Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Angel Catbird Volume 1

The first volume of a trilogy, Angel Catbird is a superhero comic by way of The Island of Doctor Moreau. It is a compelling, if a little strange, narrative in that it is peppered with service announcements for Nature Canada, a charity which here targets the well-being of cats and birds.
 
Otherwise, the story reads like a classic superhero yarn from the Golden Age of comics, with an evil scientist and a couple of work colleagues who seem attracted to each other. The artwork is certainly indicative of a superhero story, with bold colors and strong action and costume design. Where the story veers into a different direction is that there are all kinds of animal characteristics at play, so territorial posturing and other biological considerations loom large.
Also, matters quickly dive into a fantastic realm of cat-people, bird-people, and rat-people. Entire hybrid societies are exposed and explored, and there are many fun features in seeing how they live, party, and function. I have to say that I found the whole thing peculiar in a good way, and I may just have to check out what happens in the next two volumes.

One of the most remarkable things about this book is that it was written by Margaret Atwood, a well-respected and awarded author/poet known for the novels The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin. She includes an interesting essay at the beginning of this book that detail her unlikely decision to get into making comics. The artwork is by Johnnie Christmas and coloring by Tamra Bonvillain. Christmas has worked on a number of comics series, including Firebug (appearing in  Island) and Sheltered. Bonvillain works on many comics series such as Rat Queens, Wayward, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. Atwood speaks more about her ideas about this book in this interview, and Christmas talks about their collaboration here.

All of the reviews I have read have praised this quirky, strange, and fun book. Etelka Lehoczky wrote that Atwood was "so busy exploring the possibilities of her interspecies world, she neglects to have her hero fight crime. But that's no shortcoming; actually, it may be the smartest way to deal with her themes." Oliver Sava remarked on the beautiful art and coloring and added that the "moments of humor are when Angel Catbird most strongly distinguishes itself from other superhero stories." Scott Stewart summed up simply, "I absolutely loved this book, and can’t wait for volume two to arrive in February 2017."

Angel Catbird was published by Dark Horse, and they have a preview and more available here.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trump: A Graphic Biography

Trump is a biography of an egomaniacal, litigious real estate businessman turned reality star and unlikely politician but more importantly an examination of the social, economic, and political contexts that made it possible for him to rise as he has. It chronicles the high points in his life, including a look at his childhood and upbringing:
His many, often public, relationships with women:
As well as his often incendiary political rhetoric and actions:

As you can see from the excerpts, the text is print-heavy, and the artwork is more functional than aesthetically pleasing. Still, I found this a pretty compelling and informative book. Certainly, I expected a particular critical viewpoint from Rall, and for the most part he is damning of this "proto-fascist" candidate (comparing his rise to that of Hitler in a few places). Although he lambasts and lampoons the Donald, he portrays Trump as a threat to freedom and not merely as a clown worthy of derision. Still there were a few instances where I felt that he gave Trump more credit than some others I have read, and the adherence to facts in the face of ideology are appreciated. You may or may not share the opinions here, but there is no denying that the journalism is solid and well-referenced.

This book's creator, Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Ted Rall has been writing and drawing political comics and journalism for decades now. He has written critically about all stripes of politicians and leaders, including George W. Bush (Generallisimo El Busho) and Barak Obama (The Book of Obama), and lately has done a series of biographies on prominent political figures like Edward Snowden and Bernie Sanders. In the past he was an imbedded journalist in Afghanistan and a political cartoonist for a number of high profile publications, including the Los Angeles Times (who seem to have unjustly fired him).

All of the reviews I have read about this book have praised it, though some in rather tepid tones. Publishers Weekly called it "a concise and decently footnoted pocket political biography." Bruce Handy called it "an able if familiar telling." Martha Cornog summed up, "Sympathetically written, readable, and accessible to a wide range of audiences, this careful effort goes heavy on evidence and light on hyperbole to lend insight about this unexpected, would-be world leader."

