- Posted by Johanna on June 13, 2010 at 10:08 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
Look what interesting things artists have sent me for review! Let’s read a bunch of self-published graphic novels.
by Gregory Corso
Powderfinger Books, $6 US
This slim, black-and-white graphic novel won one of the 2006 Xeric Grants. Jeff and his wife are visiting his parents, who live in the country. Dad’s hobby is pretending to be Bigfoot.
The art is better than the lettering. The homemade feel there makes it less easy to read than I’d hope. But the same approach artistically gives the book a country gothic feel, supporting the weirdness underlying what appears to be a simple rural family. His spacing and panel choices are similarly off-kilter, readable but odd, and his figure work is strong.
I’m not sure I understand what happens in the second half of the book, when there are two chapter fours with different endings and recurring imagery of migrating birds, bees, and UFOs. The author’s using repetition (of both panels and images) as a significant marker — I’m just unclear on what it means. I’d like to hear him talking about what he was aiming for, because I don’t think it was as successful as he’d hoped. It’s a shame his website is currently missing.
story by Gil Lawson, art by Eliseu Gouveia
General Jinjur, $14.95 US
A couple’s four-year-old daughter is revealed to be the next Defender of the Universe after being attacked by an evil space robot and rescued by an alien, but they don’t want to give her up. There’s also a Native American woman preparing for the coming conflict, a mysterious spy organization, and various super-villains dropped in almost randomly without space to develop in this book.
The art style will be familiar to superhero readers: everyone has muscles, and everything is presented with as much action as possible. This extends to a sleepy Daddy getting out of bed, with outthrust arm and dynamic staging; in that case, it may be overkill. Mom also changes from shirt to robe between two immediate time-contiguous panels, and her open-mouthed goodbye kiss to Dad looks like something from a porn shoot. For a story focusing on a kid, Gouveia needs to learn to draw them as other than mis-proportioned little adults. These are second-level complaints, though. The artist has the basics down, so now it comes to improving his details.
Story-wise, this is clearly one of those projects where the writer has been thinking about it a long time (this book includes some preview pages dated 2005), and he’s created quite a mythology around his concepts (which to me seemed to combine the idea of The Golden Child or the Dalai Lama with Green Lantern, only with a necklace instead of a ring). Unfortunately, he sometimes falls into the trap of assuming we’re as interested in all this as he is. I found myself skimming the pages where wise space mystics fill in the father on the history of their champions and squabble amongst themselves about what to do. At times, there’s an awful lot of talking.
There is a spoiler in the next paragraph.
I was intrigued by the idea of a young girl superhero, but because Daddy won’t accept her destiny, he seizes the token of power instead, making for yet another white guy hero. That was disappointing. However, the book does explicitly address issues of sexism in another plot point, and it was refreshing to see a diverse supporting cast, although we’re not given their story in full yet.
Spoiler over. This story was clearly intended to be serialized, since the third chapter contains a recap of the first. Now that independent serial comics are dead in the water, this is labeled first of a series of graphic novels (with the over-used, off-putting term “saga”). I’m not sure if any other books are actually coming, since this was released a year and a half ago. I applaud their goal of doing old-school superhero comics with broad appeal (read: not grim and not just for older readers), but with such drawn-out pacing, I doubt fans of the genre will be satisfied. I’d have rather seen a more active story with these characters. You don’t have to start with an origin, and when it’s this familiar, it’s a better choice not to.
This is much better done than many small press superhero comics, but I’m still not won over, because I’ve already read plenty of that genre. A substantial preview is available at the website.
by Sophia Wiedeman
Heart Monster Press, $6 US
Another Xeric winner, this time from 2008. The author calls it a graphic novel, but it could also be described as a slightly more substantial minicomic due to its small size and thin-line black-and-white art. It was originally her MFA thesis.
Wiedeman has quite a good eye for unusual character design, which suits the connected stories, all about freaks. In addition to the woman on the cover, whose hands turn into puppet heads with independent lives, there are a boy who dreams of seeing unicorns, a heart monster, an ugly mermaid who’s more octopus than fish, and a girl slug.
