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‘The Last Musketeer’: a comic review

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment

I was at a point where I was trying to find new things to read that were interesting in comics. I looked specifically by publisher and stumbled upon Jason (the link has nothing to do with the creator and is only meant for fun). Jason’s The Last Musketeer stood out quickly with its quirky cover. It details said musketeer’s journey into space as he encounters robots and aliens.

As you can probably tell just by that short description, The Last Musketeer is full of weird things. It’s less about the meaning and depth of the adventure, but about how exciting and fun that adventure is. And Jason certainly captures that feeling. This book is just fun to read.

Jason’s art is definitely the big draw for the work (this seems to be a trend I have in what I read). The figures and backgrounds are simplistic. Everything is given a nice sense of lightness to it that helps create the fun read. The addition of colors by Hubert is excellent. They’re vibrant and really add to that feeling of lightness and fun.

If I had to find one fault with the work it’d be its length. One could finish this book in about one bus commute. I do recommend this though if you’re into quirky adventure comics that are just about being fun. The art is really fun to look at too. Because of its length I suggest checking it out from your local library, especially since it runs over $10. Regardless of how you read it, it’s a fun story with fun art to match.

The Last Musketeer is owned by Jason, who serves as writer and artist. Hubert is the colorist. It’s published by Fantagraphics.

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‘Kingdom Come’: a comic review

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment


Kingdom Come is an anomaly of sorts. It’s the one ‘Elseworlds’ DC title that gains significant attention. Most of this comes from the art from Alex Ross, but also from the writing of Mark Waid, who was at a turning point of sorts in his comic writing career. Kingdom Come essentially tells the story of a brewing superhero war between veteran heroes, such as Superman, and the younger vigilante heroes, and others, like Batman, trying to contain the whole conflict. After several repeated suggestions to read it, I got around to reading it and now (finally) reviewing it.

The writing comes from a collaboration between Waid and Ross. As someone who doesn’t read the titles associated with most of the heroes depicted, I found myself enjoying their stories. Most of this comes from that fact that Kingdom Come is an ‘Elseworlds’ title and doesn’t fit in the main DC canon. While some understanding of the characters is useful, it’s not necessary. It’s easy to jump into for the casual reader. It’s an engrossing story and one of the best of the ‘crossover’ variety. Kingdom Come is one of the best reads I’ve had with a DC book.

The main hook for Kingdom Come is Alex Ross’ painting. Ross uses strong details for all the characters. It definitely gives the feel that Ross is creating a realistic vision of superheroes. I personally can only take so much Ross-painting (as I don’t necessarily pursue ‘realism’ in comics), but it works really well in Kingdom Come. It works better than his earlier artwork in Marvels. Ross’ colors are at their necessary levels throughout the book. Everything is conveyed with a sense of real-ness to it. Ross poured a ton of energy into the book and it really shows.

Kingdom Come is a book I’d recommend to every fan of, or someone interested in, superhero comics (regardless if they’re a DC fan). It’s definitely something that deserves to be to read for the demographic. The narrative is compelling and interesting. The art is strong, with a heavy emphasis on realism. Without a doubt, Kingdom Come is the best of what ‘Elseworlds’ has to offer.

Kingdom Come is owned by DC Comics. Both Mark Waid and Alex Ross contributed to writing, Ross serves as artist.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths – A Review

September 9, 2012 1 comment

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths holds a unique place in localized manga in North America. Mizuki Shigeru’s semi-autobiography details the settlement of an ill-prepared Japanese camp in World War 2, a suicide charge against U.S. soldiers, and the story of those who didn’t partake in the death charge. It’s a story often excluded from the Japanese narrative seen in localized manga. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is also significant for being a human drama by Mizuki Shigeru, an artist most associated with yokai art.

The narrative of Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths focuses on the experiences of the Japanese company of soldiers. Their challenges as assigned to them by the Japanese military brass, the struggles with the environment, and the general fatality and deprivation of war. Each individual met in the work, which there are many, are all distinct and human in their own way. To its simplest point, it’s about humanity, or lack thereof, during war. Specifically, there is a unique Japanese flavor to this. The death charge is something insane-sounding to an American aesthetic, but incredibly reasonable towards a Japanese wartime aesthetic.

My largest issue with Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths has little to do with the concept or the art of the work, but rather the localization given to it. Sound effects are converted from their original katakana (one of the written forms of Japanese, commonly used for onomatopoeia in manga) into English. Obviously, this is made for the simplification of the Western reader, but why change it? Many manga publishers in the West have adapted to maintaining the original language for sound effects and offering a translation section in the back, or use footnotes. In the same regard, many lines of dialogue are changed to be more familiar with a contemporaneous Western reader. While Drawn & Quarterly (who publishes only a select few manga titles) has made a commendable translation, I feel like the work should have retained a greater sense of its original Japanese.

