Friday, 30 October 2015

Deep Sequencing: Fathoming Octopus Depths

Or a look at the use of vertical height and time in Octopus Pie
by Meredith Gran

A thing I find interesting is how the limitations of a media shape the way stories are told. In the case of print comics there are obvious limits imposed by the physical nature of the product: comics are expensive to print, so that page sizes and issue lengths are dictated in part by the economics of making the thing. The physical nature of comic books also dictate that the books have sequential pages. This effects the flow of time such that it flows page to page through the comic and also adds all kinds of nifty clipping and cutting effects between pages. There are just endless ways the form of print comics effects the reading experience.

The same is true for webcomics, but in different frequently interesting ways.

In particular, I want to talk about Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran and some of the nifty things she is doing with vertical space in her comic to play with time.

Specifically, I'll be talking about this comic. While Octopus Pie has lots of fun examples of this effect, this comic is maybe the most extreme example and really emphasizes just how far this effect can be taken. You should definitely go read the thing before we get started. (I'm not going to post it here because it is giant, so please follow the link.)

Unlike print comics, which are constrained by page size, webcomics are constrained by browser resolution and the way computers navigate. Essentially webcomics have a fixed width that will fit comfortably in a browser window since scrolling sideways is weird. At the same time there is practically no vertical direction limits: scrolling up and down a page is very intuitive and easy which means that even a very tall comic feels natural and readable. Webcomics are also free of printing costs or the physical constraints of different printing formats, which means that there is no reason to be locked into a particular height of comic (except probably the time it takes to draw comics of varying lengths). What this means is that storytelling space in a webcomic can be as tall or short as a creator wants and can even vary between instalments to do some nifty comics.

Octopus Pie uses this vertical freedom to play with time. The webcomic uses space as a surrogate for time (like pretty much all comics). Due to horizontal constraints, this space-time-continuum exists mostly in the vertical direction where there are no practical limitations. In this comic Meredith Gran really stretches this space out to make a comic about routine and ennui and dealing with heart ache with time. The comic stretches, and stretches down the page with snippets of moments in a grand repetitive routine. It's really effective stuff from a purely use of space front. It is also really cool because of the tactile experience of navigating the page: such a tall webcomic requires readers to stroke trackpads or whatever making the navigating the page an actual effort, a kind of ersatz exercise that mirrors the jogging in the page. It's like the touch equivalent of using eye guiding to create emotional resonance. It's super cool comics.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

So I Read The Fuse: Gridlock

A 250 word (or less) review of Fuse Vol. 2
by Antony Johnston, Justin Greenwood, Shari Chankhamma, and Ryan Ferrier; Image Comics

The Fuse is an ongoing comic, to read about the first chapter go here.

The Fuse is a police procedural comic that takes place on The Fuse, an orbital power station with a nebulous sovereignty, bitter inequality, and fermenting discord. The current volume centres around the death of Starlight, the star gridlocking racer of a popular sport on the verge of lucrative syndication. It is up to murder detectives Klem Ristovych, a longterm veteran of the station, and Ralph Dietrich, a recent emigre from Earth, to solve a case that will see them run afoul of the power company, drug dealers, TV producers,  and FLF, a group agitating for Fuse independence. The Fuse: Gridlock is another really satisfying instalment in the series: it continues to be a complex police procedural that uses its Sci-fi trappings and sense of humanity to tell an intriguing mystery and provide insightful social commentary. This current chapter is also significant because it manages to build off the initial great premise of the series and create intriguing new directions for the longterm story. I am now deeply invested in the both the individual episodes of the comic, but also the overall story direction of the series. If you are at all a fan of detective stories or space stations, The Fuse is a comic you really ought to be reading.

Word count: 210

The Fuse Vol. 1

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Service Notice: No Novels

Prose novel reviews will be on hiatus until 2016

Hi all. Things have been obscenely busy in Real Life lately due to mostly Good Things. As a consequence I have had a hard time writing blog posts and have blown through my once generous lead in. Something had to give, and so Novel Reviews will be on hold until I find some more time for writing. Hopefully, I will be able to devote some time over the winter holidays for intense blogging and novel reviews will be able to return in 2016.

