AIT/Planet Lar Graphic Novels 2006-2007

While looking at the publication history of AIT/Planet Lar recently, I realized that I’d been sent most of their graphic novels for review but had been terribly remiss in not talking about them. So in the interests of catching up and turning over a new leaf, here they are. More information on all of them can be found at the publisher’s website.

Reviews of Rock Bottom, Seven Sons, First Moon, The Last Sane Cowboy & Other Stories,The Homeless Channel, and more follow.

Rock Bottom

Rock Bottom cover
Rock Bottom
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By Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard, October 2006, $12.95 US

Thomas is a pianist going through a divorce (and an affair leading to an unexpected pregnancy) who finds out that he’s literally turning to stone. What starts as a stiffness in one hand is followed through the book as his body converts.

It’s odd to me that a story about a man becoming solidified as rock is drawn in a thin-line style with no weight variation or shading (except for marble-like mottling to indicate the progression of Thomas’ condition). It makes the world feel very lightweight and insubstantial, just the opposite of what I wanted for this fantastic tale. I would have liked to have seen some toning or shading to give the setting more solidity; with this style, color would have been even better to help the eye distinguish elements, foreground and background. It’s hard for the reader to be drawn into the pages, since they’re drawn so flat.

It also doesn’t convey necessary information. When Thomas first goes to the doctor, the medical man is stunned by the appearance of one of his figures, to the extent of wanting to go at it with a scalpel. The problem is, the finger looks to the reader perfectly normal, like all the others on that hand.

With so much of the book devoted to doctors being stunned, amazed, and trying to figure out what’s wrong and how to treat it, the reader looking for an in-story reason or cause will be disappointed. The only explanation given is “heredity”, which ties into the theme of Thomas fearing he’s acting the way his father did, although he thought he’d be different. The path of the story is “this thing starts happening; it continues happening, as Thomas faces his mortality and converses with those close to him; and it finishes”.

Although this comes close to mind-reading, the book gives me the feeling that it was more beneficial for the writer than the reader. It seems like the kind of thing that allows the creator to work through thoughts on aging, relationships, family, and the like. Whether the reader will enjoy it depends on how much it resonates with them. With me, not at all, since I seem to be the opposite of the protagonist in almost every way.

I’m also not one to be particularly prudish about language or content in graphic novels, since comics is a medium with works for all ages, including adults, but some might be put off by the profanity and sentiments expressed by the two men talking about a divorce on the first few pages. Just a buyer warning, since there are no markings that the book is for mature readers.

Seven Sons

Seven Sons cover
Seven Sons
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by Alexander Grecian and Riley Rossmo, October 2006, $12.95 US

Based on a fable about seven Chinese brothers with amazing abilities, this story is set during the Gold Rush with the family as immigrants. The brothers have what we’d today call superpowers: strength, stretching, flying, invulnerability, far-seeing, fire control, and the ability to swallow an ocean. One reveals his abilities when trying to save children in danger, an attempt that ends in disaster. The townspeople try to punish him, but since all the brothers look alike, they think they’re all the same person. The resulting mob violence causes even more destruction, until at the end, almost everyone’s gone.

The mob is scary and the undercurrents of racism pointed (although as the writer mentions, it’s a feature of the original story, that the boys have to look the same). The art is sketchy and unfinished-looking, which suits the modern framing sequence and hipster setting. Once into the fable, it’s sometimes more like an inky painting; elsewhere, it’s a little muddled. The illustrations, taken individually, are better than the storytelling. The amazing abilities also aren’t quite as impressive as I’d like them to be, artistically, but they’re not the point of the piece.

I’m not sure what is, although simply putting the tale into comic form may be part of it, given the author’s comments. Notes at the back discuss how often this tale appears and its variations. I liked this part best, since the story is rather simple and lacking a distinctive ending. Looking at how the story changed over time and where it’s popped up is more interesting to me; I’d read a book on its variations and the cultural contexts.

First Moon

First Moon cover
First Moon
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by Jason McNamara and Tony Talbert, January 2007, $12.95 US

This Xeric Award winner involves both werewolves and an extrapolation from the lost colony of 1580s Virginia as a teenage boy discovers his heritage.

The characters are more like caricatures, animalistic Dad and especially skull-faced Mom. The art is heavily inked, with firm confidence, although I found the designs unintentionally disturbing. It’s a coming-of-age adventure in which the boy finds out the secret his parents have been keeping about his adult fate. I’m not sure what possessed the author to combine monsters, natives, colonists, and the standard growing up symbolism. The elements never quite came together for me. I missed that “click” where the Rubik’s Cube slips everything into place; it stayed jumbled for me. The complicated fight scenes, where I lost track of who was where, didn’t help.

There’s a lot of potential here, and it’s refreshing to see someone fail from attempting too much instead of not doing enough.

The Last Sane Cowboy & Other Stories

The Last Sane Cowboy & Other Stories cover
The Last Sane Cowboy & Other Stories
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by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, April 2007, $12.95 US

Filtered computer-generated figures against Photoshopped backgrounds are ugly. Somebody’s too in love with his wacky ideas. In the first story, a girl and a dog-headed person listen to a guy in a bar explain how his blood turns into scorpions. That’s it. Only one of the eight pages makes use of the comic format, where a drop of blood turns into the creature.

The title story has talking horses, talking skulls, another scorpion (this time talking), and a talking goldfish. Notice the theme? Talk, talk, talk over static art. I have no idea why this pretentious twaddle is a comic or even, for that matter, in print.

