October 20, 2016

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Halloween Horror: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Written and Drawn by Raina Telgemeier
Published by Graphix

Death is something that we all think about but it’s a really big and unknowable concept for kids. Believing in ghosts are one thing, a childish fantasy that sticks with us through our whole lives, but believing that all of those ghosts are a person who died is another thing. And then add into it that those people may be your grandparents, your parents or your siblings and the idea of our mortality becomes almost unbearable to adults let alone to children. But it’s these kinds of heady concepts that Raina Telgemeier is tackling in her newest book Ghosts. While it covers some of the same ground as Telgemeier's previous book (particularly the all-too-important concept of acceptance,) Telgemeier's portrayal of life and death in Ghosts takes those concepts in new directions for her

Catalina’s family has to move to a new Northern California town due to her younger sister’s worsening cystic fibrosis. Maya’s sickness is something that isn’t curable but the move to a different environment may make things better for her. So Cat’s story begins as a somewhat typical “kid forced to move away from her school and her friends” story, having to deal with all of the angst and resentment towards her family, while having to make new friends and even find a boyfriend in the new town. But this isn’t any normal Northern California town; it’s a town filled with ghosts. And while to an outsider, it may look like the town is haunted, Cat and Maya learn about the history of the ghosts and families. So while it takes some twists and turns, the story of the ghosts and Cat ends up containing some fairly typical themes for a YA story like this.

The titular ghosts of this book give it a sense of life even as you’re dreading the worst possible events as you’re reading it. Even if the move was intended to help Maya, she gets progressively worse and sicker in this new town. It feels like the move was too late to save the young girl and that feeling just grows with each panel and page. For all of the normal teenage drama that fills this book, Telgemeier’s reminders of our mortality create an uneasiness in this book. Between Maya’s illness and the almost ever-present ghosts, the acceptance that Telgemeier really seems to be exploring here is the acceptance of our own inescapable death.

But everything in this book is not doom and gloom. At the heart of the story is Cat and the resilience of her personality. There are lessons to be learned and new people to get to know in Ghosts. When you take out the supernatural elements of the book, Cat’s story is the story of a young girl navigating her way through life. She wants to be a good sister but she also wants to live her own life. While the fantasy adds flavor and depth to the book, Telgemeier keeps it about the characters, about Cat and Maya.

Telgemeier’s artwork wonderfully dances between the personal, the ghastly and the dramatic. For the first third of the book, she sets up the book as a horror story and the expressiveness of her characters play into this. Cat is a fantastic character who, due to the circumstances of her life, is primed to experience these new things as some of the scariest moments of her life. As she develops the story, her artwork moves from this horror-tinged flavoring to a celebration. These shifts in tone and flavor in Ghosts is told through the artwork, reflecting Cat’s own growth during the book.

And really, the story ends up being about something as simple as acceptance. Through the ghosts and these unearthly beings, Cat learns lessons about her family, her new friends and, most importantly, her sister. Maya is a wonderful spirit in this book and she’s all too mortal. In Cat’s life, we see this great tension between her living friends and the spirits of the dead on All Saint’s Day. Telgemeier never gets morose or narrowly focused on death even though the thought of death hangs over every page. Instead, all of this serves to remind us the lives we have here and now. By approaching the supernatural as the natural, Ghosts becomes a story about the joys of life and family by reminding us of the richness that exists in these normal experiences.

October 14, 2016

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Weekend Pattering for October 14th, 2016-- Sean Phillips Revisited

Previously on Panel Patter

Cover of the Next Week

O.k.  It's actually two covers. I believe the top tier may be a variant and the bottom tier is the front and back cover of the regular edition of the new quarterly Love And Rockets #1.  I love the push and pull that exists between these covers, showing us almost the same things just from different angles and perspectives in time.  Even though they've done some iconic covers over the past 30+ years, sometimes I think that Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez just don't get enough credit for their compositions.  

Love and Rockets #1 is out on October 19th, 2016.


** Ed Brubaker on Westworld, The Fade Out, and his immersion into Hollywood (The A.V. Club)-- Oliver Sava talks to Ed Brubaker about a lot of his work lately, including the HBO show that he's currently working on.  I particularly enjoyed the point where he talks about the evolution of Sean Phillips' artwork in Kill or Be Killed.
I came up with the idea at some point during the first issue of doing those pages that are like splash pages with text running down the side, which you’ve seen in European comics, and I think Frank Miller did it in Sin City sometimes. It was something I’d never tried before, and I wanted to do it in a way to free up the narrative from necessarily having to tie in with every moment of the pictures. And then Sean, when we were first talking about the design of the book, sent over his idea for having every page be a full-page bleed. He’s still using the three-tier structure that we’ve been using since we started Criminal, but he’s experimenting a bit more with how he handles the page.
Brubaker's most recent "From the Desk Of..." newsletter this week previewed the just-released third issue and featured a stunning black-and-white page from the upcoming fourth issue.

