lessons from our childhoods are the hardest lessons to unlearn. When he was a kid, all Derek really learned from his father was how to be a sonovabitch, a lesson that served him well as an enforcer in the NHL until he went too far. Instead of having a long and fulfilling career playing hockey, Derek now spends his days as a short-order cook and his nights getting drunk, watching hockey, getting into bar fights and barely avoiding spending the night in jail in the town he grew up in. Jeff Lemire’s latest book Roughneck shows a man trying to live his life by a toxic masculine code that was handed down from generation to generation.

When Derek’s sister Beth returns to their hometown, it’s not so much that she brings trouble with her (which she does) but that she gives Derek another chance to be a brother and part of a family. But Derek doesn’t even really understand what that means. Both Derek and Beth carry some serious emotional damage with them that was inflicted on by their cruel father that caused them to leave home as soon as they could, one through hockey and one running away when there was no other alternative. Lemire is often interested in how people’s past shapes who they are now but Roughneck is all about that as Derek and Beth are such products of their hometown that, for better or for worse, everyone’s natural actions are to protect and shelter them.

What’s striking in this book is just how quiet and still Lemire lets it be. It’s the cold stillness that you can only experience during or right after a snowfall when the rest of the world is wisely inside and warm but you’re not. Lemire seems comfortable letting his drawings tell the story. Without getting the details, you can see both Derek’s hardness toward his world which melts to a protective tenderness when Beth re-enters his life. As always, Lemire’s characters carry the weight of their world in their faces and on their shoulders, allowing Lemire visually tell his stories through the narrative transformations of Derek and Beth.

As this brother and sister try to run away from their past, it’s no wonder that they end up in their hometown where it all started. This return to their childhood home hasn’t been any kind of return to childhood for them. Derek is haunted continually by his own failed hockey career as people keep trying to get his picture or measure their own toughness in comparison to him. When Beth shows up, she’s on the run from an abusive boyfriend and quickly falls into old habits that force Derek to be brotherly. And the only way he knows how to do that is to beat up the men who are hurting Beth. That’s the one and only lesson Derek ever learned from his father; let your fists do your talking for you.

So everything that’s happened in Derek and Beth’s lives have led them back to their childhood home, the people they knew when they were kids and a chance to make all the old mistakes again. While Lemire’s storytelling is really evocative and compelling, the story itself feels very basic as ultimately this is a story about characters with daddy issues. Even the events of their lives feel very afterschool special-like as the choices that the characters make don’t really challenge themselves or the readers in any illuminating way. Roughneck is laced with a lot of potentially interesting avenues he could explore but for some reason or another, Lemire doesn’t have the room to really delve into any of them.

Jeff Lemire’s Roughneck is an ultimately average story that’s full of some great comic storytelling. Lemire’s story is solid but there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in any of these kind of stories before. As he moves through the paces of this story, Derek and Beth’s paths feel very plotted out because we’ve seen this type of story before about adults who never really learned how to be anything but their parent’s children. Lemire’s cartooning continues to dazzle. There’s no one else who shapes the story visually the way that he does. Roughneck’s story just doesn’t have the narrative weight behind it to keep up with its storytelling.

May 15, 2017

, , , , , ,   |  

REVIEW: Swordquest #0 by Chad Bowers, Chris Sims and Ghostwriter X

Written by Chad Bowers, Chris Sims
Illustrated by Ghostwriter X
Color Flats by Karl Fan
Lettered by Josh Krach
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

When it was first announced that there was to be a comic adaptation of an Atari game, even though I was unfamiliar with the original series, there was part of me that was apprehensive about the literary merit of yet another reboot for a modern audience. Even though Bowers and Sims (X-Men '92, Guardians of the Galaxy #1.MU) have proved themselves an outstanding comedic writing team on mainstream properties in recent years, it still felt unnecessary. Fortunately, my initial estimations could not have been more incorrect.

For those who are unaware, Swordquest is a series of real-world video games that were released in the 1980s for the Atari 2600, each with its corresponding comic tie-in, that promised a range of extravagant prizes for those in the audience who could combine the two and extract the clues. Prizes included a talisman made of 18K solid gold and a gold crown that had been encrusted with diamonds and rubies, each valued at approximately $25,000. Unfortunately, Atari fell victim to the video game crash of 1983 and the ongoing competition was discontinued.