The Homeless Channel

The Homeless Channel cover
The Homeless Channel
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by Matt Silady, May 2007, $12.95 US

The static look of the book is due to the self-taught artist inking over photographs. It works surprisingly well, with character emotion coming through. Darcy is a TV producer proposing a channel to cover the homeless through various reality shows. It’s an intriguing idea, if completely unrealistic.

This volume has gotten plenty of praise, and I can’t say it’s undeserved, but it didn’t click with me, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I thought the stuff about Darcy’s personal life belonged more in a movie of the week, or that it all worked a little too facilely.

Monster Attack Network

Monster Attack Network cover
Monster Attack Network
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Written by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman, art by Nima Sorat, July 2007, $12.95 US

I can’t speak to this one, since by this point I’d fallen off the comp list, a decision I can’t fault, given how long it’s taken me to cover the rest of these titles. And the premise, a kind of Damage Control-meets-Godzilla on a tropical island, sounds like the kind of nudge-nudge he-man adventure that I’m not the target audience for anyway. AIT has done these kinds of books before (Sky Ape, anyone?), and readers who praise them wind up saying how much great fun the action is, regardless of plot or plausibility. For instance, “In stories like this, plot mechanics are largely secondary to the specifics of fight and flight in the face of monstrous stomping doom.”

AIT in 2008

So, what does this year bring for AIT? Publisher Larry Young’s miniseries The Black Diamond has just concluded, so I’m sure there will be a collection of that at some point.

The only new project announced so far is a collected edition of Omaha Perez’s self-published Holmes series, due in March. A Holmes/Watson parody where the great detective is a drug-addled maniac doesn’t sound very entertaining to me, but I think I’ve outgrown anything labeled a “vicious skewering”, because it usually says more about the intent than the execution.


14 Responses to “AIT/Planet Lar Graphic Novels 2006-2007”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Feb. 4, 2008: Between the cocoon and the Comics Code Authority Says:

    [...] Johanna Draper Carlson on a variety of books from [...]

  2. Johnny B Says:

    My first reaction is to ask if something has to be “plausibile” to be “great fun”. The next is to wonder (in the case of Last Sane Cowboy) if there’s any place for surrealism and ideas that are outside the norm, or “wacky”, in your definition of what constitutes “good” from “bad”.

    Not judging one way or the other, just asking.

  3. Collected Comics Library Podcast and Blog; News and Reviews on all sorts of Comic Book Collected Editions; Don't be fooled by imitators! Says:

    [...] Carlson catches up with a few AIT Graphic Novels from 2006-2008. I’ve never heard of any of [...]

  4. Johanna Says:

    No, the implausible can be fun, too — but you’re gambling that your reader will be carried away enough to overlook the gaps.

    “Surrealism” can be good or bad, well-done or not, right? I mean, you’re not saying that “surreal” covers all sins?

  5. Johanna Says:

    I think CCL’s “I’ve never heard of any of them” is my favorite response and a cogent epitaph.

  6. Merlin Says:

    I know what I do isn’t for everybody, but this was pretty much the worst review my book’s received, in what has generally been a very positive critical response since it came out last April.

    If any other reviewers are reading this and would like a chance to judge The Last Sane Cowboy for themselves, drop me an e-mail to merlin@e-merl.com and I’ll set you up with a PDF of the book to review.

  7. Chris Marshall Says:

    To be perfectly honest, When I saw “Black Diamond” I thought is was Eddie Campbell’s Black Diamond Detective Agency.
    The “Holmes” book sounds interesting, but Sherlock Holmes “Addiction” to cocaine is overplayed way too much outside of the Canon. Did you know that Holmes only used cocaine in only two stories of the Doyle Canon? This absurd fascination began with the book The Seven-Per-Cent Solution from the 1970’s. Hell, everyone else was on drugs at that time so why shouldn’t the worlds greatest detective? I realize authors try to dig up flaws in our heroes to make them more human then super-human. But please, just let it go and let our heroes be just that – heroes.

  8. Tommy Raiko Says:

    “To be perfectly honest, When I saw “Black Diamond” I thought is was Eddie Campbell’s Black Diamond Detective Agency.”

    To be embarrassingly honest myself, whenever I hear of either SLG’s or Eddie Campbell’s “Black Diamond,” I think of the old AC comic book “Black Diamond” connected with B-movie queen Sybil Danning…

  9. Johnny B Says:

    I mean, you’re not saying that “surreal” covers all sins?

    Nah, it doesn’t cover all sins- no more so than any other style/genre/whatever. It’s hard to quantify. What seems fresh and clever to me won’t always seem the same way to others. Me, I thought Last Sane Cowboy was a wonderfully surreal collection of ideas, and “wacky” (and certainly not “pretentious”- Goodbrey wasn’t putting on airs) didn’t do them justice. The pseudo-Xeroxed art style, something I ordinarily have little use for, helped give it an even weirder edge. You disagree, and that’s fine- free internet, and all that. Just wanted to take up for that particular GN, which I liked a lot. FWIW, we agree on First Moon, which I liked more than i thought I would…

  10. Johnny B Says:

    …story ideas, I meant to say.

  11. Johanna Says:

    It’s true, I suspect that projects like that are going to have a much wider range of response, because of its experimentalism.

  12. Larry Young Argues for Optimism » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Young, publisher of AIT/Planet Lar, has returned to online discussion with the debut of a new column called I Gots Me Some [...]

  13. AIT Graphic Novels 2008 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] on from my two-year (2006-2007) roundup of AIT/Planet Lar graphic novels, here’s what they’ve released so far in [...]

  14. Martian Confederacy Out This Week » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Released this week was The Martian Confederacy, a new sci-fi adventure graphic novel written by Jason McNamara (First Moon, Continuity) and drawn by Paige Braddock (Jane’s World). [...]




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