Comics updates will still be appearing Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Thanks for understanding!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Atoll Round Up: Marvel #1s

Or a quick round up of some first impressions of comics I've tried recently

Doctor Strange #1
by Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, and Corey Petit; Marvel Comics

I have never read a Doctor Strange comic that I've loved. I think this is mostly a factor of when I got into comics as an adult and the fact that I try not to read backwards into superhero comics too much (because that way leads to insurmountable madness). So I thought it might be fun to try the newest iteration of Doctor Strange. And it was fun: it provides a mostly light, weird comic full of magic based mayhem and a solid attention grabbing opening salvo. I'm curious enough to read more. In particular, I love the art of Chris Bachalo in this issue. His lively, chaotic but readable brand of cartooning packs in the weird and really breathes a manic life into the magical world of the sorcerous doctor. It is great looking and accomplished stuff. I will probably read the second issue.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1
by Brian Michael Bendis, Valerio Schiti, Rihard Isanove, and Corey Petit; Marvel Comics

Well that was certainly a slick episode of comics. So slick that I almost didn't realize that comics happened. Like Doctor Strange, I have never really been a Guardians of the Galaxy reader, but the promise of a fresh starting point, some familiar Bendis dialogue (it has been a while and I'm jonesing), and a new lineup including Kitty Pryde and Ben Grimm (who I've always enjoyed Bendis' take on) made the idea of climbing aboard attractive. And... I don't know how I feel about this issue? A lot of stuff happened in a very efficient way meant to deliver a premise, introduce characters, provide some fun character moments, and end on a shocking twist. It was like episodic comics writing Science. It's really effective stuff. But... but it feels very... manufactured somehow? That in it's platonic delivery of marketable superhero team comics that it somehow felt corporate or cynical somehow. Which is such a stupid reason to not like something but at the end of the day it's a big part of my emotional reaction to this comic. I may still try the next issue.

(Also, holy jeebz has Bendis gotten good at frictionless comics episodes!)

Invincible Iron Man #1
by Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, Justin Ponsor, and Calyton Cowles; Marvel Comics

It has been a while since I've last read an Iron Man comic: I loved the Matt Fraction and Salvadore Larroca run on the comic and have more or less quit the character following their departure to savour their "ending". It's a thing I do. Anyway, I like Iron Man and I have liked Bendis, Marquez, and Ponsor comics in the past, so trying this comic was a no brainer. And this was another comic that was very slick and which didn't quite work for me. The art in this comic is gorgeous, a brightly cinematic, sumptuously appointed world of bold layouts. But at the same time, these same sumptuously appointed, bold layouts didn't always work technically and sometimes ended up being hard to navigate. The story was likewise very well composed with Bendisian quips and wit (which is an excellent fit for Stark) and a well devised comics machine that delivers story, action, ominous portents, and a few great character moments. Unfortunately, this same story really brings Tony Stark back to his ground state as a smart jerk, which is more or less the place I first found him as a character, which is a total bummer. I mean, it makes a lot of sense to centre a character in a familiar place for a semi-reboot and it's probably wise to make that new character resemble his portrayal in other, more widely appreciated media, but it really doesn't spark my interest in a reader. So I will be passing on this series.

Captain America #1
by Nick Spencer, Daniel Acuna, Joe Caramagna; Marvel Comics

What a miserable first issue of a comic. Captain America #1 reads like an essay about the premise of the series with accompanying illustrations. Which is a shame because Daniel Acuna is one of my favourite artists, just absolutely pure style coupled to clear storytelling. I picked this comic up to see shiny Acuna artwork, and instead got pages and pages of explanation of the premise of Sam Wilson, the progressive Captain America who will use the internet to fight social injustice (which is a fucking sentence that gets across the crux of what CA #1 spends the entire issue saying). The wordiness of Captain America #1 is also a shame because the premise (see last sentence), is actually pretty good: in a vacuum, separate from execution, I would read that comic. Especially with Daniel Acuna artwork. But the finished product didn't work and premiering in a glut of good, new comics means I do not have the time and money to invest in a series figuring itself out.

