Monthly Archives: November 2010

Capsule Reviews x 3: Nov 29, 2010

SMURFS

(by Peyo. Papercutz, 2010)

This comic was released to promote the upcoming graphic novel series reprinting Peyo’s classic Smurfs comics in anticipation of the upcoming live action Smurfs movie that appears to be set in New York. But whatever the intentions, this is a pretty good comic in itself.

This issue doesn’t indicate when the story — the first appearance of Gargamel — was first drawn, but I’m assuming it was late 50s or early 60s. Either way it struck me as very accomplished for the time. Peyo has a clean, economical but attractive line and a cinematic (action-to-action) style that calls to mind Albert Uderzo’s work on Asterix in its texture and zippy kinetics. I’m also a sucker for comics with lots of panels per page, and 12 to 13 is normal for Peyo. Having only been familiar with the cartoon before, I also found that the use of the word “Smurf” as a substitute for almost any part of speech was done even more indiscriminately in the comic and to much greater comedic effect.

There’s a light bit of biography on Peyo in the back which is okay, and I found interesting the fact that the Smurfs figurines spawned the show and not the other way around — something I never knew before. So this comic is both fun and educational and for only $1 you really can’t go wrong.

THE WIZARD KING

(by Wallace Wood. Self published, 1978.)

This book reminded me a lot of Jeff Smith’s Bone in that it starts out as a very quirky and charming fantasy before settling into a Tolkienesque holding pattern.

There is a wonderful kind of absurd Fantasy logic to it at the start. The story follows Odkin, a young member of a race called the Immi, on his quest to find a magic sword that can resurrect an ancient king to save the land, yada yada. Before he embarks, Odkin sleeps with all the women of the village as we are told Immi women “were extremely willing.” Other women tend to be extremely nude much of the time, this being late period Wally Wood. A wizard gives Odkin a magic pouch which produces a bottomless supply of loaves of bread, and “Resisting the temptation to head for the nearest town and start a bakery, Odkin started out.”

The writing is heavy with narrative captions, but somehow they never feel intrusive (because it’s Fantasy?), and they are well balanced by lots of dialog as well. They also allow events to transpire very quickly so that a lot of plot is developed in this relatively short book.

The art is, of course, spectacular. Nature scenes are particularly tactile, and I loved the cute character design of Odkin with his widdle sword and black eye sockets — oddly not disturbing.

The book ends to-be-continued, and I don’t know that it ever was given Wood’s untimely death. But I wonder if maybe a premature end is a good thing given that it was starting to look pretty generic already in the second half of the first book.

THE FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS LIBRARY VOLUME 3

(by Gilbert Shelton, Dave Sheridan, Paul Mavrides. Rip Off Press, 1988)

This book is kind of “post” underground, I guess you’d call it. The stories in this collection were done in the mid-70s, well after the underground collapse, but Shelton is still at the top of his game here.

I think the Freak Brothers (and Shelton along with them) tend to get dismissed as pot-smoking hippy comics but that’s far from the truth. (Although… I did buy it off a scraggly guy at the last Camberwell Fair walking around with an armload of beat up comics for sale he could barely manage and looking pretty hard up for cash…) There is sharp, intelligent, funny satire here. In the 35-page “Grass Roots” storyline, the Brothers manage to acquire a farm out in the country and find some girls to move with them but it all starts to go horribly wrong. The microcosmic democracy they establish allows for commentary on politics, feminism, and — when gold is discovered — greed and commercialism. That’s a whole lot for such a short piece, and is every bit as good as “The Idiots Abroad” which many people would consider the best Freak Brothers storyline.

Well — short but long in this collection. The shorter stories often run only couple of pages (or are 1-page gags) and can be completely nonsensical but are just as fun as the longer pieces. In either case, Shelton’s stories show more narrative and thematic coherence than you’d get from his Underground peers. I’m not sure if that’s a result of the era or his experience here.

As for the art, depending on who is inking him (the credits are never very clear), for my money Gilbert Shelton is every bit the draftsman that Crumb is. At times the art reminded me of Roy Crane on Wash Tubbs. And Shelton dazzles you with his backgrounds, which is something you don’t usually get from Crumb.

Also, note: I believe there is some kind of new Freak Brothers omnibus that just came out, so that shows you how behind the times I am with these things.

“Review”: Suicide Squad #15

Hello, Loyal Crime Fans!

No time to write a review for you this week as I have been busy lettering the next WCT story (finally a longer one again — 14 pages).

However, I was *going* to review SUICIDE SQUAD #15. I have no idea how I ended up owning this thing, but I picked it up off my pile and figured why not try to review it. Now, I’ve never read a SUICIDE SQUAD comic in my life before, but I have heard that it’s about a team of reformed super-villains. That’s all I came into this with.