Trump: A Graphic Biography was published by Seven Stories Press, and they have information about the book here.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Night Air

One of the most surprising things about Night Air is that it is an all ages book. It certainly did not feel like one to me as I read it, because it is fun, smart, and full of excellent things, and I wish more comics were like it. The plot revolves around a "boy and his robot." Its protagonist is Plus Man, a goggle-wearing guy who is pretty single-minded and borderline unlikable. He just wants to get rich and have fun and look cool in the process. He is accompanied by a robot with great capabilities who looks out for him and saves his hide on more than one occasion.

Plus Man starts the book by getting into some trouble cheating at the poker table and by the end he ends up searching for valuable minerals in a haunted house. In between are all kinds of chases, scrapes, and traps that he must avoid. Despite his actions, I found myself still rooting for Plus Man, because he is a scalawag. I  enjoyed his adventures, laughed more than once at the jokes, and marveled at the gorgeously rendered artwork in this book. It contains pretty much everything a great comic should have.

This book's creator Ben Sears has published various works in zines, mini-comics, a few anthologies, and the back-up of an issue of Adventure Time. The characters in this book originally appeared in a webcomic called Double +. He speaks about his work on Night Air in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise. Oliver Sava remarked about how Sears' work is marked by "bold designs, immersive compositions, and atmospheric colors." John Seven called it "a good effort from Koyama for kid-oriented comics, providing thrills and laughs, but not at the expense of clever and intelligent work." RJ Casey concluded that these are some "fun comics with no icky strings attached."

Night Air was published by Koyama Press, and they have a preview and more available here.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hilda and the Troll

Hilda is a little Scandinavian girl with an excellent vocabulary. She enjoys the finer things in life, like camping out during rainstorms, snuggling with pets, and going on trips to draw things in nature. Complications arise in this book when she goes off on such a trip and encounters a rock troll. She has read up on the folklore about those creatures, but she may have skimmed so quickly that she missed an important detail or two. Still, she is clever and manages to find a resolution to the situation with quick thinking and some help from her antlered pet Twig.

This book is larger than your typical graphic novel, more like picture book size, which features the artwork beautifully. And as you can see in the excerpt below, Hilda and the rest of the cast are depicted in an adorable way:
Not only is the artwork excellent, but the scenes and characters are also well defined in quick and easy fashion. This book is so approachable and endearing. It is simultaneously new and familiar, which is a tough trick to pull off. Also, even though there is some action, suspense, and drama, I felt it all was not so extreme. Subtle touches of humor and heart tone things down and also make the book feel more human. Reading this book felt like a visit with a well-traveled, fanciful, and loquacious friend than a series of stressful escapades.

Artist/illustrator Luke Pearson created this book, and Hilda's adventures have been spun out into multiple volumes. He speaks more about his life, work, and Hilda comics in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book sing its praises. Janelle Asselin commented that the world depicted here is complex and that the story is "sweet and charming, but not saccharine." Richard Bruton wrote that the entire production "screams quality and class." Alexandra Lange summed up, "Pearson has found a lovely new way to dramatize childhood demons, while also making you long for your own cruise down the fjords."

Hilda and the Troll was published by NoBrow Press, and they have a preview and more available here. You can find subsequent volumes in the series by searching here. Also, these stories are being adapted into a Netflix series due in 2018.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus

I have been a fan of Chester Brown's comics for a long while now. He is a well established and respected graphic novelist who broke into the comics world in the 1980s with his series Yummy Fur. This eclectic comic book contained serial stories, autobiographical material, and adaptations of the New Testament Gospels. These stories have been published individually as Ed, The Happy Clown, The Playboy, and I Never Liked You. He has also delved into nonfiction, creating a graphic biography of Louis Riel, a controversial figure in Canadian history. Most recently, he published a defense of prostitution called Paying For It. He is a multiple Harvey Award winner.

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is a melding of some of his first comics works and his latest interests. It builds from the theories of a few religious scholars to interpret certain Bible stories and passages in New Testament that point to Jesus actually being the son of a prostitute. But it also follows a thesis that the Biblical God does not so much reward blind following as he does those who actively question and push against the boundaries of faith. So, Brown here adapts Bible stories having to do with prostitution as well as The Book of Job, and provides copious endpapers, which contain essays, footnotes, and justifications, and take up about a third of the book. Not just a straight adaptation, this is a work of scholarship that goes into territory that will be uncomfortable, if not blasphemous, to many.

