Atmosphere just about drips off these pages. There’s a haunted quality to the images in The Return of the Honey Buzzard: lots of shadows, uncluttered panels, remote locations, and big eyes.
This mood is appropriate because the main character is haunted by an incident from his childhood, and the book builds toward this reveal. The dialogue and the drawings work seamlessly together to craft a sense of isolation and loss, crying out for a resolution.
Many of the pages don’t contain any text at all. Especially in these places, the simple but expressive drawings do a masterful job of communicating a mood, a sequence of events, or even the passage of time. It might be surprising for a graphic novel set partly in a bookshop and partly in a library, but The Return of the Honey Buzzard suggests that images can indeed say more than words.
The Return of the Honey Buzzard by Aimée de Jongh SelfMadeHero 2016, 160 pages, 7.0 x 0.8 x 9.8 inches, Hardcover $23 Buy one on Amazon
Anyone who’s waded any distance into the murky waters of legend surrounding British occultist Aleister Crowley has likely heard the stories about his involvement with British intelligence in WWII. He helped interrogate Rudolf Hess after Hess flew a plane from Germany to Scotland to negotiate peace. He worked closely with Ian Fleming (and Fleming’s Blofeld is based on him). He falsified astrology charts to throw off Hitler’s soothsayers. Or, these are the apocryphal stories, anyway.
In Aleister & Adolf, author, media theorist, and now comic book writer, Doug Rushkoff makes clever use of these and other tales about the self-proclaimed Beast 666 to make a deeper point about the profound manipulating powers of “charged” symbols in our modern world. It’s ultimately a book about how the manipulation of symbols and the effective use of propaganda can have deep consciousness-changing effects on a population, and can lead to fascism. Timely, eh?
The book runs with one well-known story from the Crowley apocrypha, that he was responsible for creating the V for victory symbol to be used by Churchill as a counter-sigil (occult symbol) to neutralize the swastika. Rushkoff casts Crowley and Hitler as real-world superhero and supervillain (or maybe, supervillain working for the good guys and straight-up supervillain) in an intense war of symbols and psychic combat. Actually, we don’t see much of Adolf in this book, Aleister & Adolf is mainly about the Crowley side of the magical front lines, as seen through the eyes of a young American army newspaper photographer sent to spy on Crowley and possibly recruit him to work for the U.S. Read the rest
Snow White: A Graphic Novel reads like a silent movie. Matt Phelan’s cinematic re-telling of the classic fairy tale, film noir style, uses watercolor to soften the edges of the film genre’s brash tropes, and blur the lines between grit and glitz in Depression-era Manhattan.
I am easily overwhelmed by graphic novels and often feel as though I’ve been caught in a bombardment of text or images or both. Phelan employs text in much the same way he does color — sparsely, and to great effect — so that the movement of the story comes from the art.
Color is used like mood lighting. Though the images are reminiscent of the gray scale of black and white movies, the flashbacks to Snow’s childhood after her mother’s death (her father’s subsequent spellbound love affair with the evil Queen, and Snow’s banishment to boarding school) are fittingly sepia-toned.
A blue and white winter, perfect like Snow, shines out of the window at Macy’s. The stepmother’s scenes are often washed in greens and burgundies — the colors of witches and blood. And, though not a thatched cottage in the woods, the home of Snow’s seven street urchin devotees is warmed by an earthy brown glow.
These subtle washes are balanced with startling red stains—flushed cheeks, blood, the infamous apple, and a smudge of green blush that bluntly confirms the femme fatale’s wickedness, and more deeply, and later literally, draws connections between this classic fairy tale and another beloved, cinematically transformed story — The Wizard of Oz. Read the rest
Utopias are never perfect, are they? Symmetry offers some good heady sci-fi in the vein of 1984, Ender's Game, Equilibrium, or Fahrenheit 451. Imagine a world where humans are coddled and raised by machines, think Wall-E, but people haven’t become total blobs. Gender and identity are decided by the individual when they turn thirteen. And all races have been separated, so that most people will grow up not even realizing that other nationalities exist. Then one day a solar flare causes the machines to shut down and the wall between nations to break.
What follows is a great story that seems very relevant in today’s world. I think Symmetry does what sci-fi does best, it makes you think about what’s happening around you and where things might go if we aren’t careful. It’s clear that the creators spent a good deal of time thinking through these issues, and how the world in their book works. There’s actually a pretty lengthy sociological write-up included that dives further into some of the ideas that helped shape the story.
Volume 1 is satisfying, but definitely leaves you wanting more. The cel-shaded illustration feels like something out of a video game, which actually matches the story perfectly. Thankfully, Volume 2 is due out in December, so we’ll get to explore more of this world. Get caught up.
Any fan of Love and Rockets creator Gilbert Hernandez and of Batman, Catwoman, and New Frontier writer and artist Darwyn Cooke will be excited to read The Twilight Children, a four-issue series by Vertigo collected in this soft cover book.
