- Posted by Johanna on May 8, 2013 at 7:45 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Tom Gauld
- PUBLISHER: Drawn and Quarterly; $19.95 US
Reading this entire volume at one sitting is like ingesting a mind-altering substance. It contains such a coherent and yet completely strange worldview that it will reset your perceptions.
Tom Gauld‘s cartoons, one per page, cover history, literature, and technology, in the same way Kate Beaton’s do. The best way to recommend this volume is to simply send you to read his cartoons. If you see one that tickles you, you’ll likely enjoy more of them. The comics originally appeared in The Guardian, and a European sense of humor may be an asset.
The title comes from this particular comic, in which science fiction tells off “proper literature”. Reading — the great works, genre conventions, famous writers, popular expectations, and how it contrasts with other media and technology — is a frequent topic of Gauld’s. There’s a Bronte Sisters videogame, Shakespeare’s cast reductions, Kenneth Grahame’s cast changes, and Frankenstein’s monster explaining famous characters to a dense reader. He also has a modern perspective on classic subjects, for example, envisioning a Gothic novel with a Blackberry and texting or showing us future “Innovations at the British Library”.
You may find yourself consulting the internet if you don’t recognize a particular reference, so the cartoons are vaguely educational, if you approach them with curiosity instead of resentment for being smarter than you are. There’s an odd contrast between the assumed intelligence of the reader at the same time Gauld’s strips are puncturing pretension. It’s an anti-snobbery.
A few of the strips don’t need much more than their title, such as “Samuel Beckett’s Adventures of Tintin” or “Professor Ian Rigby: Academic Stunt Driver”. All are well-done, with simple-yet-complete drawings wrapped around strong, unusual concepts. Even somewhat familiar punchlines — British food is bad, cliché-using writers should be stopped, novels change when adapted into movies — are cartooned in creative ways.
I’m guessing that Gauld loves language, because he uses such excellent vocabulary. Visually, his figures are unique — the occasional person has a face, although one with dot eyes and a lump representing a nose. No mouths. More often, the figure simply consists of an elongated triangle for a body and a black dot for a head. They’re purely representational, and their simplicity is attractive.
It’s a pleasure to see such imaginative ideas expressed in such an approachable form. I got a kind of enjoyment from this book that felt fresh and surprising because of how different the subjects and look of these strips were from other comics. (The publisher provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on May 7, 2013 at 5:49 pm
- Category: Manga News
Let’s see if this brings some new readers to manga! The Sports Illustrated pop culture blog Extra Mustard is reprinting an article by Ben Sin about how the manga Slam Dunk caused Asia to love basketball. It’s a nice overview, with sample art, of the appeal of the series.
- Posted by Johanna on May 5, 2013 at 5:24 pm
- Category: Animation
If, like Greg Rucka, you’re concerned about a Superman who’s not suitable for kids, you’ll want to stay away from this new original animated movie. Superman: Unbound is only an hour fifteen minutes, but within the first eight, it’s well lived up to its PG-13 rating (for “sequences of violence and action, and a rude gesture“). They get right to it in the credits, as Brainiac has his eyeball ripped out on camera by a robotic tentacle.
As the film opens, Lois is a hostage, but her helicopter is rescued by Superman’s cousin Supergirl (in the outdated belly-shirt costume). A strangely stretched Superman shows up (seriously, look how long his head is!), and his first lines to his cousin are “Kara, what the hell were you trying to prove out there?”
These are not the characters I know, either in behavior or visually. Clark is drawn two heads higher than Lois, which seems too exaggerated. This sounds picky, but when Clark and Superman are both portrayed with such ridiculously extreme physiques, it just makes everyone seem stupid not to notice that they’re the same person, the only one who’s that freakishly tall.
Other scenes feature obviously scratchy lines, to the point that it looks like the Xerox machine dropped out part of them. I found it strange that Lois’ eyes were colored purple (to match her really heavy eyeshadow), but maybe they picked it to coordinate with her pink laptop. Way to support the “tough reporter” character, but when she’s having her big dramatic speech in tight tank top and purple running shorts, that suggests to me that the filmmakers either are lazy when it comes to costume design or they’re really concerned with us knowing she’s a hot woman.
The two good parts of the film are the cast and the chemistry between Lois and Clark. Their relationship can be hard to comprehend, as they’re flirty and together, but keeping it a secret, then they fight a lot. She wants him to save her but yells at him for being overly protective. If the movie was longer, these conflicts could be developed more realistically, instead of being dumped at us so quickly that they seem like sudden reversals. Still, I’m glad to see them as a couple, and one with the potential for such good interactions.