Sean is almost done with issue 4, which looks amazing even in black and white so far, and I'll give you a secret tease to that here, with one of my favorite pages that doesn't spoil anything:

I'm in love with this page and Phillips' artwork from this series.  I see a lot of  Al Williamson and Alex Raymond (and even Dave Sim doing his best Alex Raymond impersonation) on this page.  It's beautiful.  Few comic artists have ever been able to make me believe in their snowy drawings the way that Phillips is doing it here.  Part of me wants to see a black&white edition of any of the Brubaker/Phillips joints but then you'd end up missing the coloring of Elizabeth Breitweiser, Val Staples or Dave Stewart.  I think if you see anything here it's how great of an image and foundation Phillips lays down for the final printed page.

 ** “And It Lasted Forever”: An Interview with Tom Spurgeon (The Comics Journal)-- As a leadup to this weekend's CXC show in Columbus, OH., Tim Hodler interviewed the show's festival director Tom Spurgeon about his many ventures such as the show, The Comic Reporter, his time at Fantagraphics as the editor of The Comics Journal and his upcoming book about the history of Fantagraphics.  Spurgeon has a unique view of comics because of the various roles he's played in it during his lifetime.

There's a lot of great stuff to dig through that interview for but this is the part that particularly stuck me.  Hodler asked Spurgeon about the evolution of comics and Tom answered:
Still, without some sort of structure… well, right now it just feels like we’re making comics and then throwing them into the ocean. I don’t even know when people I like are going to have comics out, and this is my job. I can’t imagine how soul-killing it is to work on something for two years, have it out, get one review and maybe a convention out of it, and then never hear anyone talk about what you did ever again. I see it as a systemic failure: we’ve had all the things happen to most media businesses decentralizing and spreading out cost, and ours was never that strong to begin with.

This and That

** That's Not Who We Are (The Nib)-- Mike Dawson's latest comic at the Nib is kind of scary when you stop to think about how long white people have tried to justify that they know what's best for black people.

** What Is It Like To Raise Kids In Malaysia When You're LGBT? (The Nib)-- Kazimir Lee's explores the troubles of LGBT parents in Malaysia.  It's a stunning look at a conservative country's view of parenting.

Your Moment of... Batman?

** SNYDER & CAPULLO To Reunite for 2017 DC Summer Event... And Yes, BATMAN Is In It (Newsarama)-- George Marston reports that at NYCC Scott Snyder announced that he and Greg Capullo will be working on DC's next summer event.  And all I can say to that is...




You see, that means that Greg Capullo is returning to DC and getting away from Mark Millar's grubby little hands.

Millar and Capullo's Reborn came out this week and it was... alright I guess?  After Capullo made such a splash on the New 52 Batman with Snyder, his storytelling with Millar feels really off and I guess I'm more than willing to blame the author for that.

Basically, my review of Reborn #1 would have been, "well, it's just another Mark Millar comic."  And I don't think that's saying too much as most of Millar's stuff lately has been really just kind of bland, saccharine, Hollywood blockbuster comics.  At Sequart, Ian Dawe kind of hits the nail on the head for me about a lot of Millar's recent comics.
The book... mines familiar Millar thematic territory, namely the transformation of ordinary people into superheroes.
Wanted.  Kick-Ass.  Huck.  Starlight.  Kingsman.  MPH.  The Chosen.

It is the through-line of so many of Millar's comics and I don't think he has a lot of variation between these stories.  And that's what gets me to think, "it's just another Mark Millar comic." 

And Hollywood loves it.

I hope that Capullo gets a huge payday out of this when the movie gets made.  I hope Capullo can go back to drawing fun and interesting comics after this because Reborn #1 wasn't really it.  Capullo's art seemed a bit off to me.  Even though this is the penciler, inker, and colorist from Batman, something felt different here. It didn't pulse like those issues of Batman did.  It didn't sing.  

It was just another Mark Millar comic.

Current Mood

    October 12, 2016

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    Listening to the Silence in Tom Gauld's Mooncop

    Written and Drawn by Tom Gauld
    Published by Drawn & Quarterly

    Tom Gauld’s Mooncop is a very simple story. It’s about isolation and loneliness but it’s never isolated or lonely. Gauld imagines a world of a lot of unfulfilled promises that have been abandoned and only a few caretakers remain to watch over the long-forgotten promises. The dream of colonizing the moon is still a strong one for us today; whether it’s a dream of solving overpopulation of our world or some villainous moon base, we all have dreams about living on the moon in zero gravity and away from the everydayness of life on Earth. That’s what drove mankind to the moon in the first place. And Gauld imagines a world where the Apollo missions led to people actually living on the moon and realizing that maybe life in outer space doesn’t live up to our dreams.

    Essentially, the moon is being downsized as people are moving from the moon back to Earth. The one person who’s not leaving is the one cop who patrols the moon. It’s not like he’s taking down mafia bosses or saving people from deadly crimes. He finds runaways and missing dogs. And like every cop, he likes the occasional donut. It’s not the stuff of police procedurals. Instead, the officer’s life is rather mundane. There’s not a lot going on and there’s actually less happening every day.