Karnak #1
by Warren Ellis, Gerardo Zaffino, Dan Brown, and Clayton Cowles; Marvel Comics

The premise of Karnak #1 is that Karnak, who is one of the Inhumans gifted with the ability to see the weaknesses in things and people, is now some sort of religious leader leading a cult seemingly shaped by his power. While the actual beliefs of this cult are still pretty nebulous, they seem to  hold a broadly reprehensible philosophy. Karnak apparently is tasked with helping some people and is apparently going to be a weird, alien asshole about doing it. Which is all to say that Karnak #1 is kind of amazing. Warren Ellis does crazy person authority figure like few others and the art team of Zaffino and Brown have turned in a dark, uncouth looking comic that screams troubling, crazy space asshole. I would be surprised if this does't eventually end up on my pull list.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Worshipping The Wicked + The Divine #15

Or a look at the use of dialogue fade in WicDiv #15
by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

The thing about WicDiv I love is that it's always showing me something cool. It can be some dramatic trick of layout or colour that does something truly remarkable or unprecedented. It can be a shocking story twist or a slow burning irony that drags like an icebreaker through the series. It can be clever character design or some bit of fun mythology. Or maybe it's a cool artist you've never met before. Or maybe it's just something little and smart and worth taking a closer look at. 

WicDiv #15 manages to show me a couple cool things.

There will be *SPOILERS* for WicDiv #15 below.

One of the cool things about WicDiv #15 is of course the artwork of Stephanie Hans. Her painted style is perfect for the story since it brings a glow and attention to light that is distinct from the rest of the series. This is absolutely perfect for the issue which focuses on Amaterasu, the sun goddess of the WicDiv pantheon and Kami of Shinto mythology: it's as if the entire issue was bathed in sunlight. I am very pleased to be acquainted with the artwork of Stephanie Hans.

The other cool thing about WicDiv #15 is a small details kind of thing that I think is kind of neat. The issue ends with Amaterasu attending a Shinto shrine in Tokyo to hang Ema prayer cards for her dead and dying friends. She says prayer after prayer since she has many friends in dire need of help and because she is apparently, at her core, a good person in a shitty situation. (Despite her dubious cultural appropriation: sometimes good people do problematic things?) What I love about this sequence in a wonky comics kind of way is that the dialogue boxes go from normal and solid and fade in sequence until the last one is barely readable. This is cool because it's like the visual storytelling equivalent of a sound fade out where the sounds of Amaterasu's prayers slowly fade out as we leave the story. It's great because it's visually encoding a a sound-based storytelling tool and because it stretches this scene temporally: we can easily picture Amaterasu saying many, many more prayers after the sound fades out. It's a tiny choice in the grand scheme of things, but I think it's adroit stuff. 

The Wicked + The Divine, always good for a few cool things.

WicDiv #1 and popart head-splosions
WicDiv #2 and the use of black-space
WicDiv #3 and character design

WicDiv #4 and body language 

WicDiv#5 and facial acting

WicDiv #6 and possessions as character
WicDiv #7 and the power of lettering
WicDiv #8 and the disorienting layout
WicDiv #9 and the economics of design
WicDiv #10 and powers as character design
WicDiv #11 and stretching the moment
WicDiv #12 and layout encoding
WicDiv #13 and retroactive narratives
WicDiv #14 and re-mixing comics

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

So I Read Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur

A 250 word (or less) review of Atomic Robo: Vol. 8
by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, and Nick Filardi, and Jeff Powell, Red 5 Comics

Atomic Robo is a comic about the atomic powered robot created by Nikola Tesla who now conducts Action Science as the director of Tesladyne. In Atomic Robo The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur, Robo and his team head to South America to find the ruins of Science City, Marconi's secret Nazi space program base, but instead find themselves at the mercy of the nefarious (and fantastic) Dr. Dinosaur and his new subterranean Rock Men army. Meanwhile, Majestic 12, a shadowy Cold War organization devoted to weaponizing Tesla's inventions mount an assault on Tesladyne's headquarters. Atomic Robo Vol. 8 is another episode of wacky, sci-fi adventure hijinks in an excellent series of wacky, sci-fi hijinks. It definitely skews towards the sillier end of the Atomic Robo spectrum, but it's still great fun. I mean, anytime the primary protagonist of a comic is Dr. Dinosaur, a fictional time travelling dinosaur bent on erasing mammal kind using Science and Crystals, it is pretty much guaranteed to be terrific times. That said, while the main story in Atomic Robo Vol. 8 stands alone pretty well, the Majestic 12 B plot is building on elements introduced in a previous chapter and clearly setting up future stories so I wouldn't make Vol. 8 my first collection of Atomic Robo comics.

Word count: 214

Vol. 1: Atomic Robo and The Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne
Vol. 2: Atomic Robo and The Dogs of War
Vol. 3: Atomic Robo and The Shadow From Beyond Time

Vol. 4: Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness
Vol. 5: Atomic Robo and The Deadly Art of Science
Vol. 6: Atomic Robo and The Ghost of Station X
Vol. 7: Atomic Robo: The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Cold Commands Is A Good Book

Or why you should read The Cold Commands
by Richard Morgan

The Cold Commands is the second book in a series. To read about the first book go here.