On a stronger note, the art is incredible. Humans are given cartoon-ish features which contrast with a lushly detailed background. It boosts the sense of harshness of place given in the detailed illustrations. The human depictions allow for a more relaxed reading of the drama being told, often ironically contrasting with the trauma of war. The art style doesn’t directly depict the seriousness of the situations of the work, but it’s always there. And hey, Drawn & Quarterly maintained the original right-to-left printing, so kudos there.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is an excellent manga. Both the narrative and art style are unique in the medium. While I have some issues with the cultural conveyance in translation, I’m sure there are many who will never notice it. And at the least this served as an introduction for Western readers of Mizuki Shigeru’s works. It’s something I highly recommend to both manga and comic fans.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is written and drawn by Mizuki Shigeru. It is localized in North America by Drawn & Quarterly.

The Sixth Gun vol. 3 – A Review

July 26, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m not gonna lie. The Sixth Gun is one of the best comics out there nowadays. The first two volumes impressed me with their dark and fun action and characters, on top of an interesting premise (I reviewed both of these, you can find the first review here). For newcomers, The Sixth Gun is a pulpy horror comic in which there are six weapons (guns at the time of the story) that have different powers and once all collected have the potential to end the world. While the third collection has been out for a while, and I picked it up when it was released, I’ve only now gotten a chance to read it (college does that to you). But what did I think of it?

Well, this particular collection of issues took more chances than its predecessors. For one, the action is far less intense than it has been. Here action is subdued in preference of story and character development. While it was odd at first I really got into it. This is assisted by having Drake, the heroic male figure, leave the main narrative. It gave us a chance to finally focus on our protagonist, as well the recently introduced side-character Gorm. These characters receive excellent development in this collection, especially Gorm. For a series that should be dedicated to pulp action I’m taking a strong liking to these character’s personalities and backgrounds. And I’m loving it.

The art for the volume is standard for the series. It’s still in the somewhat cartoon-y vein, but that’s to be expected from an Oni Press publication. There is one particularly good section where a different artist works on select panels detailing psychic visions. The whole work has a great aesthetic appeal that works for narrative and often enhances it when it needs to. It is what it needs to be.
The Sixth Gun continues to stand out in contemporary comics. In fact, it keeps getting better. This particular volume that there really wasn’t a ‘weak’ character in the cast and that they all have a potential likeability to them. The art is good and does what it needs to be. Basically, I can’t wait for more.

The Sixth Gun is owned by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. It is published by Oni Press.

A Comic Opinion: Depictions of the LBGT in Mainstream Comics

May 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Of late I’ve been really interested in representations, writings, and visual depictions of marginalized groups in art mediums, comics specifically. It’s a topic I feel like isn’t really properly addressed by the comics community on the scale that criticisms are made of other art mediums. It seems ironic that the news items most heavily picked up by mainstream news media regarding the mainstream comics community involves treatments of marginalized voices, but the comics community itself doesn’t spend nearly as much on the matter. Last years’ announcement of introducing Miles Morales, a black latino mix, as the new Ultimate Spider-Man received a good amount of attention. And yesterday, the announcement of the ‘gay marriage’ of Marvel’s Northstar character and his boyfriend, as well as DC’s announcement of one of the New 52 characters as ‘turning gay’ in the upcoming months also provided much discussion. With these recent announcements made by both Marvel and DC yesterday I felt that it was about time for me to start talking about it. In this case, giving a sense of where gay characters began, about depictions of homosexuality in mainstream comics (specifically Marvel and DC), why now, and what does this all mean.

The image accompanying Marvel’s announcement

Well, the easy part to answer is the emergence of LBGT characters within the main universes of DC and Marvel. If any individual is to be given credit for adding a homosexual character into mainstream comics it was writers Steve Englehart and Joe Staton with the introduction of Extraño in 1987 with the series’ Millennium and New Guardians. The character was not only foreign, but made very effeminate in what is a perceived stereotype of homosexuals in mass media. Those same series also contained a fellow character, Jet, who contracted HIV/AIDS. The point to make about these characters is less their inclusion, but the depictions of homosexuality. Both Extraño and Jet were stereotypes of homosexuals in the late 1980s. The stereotyping of the former is one that persists in mass media today with such shows as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Whereas, the characterization of Jet is important to understand as its a byproduct of conceptions and fears of HIV/AIDS and the homosexual community (in this case spreading rapidly via cuts). As such the depictions of Extraño and Jet can be largely be seen in the same line as the depictions in other media formats. Since then, DC has largely put homosexual characters into supporting roles. This has changed only slightly, with characters such as Renee Montoya taking a central role in Gotham Central and 52. It’s only with the recent announcement of a main character of the DC 52 becoming gay has the company given significant attention to the issue.

