Comic book, 2013
Rain Comic #1 is a recent release in a series of anthology comics published by Mickey Z and featuring work by her, Patrick Kyle, and Michael Deforge, each focusing of a different subject (Basketball Comic #1, Xmas Comic #1, etc.) Sometimes the subject, as with the most recent release, Butler Comic #1, contains thematic elements so intrinsic that they can’t help but surface in each author’s piece, no matter how far outside the realm of human experience and perception they twist it. So I was interested to see how they handled the subject of rain, possibly their most thematically broad topic yet. Reading it, I was surprised at how central the authors managed to make rain to their stories, both to the plot and thematically. In the various stories, ranging from one to six pages long each, rain is used to talk about legacy, experience, and as a transformational agent. All in all, only a couple of the one page strips seemed to say “oh, and it was also raining”. After I finished the book, I remembered what James Kochalka did with the same subject in his Hulk Vs Rain story, and felt silly for not realizing ahead of time that, in the hands of a storytelling lineup as strong as this one, a broader subject could actually serve as an even more direct tool.
Comic book, originally serialized in 1981 this edition published in 2006
Abraxis and the Earthman is the first long form work by one of my favorite creators, Rick Veitch. It’s a metaphysical re-imagining of Moby Dick in space. It bears many of the hallmarks of Veitch’s work that I love so much, but their effect on me left me feeling troubled, whereas his later work often leaves me feel as if the author is messing with my subconscious, so I feel this work is less developed. Another funny note is the coloring. The essay in the back tells us that it’s all been done by hand, but it strongly resembles early attempts at Photoshop coloring- the colors are gaudy and have an almost inhuman three dimensionality to them. A testament to Veitch’s technical skill, even if the finished product isn’t something I love the aesthetic of. But even the early themes and imagery of early Veitch has the power to produce images and ideas that I’m sure will stick in the back of my brain for a long time to come.
Just when it looked like R.A.V. was going to settle into some sort of a status quo, it ended the main quest of one of it’s main characters and turned the other into some sort of a sentient indoor stormcloud. R.A.V. is a fun book, but there’s something not so nice hiding just below the surface, like when The Joker said “I’m only laughing on the outside”, and it seems like it might be building. 4
Michaela Zacchilli’s R.A.V.#2+3 is a collection of the first two issues or her badass action comic R.A.V. Drawn in a style so loose and frantic that a first time reader couldn’t be faulted for not only assuming that it doesn’t have a story but that the drawings aren’t completely abstract, R.A.V. requires a bit of attention just to read. Rather than being off-putting, the effect achieved is more of a cognitive dissidence that implies that the proceedings are occurring in an existence outside of our own. It’s kind of like watching a show on the TV from Poltergeist and it’s not so much that the reception is bad but it’s not something humans can totally comprehend. In addition to the visuals being a challenge to work through, the word balloons poke out of characters mouths as if they’re an extension of their esophaguses and their dialogue is labored in a way that implies that it’s a struggle merely forming thoughts in their reality. Behind all these fun mind games is an even more fun story with the kind of stream of consciousness storytelling that strikes a chord you’ve never heard before but sounds completely in tune. What all this madness adds up to for me is a fun read that operates on a level I’ve never explored before. 4
The Maximortal is one of those works of fiction that forsakes a straightforward narrative and puts it’s themes in the driver’s seat. It’s a surreal, Sun Ra-style jazz riff on an old favorite- superheroes. Well, Superman, really. I didn’t spend much time considering that the author, the great Rick Veitch, was trying to say about the character and it’s convoluted, shameful history, but I enjoyed the wild places he went with it. As with all of Veitch’s work there are moments of disturbing surreality that contain an intrinsic logic that makes the reader feel like he somehow hand-picked the images right from the darkest places of their own subconscious. Those moments were the highlight of The Maximortal for me, along with the intriguing way he split up the narrative. He shows us chronological scenes, each with several years between them (and often skipping over hugely important events in the overall timeline), and then ties it all together at the end by implying that the idea of Superman gave birth to itself. 4