The Cold Commands is the second novel in the A Land Fit For Heroes trilogy. In the first novel Ringil Eskiath, a veteran war hero and social outcast, is brought back into the world to find a kidnapped cousin. During his investigation he discovers a fell force behind the slave trade, an ancient  race of Dwenda, using the slave trade to find their way back into the world. Seethlaw, leader of the Dwenda, offers Ringil his favour and training to make him a king among humans. But instead Ringil, assisted by war heroes Egar the Dragonslayer and Archeth, the lonely heir of the departed Kiriath, they manage to defeat the Dwenda and prevent their return. The Cold Commands picks up the story with Ringil scouring the world avenging his cousin on the slavers as he tries to deal with the dark magic world he has been exposed to. Meanwhile, Archeth is on a mission from the emperor to travel to An-Monal, the volcanic stronghold of her departed people to investigate a special messenger the enigmatic Kirath Helmsmen are expecting.  Egar the Dragonslayer, in his efforts to protect Archeth from Religious Zealots, finds himself balls deep in a fundamentalist conspiracy deep within the capital city. In many respects The Cold Commands is a quintessential second novel in a trilogy where our characters grow and develop and the plot is advanced towards the ultimate final conflict in the series. It’s a worthy instalment, but not a fully satisfying episode of entertainment in itself.

The Cold Commands is more mature Grimdark, swords and sorcery fantasy. This is a dark, gritty novel filled with anti-heroes and moral complexity. There are certain choices in this novel that are very hard to read and may cross what you view as a moral event horizon. Which makes for an odd read as The Cold Commands is some regards a fairly progressive book featuring queer protagonists and seems very aware of just how immoral and transgressive many of the darker moments are.  It's grimdark certainly, but in a decidedly thoughtful and calculating way; a way that continues ruthlessly examining the themes of exclusion of outsiders. As someone who generally likes morally challenging, gritty fiction that is well written and interesting I really enjoyed this novel.

I would recommend this novel to fans of dark, mature fantasy novels. It is downright bleak at times and is clearly not for everyone given some of its problematic contents, but if you can tolerate some grimness, this is a pretty exciting and engrossing instalment in a pretty excellent Fantasy series. I would strongly recommend that you read The Steel Remains first since this novel is a direct sequel and doesn’t really work particularly well on its own.

The Steel Remains

Monday, 19 October 2015

Listening to Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #3

Or a look at an innovative and clear double page spread in Phonogram Vol. 3 pt. 3
by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

Last week I wrote about a double page spread that was really pretty but didn't quite work for me. My main issue with the layout was that wasn't assertive enough that it *was* a double page spread. Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #3 has a really innovative, challenging double page spread of comics that is both super interesting and a lesson in storytelling clarity. So I'd like to try and unpack it.

There will be *SPOILERS* below.

Explaining the story of this page takes a bit of work. Emily Astor, who years ago made a bargain where she would give up half her personality in return for glamour (I mean, it's a more complicated than that, read the comic). The cast off half of her personality escaped her prison and switched places with Emily, trapping her in a world constructed out of the image of popstars, mostly music videos (seriously, read the comic). In the above sequence, Emily, who is comprised of just her image, escapes captivity and moves into a grimoire/fanzine of totemic images (seriously, read the comic, this makes perfect sense). She then begins navigating this zine-space as part of her bid to escape her predicament.

Even taken out of the story context, this spread is great comics. It plays with the page as a literal physical space that the character navigates through. It uses atypical pathways through the page that extend the characters path and enhances the weird environment and the desperate situation Emily Astor finds herself in. It's also just meta as hell, with the image of a character done in the style of a music video about being dragged into a comic, navigating through the physical space of a comic book. Like, just for sheer audacity of concept, that's impressive. This page is also a reference to Young Avengers which also played with this kind of composition as a machine to display impossible magic. This spread is pretty much what I love about comics.

The thing is, despite the experimental nature of this layout, this is really clear, technically sound comics storytelling.