Swordquest #0 picks up 30 years after this cancellation. Our protagonist, Peter Chase, is an ex-fan of the Swordquest franchise, and is now a 45 year old man, working late into the night at his office-job that, despite his lack of enthusiasm for, he dedicates himself to. He then learns something that throws his life into disarray, setting off a chain of events that drag him back into the fantasy world that he abandoned so many years before.

From the very first page, it's clear that Bowers and Sims are writing a love-letter to the video games that have been so formative in their childhoods. While the specific references to Swordquest are there, this a comic for anyone that has graduated from the all-consuming world of those pixellated video games into the real world, only to discover that it's not as fantastical and fulfilling as you might have imagined it would be.

While there is a definite morose air to this introductory issue, it is by no means a morbid cesspit of despair. Peter Chase has been stagnating in his life, but it is only now that he has no other choice, that he is forced to rediscover that zeal, that vigour, that so many of us lose as we enter into a life with rent, bills and likewise unavoidable commitments.

The sheer quantity of little details included in these panels is exceptional. Ghostwriter X inserts a character-select screen, heart containers and point counters into panels, fully immersing you in the video-game theme of this story, while also providing a stark reminder of how all-consuming video games used to be in your youth. Ghostwriter X captures the jagged retro style perfectly, juxtaposing it beautifully with an otherwise modern and clean art style.

If that wasn't enough, there are also these individual "Game Tip" panels at the end of many of the pages that will be very familiar to anyone that has experience with the game manuals and guides of a time gone by. However, instead of guiding a decision in a video game, they relate to Peter's next action in the story, guiding him with an undefinable dramatic irony to the place that he most needs to be.

They fluctuate from the recognisably vague "Keep an eye out for hidden treasure" to the oddly specific "Take a deep breath before heading into a fire to avoid smoke inhalation". Without knowing which of the creative team was responsible for this detail, the adulation will have to be assigned to each of them in turn. Bowers, Sims, Ghostwriter X: that decision was inspired.

Every aspect of this issue feels deliberate; each component feels deliberately placed, either there to build atmosphere or to directly drive the plot forwards. The art feels very grounded in reality in both the modern day setting and in the fantasy world, compounding again and again how important video games can be to young children and how bittersweet that feeling is when it disappears.

There was a part of me that expected this story to be a lackluster rehashing of a video game that, due to its age, would have had little to offer. Instead, Bowers and Sims have found a story to tell with much more poignancy. The real-life story of the Swordquest contests itself is baffling and fascinating in equal measure, epitomising a very specific period of time in the history of media that so many people can relate to.

Buy this book if you want to have your heart broken in the most poetic way: with the truth.

Swordquest #0 is free on Comixology right now - there's literally not a reason for you to miss it.

May 14, 2017

, , ,   |  

Afar by del Duca and Seaton Dreams up a Great Story

Written by Leila del Duca
Illustrated by Kit Seaton
Published by Image Comics

A young woman who dreams of leaving her family's nomadic life begins to literally dream of being elsewhere, finding herself transported to other realms when she sleeps. With dangers lurking in the waking and dreaming world, the cost of Boetema's decisions in both places take center stage in this gorgeous, thoughtful story that hopefully is the start of much more.

The premise of Afar is one that's close to my heart. Like Boetema, I dream in complete worlds and sometimes it makes it hard for me to get rest. I don't think I astral project, but when I am a part of the dream, it takes complete control of me. I can be there for moments, days, or even years, all during what is probably no more than a few minutes of REM dreaming. Seeing del Duca and Seaton bring this concept to life was pretty exciting to me, especially since they take the concept and really do some amazing things. 

We've read the "dreams are real" plot before--it's not new--but the pair add elements to it that make this graphic novel stand out. Too often we'd have pitiable white boy/white girl in a bad situation who wishes they were elsewhere. Instead, Boetema is the daughter of migrant workers who can barely keep a roof over the heads of the family. They aren't cruel or uncaring parents, but their actions, like wearing out their welcome as we open the comic, have consequences.

Similarly, while Boetema expresses extreme frustration at her brother, Inotu, he's not an anchor on their lives or boring or spiteful. Inotu isn't as smart as his sister, but he loves her deeply and is willing to take risks for her. That means that we are grounded in Boetema's real life. We want her to succeed in her dream worlds, but not at the expense of her physical one. This might be the most important difference for me--I'm hard pressed to think of a story such as this where the protagonist's mundane life is as vibrant, exciting, and important to the reader as the fantasy one.