The voices are outstanding. Matt Bomer has the gravity of Superman without being stodgy. Stana Katic makes for a strong and dynamic Lois. Molly Quinn sounds young without being childish, a good choice for a Supergirl portrayed as a moody teen and wearing the weight of survivor’s guilt. Frances Conroy is her adoptive Ma Kent. (Pa is shown sleeping once, so he doesn’t ever talk.) For really obvious comic relief, Diedrich Bader does what he can with the boorish Steve Lombard.
Supergirl tells Superman of how Brainiac’s ship and robots captured the entire Kryptonian city of Kandor, for additional scenes of mayhem. (The thing about using robots is that Superman can beat them to death without it seeming too violent, even though for some unknown reason they have spinal cords.)
He heads out to space (in his convenient crystal ship? I dunno, this is where not reading the original comic, Superman: Brainiac, makes it hard for me to know how this all fits together) to find another planet where Brainiac is taking over to beat up a bunch more robots. We’re a third of the way through the film, and now it’s time for a lot of fighting and watching aliens get killed. Unfortunately, this also means separating Superman from all the other characters.
I do understand that they’re trying to show what a huge threat Brainiac is, so that we fear more the idea of him destroying Earth, but Superman’s interaction with his girlfriend and his niece was what was keeping my interest, so I got bored quickly. At least it all moved fast.
The shame of these movies is that there’s a “happy ending” attached here that just cries out for followup, but we’ll never get to see it. Particularly since it contradicts the current DC continuity. As a side note, the only modern character to get a “created by” credit (Siegel and Shuster are credited for Superman) is Ron Troupe, who’s credited to Jerry Ordway and Tom Grummet (sic), which should have 2 Ts.
“Kandor: History of the Bottle City” (17 minutes) gives the history of the concept, as told by Mike Carlin, Marv Wolfman, scriptwriter Bob Goodman, Dan DiDio, and others. It’s neat to see the comic art by Gary Frank and others, but too much of this is simply retelling the concept we’ve already seen portrayed. But if you stick that out, they bring up Nightwing and Flamebird (Superman as Batman was always fun) and talk about the science fiction roots of the Kandor stories.
“Brainiac: Technology and Terror” (25 minutes) goes back to the 50s in exploring the roots of the villain’s creation but also covers the implications of a cultural fear of technology. I was surprised that they were able to say so much about this character concept.
There’s also a 10-minute sneak peek at Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, the next DC original animated movie; an audio commentary by Mike Carlin, Bob Goodman, and James Tucker (supervising producer and director); a digital comic excerpt from the source material by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank; and four Superman: The Animated Series episodes — “The Last Son of Krypton, Part 1”; “New Kids in Town”; and “Little Girl Lost, Parts 1 & 2”. (The studio provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on May 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm
- Category: LinkBlogging
I’ve struggled for a while with the question of whether it’s better, if I’m given a comic to review that I don’t care for, to write a negative review or simply not cover the work. I invariably guess wrong. If I err on the side of “if you can’t say anything nice…”, then the artist tells me he would have rather had the links, even if I didn’t like it. If I write a negative review, then the publisher wants me to have kept my mouth shut.
I’ve been pondering this because Gina Gagliano at First Second recently wrote about her intentions in providing review copies. She says,
Reviewers to whom I send books are not obligated to write reviews! In fact, if they get books from me in the mail and they hate them, I would probably prefer that they didn’t write any review at all. Even if a reviewer gets a book and feels bland and vaguely indifferent towards it, I’ll probably be like, ‘how about you review a nice book from me that you thought was awesome instead of forcing yourself to write something vague and indifferent about this book — I’ll find someone else who loves it to cover it.’
To be clear, I’m not stopping anyone from writing a review — if reviewers hate a book and want to write about it, that’s totally fine. If reviewers feel bland and indifferent about a book and want to write about it, that’s fine too. But if a reviewer gets a book from me and doesn’t want to write a review because they didn’t like it, because they feel that it doesn’t suit their audience, because they don’t have time for it, because they can’t fit it in with the rest of their content thematically that week, you know what?
Those are all perfectly reasonable reasons not to review a book, and I’m fine with that.
I’m really glad to hear it, because I think that’s a great statement that makes me feel better about what I’m trying to do, which is talk about good books — or barring that, to talk about things that I felt passionate about in some fashion. Trying to force out a review when a book leaves you feeling “eh” is hard, and the time and pressure spent doing it could probably be better used elsewhere.