    Gauld’s moonscapes are full of wide, empty vistas and stars fields. They only highlight the officer’s isolation as the Earth appears in the sky, hanging over the officer’s life as a reminder of everything that he doesn’t have. As the moon’s colonists abandon their lunar home, the officer begins to think that maybe he should put in for a transfer as well but he’s never a character that seems anything other than at peace with his position. It’s not resentment, fear or loneliness that drives him to request the transfer. If anything, maybe it’s the lack of momentum in his life that he thinks he can jumpstart that nudges him toward action. 

    We almost never see Gauld’s characters in anything other than side profiles. This story reveals itself to the audience, with us nearly always standing at a 90-degree angle to the officer and the other lunar citizens. This technique creates distance between the storyteller and his audience, another tool in Gauld’s arsenal of isolation. Gauld never shows a full facial expression or a strong reaction to anything that’s happening in this officer’s life. It highlights a sense of resignation that overcomes any reading of depression or loneliness in Mooncop.

    In this book, Gauld does a lot with only a little. The reserved nature of his work runs through the art, through the narrative, and through the characters. There are no grand gestures on display in this book as Gauld embraces the solitude and quietness of the moon. Ultimately, that’s what the book is about, the quietness of life. There are plenty of ways to read this as a sad and lonely story but Gauld never gives into that depression for too long. Instead, his characters live in the moments of relative solitude and they accept that. Not everyone needs the hustle and bustle of the life that waits for them on the world below them.

    October 11, 2016

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    All-Ages or Small-Ages #28 (Pictures of Spiderman by Nick Gonzo)

    See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

    There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

    In the interest of full disclosure, this comic has not been officially rated by the almighty bestower of ratings as all-ages but, due to the actual content within these pages, there's a chance that it would meet the criteria. It marks creator Nick Gonzo's first foray outside of the Madius Comics banner, following the successful 50Signal and Funk Soul Samurai. Despite what the title may imply, this isn't a book about any Spider-Man, be they amazing, spectacular or ultimate; it is instead about the journalistic pundit, J. Jonah Jameson hunting for love in world that he doesn't quite understand. 

    J. Jonah Jameson is a character that most people know, but not many people understand. While this comic doesn't require an in depth knowledge of the background of the character, as this is clearly a departure from the original source, it helps to have an idea of the kind of person that he's been before this: brash and self-serving, sure, but ultimately compassionate. Seeing this latter quality in him brought to the surface takes you by surprise. There's a vulnerability to the character that we haven't seen before that makes this comic feel unquestionably unique.

    Similarly, Gonzo is a writer with an undeniably cynical edge to his work, but also a deep-seated desire to see the best in the world. Although this comic feels immensely bleak in some places, due to both the tone in the writing and the intense shadows in the art itself, there's a positivity to the overall underlying progression of the narrative that demonstrates what this story is really about: the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Gonzo has a recognisable and, although unconventional, a very fascinating art style. Beyond the aforementioned use of shading, he understands the need for a page to stand on its own terms. In the same way that the best newspaper strips do, each individual page in this comic can be read as a complete statement such that only reveals its true brilliance when they're all put into sequence. There's also a sense of progression across the page that keeps the energy high, drawing you effortlessly from one page to the next.

    Despite all of this, the driving force behind this comic is Gonzo's commentary on the intense and  yet very artificial intimacy that the internet can provide. Complementing JJJ's views with those of Pooter Peter Parker, Gonzo takes a very firm stance on the effects that a solely online presence can have on someone so inherently lonely. Saying that, as before, there's a reluctant, and perhaps subconscious, sense that everything is ultimately going to be OK. It's that bizarre and strangely satisfying combination of attributes that make this such an intriguing work.

    It's best to enter into this ten page story knowing as little as possible to get the most out of it. It hews close enough to the original material to draw out the most important characteristics, but remains at enough of a distance that the knowledge doesn't become a hindrance. Pictures of Spiderman has been percolating around in my head since I first read it over a week ago and it will undoubtedly do the same for you. It's bizarre and bleak while still maintaining a strong sense of beauty; I love everything about it.

    Pictures of Spiderman is only being printed in a limited run, so head over and contact the creator before it's too late.

    Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.

    October 7, 2016

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    Weekend Pattering for October 7th, 2016-- NYCC State of Mind Part II

    ** So last week, it seems I was prematurely lamenting the lack of pre-news from NYCC so everyone tried to make up for it this week.

    ** EXCLUSIVE: JAMES STOKOE IS EAGER TO GIGER WITH ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT (CBR)-- At the still new-car smelling CBR, Paul Montgomery interviews James Stokoe about an upcoming Alien story that Stokoe is going to be writing.

    “I always joke that when other kids were getting older and falling out with superhero comics, they went deep into [Dan] Clowes and Fantagraphics books and all that, but I got into ‘Aliens’ comics,” Sokoe tells CBR. “I got almost all of my comics at a local used book store, so I my selection was pretty limited, but I loved — and continue to love — a ton of those older series. So, on a personal note, this series is a chance to go digging around that specific area of my creative DNA.”
    If there's any justice in this world, there will be some kind of oversized version of this comic similar to the recently released collection of Stokoe's Godzilla work.  But honestly, this seems like a great pairing of artist and story that I can't wait to get my hands on.

    And can we throw a bit of love to Dark Horse right now?  They're quietly publishing some of the best comics on the stands today.