… So, I read about 5 pages of this unintelligible nonsense and then gave up. I’m baffled that anyone at a major publishing house looked at this and thought it was: a) entertaining, b) worth publishing, c) marketable, d) a comic book.

Enlargable scans attached below for those of you who wish to recreate the experience.

REVIEW: Memories (“Kanojo no Omoide”)

Otomo Katsuhiro, Kodansha 1990.

OK, well, even most of my 16 readers out there will not be reading this book since it’s in Japanese, but I have to include a review of it here because it’s goddamn awesome.

This is a collection of playful, sometimes “zany” Science Fiction short stories in the classic mold of Asimov, Ellison, Clarke, and their peers during their 60s heyday, although all the stories here date from the late 70s or early 80s. They tend to end with punch lines or twists reminiscent of Twilight Zone episodes. In fact the second story, “FLOWER” (1979), apparently about space garbage collectors, is practically a rip-off of 2001 in tone and some imagery.

In terms of art, Otomo states in his endnotes that this was the period in which he was first introduced to the work of Moebius and the French master became a dominating influence, notably with the first story here “Flower” (reproduced in full below).

But at the same time, there is lots of signature Otomo here too, particularly in a few stories about disenfranchised fringe dwellers in the future who steal old Rock records. There is also some political satire in a three-part parable about the Planet Tako (“octopus”) vs the Planet Ika (“squid”) as the anthropomorphised octopus and squid creatures go to war, develop monarchies, and eventually turn into republics. I had doubts about these stories more than any others. The messages just weren’t very original, and the art didn’t make it especially unique enough to elevate them. There is also a series of parodies of classic stories (Knights of The Round Table, The Old Man and the Sea, Aladdin’s Lamp, Noah’s Ark) which are funny and expertly drawn.

Speaking of the art, a few stories show Otomo’s early experiments with color, mixing up his palette, even just using spot coloring, plus using something called video colorring in “FAREWELL TO WEAPONS” (1981). Again, I don’t know if it all worked, but I was glad to be able to see him try some things out.

If anything, the collection spotlights Otomo’s versatility during this period beyond what we’re used to seeing in Akira, which is what he is best known for in the West. Somebody really ought to license the English language rights to this book.

KS

Below: Check out those colors! (All scans from “FAREWELL TO WEAPONS.”)

Below: As promised, “FLOWER.”

UPDATE Nov 21, 2010: I just discovered that the stories “Memories” and “Farewell to Weapons” in this collection were printed in single issues by Marvel / Epic in the 80s. Also, the entire collection WAS released in English in the UK at some stage as well. So, there you go — go get it!

KS

A Gentle Reminder…

Hello, Crime Fans! I’m just back from my vacation and recovering from serious jet lag, so there will not be any reviews or whatever today. Instead, why don’t you enjoy this gentle reminder to buy a goddamn t-shirt…?

Review: Kampung Boy

Kampung Boy

(by Lat. First Second Books, 2006.)

Say, how much do you know about growing up Muslim in rural Malaysia in the 1950s? What’s that? Nothing? Almost nothing? Then why the hell don’t you own this already!!

Lat a.k.a. Mohammed Nor Khalid’s renowned autobiographical “graphic novel” (originally published in 1979) is probably not really a comic at all. It’s more like an illustrated book: there are no word balloons, but there are illustrations of various sizes with accompanying text. I’m not going to dismiss this, Prince Valiant, or various Kyle Baker projects for that reason, but it might be a turn off for you.

It shouldn’t be. Lat has a scratchy art style (I once heard he influenced Larry Gonick) that is reminiscent of… I don’t know… William Steig? But it is very precise and evocative in its draftsmanship.

Having spent flashes of time in rural villages in my own youth, I’m a sucker for village stories, and Lat’s coming-of-age tales feel completely honest and welcoming. Though not much happens story-wise, just seeing a different kind of life, however “mundane,” of Lat playing with other boys, swimming and fishing is riveting. The uniqueness (to me) of his school life and religious ceremonies are almost a substitute for “incident.”

Not that the book lacks incident from time to time, like when Lat trespasses at a tin mine, or the simultaneously alarming and fascinating circumcision sequence.

But there is no “background” per se. You don’t get any inkling of what’s happening in Malaysia politically etc., because Lat the kid is too busy living in his own universe — his kampung (village). He’s not the precocious urbanite that Marjane Satrapi is. But then, that’s its own universe as well. There’s room for plenty of them, and I’m grateful that the industry has evolved into something which can support these kinds of projects.