Boetema's normal life.
I think my favorite part of Afar is that there are so many parallels and echoes within the structure. Boetema's parents keep moving, Boetema and Inotu keep moving, and the characters that Boetema possesses in her dreams are also on the move. Boetema's decisions in her waking life impact on Inotu, nearly getting him killed. Her impetuous decisions in one of the other realms also cause dire consequences. At the same time, however, it's clear that sometimes you have to make the best decision you can think of in the moment, and it's never easy. That's just real life--and the creative really drives home the realism, even though we're firmly in fantasy territory, even in the mundane world, which, while similar, is not our own.

The worlds themselves are spectacular. Even those we see only briefly, when Boetema is passing from realm to realm, feel complete and ripe to have stories told in them. Of course, I'm partial to the one with the green cats, but we get disembodied shapes, cloud worlds, bi-pedal bugs, and so many others. I don't know if we will get to see more of these creations in subsequent volumes, but I certainly hope so!
Nice kitty!
Making these worlds feel so alive is a credit to having two great artists working on the book. Leila del Luca may be familiar to some readers as the artist on Shutter, a book with fantastic visuals. It's no surprise to me that when moving to plot and scripting, her mind conceived of such great concepts and fully-formed backgrounds for the characters. I was completely unfamilar with Kit Seaton, but after reading this book, I can't wait to see more from her. Doing all of the artistic work--linework, colors, and letters--Seaton is able to seamlessly switch between the worlds, giving them their own distinctive look, feel, and even style. I want to break those down, at least as best I can without being an artist myself, because I think being able to change your style, even just a little, allows a storyteller to craft something that stands out. (Think of all the different ways Erica Henderson switches styles to make references in Squirrel Girl, for example. That would never work if she wasn't able to vary her linework.) Seaton's primary took in this area is color, but it also shows up in other ways as well.

For the main world, Seaton primarily uses a landscape of burnt oranges, tans, browns, and dark blue, depending on the scene being portrayed, which meshes with the arid climate of Boetema's home. Within this world, populated by characters of color, there is a great variety of skin tones as well. (I wish I didn't have to highlight this, but how many times have we seen comics where all the black characters had the exact same coloring?) Everything is drawn to echo our own world, yet not match it exactly. We can see that the people Boetema and Inotu live with have grand mosaics, patterned pottery, and other little details that make up a culture. Each is intricately detailed, with Seaton refusing to skimp on details. If you could possibly make out a face from the reader's perspective, then she draws the entire face, not a blob.

When Boetema and Inotu change cities, there's an increase in opulence, as befits a larger community, but the basics are the same. We can clearly tell we're in the same land, just a different section. The buildings appear larger, the people more varied in their appearance and the general sense of scope and scale are clearly captured--all without slowing down the plot, because Seaton's visuals give us this impression. There's no need for del Luca to force exposition into the characters' mouths.

Look at that world-building!

The first otherworlds we encounter are colored dramatically differently. An underwater scene is shaded in red, not a traditional blue, while the big cats are in vibrant, clashing green and purple. Both are drawn in the same level of detail as the normal world, so it's the coloring here that gives these sections their own feel, rather than the line art. A parable about a mythical lizard is portrayed with a yellow background and evokes cave drawings, though more advanced, evoking a feeling of ancient legend visually, even as Boetema tells the tale. Meanwhile, Boetema's meeting with others who astral project has an almost pastel feel to it. Seaton backs off the starkness of the black lines, softening the effects and making it feel as though we really are in a dreamland. When it's time to go back to Boetema's reality, the reader's eye is easily able to switch between them. It's really stellar storytelling.

We don't get a drastic artistic shift when Boetema goes to the world where she puts lives at risk. The characters are closer to human, though they have distinctive facial features and an extra finger on each hand. However, the landscape is vastly different, with rocks and trees, and so the background images are less precisely defined. The coloring also uses browns, but with a heavy dose of reds. The clothing of the realm are also distinctive, looking more like space suits than the traditional garb of Boetema and Inotu. Though the linework isn't shifted (as in the case of the fable), there's a definite attempt to clearly highlight the differences, even as the plot shows that regardless of her physical appearance, Boetema is the same young woman inside.

There's so much to like about Afar, and I'm very glad I picked up a copy of Leila when I saw her at a signing. The cast of characters are engaging quickly, they feel like real people instead of being pawns to a plot, the art is high quality, and, perhaps best of all, you can read this on its own, even as you hope for a longer series.

If you didn't pick this up yet, give it a shot. This especially belongs in school libraries, where its positive message and representation are sorely needed. Anyone who loves fantasy is going to find themselves in their own realm of enjoyment!