Extrano, DC’s first and most flamboyant gay character

Marvel, on the other hand, has a far more complex history to it. In the 1980s, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter forbid any homosexual characters in the Marvel universe. In the ’90s this was slightly lessened allowing for LBGT characters, but comics had to have an ‘Adults Only’ label printed on them that heavily featured these characters. Even in these series there wasn’t much intimacy between homosexual characters and the rating label largely stemmed from the fact that these characters had a separate sexual orientation than the content of the comics. While DC’s depictions were originally based off stereotyping of homosexuals, Marvel’s publishing (or lack thereof) was largely reactionary. While Shooter’s legacy was controversial in Marvel itself, his attitudes to homosexuals didn’t define the general Marvel policies, especially given the adult ratings in the ’90s. It was around this period that Marvel began to introduce openly gay characters into their universe, often taking supportive, yet prominent roles in team serials. In George Haggerty’s Encyclopedia of Gay Histories and Cultures he states that Marvel’s inclusion of homosexuals, when compared to DC, was “less prolific but more deliberate.” This can be evidenced in the recent announcement of Northstar’s ‘gay marriage.’

But why is this happening now?

Well, the most obvious answer to that is that the issue of gay marriage has entered public conscious at a massive level in the past few years. Regardless, of your standing in a political spectrum and your level of access to current dissemination of news media, you’ve probably heard of trends in gay marriage politics, as well as likely carrying your own opinion on the matter. The reason Marvel is doing this now is because the issue is at its height of consciousness and with President Obama’s approval of it, has an easier time of accessing the comic purchasing demographic (as well as a few extra readers interested in the subject). The other part of this announcement is the relative obscurity of the character. Northstar is a character small enough that he isn’t known by mainstream society and could be missed by comic readers who don’t happen to read the series’ he is in. His marriage to his boyfriend carries little weight in the whole of the Marvel universe. But, it carries symbolism.

Dan DiDio and DC: Not sure where to go on the issue

While the Marvel announcement is definitely provoking and interesting in regards to the heavy amount of news attention it has received, DC’s announcement of a new ‘gay’ character that was previously ‘straight’ is the real case that needs to be examined. DC has yet to reveal which particular character is ‘turning gay,’ though, that matters little in the overall meaning of it all. Last year, Dan DiDio stated in an interview with the LBGT magazine The Advocate:

“One of the things we’re very focused on doing for these types of stories is rather than [change an existing] character, we want to make sure that this is the basis of who that character is right from the start. So if we’re going to introduce a gay character in Teen Titans, we want to make it a new character and make sure that is an iatrical [integral was probably the word intended here] part of who he is, or who she is, right from the start so we can really lean and grow with her or him.”

Of course, the recent decision by DiDio and DC is probably a mixture of influences from the Marvel announcement, changes of LBGT issues in the political atmosphere, and the growing concern of diversity (of race, gender, and now sexual orientations) in mainstream comics today. But, is it alright to have a character ‘turn gay?’ By this I mean, follow DiDio’s rhetoric and try to avoid and develop a LBGT character from their creation rather than ‘making them homosexual.’ Yes, it’s possible for there to be an explanation of changes in orientation (a vast majority of the LBGT supporting characters are bisexual, a result of possible orientation retconning), but it doesn’t give much attention to the community itself.

Renee Montoya is probably my favorite depiction of LBGTs in mainstream comics

What mainstream comics need is a character who is intended to be homosexual or transgender, and potentially openly so. It’s quite possible to also make this a part of the development of the character amongst their relationships (mostly non-romantic) and their fellow heroes. Renee Montoya remains my favorite depiction of an LBGT character in mainstream comics as her orientation is involved in thoughtful ways in the main narrative and is explored via the relationship with her family. There is a reason why most of Marvel’s homosexual characters are mutants, because it gives them more than one level of discrimination to deal with.

Complexity of sexuality and the importance of orientation differences is important to convey to readers to create a healthy comic readership. While these new announcements have the potential to grow into something else, they are most likely receiving mass attention because of other debates regarding LBGT issues in contemporary society. Comics have the potential to become a vehicle in aiding the transition from an era of stereotyping and reactionism (as seen in the ’80s and ’90s) to a dynamic system of orientations.

 

[Note: This is my first time discussing issues in the LBGT community and marginalized images in comics. Please give me feedback on approach for possible future discussions. I would to hear/read it.]