    ** WARREN ELLIS, WILDSTORM UNIVERSE RETURN TO DC! (DC Comics)-- So DC announced that Warren Ellis was returning to DC to head up the relaunch of Wildstorm.  I have a number of thoughts on it.

    • Was the last time Ellis did anything in the Wildstorm milieu the last part of the wildly inconsistent WildC.A.T.S X-Men crossover?  
    • (Editor's note:  How could I possibly forget The Authority and Planetary?)
    • So when does Brian Woods get the call from Ellis?
    • Hopefully he has better luck at this than Grant Morrison ever did?  That first and only issue of Morrison's Wildcats comic had some of the best Jim Lee artwork from this century.
    • Why does Ellis do this?  This just sounds like a 1990s era Ellis move, similar to when he "show-ran a number of X-Men comics.
    ** 6 Comics for Westworld Fans (Barnes and Noble)-- Last Sunday, HBO premiered their new Westworld television show, which was pretty intriguing and I plan on watching it some more.  But with such a strong genre show, there was bound to be someone who would step up to the plate and do a "If you like Westworld, you're going to love these comics..." article and it seems that it was B&N's turn to do that.

    I'm sure that these types of articles are good for people who have no idea about comics and try to use the internet to find out about them.  But this list from B&N just seems odd to me.  It's a really superficial reading of the television show and the comic.  You like the robots of Westworld? Then you'll love The Vision.  Like the western settings?  The Sixth Gun is the comic for you.  Their recommendation of East of West seems like the best one here, more based on tone and complexity than on plot or characters.

    And even after reading their blurb a number of times, I really don't get their connections between Westworld and The Fade Out.

    ** The Best American Comics 2016 (Bill Kartalopoulos)-- I'll admit that I haven't always been the greatest fan of The Best American Comics series that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing puts out annually but the last couple of volumes have been particularly strong and the 2016 volume looks to be a unique collection of comics from mid-2014 to mid-2015.

    But it's the list of comics that almost made the cut which is far more interesting.  I want to take a look at this book more to read Chast's reasoning about what comics made it into the book and why a lot of them just made the honorable-mention list.  

    ** CALLA CTHULHU & DORK! Comes To Dark Horse (Newsarama)-- And going back to that first section of this week's column that was singing the praise of Dark Horse, he's more great news, a relatively complete collection of Evan Dorkin's Dork! (minus the Milk and Cheese stuff.)  So by this time next year, we'll have nice collections  Dorkin's Dork!, Milk and Cheese, and Eltingville Club. 

    Dorkin is one of those cartoonists that I wish was doing more work today.  He's long been one of my favorite cartoonists and his place in the evolution of comics from the underground days through the alt-comic days and even to today is often under-sold.  He's got a great voice and a wonderful sense of humor that's often hidden under rage and anger.

     ** Comics Journalism is alive!!! Pt II: Akhtar kickstarts new zine, Critical Chips (The Beat)-- Heidi MacDonald reports on a great new Kickstarter-- Zainab Akhtar's zine Critical Chips!  Akhtar just launched the Kickstarter for the zine this week and is zeroing in on her goal.  

    Here's how Akhtar describes her zine:
    Critical Chips is a 55-page, perfect-bound, full-colour, A5 zine that gathers new writing from 10 of comics most vital and engaging contemporary commentators. Subject topics are wide and varying, from examining the ending of Tite Kubo's Bleach to The Question and corporatisation; the secularisation of Satan to queerness in Krazy Kat; creator self care to comics academia; Jessica Jones to omake; Copra to the curious joy to be found in imperfect work.
    She's always shown an interest in different ways to present comics and writing about comics but she's always shown great judgment in her ventures so this should be a great collection of essays about comics.

    October 4, 2016

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    All-Ages or Small-Ages #27 (Lumberjanes Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen and Maarta Laiho)

    See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

    There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

    The column about this comic has been a long time in the making. It’s been on the periphery of my vision for this feature’s lifespan and I’ve kept putting it off for fear of my reaction to it. It became this monolith of all-ages literature in a way that terrified me. I knew that it had all of the ingredients for something that I would love: a diverse cast, phenomenal creators and a story so far into the fantastical that it almost comes out the other side. There was always that nagging thought at the back of my mind: what if it simply wasn’t for me?

    Lumberjanes is a story all about a group of young girls at a finishing school for ladies camp for hardcore lady types. One night that seems just like any other, they discover a mystical layer bubbling just below the surface; as a team, they decide to venture into the unknown and find out exactly what’s going on. Lumberjanes, at a metacontextual level, began as an eight issue miniseries and, due to its immediate and immense popularity, turned into a sprawling and beloved ongoing series that recently had its first crossover with the DC property Gotham Academy and has surrounding buzz of a blockbuster movie. From a basic glance at the series, it’s easy to see why.

    There’s an undeniable energy to it from the very beginning that comes in part from Allen’s vibrant and expressive art, but credit is also due to Stevenson and her witty and yet immensely shrewd dialogue. You get drawn in from the first confrontation with the three-eyed wolves and the comic refuses to let you go until that final page. What originally seems like it may be simply a fun adventure story quickly becomes something far more engaging.