May 12, 2017

, , , , , , , , , , , ,   |  

"Step Over the Homeless, Not On Them." (Weekend Pattering for May 12th, 2017)

Previously on Panel Patter

Cover of the Next Week

I haven't had a chance to read John Layman and Sam Kieth's Eleanor and the Egret #1 yet but here's the lovely cover for the second issue.  The texture on the animals, particularly on the turtle, make me as happy as that turtle looks.


** In Hostage, Guy Delisle tells the true story of an NGO worker held captive (CBC Books)-- The CBC posts a brief interview with Guy Delisle about the kidnapping of a Doctors Without Borders worker.
The whole idea of the book was to give the reader the same experience as Christophe. It was a very immersive type of story. I knew there would be a lot of repetition. I wanted to have the experience of how time can pass very slowly, day by day. How do you cope with that? That's why there are so many pages. It was very important to describe time and have a sense, for the reader, to turn the page because of that. At first he thought he would be there just for the weekend. Then it was three days. Then a week passed, then two weeks, then a month. It's interesting to describe how you have to cope with that.
I'm reading Hostage right now and if this was his goal, he succeeded remarkably well. 

**An Interview with Ibrahim Moustafa (11 O'Clock Comics)-- Jason Woods continues his interviews with artists, this time with Ibrahim Moustafa.  Moustafa talks a bit about why he still draws on paper with ink rather than transitioning to drawing digitally.

I think the biggest reason I stay working traditionally is that I feel digital would hinder my ability to get better in some ways. The variables involved with using a brush are so extensive; the length of the bristles, natural hair versus synthetic, the amount of ink on it, the ink/water ratio, the way the inks bleeds onto the page, how much caffeine is surging through your body as you make your stroke. All of that affects how you draw, and learning to control those factors, to me, is part of mastering this medium. Working digitally removes a lot of those factors; there is no ink to bleed, there’s a pre-programmed level of line variation. It’s all 1’s and 0’s. I feel like that puts a ceiling on growth to an extent.

from (The Beat) -- With the release of Bug!, Lee, Michael and Laura Allred talk about Gerard Way, the origins of this book and the power of Jack Kirby.
Lee: Kirby, a combat infantryman in WW2, specifically called out the totalitarianism he fought, mentioning the Axis and their leaders by name even, in Forth World texts. The crushing of the spirit; the extinguishing of the smallest spark of freedom. Kirby wrote of it in a grand, mythic scope. Will Orion succumb to his genetic inheritance as Darkseid’s son or will he act of his own accord as an adopted champion of New Genesis? Will Scott Free escape the prison of his past life on Apokolips?

This and That

** Incoming: DOOM PATROL Vol. 1 (Todd's Blog)-- Todd Klein writing about comics and process is always something worth paying attention to.  This time, he looks at the new Doom Patrol comic and its colors.
One thing I’ve been noticing in recent DC printed comics is a different method of color separation. I’m not sure when it started, but fairly recently, I think. Gone are the regimented rows of dots in the colors, now they are dithered.
That's just a tease.  Go to the post to see what he really has to say about how this book colored by Tamara Bonvillain is different than other current comics.

Your Moment of Groening?

So, apparently not too much has changed in the past 22 years. 

Current Mood

May 11, 2017

, , ,   |  

The Endless Night of Kevin Huizenga's Ganges

From Ganges #4 (2011)

Ganges is one 11-year-long restless night. Begun in 2006 and just recently concluded with its sixth issue, Kevin Huizenga's series is one non-sequitur after another, all perfectly linked together by Huizenga's unrelenting inability to quiet his mind and just shut his eyes for a few hours of sleep. Huizenga’s storytelling has always had this abstract element to it, from his fight comics to his comics about nature, but in Ganges it is easy to get lost in it if you’re looking for a straightforward narrative. Trying to map the plot of this series from Point A. through to Point Z. would be madness because our brains, at their rawest and most frayed, don’t work like that. And that’s what Huizenga’s cartoons here are about, those moments in time and space where order isn’t logical because our perceptions aren’t able to handle logic.

Huizenga can be a hard cartoonist to pin down. Sometimes his comics are about form and function as he tries to see what ways he can twist and manipulate the printed image but other times, his concerns are much warmer and more compassionate than that, bordering on (if not full-out tilting toward) tell-all autobiography, or at least a facsimile of autobiography. Ganges gives him the room to indulge in all of his interests as his slice-of-life comics frame the narrative gymnastics he performs to you in the same fragile state-of-mind as Glenn Ganges, a man who just can’t fall asleep. Huizenga balances the mundane and the surreal in these comics, inducing the same helpless feelings in the reader as his character is feeling as he stares at his ceiling trying to figure out how to get some rest.