The often wordless art rewards what the reader brings to it, and no one has a happy ending. I don’t care much for wallowing in despair, but the images are quite striking. The more you like surreality, the more you will enjoy this. Here’s a better review.
Blend Archie Comics with Dazed and Confused, and you have something approaching this high school soap opera. As the book opens, summer’s starting, and all the kids are trying to figure out what they’re doing.
The cast is sprawling, and it can be a little tricky to follow them until you figure out who’s who. When summer starts, Kennedy’s dating Frank, who’s fooling around with Randi. New senior Hector just got dumped by the graduating Jana, but Isabella’s available, although he’s distracted trying to protect Marci from the overly pushy Tony and has always had a crush on Kennedy. There are summer camps and college keggers and a talent show. By the time school opens in September, everything’s different.
The art is really attractive, with open character designs. (Note: there is also a small amount of cartoon nudity and some adult topics.) I don’t envy Freire coming up with different looks for everyone, but she effectively distinguishes them with hair styles and attitudes. There’s not a story here, more a series of scenes, and the moral that actions have consequences. I think it would be stronger with more focus, a trimmed cast, and more of a plot throughline. As it is, it’s too realistic, going in too many directions. There are some preview pages at the Vito link above.
Nineteen Eighty Five
by James Reitano
TFU Studios, $9.95 US
Each 32-page issue of this series also comes with a CD mix to set the mood for the time. It’s about teen graffiti artists in a California beach town, painting walls as a sense of pride and because there’s not much else to do.
The portrait of a time was evocative, but the layouts, while appearing simple, were a bit borked. Often images from the first tier extended into the second, while dialogue from one wandered into the other. It made it difficult to figure out what to read next. Typos in the dialogue also distracted me, as did how all the characters looked alike. The cast tell each other (or in some cases, themselves) things they already know in a ham-handed way of bringing the reader up to speed with what’s been going on, a tag war between neighborhood groups.
I’m not sure if we’re supposed to play along with the main character, a vandal teen. Even when he gets caught, it’s an excuse for him (and the author?) to justify his actions as an art. He never seems to learn anything. Maybe that’s for a future book, but in the meantime, I just felt bad for everyone whose property he was defacing.
The Complete Ouija Interviews
by Sarah Becan
Shortpants Press, $10 US
The author claims that these were all “actual Ouija board sessions” that took place on Nantucket Island. I’m not sure I believe that — it’s a bit too convenient. However, when compared to the minis, it is better to have them all under one cover, since you can descend into the spooky mood for a longer stretch.
The art is minimal, with each page featuring a captioned question and a panel with a ghost and their word balloon answer, but Becan does a lot with the expressiveness of the simple figures, and taken as a whole, the design is nicely old-fashioned. The ghosts are still people, only dead, with silly rationalizations or inspiring advice or disgusting jokes. Some are playful, some are tragic, but in Becan’s style, all are cute. This would make a lovely stocking stuffer for the cuddly goth in your life.
Planet Saturday Comics
by Monty S. Kane
Self-published, $12.95 US
Very cute collection of the first 11 stories of the webcomic, currently updating sporadically. It’s rose-colored memories of the author’s childhood, retold with nostalgic glaze, alternating with cute stories of things his daughter does. Each tale opens with a text note, about the context and the event that inspired it. They’re short, 3-8 pages, but fun, especially for those of us with the age to want to look back fondly on simpler times.
The characters and settings are beautifully realized in caricature fashion, to suit the humor. You can easily sample at the website, including the introductory notes. The book might be a good idea to share with your young one, who will find the kids’ adventures fun without the underlying history. It also contains an end section of sketches and items edited out of the strips.
by Terry Toledo
Self-published, $14 US
You’re Sid, a truck driver for a slaughterhouse. This choose-your-own-adventure comic is very sketchily rendered but has the play value of any similar game, with the additional gimmick of some pages having audio endings you download from the web. The endings have a much wider range than similar efforts, with some featuring wacky twists. You might find a talking squirrel or investigate a conspiracy or party with friends or play hackysack. You can sample it at the website.