    Allen's art immediately allows each character to feel unique and are recognisable from a cursory glance. Far too many characters are only discernible from their clothes and hair, which is still the case here, but Allen takes this a step further. Each member of the gang has their own body language and manner of facial expression. The gangly Jo always looks as though she's slightly uncomfortable in her body whereas the youngest, Ripley, constantly feels as though she's about to burst with excitement and anticipation. It allows you to form instant and concrete bonds with these characters from their very first appearances.

    Looking at individual panels, there are body proportions and positioning that might, at first glance, appear unrealistic. However, Allen's aesthetic is one that prioritises functionality over surface-level photorealism. It forces you to look at each page as a discrete entity and appreciate the incredible storytelling and inter-page connectivity that she's able to create. There's a clear intention that follows through into the execution in her work that pushes her so absolutely into the echelons of artists that you need to keep an eye out for.

    Stevenson and Ellis have crafted such a strong foundation in this introductory volume. What initially seems like an extrapolation of the imagination of the five protagonists at their summer camp becomes a narrative rich for plucking from. Mysteries and questions come barreling around each corner and you get drawn deeper and deeper into this world that they're creating together. With all of the intrigue that they sow, it's interesting to imagine where this story would have ended in its original eight issue context, but it makes me grateful that I have so much of this story to look forward to.

    The diversity in this book has been rightfully lauded from people of all backgrounds. Without going into a list of everyone in the book, there's such a broad spectrum of races, sexualities, shapes and sizes that there's going to be somebody here for everyone to empathise with. Without feeling the need to spend time revealing each character's origin story and background, you can infer a large proportion of it from context. Unconditional friendships are formed and continue to grow and develop before your eyes, unlikely though they may be, and it really does give you much-needed dose of positivity.

    Beyond all of that, underneath everything that this series does to divulge from the norm, it's still an immensely fun and exciting series. Everyone as a child dreamed of heading off into the woods with their friends to uncover a secret and magical world, so it's fulfilling and entertaining in a very innocent, yet enticing way. You get drawn alongside them in their adventure, trying to put all of the pieces together, solving all of the puzzles first and you come out of the other end immediately and intensely craving more.

    This is a series that I regret not jumping onto when it began. With over 30 issues to catch up on, I feel like my appetite has been whet for more. When the writing and the art are as strong as they are here, it's immediately clear why this series has attained the heights and the popularity that it has. It's unique in a way that far too few books are at the moment, acting as a shining beacon for people from all walks of life as a place to gather. If you're a human on this planet who wants some happiness and pure enticement in a world as bleak as ours at the moment, then you need to consume all of this series immediately.
    Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.

    October 3, 2016

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    Lives Worth Examining in Charles Burns' Last Look

    Last Look
    Written and Drawn by Charles Burns
    Published by Pantheon Graphic Novels

    In Last Look, Charles Burns is telling stories on multiple, yet equal, levels. You could read this book as the story about reality and a fantasy world constructed by the main character Doug, where a performance character of his named Johnny 23 navigates a twisted an alien landscape. But let’s turn this perception around briefly; maybe Doug is a character that Johnny 23 is reading about in the romance comics that he enjoys with the breeder patients he serves on some strange, foreign world. One of these characters exists in the others stories but thanks to the structure of Last Look, Burns never says one story is real and the other is fantasy.  He never elevates one character or reality over the others.

    Owing a lot to William Burroughs (the endpapers for the original printing of the third part Sugar Skull contained a very Burroughs-like portrait,) the cut-up nature of Last Look creates a puzzle for the reader to solve. On one hand, you have the story of Doug, a young man who watched his father slowly die and takes that into all of his relationships and attempts at art. But the book also contains this story of Johnny 23, another young, naive man who ends up in an alien city and has to figure out how to survive. Doug’s story is about dealing with the past while Johnny 23’s story is about a man with no real past trying to navigate a cruel world. And even with all of their differences, from the different visual approaches that Burns uses for these stories to the separation of the real and the fantasy, these two stories brilliantly align to create one cohesive narrative about something so simple as our search for happiness.

    As these tales of these two characters interweave, Burns builds this story of isolation and loneliness. When we first see both men, they’ve each suffered a head injury; the side of their heads are shaved and bandaged. Johnny 23 wears the crossed bandages like a badge for the entire book while as Doug’s story jumps forward and backward through time eventually revealing what happened to him. Both Johnny 23 and Doug are, like all of us, trapped in these worlds that they didn’t make but have to live in. Neither character takes complete responsibility for their lives even if their troubles are self-inflicted in a lot of the cases.

    Like in his classic Black Hole, Burns uses his fantasies to explore the emptiness in us. Transitioning into and out of the stories of Doug and Johnny 23, Burns switches up art styles a bit. Johnny 23’s story is told in a faux Hergé style, using the Belgian cartoonist’s clean line style to set the world apart and to also make it feel a bit more simple and safer than it really is. Burns’ use of this style suggests a more innocent world and character in Johnny 23 even if his world is full of all kind of oddities and horrors. Doug’s story is, arguably, the “real” world but it’s a much harsher image of existence even though it’s an everyday vision of our lives. But in all of the pages, the imagery has this ability to portray the drama of the moments.