From Ganges #2 (2008)

A big oddity of this comic is its 11 year cultivation. Reading an issue every year or two, it may be hard to see the connections that Huizenga is making from issue to issue. Glenn’s inability to sleep may just be caused by the mania of this series. But reading each of the issues together, you can begin to see the cartoonist and the character’s restless mind in action as ideas and concepts bounce off of each other, amplifying or even spotlighting things that you may have missed the first time. Each issue becomes a piece of a puzzle that maybe doesn’t have a solution.

From an old co-worker to his sometimes antagonistic relations with his wife (more just frustrated sniping than anything too mean or harsh,) Glenn’s life is full of these moments in time that defines who he’s going to be in the days, months and years to come. In fact, he may already be that man as Huizenga compresses time down into what may be a single day and night. With a free-ranging timeline, there’s little delineation between what’s happening now, what happened years ago or what’s yet to happen. Parts of Ganges are obviously flashbacks but Huizenga doesn't need to create an obvious and clear timeline because that would be too orderly.  And time doesn't really matter because everything is happening at once in Huizenga's comics.

From Ganges #1 (2006)

Huizenga’s cartooning manipulates the comic page to bend time and space back upon itself. It’s hard to imagine another artist being able to capture the way your mind races only at 3 a.m. with the creative clarity that he does. It’s not that he gives the thousand racing thoughts any clarity but it’s his depiction of thought and time that creates a universality to the sleepless tossing and turning that everyone experiences at some point. Through all six issues, Huizenga draws images that are surreal but relatable as his storytelling visually mimics the sensation of an overactive mind.

As Glenn’s mind sleeplessly races, Huizenga’s ability to visualize his character’s inner thoughts creates pages and pages of pure cartooning. Huizenga uses the comic page as a canvas to tell his stories but the psychedelia of his art warps reality for both the characters and for his readers. Glenn is such an everyman that as he has these visions strange creatures fighting one another or his own self image doubling and tripling up on itself, Huizenga’s abstractions become concrete because we can relate to the character’s experiences of uncertainty as our minds become capable of imagining some incredibly odd things after the lack of rest.

The lack of focus in Ganges is actually its focus and its concerns. From the story that Huizenga is telling to the abstract methods he uses to tell that story, Huizenga has no interest in making it any easier for the reader to get through these comics than it is for Glenn to get through this sleepless night. Even in the final issue, Huizenga simply ends the book, enveloping the reader in more mysteries and puzzles, rather than offering a conclusion to Glenn’s trouble. There’s no “and then he fell asleep and lived happily ever after.” Huizenga continues to play with form up to the last page, having pages at the end of the series that continue to even more disconnected from the goal of sleep than anything that has come before them.

May 10, 2017

,   |  

Patrick Crotty - Internal Affairs (3)

Patrick Crotty's - "Internal Affairs 3"

I wasn't able to make it to many comics festivals in 2016, but was delighted when my friend sent me a surprise care package with some books he picked up at RIPEXPO. The highlight of the bunch was Patrick Crotty's "Internal Affairs 3". I didn't realize it at first but I'm familiar with Patrick Crotty from some recent anthologies. And then on a recent episode of "We Should Be Friends" podcast, they mentioned this book as one that Mickey Z had been vigorously proselytizing. Which makes sense, because Mickey Z's comics and "Internal Affairs 3" share a sensibility rooted in cute, manga-style characters abstracted through an art-comics lens. Where Mickey Z has an expressive mark-making style in the vein of Brian Chippendale, Crotty has more of a minimalist style, with white space and abstracted shapes with pink and blue spot-colors. What both share, though, is a sense of deceptively thoughtful and expressive off-hand style. What Zainab Akhtar described as "a studied laissez faire" in her review of Crotty's first "Internal Affairs" book in 2014.

The plot of "Internal Affairs 3" has a guy named "Onion", who is literally an onion, interning at a shitty office. After recuperating from an injury, he returns to work to find two new interns hired in his place. Soon the entire office goes on vacation leaving the interns to run the entire company in their absence.  This leads to them getting mixed up in corporate espionage, culminating in an armed raid on a competitor's office building.