Still, I feel this is a very strong book, full of food for thought. It is well reasoned and well presented. I also think that Brown's spare artwork is extraordinary. These stories take on iconographic import, almost like black and white stained windows. Their lack of affect also lends a sort of omniscience, the narration a sort of authority-from-on-high, to the proceedings. I know this book will not be for everyone, but it is certainly the work of an adept and accomplished artist/thinker.

All of the reviews I have read of this book identify it as a work well worth exploring. Oliver Sava called it "a fascinating look at how women in the Bible used their bodies for personal gain without incurring the wrath of God." Charles Hatfield wrote that it "may be heretical and strange, but it’s also honest and generous." Etelka Lehoczky remarked that it "brims over with earnest faith and compassion."

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they have a preview and much more about the book available here. Brown speaks about his inspirations and work on it in this interview.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fantasy Sports No. 2: The Bandit of Barbel Bay

Fantasy Sports No. 1 was one of my favorite graphic novels of 2015, and it had a lot to live up to. This second volume in the series came out recently, and it is a worthy follow-up. It might not have made me laugh quite as much as the first book, but I did laugh in a few places. And I very much liked how it filled me in more about Wiz's background as well as the universe where all this takes place. I feel that the first book was more enjoyable perhaps, but this second volume is more substantial and the better of the two.

The set-up here is that our two mismatched mages, Wiz and Mug, are on another retrieval mission, and they end up stranded on an island of amphibious creatures.
 

The island's inhabitants have a low opinion of the Order of Mages, which sets our duo on edge. Still, circumstances follow where they lose their loot and have to take part in a tournament in order to win it back. The game here is beach volleyball, and Mug pretty much dominates through brute strength until they are faced with the island's champions, Yahma and Yahmi. Can Mug and Wiz figure out how to actually work together? You have to read the book to find out. But I will say that this volume ends in a much more open-ended manner than the first, and Fantasy Sports No. 3 cannot get here fast enough.

As with the first book, this one was a delight to read. The large-sized pages display the gorgeous artwork in excellent fashion. The story is fast, emotional, and suspenseful. The action sequences are well choreographed, and the details bring out a great sense of reality and humor. Sam Bosma, who is also known for his work as an artist on the cartoon show Steven Universe, has created another masterful graphic novel. He speaks more about his work on this book in these two interviews (1 and 2).

This second book in the series has received some great reviews. Publishers Weekly deemed it a "good-hearted and beautifully drawn sequel." Kirkus Reviews called "this second volume more substantial than the first." Dustin Cabeal remarked on the "strong storytelling with both the writing and the visuals."

Fantasy Sports No. 2 was published by NoBrow Press, and they have a preview and more available here.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Fran

Today, the last stop on my Comixology Unlimited tour (for now).
Why I chose it: I have been reading Jim Woodring's comics for decades now. They are all extremely well rendered, dreamy, surprisingly complex, philosophical, and full of life. Weathercraft, Frank, and all his other works are well checking out. How could I not read this latest book of his?

An excerpt:
 
The Bottom Line: This book is simply fantastic. It is a wordless adventure that follows Fran and Frank's relationship, which is complicated when they find a gizmo that projects past experiences as a movie. Frank is enamored with it, and Fran hates it. After she wrecks the device, Frank loses his mind in anger, and she sets off on her own. Everything that follows can be read as a search for forgiveness or some larger allegory about love, relationships, and finding one's identity/place in the world. I loved this book, cannot recommend it enough, and really need to find and read its prequel/sequel The Congress of Animals.

Don't just take my word for it: Joe McCulloch wrote a great meditation about how this book comments on love, identity, and cycles. Derek Royal called it "a very enjoyable and approachable book." Henry Chamberlain wrote that this book only adds to the fact that "Jim Woodring is one of our greatest cartoonists."

Fran was published by Fantagraphics, and they have a preview and much more available here.

Thank you for checking in on me this week as I wrote about my borrowing habits of late. I will review more of these books in the future.