    Burns moves effortlessly between the real and the unreal but is one story any more or less real than the other. Johnny 23’s portion of the story is more challenging because it’s physically more unrecognizable because it’s not filled with people like you and me; it’s not even really filled with people. “Alien” is really the best word to describe this portion of the book based on oddness and horror of it. But Johnny 23’s story is really quite simply of a stranger in a strange world who is maybe just a bit too willing to believe the goodness of people.

    If anything, Doug is a bit of the opposite of Johnny 23 that way. While Doug isn’t the antithesis of Johnny 23, he doesn’t share Johnny 23’s trust in others. Doug’s story is a story of escalating emotional tragedy, from the sickness and illness of his father when he was a teenager through to his self-reflection over the mistakes he’s made in life. His life is a collection of words unsaid and love never given. Last Look is full of the desolation about the circumstances of a life and the way of life is lived. That’s really the tension of Doug and Johnny 23’s stories-- one of their sorrows are due to the life he finds himself in and the other’s sorrows are due to the way he’s lived his life.

    September 30, 2016

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    Weekend Pattering for September 30th, 2016-- A NYCC State of MInd

    ** It's been a while since we've done one of these so let's do it right and look back at some of the panels we've pattered about lately.

    ** It's odd that it's a week before New York Comicon and there's really not that much happening in comics right now.  No big publishing initiatives from Marvel or DC.  No Image Expo.  Not much.  Here's the publishers' big chance to push their holiday and winter agendas and there doesn't seem to be much really going on.  What's up with that? 

    Now maybe everyone is waiting for the proper convention to make their announcements but that seems to be a change from what everyone's strategies have been for the past couple of years now where everything gets announced before the con to avoid getting lost in all of the other news.  It's now the legacy of SDCC that comic news gets announced before cons to avoid getting lost in all of the movie and television news that gets announced at these things.

    ** obstacles to critiquing chris ware's shitty political new yorker covers (The Shallow Brigade)-- O'Connor takes aim at Chris Ware's covers for The New Yorker and doesn't pull any punches.
    While this cover is sort of confusing, I think what we can say for sure is that Ware is emphasizing sameness. These guys’ features are nearly identical. Their facial expressions are identical. The white cop is driving (get it? do you get it??), but otherwise the differences are literally skin deep. All lives matter? Cops have feelings too? We’re all worried about police brutality here in America? I don’t know, all I’m getting is “basically we’re the same and are united in how we’re freaking the fuck out,” and that just seems like a really unhelpful and misguided statement when it comes to the particular topic at hand. I’m just going to hazard a guess that Chris Ware riding his tandem bicycle over to Ira Glass’s place for dinner is not having the same thoughts and feelings about police brutality and race in America as…I don’t know. Anyone?? Certainly not the same thoughts and feelings about police brutality that a black man, police or otherwise, would have. One last clue: the title of the cover is “Shift.” Are we to imagine that we’re in Charlotte, where the latest episode of police brutality affected the special friendship of Old Bobby Hill and Black Bobby Hill? Are those the stakes of this cover? Just…what. why.
    There's a lot to unpack in this whole piece.

    September 27, 2016

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    All-Ages or Small-Ages #26 (The Boy and The Dragon by Isaac J. Crawford)

    See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

    There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

    The Boy and the Dragon has a very heartwarming origin described in its summary, giving a rhyme and reason to its structure and narrative content. Its sole creator, Isaac J Crawford, told this as a bedtime story to his son before eventually putting pen to paper and finally creating this comic. It follows the story of a young boy who forms an unlikely friendship with a dragon only to have it cruelly ripped from him. Years later, the boy heads out in the hope of finding it again.

    As the context of the comic's origin might imply, this is a very surface-level story about a young boy's first foray into the world of fantasy. Granted, it's a very touching story with a few very poignant moments, but it's clear that this is something that evolved over the course of each telling, gradually adding more and more details to it with each telling. Framing the narrative with caption boxes to this effect highlights this in a way that, depending on what you're trying to get from this comic, will either pique or halt your interest.

    Saying that, there are a few moments in this story that, even as someone with more experience with fiction, still hit pretty hard. The boy's journey later in life into the world, trying to track down a lost part of his youth is a strong metaphor for aging that I don't think will ever fully lose its effect for people of any age. Despite the bittersweet nature of the adventure, it's something that you find yourself rooting for throughout the story.

    Despite the simple nature of the narrative, there's a deliberate feel to it that reveals some of Crawford's storytelling prowess. Although it draws very heavily from other fantasy properties such as Eragon, whether deliberately or not, it's a coherent and skillful depiction of what might otherwise be a complex situation. There are also fractal echoes that ripple throughout the boy's life, specifically the repetition of a certain phrase, that show how coherent this issue is.

    Crawford's art has a freehand feel to it, reminiscent of both Ramon Villalobos and Iain Laurie, that gives both the humans and creatures a more natural and grounded feel to them. In a story where the main focus is on both mythical creatures and the boy's reaction to his situation, this is an important quality to have. The colours have a detail and a beautiful gradient to them that brings this remarkable world to life; they're realistic while also being very clearly influenced other fantastical sources.