The character design is loose and cartoony, like a Japanese gag comic, with outsized reactions and emotions that bend and stretch the character design for comedy. There is one full page in here where Onion's mom just does outrageous plop-takes one-after the next after finding out her son has been dumped by his girlfriend. It just beats out by a hair Alfred Hitchcock toppling over a whole crowd of onlookers in Tim Hensley's "Sir Alfred No. 3" for most over-the-top plop-take of 2016.

The real star of the show is not the character design or plot, though, it’s Crotty’s little experiments in style and form, both innovative and effective, and which appear frequently throughout the book. Like this page where Onion basks in his co-workers’ applause, a beautifully minimal and effective illustration. The pink shapes that background the sound effects look like flashes from cameras or even confetti, and a loosely-sketched Onion floats in the middle of it all, dazed in the glory of the adulation.


Later in the book, there is a scene that recalls the climax of Matsumoto's "Gogo Monster," where Onion and Simon, a co-worker, have thrown a smoke grenade, and are being pursued across an office by heavily-armed guards. The billowing smoke abstracts their forms to barely recognizable slivers.


It's usually not that flashy, though. One page shows Onion enduring a terrible day at the office before heading out into an indifferent city. The skyline is barely drawn but still feels well observed. The page as a whole is an impressive use of comics techniques:
  • Top tier: Body posture and squiggly emanata with blank background establish Onion's sour mood.
  • Middle tiers: Onion's body posture (tense shoulders) and emanata are de-emphasized here. The emotional tone is driven by the constrained physical space and his close proximity to his co-workers, whose inane online chatter is even more isolating.
  • Bottom tier: The larger environment sets the emotional tone here, pulling all the way out to a quiet city under a dark, smudgy sky. Using a final panel of a quiet city is a tried and true comics technique. The barely-there sleepy face emoji in the middle of the panel works like an emoji added on top of a Snapchat. It underscores the tone but also reminds you it's not life or death.

In his write up for 2016's SPX, Rob Clough said the festival was divided between alt-comics and genre-based comics. The line is straddled all the time, though, and Mr. Crotty represents one of the more successful ways that happens. It makes sense he has popped up in the pages of Island, the monthly Image comics anthology that’s established itself as a home for genre-adjacent comics. His short piece in Island #5 isn't really genre, but rather an oddball four-page fashion shoot of fanciful harajuku-cum-manga style, heavy on bulky shoes and face coverings, along with fake brand text and model names. It's the kind of unexpected and unusual thing they do often in Island, but I wish they did more of still.

His contribution to Mould Map 4, a European politics focused anthology from 2015, is closer in style and content to "Internal Affairs 3". Sort of. It takes place among office buildings and in the context of office jobs, but it's printed in a glossy large format of the anthology, rather than the smaller risographed format of "Internal Affairs 3," and has black and gold spots rather than soft pink and blue. The combined impression of these differences is that Mould Map 4 feels a lot less elegant. It's six pages, a third of which are a silly chase scene through a multi-block long stretch limousine. The politics are also more overt, set against a backdrop of protests and unrest, with corporations as literal enemies rather than just the source of alienating and meaningless day job.  It's notable that it didn't take much of a shift in tone to fit snugly into the anthology's thematic concerns without contemporary European politics.

"Internal Affairs 3" may be slipping through the cracks a bit because it's too odd for the genre comics crowd and too cute for the art comics crowd. But it's worth a look.

"Internal Affairs 3" is 192 pages and is published on Patrick Crotty's own "Peow". It can be ordered from their website at

May 9, 2017

, , ,   |  

Calling Queer Creators: Submit to the Prism Awards

Prism Comics, in association with the Queer Comics Expo, is holding an award for queer comics that were created in the past two years, from May 1, 2015 to Jun 1, 2017, and they'd like you to nominate yourself.

From the combination press release/submission form:
PRISM COMICS and the QUEER COMICS EXPO are proud to announce the first annual PRISM AWARDS! These awards will be presented to comic works by queer authors and works that promote the growing body of diverse, powerful, innovative, positive or challenging representations of LGBTQAI+ characters in fiction or nonfiction comics. The goal of the awards is to recognize, promote and celebrate diversity and excellence in the field of queer comics.
Winners of the Prism Awards will be announced at the Queer Comics Expo in San Francisco, the weekend of July 8-9, 2017. All submissions will be reviewed by an impartial panels of judges made up of professionals in the field of comics, including authors, scholars, reviewers and librarians. You do not have to attend in person to win, but it is highly encouraged.
Submissions for the awards are open from May 1 to June 1, 2017. Eligible work must have been made/published within the past two years (between May 1, 2015 and June 1, 2017). No author may submit more than three entries.