- Posted by Johanna on May 5, 2013 at 4:02 pm
- Category: Animation
The next original DC animated movie will be Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, released on July 30 and now available for order. It’s based on the story in which the Flash wakes up in an alternate universe without his powers. Here’s the description:
When time travel allows a past wrong to be righted for Flash and his family, the event’s temporal ripples prove disastrous, creating a fractured, alternate reality where the Justice League never formed, and even Superman is nowhere to be found. Amidst a new world being ravaged by a fierce war between Wonder Woman’s Amazons and Aquaman’s Atlanteans, Flash must team with a grittier, more violent Batman and government agent Cyborg to restore the continuity of Flash’s original timeline.
Typical of the DC films, the voice cast looks amazing. Barry Allen (Flash) will be Justin Chambers (Grey’s Anatomy), with his co-star Kevin McKidd as Thomas Wayne (Batman, which presumably makes sense to those who read the comic by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert). Nathan Fillion returns as Hal Jordan, with Kevin Conroy as Batman (as it should be). Sam Daly (following in his father Tim’s footsteps) is Superman, Dana Delany is Lois, Cary Elwes is Aquaman, and Ron Perlman is Slade and Deathstroke.
The Blu-ray extras are planned as follows:
- A Flash in Time: Are there other dimensions? Can time travel get us there? And if The Flash existed, could he really travel through time? Interviews with experts in mythology and theoretical physics and top DC writers will examine the science and legacy of the storytelling behind the fiction.
- My Favorite Villians! The Flash Bad Guys: Acclaimed DC Comics writer Geoff Johns and others share their favorite Flash villains in this short film that gives viewers a glimpse into the Flash’s world through the eyes of some of the nefarious characters he has encountered over the past 70 years!
- A Sneak Peek at the next DC Universe animated movie:. An in-depth look into the next DC Animated feature film, spotlighting the cast and crew.
- From the DC Comics Vault: Bonus cartoon episodes
- The Flashpoint Paradox Audio Commentary
- Posted by Johanna on May 5, 2013 at 12:58 pm
- Category: Movies/TV
If you’re interested in how comic book and other fantasy creations might work in the real world, you’ll want to try the YouTube series Man at Arms, in which blacksmith Tony Swatton, who’s experienced in making weapons for movies, tries recreating all kinds of famous weapons, from Batman’s batarangs (from sharpened steel) to He-Man’s sword and even Oddjob’s hat! The latest episode features Captain America’s shield (done in layers, not paint), as shown here:
There’s a lot of “I’m doing this because it’s cool!” to the five-minute episodes, which makes for some impressive viewing. Especially at the end, when they use the newly created weapons to mess stuff up.
- Posted by Johanna on May 4, 2013 at 6:17 pm
- Category: Digital and Webcomics
The cast is minimal, with characters named Mom, Dad, and Thatababy. It’s modern in attitude, alternating cute baby behavior (and occasional clueless parent moments)
with random popular culture references.
Every so often, the strip is simply the kid singing a favorite when he’s supposed to be sleeping.
That’s not so much a gag as simply “remember this?” As is this installment, which appears to simply be a reason to show that Trap can either draw the Archies or use a copy machine on the reduction setting.
Still, I look forward to seeing the comic strip on the daily page. It’s more entertaining than many of the old favorites, even if just to see what reference will pop up next.
- Posted by Johanna on May 4, 2013 at 10:39 am
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: by Ellen Meister
- PUBLISHER: Putnam; $26.95 US
They made a book just for MEEEEEEEE! Farewell, Dorothy Parker is the story of how Violet Epps, movie critic, learned to stop being a doormat.
Although she’s strong and confident in her opinions when writing reviews, inspired by the legendary Dorothy Parker, the rest of her life is marred by social phobia. She’s got an overbearing loser of a boyfriend, a self-obsessed work rival, and an orphaned niece, Delaney, whose grandparents are fighting for her custody although Violet and Delaney would be better together. Her inability to say what she really thinks leaves her feeling trapped and worthless.
Then she visits the Algonquin, where she sees the ghost of Mrs. Parker (and her poodle Cliché). Soon Mrs. Parker has followed her home, where the two bond. As the ghost advises Violet, she gets the encouragement she needs to stand up for herself.
This is a somewhat predictable book — of course there’s a handsome kung fu instructor to provide a substitute love interest, and several of the confrontations go better than one might expect in real life — but the journey is so very enjoyable, particularly the dialogue between the two women. Recommended, particularly for any writer who’s enjoyed (or astonishingly, hasn’t yet discovered) the works of Dorothy Parker.