The Twilight Children is set in a seaside town and the cast of characters includes his familiar mix of spunky kids and “complicated” adults. There are also government goons, a metaphysical siren, and mysterious, powerful orbs. People disappear, children are blinded (yet see again), and what is the deal with the glowing balls?!?
It’s great to see the wonderful art of Darwyn Cooke again, but sadly he died suddenly at age 53 in May, 2016 and this may be one of his last books (reason enough to get the book). Cooke’s commercial art style with lively character design and simple, bold brushwork gives a more “slick” look than what you'd usually expect from a Gilbert Hernandez book. Dave Stewart (my favorite colorist and the best part of many Dark Horse comics!) does a spectacular job. His painterly, subtle palette and restrained use of color hold line art fits Cooke’s drawing perfectly. No gradient mesh or lens flare effects, just solid sponge- and dry-brush painting. The bright and colorful seaside setting is a good contrast to the darker story elements. Also included in this compilation are some nice extras, like full-page paintings between chapters and a sketchbook of characters with storyboards by Hernandez.
Warning: Some readers may feel unsatisfied with the ending. Read the rest
Kaijumax is a fun comic that will make you get all the feels for giant city-destroying monsters. It’s like Oz or Orange Is the New Black, only the prisoners in this case are monsters straight from your favorite Godzilla movies. The monsters are kept in check by guards who have Ultraman-like power suits, allowing them to grow to skyscraper size and lay down their own form of justice.
The story follows Electrogor, a monster and father who was apprehended for chewing on power cables in order to feed his children. As the new monster at Kaijumax, you follow him as he learns the ins and outs of how the prison works. There’s everything you could possibly hope for in a facility that houses the world’s deadliest creatures: corrupt guards, drugs, gangs, and a cult of mecha-monsters.
The artwork’s incredible. It brings a lightness to the otherwise surprisingly heavy subject matter. If you’re a fan of Godzilla, Power Rangers, Ultraman, or any other Kaiju movie or show, you’ll see some familiar characters hidden throughout. This is one of the weirdest comics that I’ve read in a while, but I loved every minute of it. Give giant monsters a chance, and check this one out.
Kaijumax Season One by Zander Cannon Oni Press 2016, 168 pages, 6.6 x 10.1 x 0.4 inches (softcover) $8 Buy a copy on Amazon
I can’t get enough of Mignola’s occult investigators. The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense first appeared in the Hellboy series, however the comics have spiraled off to rightfully stand on their own. This HUGE hardback collects stories from the Bureau’s early years, not long after its creation in 1944. If you’ve been following the series, this collection fills in a large gap between the organization's inception, and where the Hellboy comics pick up in the modern day.
A year after WWII ends, the Bureau is left trying to stamp out one of Hitler’s last ditch efforts to turn the war around. Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, Hellboy’s guardian, is seen here as a younger man battling the forces of evil, and trying to prevent the Reich from amassing power yet again.
There’s so much to love about this book – vampires, an evil Nazi head in a jar, sentient chimpanzees. The artwork is incredible. Mignola worked with a whole slew of illustrators all who brought a unique interpretation to the gothic style that fills out this world. Knowing a little about the Hellboy universe is helpful, but not necessary. If you’re up for some Lovecraftian horror and Nazi punching, definitely pick this one up
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is one of the most intricate and impressive graphic novels I’ve ever read. It’s a biography of the great Singaporean comic artist Charlie Chan Hock Chye, and traces the evolution of Chan’s career by showing the wide array of artistic styles he experimented with. These range from Marvel-style superhero comics to celebrity caricatures, cartoonish science fiction, manga, noir, and more. All this is complemented by explanations and annotations of Chan’s work, which are also presented in graphic form.
The work is complex not only in style, but also in content. A driving theme throughout Chan’s career has been uncompromising political satire. Thus the survey of Chan’s work is also a dense and dizzying tour of 20th-century Singaporean history. The comics depict the complex Singaporean identity following independence from Britain, as the tiny nation-state struggled to define itself ethnically, politically, and economically.
While this is a weighty topic, there’s an ever-present humor in Chan’s comics. For instance, his superhero parody is called Roachman. Roachman worked as a human waste collector in Singapore’s pre-plumbing period, and gained his powers from the bite of a cockroach. His transformation into a superhero allows for commentary on the social ills of the day, as well as providing a snapshot of a country just before rapid urbanization and development.
The big conceit in all this is that Chan isn’t real. He’s a fictional character invented by Sonny Liew to take readers through a simultaneous history of Singapore and of 20th-century comics. Read the rest
The entire trilogy takes place over the course of one year, as we follow the main character, Dan Wells, an awkward 25-year-old English teacher who has just moved to the remote town of Tonoharu, Japan. Being the only American in a rural area an hour away from the nearest small city is a culture shock that Dan hasn’t anticipated. Over the course of the series we are right there with Dan as he struggles with issues that most new assistant language teachers will likely deal with to some degree: loneliness, making friends, fitting in, improving Japanese language ability, overcoming cultural barriers, and figuring out what’s next.