    My only real criticism of this comic is its simplicity and its length. Everything else about this comic is something that I really do adore. It has has a story with the richness and depth that you need to take a story to that next level, but it all unfortunately ends a little bit too quickly; you'll be able to read this issue from start to finish in less than five minutes. However, you most definitely should read this comic to your child, regardless of gender, at night; it has adventure, heartbreak and tragedy all in one beautiful package.

    Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.

    September 25, 2016

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    Graphic Nonfiction: Matt Bors Tears Down Trump's Wall Plan

    With the first debate set for tomorrow evening, it seemed like a good time to run my favorite piece that Matt Bors has written since he started The Nib, a pitch-perfect visual takedown of the hateful, bigoted, misguided, and flat out stupid plan to build a wall across the US-Mexico border. Even Trump knows it's never going to happen, but it sounds great to the shit-head racists who plan to vote for him in November.

    Matt starts off with a great visual of Trump, looming over the rest of the visual article like a gargoyle, which is of course, appropriate:

    That's an actual quote, of course, and SPOILER ALERT! The Orange One is full of shit, as usual. Using a mixture of researched facts, sarcasm, and real interviews, Bors shows just how expensive--and next-to-impossible--the wall would be. There's ecological issues along with the moral ones, too, as this interview shows. Look at the way Bors gets the text in while still giving us a great look at the person behind the words:

    And then there's my second-favorite panel, where Bors shows us the very thing he's talking about, in this case, the Hoover Dam:

    Note that here, Bors not only gives us the visual--the dam itself--but also uses it to guide the reader's eye through a dense section of text. There's really a lot to read in Bors' article, which originally appeared in the Pacific Standard before he re-pubbed it on The Nib.

    But hey! I mentioned my favorite panel--where it is? Well, you'll have to read the whole thing to find it for yourself. Let's just say that it sinks Trump's wall plan once and for all. If only sinking his whole campaign were so easy. We'll just have to hope America does the right thing in November, and knocks him on his ass back to the two-bit tabloid world he came from.

    September 23, 2016

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    Single-Minded for 9/21/16: Black Hammer #3 and Seven to Eternity #1

    This week I wanted to talk about two comics that are very different, but are similar in that they're both examples of writers returning to themes that are clearly very important to them.

    Black Hammer #1-3
    Script by Jeff Lemire
    Art by Dean Ormston
    Colors by Dave Stewart
    Letters by Todd Klein
    Published by Dark Horse Comics

    Jeff Lemire, widely known and respected for his independent, written and illustrated work (Sweet Tooth, Underwater Welder, Trillium) has also been significantly branching out in recent years. He's currently working primarily as a writer, with books at Marvel (Moon Knight and Old Man Logan), Valiant (Bloodshot: Reborn), and creator-owned projects illustrated by other talented artists including Descender and Plutona (at Image) and Black Hammer (at Dark Horse). My favorite of these recent books might just be Black Hammer, as I think it brings together a number of ideas that Lemire has been exploring and synthesizes them in an engaging, mysterious and unsettling way.

    Black Hammer tells the story of a unusual group of people living together on a farm in a small town. They all used to be superheroes but they've been trapped, living in exile for the last ten years. It's been fascinating to see, over the first three issues, how the different characters are dealing (or not dealing) with being stranded. They can't leave - they don't know anything about what's happening outside the town, and any attempt they make to leave it, or to send a probe out of the town, is unsuccessful. As we learn throughout the series, each of them used to be superheroes, and has adapted (or not adapted) in different ways. Issue 3 primarily highlights the struggle and loneliness of Mark Markz, otherwise known as Barbalien (a clear analogue for J'onn J'onnz, the Martian Manhunter). He was an outcast from his people, along with being an alien in hiding once he landed on Earth. The issue also makes clear that he has felt alienated in other ways as well.

    I wasn't familiar with Dean Ormston's comic book work previously, but he does stunning, detailed, insightful work in Black Hammer. The book feels like it has a dark cloud over it, not in an obvious way, but in a moody, existential, lonely sad way. Ormston has a terrifically engaging style, somewhat reminiscent of Lemire's own line work though maybe slightly more realistic as to human form, kind of like Lemire crossed with the strong, angular line work of Mike Mignola (some excellent company to be in), but interestingly enough, there's an attractive ugliness in the characters that also reminds me just a little of Daniel Clowes. Needless to say, it's a distinctive style. It helps to have a master like Dave Stewart on colors. Stewart has an incredible ability to convey that sort of cold sense of existential loneliness through colors; looking at several pages of this book makes me want to get on a jacket and a scarf. Stewart also smartly varies the color scheme when showing flashbacks, but not in a blunt way. It would be more obvious to make the "old days" incredibly bright and pristine and the current times bleak and gray; there's a clear difference but it's much more subtle.

