October 31, 2016

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Halloween Horror: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Book One: The Crucible by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Book 1: The Crucible
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Drawn by Robert Hack
Published by Archie Comics

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: The Crucible is not a cute book. In this two Archie horror books, Afterlife With Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa takes these all-American teenage kids and puts them in the middle of a Stephen King-like world. It’s no longer important whether Betty or Veronica is Archie’s true love; all that matters is which one will live to see tomorrow. This recasting of the Archie myths plays off of the ties between stories of teenage all-American kids in love and in fear for their lives. Sabrina takes the story of a friendly, teenage witch and tells her story of being an American witch that’s part of a long, troubled and persecuted tradition.

“Traditional” is actually a really great word to use to describe Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack’s work in this book. There’s witch lore behind their storytelling here that goes back to the days when women were hung or drowned just for being suspected of being a witch. Exploring her birth and her education, they show Sabrina as a young red-blooded girl who is basically expected to follow in the family business of witchcraft. Her father was a warlock, her aunts are witches. She’s got power behind her but she does have one flaw in her; her mother was a normal woman who was used by her father. Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack don’t shy away from the hints of abuse that take place in this story. Sabrina’s mother was a victim of her father and Sabrina is as much her mother’s child as she is her father’s.

Aguirre-Sacasa dives deep into the traditions and myths of witchcraft that conflicts with the coming-of-age of story of a girl in the 1960s. Even as he’s exploring this tradition, he’s telling a story of possible rebellion of a girl struggling between tradition and modernity. And while that story has been told before in comics and even in television shows (which I completely forgot about until I googled it,) it’s the depth of both aspects of the character that Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack are willing to dive down into that makes this book really kind of shocking. On one hand, you have this evil power that wants to use this girl and on the other hand, that power has to go up against normal teenage hormones.

Over in Afterlife with Archie, Aguirre-Sacasa has basically played the same conflict, only with zombies and teenage hormones. What’s new here is Robert Hack and his not-quite-rose-colored images of Sabrina’s life. His scratchy artwork and autumnal oranges and browns give the story a worn feeling to it. Not in the sense that the story is tired but that it’s an old story that’s being told in this book. While Aguirre-Sacasa sometimes gets lost in the combined lores of witchcraft and Archie, Hack plays with the incongruity of the imagery to make the combination feel like an old, timeworn connection that’s no different if her aunts were Rotarians as opposed to them being witches.

Hack also has a great time with the fashions of his characters. From the slightly-stuffy aunts to the titillating undead witch to the high school letterman to Satan himself appearing at a witch’s ceremony, Hack dresses his characters to match their personalities. The playfulness of his fashions build off of horror movie traditions of jocks and their girls being hunted by unseen terrors even as the real horror of this book is those girls and the powers that they’re discovering. Sex and power. Power and sex. The great story that Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack are telling is about Sabrina finding out about both of those things.

The combination of all-American teens and horror stories is nothing new but that Archie Comics have decided to explore these paths with their long-standing squeaky clean characters still is a bit shocking. In one book, you have Archie starring in The Walking Dead but in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and Robert Hack are using these characters to tell a story about witchcraft as much as they are about teenage love and rebellion. But ultimately, it’s a bit difficult to tell what’s really frightening his how well these two stories can become one or how much the horrors of Sabrina’s life invade and take over the life of a girl who’s just trying to survive high school.

October 21, 2016

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Weekend Pattering for October 21st, 2016-- Doing the Monster Mash Potato

Previously on Panel Patter

Cover(s) of the Next Week

Let's go with something horror-twinged this week.Or better yet, let's go with 3 ghastly, bloodsoaked covers.

I honestly haven't read much Chew beyond the first collection.  I love the way this cover for Chew #57 is basically the black of the character's hair quite, with the red of the glasses literally bleeding into the red of the background.  Just how much blood can there be?

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 HergĂ© 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.