Should I mention that I haven’t read Lose #1? I haven’t read Lose #1. But that doesn’t seem to matter- I can still see what everyone’s so excited about. When I was reading Lose #2 I felt like I was reading a new Eightball or Acme Novelty Library for the first time; That this was my first viewing of an artist that’s going to end up being a major figure in a turning point for alternative comics. Clowes and Ware pushed the boundaries in their time by showing that comics could be serious, literary works of fiction. Deforge is pushing the boundries of comics by showing that they don’t have to be rendered in a traditional, representational style. This is not because the author (Michael DeForge) is doing anything blazingly white hot new that no one has ever seen before (he’s not), but I think he’s taking the current vanguard and spinning it in a way that can be enjoyed by a wider audience. He’s got the Powr Mastrs school of nightmarish, naive cartoon imagery, but he also has linear plots. I’m not trying to imply that DeForge is purposely repackaging the Picturebox school of comics for a broader appeal, because his work doesn’t feel insincere, but that is the end result. And that result is a pleasurable, emotionally resonant horror show of bizarre imagery, both cartoonishly simple and intricately ornate. 4
(Aside: How much does my bestowing the crown of alternative comics parade leader on DeForge have to do with Lose being an actual comic book? Would I draw this same parallel if he were doing webcomics or mini comics instead? Have I and others passed by many other worthy contenders for this reason? I think this may be the case, unfortunately.)
Like a significant portion of Gilbert Hernandez’ non-Luba/Palomar work, I had a hard time getting into The Troublemakers. The characterization didn’t strike me as being very deep, the plot didn’t really seem to be about anything and Hernandez’ art style is very utilitarian. But mid-read I shifted the way I was looking at it. On the inside back cover flap, it says that The Troublemakers is in fact a movie starring Fritz, an actress character from Hernandez’ Palomar stories. So I pretended I was watching a strange old movie. Once I made this mental shift, I found it to be surprisingly enjoyable. It’s rambling, aimless nature is akin to any given older art film you might blindly rent at the local video store, like Two Lane Blacktop or Perrot Le Fou. The difference though, is that those movies stand on their own and don’t require any type of meta-framing on the part of the reader to enjoy. I think this is largely due to the fact that many of those types of films draw the viewer in by other means; gorgeous cinematography, hypnotic pacing, or heck, just the mere fact that they’re movies. But comics as an art form demand more active participation on the reader, and I have a hard time envisioning The Troublemakers being enjoyed by anyone not familiar enough with Hernandez’ body of work to understand all of the levels at work here. But I am one of those people, so, more for me I guess. 3
Black Jack is a fun premise: mysterious renegade surgeon Black Jack takes on the most bizarre and intense medical feats the world has to offer, all drawn up by Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy. It’s a flamboyantly silly premise delivered with the grim seriousness you’d expect from manga. I was reminded a lot of the Ace Attorney series of lawyer based, Japanese video games. It’s really good though, Tezuka is one of the best comic artists that ever lived in case you didn’t know. And while this doesn’t carry the weight of something like Apollo’s Song, he still belts you one every now and then. The format, a series of short, self-contained stories, also ensure that you can’t put it down. Fun! 3.5
Holy crap, this is what comics are for, folks. Their ability to let an artist scoop out their imagination and smear it all over the page, unfiltered. (That’s not ALL comics are for, but it’s a big one.) Monster Parade #1 is not too far off of what it’s title suggests, and boy there’s some beauties in here. The literal parade of monsters bookends a story that’s more of a situational horror, but it’s just as effective humor and all. The momentum builds and builds, with wilder monsters coming and going faster and faster. Then at the end, we’re left with the thought “Oh shit, but don’t go in woods. That’s where the real bad stuff is.” 4