All entrants must fill out the Prism Awards submission form below and provide a link to the PDF copy of their submission. No submissions, except Anthologies, may be more than 32 pages or 32mb file size (for larger works of more than 32 pages please submit an excerpt that fits these limitations). For anthologies please reduce file size as much as possible while maintaining the quality of the image to best represent the work. Each work submitted must be in a single PDF file. All submissions should have the title of work and main author's name clearly visible on at least one page of the work.
For this year, the team acknowledges their limitations, stating that the work must be English-only. They do not have the resources to read untranslated work at this time. It's unfortunate--I'm sure there's amazing work in French and Japanese, just to name two countries with strong comics communities--but understandable. Hopefully if the award grows in scope, they can add foreign works.

The categories are:

  • Best Short Form Comic
  • Best Webcomic
  • Best Comic from a Small to Midsize Press
  • Best Comic from a Mainstream Publisher
  • Best Comic Anthology

I did not see anything about who the judges are going to be, but this is such a cool idea and I wanted to make sure it got the attention it deserves. Best of luck if you enter!

May 8, 2017

, , , , , , ,   |  

A Study in Legends #1 - The Ocarina of Time

With the new release, Breath of the Wild, receiving all manner of accolade from the most unexpected of sources, The Legend of Zelda franchise has been revitalised and has never been more in vogue.

For the few who weren’t fortunate enough to grow up in the 90s saturated in video games, The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that is steeped in complex continuity, interweaving between worlds and throughout time. What remains constant, however, is a protagonist named Link that strives to save the titular heroine, Zelda.

Back in 1998, a staggering 19 years ago for those of you who want a reminder of your age, Nintendo commissioned the legendary manga duo Akira Himekawa (with pen names A. Honda and S. Nagano) to adapt their most popular game to date, The Ocarina of Time, into a serialised manga. As is discussed in the afterword to this collected volume, Akira Himekawa jumped at the chance to work on a game that they themselves were hotly anticipating.

Akira Himekawa would soon go on to adapt eight of the games in turn, putting their own little spin on each independent universe, which were released to wild acclaim in Japan and even found some success overseas. Fortunately for those of us who were unlucky enough not to have access to the material at the time of its initial release, Viz Media have been gradually re-releasing collected versions of the material in so-called “Legendary Editions”.

These editions include a limited portion of coloured pages at the beginning of each volume, while also bundling in supplementary material such as accompanying magazine interviews and bonus stories that hint at a world even broader than that seen in the games themselves. This column will cover each of these five collected “Legendary” volumes, analysing their commitment to the original source material and whether or not they can be judged on their own merits.

NOTE: All images in this article should be read from right to left, in the original manga style

The Ocarina of Time is arguably one of the most beloved video games of all time. With a remake serving as one of the first games for one of Nintendo’s 3DS back in 2011, it’s clear that the dedication of the fanbase is still as intense as it ever was. With an arguably unfair bar to meet, existing fans will go into this volume hoping for the best and expecting the worst: hew too close to the original game and the manga will suffer; stray too far from the game and hardcore fans will be disappointed.

From the offset, Akira Himekawa make it clear that while they are unquestionably retaining the spirit and overall trajectory of the plot, events will be unfolding in the way that best serves the story; it immediately defines itself as unafraid to deviate from the expected chain of events. Gone is the skipping across the pond in Kokiri village and the adventure through the maze for the Kokiri sword is no more. What remains, however, is something arguably far more engaging.

As a silent protagonist, the version of Link in Ocarina of Time can only be defined as a spunky, young adult who is unafraid to stand up against the forces of evil. What Akira Himekawa proffers is a far more nuanced, but still instantly recognisable, character that retains that characteristic zeal, but couples it with both speech and complex emotions.

Throughout the so-called “Young Era” of Link’s adventure in this story, a label required due to the aforementioned convoluted time travel, Akira Himekawa paint a character with the optimism and accompanying naivit√© of the young child that he is, while maintaining the grim-faced contrarian that we know him to be from the source material.

However, there is a strange and potentially unintended side-effect to inserting such a strong personality where there previously was none. Link has always been accompanied by loud-mouthed companions that allow the creators to express either guidance or exposition, given that the protagonist himself is unable to do so. In Ocarina of Time, this manifests itself in the fairy companion Navi.