Aliens is one of my all-time favorite movies. A perfect mix of action, sci-fi and horror, which I would argue hasn’t been replicated. Then there’s Alien 3, and everything that came after it. I don’t like to talk about that. But, in 1988 after Aliens came and four years before the next movie would come out, this comic series ran which gave me the followup story I wanted.
The series has been published as Aliens: Book One, Aliens: Outbreak, and in novel form as Aliens: Earth Hive (a lot to keep track of), but since these publications were made after Alien 3 came out, names were changed to avoid confusion from the films continuation of the story. So Wilcks = Hicks and Billie = Newt. Thankfully this comic doesn’t do that. This printing features the comic as it was intended to be read with the characters we’re familiar with.
The story picks up a few years after the film ended. An adult Newt and aged Hicks are struggling to deal with the horrors they witnessed, and Ripley is ominously missing. The black-and-white comics really capture the gritty world that the movies take place in, expanding on it in the best way. Although the comic ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, the story is continued in Aliens: Nightmare Asylum, but you will have to deal with the name change of the main characters.
The book itself is beautiful. And black. Very black. It feels like something that was designed by H.R. Read the rest
Django/Zorro by Quentin Tarantino (author), Matt Wagner (author/artist) and artists Francesco Francavilla, Jae Lee, and Esteve Polls Dynamite Entertainment 2015, 192 pages, 7.1 x 10.4 x 0.9 inches $20 Buy a copy on Amazon
Is the concept of a Django and Zorro team-up ridiculous? Of course. But like dipping French fries in a milkshake, the pairing oddly works. Django/Zorro is an official sequel to the film Django Unchained and was written by Quentin Tarantino himself along with Matt Wagner, having just completed a run of Zorro comics.
The story picks up a few years after the film, and Django is still working as a bounty hunter, sending money back to his beloved Broomhilda. While collecting one of these bounties, he happens to meet an older Don Diego de la Vega, whose alter ego (Zorro) hasn’t given up his freedom-fighting ways. If you were a fan of the film, you’re going to like this, because it reads like another Django movie. It’s action packed and has some great dialogue, but what I found really special about this is that it offers a glimpse into Quentin Tarantino’s future.
As a huge fan of Tarantino’s work, I was saddened when I heard him announce that he’s hanging up his director hat after ten films. This only leaves two more to look forward to. But if the Django/Zorro comic is any indication of what he plans on doing after he stops directing, then comic fans get to rejoice.
As a special bonus for writers to geek out over, there’s a full script of the first issue included in this collected edition. Read the rest
The Longest Day of the Future by Lucas Varela Fantagraphics 2016, 112 pages, 7.8 x 10.5 x 0.6 inches (hardcover) $25 Buy a copy on Amazon
On this Earth-like planet, only two corporations exist. One is represented by a pig mascot, the other by a rabbit. Each cult-like corporation produces everything a person could need or want – food, entertainment, housing, vehicles, employment, etc. One day, an alien spaceship crash lands on the planet, disrupting the barely-functioning balance between the rival corporate tribes. This Brazil-like story is told in the form of a wordless graphic novel by Argentine cartoonist and graphic designer Lucas Varela. The art is superb, bringing to mind Chris Ware. I read this twice, savoring every beautiful panel, filled with insanely weird and wonderful robots, buildings, vehicles, and creatures. I can't wait to see what Varela does next.
Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay by Ben Katchor Drawn and Quarterly 2016, 112 pages, 8.8 x 10.9 x 0.7 inches (hardcover) $23 Buy a copy on Amazon
Like a lot of bourgeois bohemians in the 1990s, I was a huge fan of the RAW comics anthologies which, among other incredible discoveries, introduced me to the work of Ben Katchor. One might not think that a comic strip about urban architecture, culture, city development and decay, real estate photography, memory, and loss would make very compelling comics, but then you probably haven’t met Katchor’s beloved comic strip character, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer.
Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay, a collection of Katchor’s Knipl strips, was originally published in 1991 by RAW/Penguin as a cheap paperback. Twenty-five years later and Drawn & Quarterly finally gives Katchor and Knipl their due in a lovely hardbound, landscape edition of the original RAW strips.
If you’ve ever stared in wonder at the decades-old, sun-bleached product boxes inside of the display window of the only original hardware store left in town, or smelled an old typewriter repair shop, or purused gag gifts and tricks in a magic shop that’s been in the same city location for generations, then you’ll understand some of the lost urban culture that Cheap Novelties so deftly and melancholically evokes. As Julius Knipl is called out on building photography assignements, we see these vanishing haunts through his lens, momenents before they leave the city landscape forever, and we hear Knipl’s thoughts on the loss, reflections on his own rather homely life, and urban trivia – all rendered in a very confident and characterful hand in ink-and-gray marker washes. Read the rest