The foundation of the clarity of this page is all in the details. The page has a very obvious, very clear single motif that spans the entire double page spread: there is no ambiguity that this a single storytelling unit. The reading order is also pretty obvious since you simply follow Emily through the page, following the obvious directions of her motion up, down, and sideways through the layout. This effect is supplemented by the dialogue box which stack in between Emily-motion-snapshots so that the direction of motion is reinforced by the writing. Combined this turns a complex, unorthodox page into a breeze to read.

Another key detail that absolutely cements the double page spread is how the page-to-page transition is handled. One of the Emily Astor snapshots actually spans the page break which means that a key, obvious page detail straddles the storytelling area which cannot be ignored. In addition, since the Emily snapshot is also established as the reading order indicator, this choice means the thing the reader has been following around the page is clearly indicating where the reader is supposed to continue into the second half of the composition. It's a small detail but it is perfect execution.

This clarity of storytelling is great because it makes for an effortless bit of comics to read, but it also lets the reader focus on the contents of the page and appreciate all of the clever layout and meta-storytelling occurring. The details matter so much.

So I Read Phonogram: Rue Britainia
So I Read Phonogram: The Singles Club

Deep Sequencing: Phono-Infogram: Plot Maps
Deep Sequencing: Phono-Infogram: Timeline

Deep Sequencing: Phono-Infogram: Setting

Friday, 16 October 2015

Insight Into Invincible Iron Man #1

Or a breaking down a beautiful, but problematic double page spread in Invincible Iron Man #1
by Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, Justin Ponsor, and Clayton Cowles; Marvel Comics

With the arrival of current-Marvel-publishing-thing, a bunch of new comics are hitting the stands and a similar bunch of beloved titles are being ended. This has created an environment where I have the freedom to try some new comics to maybe add to my ten title pull list or at the very least to check out some new comics. Invincible Iron Man #1 is one such title.

I gave Iron Man a shot mostly because while I once overdosed on too many Brian Michael Bendis comics, it's been a while and I think I'm kind of jonesing for his brand of quippy Sorkian dialogue in a comic. Add in the fact that I also have fond memories of past Marquez and Ponsor comics and that it's been a while since I've last tried reading an Iron Man comic and my curiosity was piqued. So I gave it a shot.

Overall, it's, well, Iron Man. Invincible Iron Man #1 feels very much like a step towards the core of the character. The issue presents a familiar Tony Stark rendered in gorgeous, crisp artwork that feels very modern and in tune with the character. It's a take that I think will appeal to a lot of comics fans of the modern character while still being instantly familiar to fans of the character coming from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It's also a comic that I had some difficulty reading in spots in ways that I think might be interesting to unpack.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Invincible Iron Man #1 below.

This two page spread in particular I had difficulty navigating on the first pass. When viewed zoomed out like this the page clearly breaks down into three tiers of storytelling with a common image on the row of panels, a common image on the middle row of panels, and a themed montage arranged along the bottom of the page. From this perspective, it's pretty obvious how the page should read and is, frankly, a gorgeous piece of artwork that I think really sells the visual identity of the comic.

The problem is that when you zoom in and attack this page panel by panel, this page does a poor job instructing the reader that it is meant to be read as a double age spread. And a lot of this comes down to the minute details right around the central margins between the two pages of the composition.

The first issue is one of carry over: a double page spread needs some sort of clue to help steer the reader along the intended reading path. At the most basic level, there needs to be something about the transition between pages that drives reader attention. The simplest way to accomplish this is to have something in the images obviously overlap the panels right in the interface, and to a certain extent, Iron Man #1 does this. However, it is VERY subtle: a dark corner here, or a rounded shoulder in a corner out of the line of the text boxes. I found that it this was too subtle to get my attention. 

Another way to steer attention is to have some other aspect of the image carry through the transition. This could be a motion carried out by the characters which begs to continue through to the next page, and drags the reader with it. Or maybe it could be a tangent line, some sort of guiding shape or line that blasts across the entire composition providing a kind of attention anchor that helps focus the reader on where they are supposed to go. Or hell, it could be a text box that straddles two panels and makes it clear what the reading order is supposed to be. Unfortunately, this layout really doesn't take advantage of any of these tools to ensure the reader can instantly intuit the correct order of panels.

I also found this confusion was exacerbated by the colours used in this composition. I found that the first two rows of panels, despite sharing common images that span the width of the double page spread, had abrupt colour shifts at the centre margins. That is to say, the colours on the "left page" part of  a row would have an overall different colour identity than the part of the row depicted on the "right page" part. Which, in the absence of a clear panel overlap, made the two pages seem visually distinct from each other. And this in turn convinced me that I should read the comic as two distinct pages instead of a single large composition.