    What particularly interests me here (and this is probably worth my exploring and a longer essay at some point) is that Lemire has consistently explored themes of loneliness and alienation, along with the related but distinct themes of existential displacement and confusion (characters trapped in a world that just seems wrong). His current Moon Knight run is all about a character who doesn't know what's real and seems to be trapped in one delusion or another, and books like Sweet Tooth and Trillium are all about the themes of loneliness and found families and a sense of people trying come together to overcome something that's very wrong with the world or even reality itself. Plutona is also an exploration of a group of lonely people in a world full of superheroes.

    Black Hammer is a comic that synthesizes many of these ideas; it's about a group of people who are thrust out of the world they knew into a strange situation, where all they have is each other, however as the creative team has effectively shown through the first three issues, each of them is profoundly alone and lonely in their own ways, looking for meaning and a way to make sense of their circumstances. They're (at least some of them) also trying to solve the mystery of where they actually are and why they're cut off from the rest of the world, along with being (to varying degrees) nostalgic to their former glory days of super-heroism. It's a fantastic story with a lot of layers, and I encourage you to pick it up.

    Seven to Eternity #1
    Written by Rick Remender
    Drawn by Jerome Opeña
    Colored by Matt Hollingsworth
    Lettered by Rus Wooton
    Edited by Sebastian Girner
    Published by Image Comics

    Over the last few years, Rick Remender has written some of the best, most interesting independent comics being published, working primarily in the science fiction genre. Deadly Class, Black Science and Low are each among my favorite books, and I appreciated Tokyo Ghost even if it wasn't my cup of tea. In each of those instances, Remender has collaborated with some of the very best artists working today (Matteo Scalera, Sean Murphy, Wes Craig and Greg Tocchini). In his latest comic independent comic Seven to Eternity, Remender (with art from Jerome Opeña and colors from Matt Hollingsworth) keeps up that strong trend, with a story that feels very relevant, set in a lush fantasy-western world. Remender also continues to explore themes that seem important to him.

    Adam Osidis is a member of a family living in exile on the world of Zhal. The Mud King, or "God of Whispers" has taken over the kingdom, and rules through fear and spies, rumors and gossip. This so-called god seems to have the power to make people turn towards him and away from one another. Without having a standing army, he can make people destroy each other from within. Most everyone in the kingdom (or maybe the whole world) has succumbed to the will of the Mud King, and within each family are those who are spies for him (creating an atmosphere of distrust and decay). Adam Osidis' father moved their family away from the kingdom and have attempted to live independently, but the Mud King's servants make this impossible. As the first issue ends, Osidis does the only thing he can think to do which is to go before the God of Whispers. Adam's father's last words were a warning, not to hear the Mud King's offer, but it's not at all clear whether Adam will heed this warning.

    At the outset you need to know that this is an absolutely gorgeous comic book. This may be some of the best, most intricate, detailed work I've seen yet from Jerome Opeña (a frequent Remender collaborator, including on books such as Fear Agent, Uncanny X-Force and several Avengers titles). He's created a unique, genuinely interesting-looking fantasy world which combines together elements of lush greenery, the western plains, and fantastical alien cities. As you might expect from a skilled artist such as Opeña, this is a story of both big action and small emotional moments and he excels at both. When Adam leaves his family behind in order to go face the Mud King, the pain and anger and resentment and love on his and his family's face is palpable. Opeña has an excellent artistic collaborator in Matt Hollingsworth on colors. There are some genuinely stunning color effects in this comic book, from the eerie, luminescent glow of fairy-type creatures, to the frightening, almost overpowering light of a burning blaze, to the Kirby-esque crackle of magic effects, to the fading glory of a gigantic red sunset – Hollingsworth's detail and bright colors help bring this fantastical world to life.

    Remender begins this first issue with a page of the Diary of Adam Osidis; Adam's father led them away from the kingdom and the corrupt rule of the Mud King because he believed that "the rotting of all principles began with the placing of a single foot on the road to compromise", and that's the larger theme that seems to be under exploration in the story, and it's also an idea that Remender has explored throughout many of his series. He seems to be really interested in exploring the idea of the lone great and principled person who takes a stand against evil or mediocrity, or in favor of scientific exploration and growth, and always against compromise. You can see this theme in the stories such as Black Science, where one man is willing to go to virtually any lengths, including breaking up his family, to show that pure, uncompromising "punk rock" science is the answer to solving all of humanity's problems. Or in the book Low, where one woman wages a lonely battle against the slow descent of humanity into the depths of nothingness, even at the cost of her relationships. In Tokyo Ghost, technology has made everyone but one brave woman into mindless drones, and only she can stand and resist its lure, and hopefully save the world.

    In Seven to Eternity, first Adam's father Zebadiah and now Adam must be the lone man to make a stand. The whole society has devolved into a mess of lies, rumors and whispers (this very much feels like a metaphor for 2016, and makes me think of my conflicted relationship with social media), and Adam represents the rugged, uncompromising individualist standing against this descent. Remender has, I think, a complex view of the principled, uncompromising hero - it's not at all clear that the decisions they make are the right ones. The refusal to compromise always seems to cost them dearly, and many of these heroes' decisions are wrong. So I'm very curious to see what Adam does next, and see how this story proceeds. If you've enjoyed Remender's other works and want to see him explore these ideas in the fantasy genre (or are just looking for an entertaining read), Seven to Eternity is off to a strong start.