Jinchalo: A Review

April 9, 2012 Leave a comment

I was meandering in my local comic shop the other day when my eyes stumbled upon Matthew Forsythe’s Jinchalo. I was completely unfamiliar with both the author and the title, but the cover and a quick skim got my attention. I eventually picked up the book and read it through. Even when I skimmed it I could tell that Jinchalo was unique compared to most comics. How so you may ask? Well…

Jinchalo is an absurdist piece that brings together elements of Korean folklore and comic aesthetics, as well as western style themes. It bears resemblance to the lack of linear structure in other works such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It focuses on the (truly) wacky journey of Voguchi after she eats all the food in the house and goes on a journey to replace it. There’s a great deal of wonder, shape shifting, and other bizarre things that she encounters before it all ends in an odd manner. There’s some threads that seem to make up a ‘plot,’ but they’re not the emphasis. The emphasis is on the experience itself.

The first thing that stands out in Jinchalo is the lack of ‘proper narration.’ There is no dialogue (or at least not in English), no narration boxes, nothing. While there is occasionally some dialogue boxes, they’re all in Korean, but they’re few and it’s easy to follow along without any proper narration. The story is laid out in a fashion that is understandable without any guiding text. While it’s understandable, the structure of the narrative is not linear. It’s also makes for a quick read do to its length and the lack of any proper narration (it took me about 15 minutes to read).

The art becomes the primary vehicle for narration because there isn’t a ‘proper one.’ Forsythe does a great job of creating a coherence of Voguchi’s journey even if it’s bizarre. There isn’t a sacrifice of the presentation for the wonder, and vice versa, to make sure the piece is readable. Even while Forsythe is using a grayscale palette he manages to create scenes that feel vibrant and spectacular. It all works together quite well. The art style is creative, lending itself well to Korean folklore as well as the other influences of the comic. Jinchalo definitely deserves attention for its art. In fact, I want to say that it doubles as collection of art by Forsythe on top of the story it tells. The art takes the center stage in Jinchalo not only as the means of narration, but the means of experiencing Voguchi’s journey.

Jinchalo is a wonderful piece in the world of comics. It sits in its own special place, influenced strongly by Korean culture, as well as journeys intended more for the experience rather than the outcome. Even without a proper narration it manages to tell a coherent story through its art. The art also helps bring out the wonder of the piece, making the journey truly fantastic. If you’re open to the idea of comics without more traditional styles of narrative framing than I recommend you give Jinchalo a try.

Jinchalo is created, written, and drawn by Matthew Forsythe. It’s distributed by Drawn and Quarterly.

Between Gears: A Review

April 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Natalie Nourigat comic

This past weekend was Emerald City Comic Con, my personal chance to access the massive world of comic creators within a relatively short distance of my home. While there certainly a lot of bigger name creators there (such as Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Bryan Lee O’Malley, etc.), my main pull to these events is meeting the more independent creators. Natalie Nourigat and her debut-more-massively-produced work Between Gears was one of the things I was most excited about for the convention and one of my personal highlights (partially because she made a ‘Thank You’ sketch in the book).

Between Gears is an autobiographical work detailing the daily events of Natalie’s senior year of college from September to June. It works so that each day from the beginning until the end occupies a single page. The page won’t contain all the details from that day, but the highlights or maybe just one particular event. While this concept isn’t entirely original, it’s the concept of using the daily sketch diary to frame the transition of a life-changing event (finishing college and preparing for life after) that makes this comic work so well. It feels more organic to how the flow of life works. The idea of a visual diary works better than a narrative or even a text diary in this case because the use of visuals adds to shifting emotions and makes them easily digestible to the reader. As someone who is currently in a similar life position as the sketch diary details, I found a lot of connections to the work. At the same time I feel like this identification can be made by many people who have had some sort of major transition in their lives.

There are two printing errors with repeated dates, October 26 and May 21, but otherwise the whole thing is put together well. There’s even a nifty bonus material section at the end where Natalie talks about some the production elements going into the work.

As noted, the art in Between Gears shifts dependent upon the emotions. It ranges from ‘chibi-style’ and detailed sketches, but sits somewhere in a mixture of Studio Ghibli styled character designs and western comics. The inking for the comic is great throughout. There are some pages with some splendid stills, but the main intent of the art is emotion. Since every page is a description of part of a day there is an emphasis of having the art reflect the perception of that day. Even without the text you can tell what kind of emotions are being conveyed simply by looking at the art style.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Between Gears. I found that the daily visual sketch diary format really worked well to describe a transitional point in life. The art added to this by conveying the necessary emotions. I could personally connect to it, since I am currently a college senior, but I feel like most people would find something they could resonate with in the work. I do recommend giving it a shot.

Between Gears is owned by Natalie Nourigat. It is written and drawn by her. It’s distributed by Image Comics.