Unfortunately, after her initial appearance, Navi is relegated to set-dressing by the wide array of characters that are consistently tagging along on small portions of Link’s adventure. While fleshing out these secondary characters demonstrates previously unexplored aspects of the world, which is understandable, there was something truly special about the relationship between boy and fairy that appears to have been lost in the adaptation.

One character that is one of the best-served by the expansion is the enigmatic Sheik. In the original game, Sheik is a male-presenting character that weaves in and out of the “Adult Era” of Link’s quest and provides little tidbits of information, while also teaching Link the skills that he needs to access the possessed temples. While this overall intention of the character is retained across the adaptation, the version of Sheik that emerges is something far more interesting.

Sheik is written as more of a travelling companion and, subsequently, feels less like a contrivance of the creator to convey information and more like an integral part of the overall plot. During a long trek across an expansive desert, Sheik waxes poetic about the tragic history of his people, the Sheikah, and ends up feeling like a more three-dimensional character while simultaneously setting up more of the extended universe. However, he also has an unexpected effect on the protagonist himself.

As mentioned earlier, Sheik is explicitly referred to as, and presents himself as, male. While those in the know will already understand the need for this roundabout description, it is important to stress how Sheik is viewed by the outside world and, more specifically, Link.

As a protagonist that was created in the 1980s that is an unquestionable male power fantasy, Link has always been portrayed as completely straight; his intentions for saving Zelda from the Big Bad are not wholly innocent. However, as Sheik and Link grow closer and closer over the course of their adventures, there is a culminating moment where Link is beginning to question the nature of their relationship and what it means to him. It is by no means a definitive moment for the character, but it is one that I really appreciated.

A review of this manga would be understandably incomplete without a thorough discussion of Akira Himekawa’s beautiful art. It’s worth mentioning to Western readers that may be inexperienced with the format, but this work is presented in its natural Manga format (i.e. read right to left) and it admittedly takes a while to adjust. However, from beginning to end, this book is abound with energy and aplomb. When Link fights, he glides across the page, with Akira Himekawa able to portray both jumps, lunges and the trademark sword spin with apparent ease.

Where the art in this book truly shines is Akira Himekawa’s refusal to remain within normal panel boundaries. Characters encompass large portions of the page as they spill their soul out to the reader, the greater detail on their face entrenching their emotional state and drawing the reader in that much more intensely. If you ever doubted it before, Akira Himekawa demonstrates in this book alone that each comic page should be able to be viewed as its own separate entity.

One feature unique to the “Legendary” collections of the books, potentially to re-capture people who have already purchased past editions, is the fully coloured portion at the very front of the book. While the black and white art that makes up the remaining majority of the pages is sufficiently bouyant enough to draw you in on its own, it’s difficult not to resent the coloured pages for taking the art to another level.

Beyond the adaptation of the video game, Akira Himekawa, perhaps controversially, inserts two original short stories into the story. The first, titled The Skull Kid and the Mask, has been slotted into the interval between the previously mentioned “Young Era” and “Old Era” and tells the story of a time when Link had a personal encounter with one of the unquantifiably sad Skull Kids that lurks inside the Forbidden Forest, adjacent to the village in which they grow up.

Plucking at your heartstrings from his very first appearance, the titular Skull Kid is the absolute star of the show. While Akira Himekawa’s immature characterisation of the Kokiri continues to hit every note it aims for, the exploration of the innate tragedy of what creates the Skull Kids is gut-wrenching and deserves to be experienced firsthand.

The second short story, Rouru of the Watarara, introduces a fascinating new race to Hyrule, the land in which this adventure takes place, but its plot unfortunately falls victim to a series of coming-of-age tropes. While it remains a notable story for the germination that it appears to provide to the later game Wind Waker, the finer details will fade from your memory pretty quickly.

There will be people who will be resolute in the fact that the original Ocarina of Time game is a perfect masterpiece and deserves to remain absolutely untouched in perpetuity. If you resolutely fall into this category, which is not necessarily a negative quality, then this adaptation is unquestionably not for you. Akira Himekawa takes liberties with both character and plot, some of which deviate quite significantly from the source material.

However, it’s very clear from the offset that this is an absolute labour of love for everyone involved. Adaptations require adapting, as you might expect, to best suit the format that they will be finalised into; what works as a story beat in one medium will not necessarily work in another. Long confrontations and fetch quests have been converted into personalities and character growth and the story and the reader are rewarded exponentially for it.

Hey! Listen! Give this book an honest chance! Can Hyrule's destiny really depend on such a lazy reader?