Let’s Talk About Comics, Shall We?

I’ve been diving into the comics stack lately, and here’s some of the things I’ve been reading.

First, I’d like to thank once again Johanna Draper Carlson and BeaucoupKevin. In their contests, I won the following:

Owly – Owly is just the cutest thing ever. This minicomic tells stories of Owly doing something you never see anyone doing in comics: being nice to other people. Told with a minimum of words, these strips are great for young readers, and aren’t bad for older readers who appreciate charming art and sweet stories. “All-ages” probably isn’t the right term for Owly, but it is one of those rare comics that remembers there are readers out there younger than 14.

Julius – Over on the other end of the scale is this book. Julius is so not Owly that I had to make sure the two were never in danger of touching, for fear of a tremendous explosion. Julius is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, updated to London East End gangsters. The plot remains the same as the play, and the dialogue is well adapted. In fact, one of the real interesting choices made is that the dialogue for the character of Julius has not been updated much from the original, resulting in him speaking in an elevated language that gives him the grandeur the character requires. Equally effective is that later in the book, Brett (the stand-in for Brutus) begins to speak in much the same way.

The art for Julius was a little tricky. Since it’s an adaption of an Elizabethan drama, there’s roughly eleventy-nineteen characters running around the stage. Brett Weldele does his best to differentiate the players, but there’s still a lot of them, and sometimes it’s a bit confusing figuring out who is who (to be fair, though, as in the original play, the smaller parts usually don’t matter). Towards the end, when all hell breaks loose and everyone’s killing each other (what spoiler? It’s a Shakespearean drama, for Chrissakes!) it’s just a mass of suits and blood, but frankly, that’s kind of what it should be. Julius is a well-done adaptation of a classic work that should interest many readers. I don’t know how I missed this when it first came out, actually. I’m a big fan of Oni press and am usually on top of what they’re doing.

Before I get to the other books, let me again say woohoo for blog contests and drop the hint that as soon as issue #5 of a certain book comes out, I’ll be having a contest of my own. Keep checking this space.

I’ve also been using the library a lot recently, and have been pleased with the great selection we have available. Some of the stuff I’ve picked up:

Dignifying Science and Fallout – Books from G.T. Labs, which turn stories of science into comics. The former traces the stories of several female scientists. Interestingly, though she appears in the foreward and afterward, Marie Curie isn’t one of them, which is fair, since she’s the only female scientist anyone’s really familiar with already. The stories are really interesting, with endnotes explaining some of the events more fully. Some historical accuracy is sacrificed for narrative quality, but in those cases, it’s noted, so you end up getting the best of both worlds.

Fallout is the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, so-called father of the atomic bomb. It tells the story of the development, usage, and aftereffects of the Manhattan Project and the toll it took on Oppenheimer, who ended up as a scapegoat to alleviate our collective shame. Like Dignifying Science, Fallout pulls few punches, revealing that these people were people, not always acting nobly. Also like the other books, the art chores are divvied up over the chapters, which can sometimes be a problem since there are several scientists who it’s often difficult to tell apart. The editing of the actual story in this book stood out more, with events and people sometimes dropping in completely unexpected, making me wish for about 30 more pages to fill these gaps in more smoothly. But all in all, both books I found both stimulating and enjoyable.

Music for Mechanics – Here’s a confession: I’ve never read much Love and Rockets. And I don’t know why, I just haven’t. So when I Saw the first collected volume there in the library, I grabbed it. And boy howdy, am I glad I did. This is great stuff. The Maggie and Hopey stuff is a hoot, and there’s even one Palomar strip in there. But the best fun I had was the surrealist sci-fi strip, “BEM”, which is just amazing. I was familiar with the Hernandez brothers’ work from other sources, but seeing them in their natural environment just bowled me over. So much so that I immediately headed to Amazon.com and bought the Locas and Palomar collections, which I’m really eager to get started on. I don’t know what more to say. Beautiful art, fully-developed characters, engaging stories, these stories have it all. And even with the two giant collections, I still want to eventually own this book anyway, just for “BEM”. If you haven’t read any Los Bros Hernandez stuff, don’t wait as long as I did to get started; you’re denying yourself some great reading.

I then caught up on some of my purchased comics.

Quit City has finally taught me what I should have learned long ago: Warren Ellis needs an editor. When he’s on, he’s on, but so often he’s throwing out ideas that are good, but kind of need to gel a little more. Quit City is just…there. The concept of the Apparat comics line — pretend first issues of pretend series in a pretend line — is something I should have known to stay away from. As with Larry Young’s Proof of Concept, there’s only two possible outcomes for these sort of “previews” of coming attractions that aren’t coming: either they’re not interesting, in which case you’re not happy you bought them, or they are, in which case they just make you impatient for the resolution which ain’t gonna happen. This wouldn’t be a problem if you weren’t paying for the disappointment.

Quit City falls into the former category, things that just aren’t interesting. In his introduction, Warren Ellis explains that the Apparat pseudo-line of comics poses the question: what if superhero comics never happened? In Quit City he explores a different type of hero, the hero aviator. That’s what got me to order this from the beginning, as I dig on pulp and such. However, Ellis then takes the idea further: what if said hero aviator has given up on flying and is now just talking to people in a coffee shop? You’ll pardon me if I find this less than interesting. I’ve been stung by Ellis enough times (I’m looking at you, Tokyo Storm Warning) that I should know better than this, but I think I’ve finally learned my lesson.

WE3 (and Seaguy and The Filth) – I sat down and re-read Seaguy. I love that book. But here’s something I don’t get. Everyone’s talking about how cryptic it is and how there’s all this stuff that doesn’t make any sense. And I just don’t see it. Okay, sure, there’s a pyramid on the moon and a company exploiting living foodstuff and a sinister amusement park and so forth but hello, have you guys never read any Jack Kirby? Are you unfamiliar with the entire Silver Age of comics? It’s the same frickin stuff! It’s ideas, zany, loopy, hilarious ideas coming fast and furious. Seaguy is like ten issues of a silver age title compressed into three. And it rocks. I’m not saying that people who didn’t like it didn’t get it, I’m just having a hard time seeing what’s so opaque about the story. It seems like a typical superhero story to me, but then, I’m not a big superhero fan.

WE3 was just amazing. And heart-wrenching. The story of pets given cybernetic weapons and turned into killing machines couldn’t help but resonate in this time, when we’re busy doing the same thing to young people in Iraq. The rudimentary speech of the animals was incredibly moving. WE3 is an incredible book, a triumph for Grant Morrison. There’s a lot packed into it, and the more you look, the more you see. I really can’t praise it enough.

The triumph of those two series made me go back and re-read The Filth, Morrison’s tale of human depravity from two years ago, which everyone except me seemed to love. I thought it deserved another chance, so I gave it one. And no, I’m sorry, but I still think the series is awful. It’s like a bad parody not even of Morrison but of Mark Millar. Unlikable characters doing unlikable things, and none of it resolved to any sort of satisfaction, each page shrieked for you to be offended or challenged by it. No more Invisibles and yet we get this? Bah.

I picked up a bunch more books that I’ll review soon, but this entry has already gone on pretty long. Among the other titles in my reading bin are Runaways v3, Planetes v4.2, Hikaru No Go v3, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures v1, and of course Locas and Palomar. That’s a fine, fine assortment.

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