Usually when I find an ambiguous bit of layout in comics, I can suss out the correct order (or at least realize when I've gone astray) by reading the dialogue in the comic. If phrases and words continue smoothly from one panel to the next, I'm probably reading the page correctly. If things suddenly stop making sense? Then I've probably taken a wrong turn somewhere.

The trouble with this double page spread is that the actual dialogue of the page also gets really ambiguous at the page-to-page transition in the first row of panels. Bendis is doing a thing in Iron Man with choppy, scattered dialogue, which is a stylistic choice that conveys how busy, scattered and multi-tasky Tony Stark is which overall in the issue works quite well. The trouble is, in this layout the choppy dialogue adds to the confusion. The final bit of dialogue on the left page of the top row is: "THEN COMPLETELY NOT DEALING WITH THE FACT THAT MY PARENTS AREN'T REALLY MY PARENTS ON ANY LEVEL." It's a complete thought that doesn't transition into the next bit of dialogue which doesn't leave any clues on where the reader is supposed to go next. Worse the next two dialogue options: "SOME 15-YEAR-OLD AT M.I.T. REVERSE ENGINEERS IT ON A DARE AND POSTS IT ONLINE" and "I'M OUT THERE--GIVING THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT", do not directly follow that previous thought and, in my opinion, both could plausibly follow that last bit of dialogue. The writing on a page is usually the final safety net for panel order, and in this composition it hurts more than it helps.

And so I read this compositions as two separate pages on the first pass.

Which really creates a perfect storm of comics problems. There is no clear bridge or layout based guidance between pages, the colours break the page up, and the dialogue doesn't actually aid the reader in navigating the page. It's confusing. Which is a shame, because when you pull back, this is a gorgeous bit of artwork and what is overall a pretty astute character sketch of Tony Stark and his starting place in this new series.

Invincible Iron Man #1 is overall a very accomplished and polished comics experience. The creative team clearly knows how to make good, readable comics. What I think this layout conveys is just how important the details are to making comics work and just how easy it is to overlook something and make unclear comics. Which is interesting.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

So I Read Men Of Wrath

A 250 word (or less) review of Men of Wrath,
by Jason Aaron, Ron Garney, Matt Milla, and Jared K Fletcher; Icon

Men of Wrath tells the story of the Rath family, a family with bad blood in its veins: an inexplicable rage and madness that turns good men bad. Like all good tales of familial guilt it starts generations in the past where great grandfather Isom Rath murdered a man in a disagreement over sheep. A choice, or flaw, that would affect all his sons until now when Ira Rath, an irredeemable killer, is given his final contract: to murder his idealistic son. Men of Wrath is a story of family and inheritance and that awful violence that lives in the hearts of men. It's also a pretty tight, short crime story that tells a complete, focused story that brings a generous helping of grit and blood. That said, perhaps due to the limited format of the story, I found Men of Wrath to be somewhat light on character. Given the intensely intimate story of family guilt, I felt the comic could have devoted more time exploring its protagonists. I also struggled a bit with the artwork in Men of Wrath. This is a me thing, but I was kind of distracted by how closely I associate Ron Garney's work with superheroic comics.  I don't think this is a fair criticism, but it definitely shaped my experience of the comic and is kind of an interesting effect. I'm not sure I'd characterize Men of Wrath as a must read comic, but if you like crime stories you might enjoy it.

Word count: 249

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

You Don’t Love Me Yet Is A Good Book

Or why you should read You Don’t Love Me Yet
by Jonathan Lethem

You Don’t Love Me Yet is a novel about a nameless band struggling in obscurity to find their breakthrough success. The band is made of Matthew, a charismatic and handsome singer who is deeply upset about a sick kangaroo at the zoo her works at, Denise, a practical, professional drummer who works in an LA sex shop, Bedwin, a talented writer and musician with a fragile temperament, and Lucinda Hoekke, a passionate bassist looking for a day job. In an effort to make a living Lucinda takes a job working in her friends art piece as a phone operator listening to strangers complaints. Lucinda finds herself ensnared by the complexity of one callers compelling complaints and bringing them to her band, uses them to craft incredible new songs. But now, finally on the edge of success, Lucinda finds herself infatuated with her special Complainer who knows whats she’s done and wants in.

You Don’t Love Me Yet is a pretty weird, fun, and engrossing read. It has a wonderfully playful tone and weird aesthetic that vacillates between inane humour and a kind of precious, cerebral depth that makes for a compelling read. It’s a novel made out of a bassline, the energy that exists between the gleeful vulgarity of an over-the-top guitar solo and the mechanical discipline of a drummers craft. It’s a bit like an erection, all bloated and hard and eager, a finel honed sex machine developed by millennia of evolution, but also, you know, a hilarious rubbery prong. It’s the kind of novel that makes a person want to write sentences like that.

You don’t love Me Yet is also a novel with some thematic heavy lifting going on. It’s a bit nebulous, but if I had to take a stab at it, I’d say it’s a novel about creativity and being an artist. In some ways, I think you could argue that the nameless band in the novel is a stand in for the facets of an artist. Bedwin is the brilliant, broken introvert who represents the alien talent that makes art happen. Denise is the dedicated work ethic that is needed to actually make art. Matthew is the charismatic sense of cool needed to be the face of artwork. Lucinda is the wildcard sense of perverse passion that is maybe the embodiement of the “midnight disease” LINKLINKLINK at the heart of a lot of talent. The Complainer is maybe a sense of greed or commercial success that drives and weighs on the creative process. If viewed from this lens, You Don’t Love Me Yet is a testament about the triumph and conflict that exists between these separate creative forces in every collaborative or individual artist. Or at least, that’s my book club take.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes genre writing but also has a cautious curiosity about literary fiction. You Don’t Love Me Yet has the sense of fun and self-awareness that good genre writing displays, but is also just pretentious and precious enough to work as a pretty nifty feat of literary fiction. I find a lot of straight literary fiction kind of stuffy or much too invested in its own cleverness to be particularly entertaining, but this novel walks a careful line which made it a genuinely fun book to read that was also a smart little Work Of Art Writing. I quite enjoyed it.


Monday, 12 October 2015

Atoll Comics Round 24

Or changes to my Top-Ten comics

Due to having an entertainment budget and an urge to buy better comics, I have decided to be selective about which superhero comics I read. Harnessing the Awesome Power of Maths, I have determined that I can afford to read 10 ongoing titles. So I get to read 10, and only 10, titles published by either Marvel or DC as well as one trade paperback a week of my choosing.

A complication of this is that I am forced to drop an on-going title if I want to try reading a new on-going title, an act of very tough love. Being financially responsible is the worst.

I will be adding Giant Days and dropping Bucky Barnes: The Winter Solder.

Why Giant Days: Giant Days is a direct market, paper comic that spun out of the Giant Days webcomic, a periodically recurring storyline/sub-universe of the Bad Machinery/Scary Go Round world of John Allison. While the overall fictional universe of John Allison's comics is pretty vast and convoluted, Giant Days is pretty easy to get into: it features one of my favourite Scary Go Round stars gone off to college with a new cast of shiny oddballs as they have undergraduate hijinks. Giant Days is written by John Allison and drawn by the very talented Lissa Treiman and coloured by Whitney Cogar and features the trademark wit, sitcommery, and endearing characters that has had me reading the Allison webcomics for years (and years... and years...). Giant Days is just endlessly charming and funny, both in the haha and the oh... way. It's a nice, fun breath in any pull list. 

I've actually been reading Giant Days for a while now on what is basically the down low. It was originally slated to be a six issue mini-series and I thought I would just happily dabble with the series in issues a bit before deciding to review the entire thing as a trade paperback. Fortunately, Giant Days seems to have evolved to a bigger limited series and then again into a full ongoing, which is great and means I need to stop lying to myself and my wife and admit that it's one of my ten, and only ten ongoing comics.

Why not Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier:  This is another comic that has recently ended. The comic which featured Bucky Barnes as an Earth defending space assassin who fell into a psychedelic love and drug and interdimensional plot on an alien world was pretty fun. The story was weird and interesting, maybe a bit trite at times, and searingly, gloriously earnest. BB:TWS also featured some truly remarkable artwork. I am not someone prone to putting up comic or sci-fi art on walls, but if I were going to put up a poster it would be interior art from this comic. (Or I guess, paint the side of a sweet van, BB:TWS art would also be really great for that.)  It's totally beautiful and rad. It's also a great example of just how smart and and animated painted artwork can be when coupled to innovative layouts. It's technically a very interesting comic. Ales Kot and Marco Rudy really delivered a funky comic experience, and I'm glad I read it.