There is a huge difference between a good graphic novel and a great one. Good graphic novels are prevalent–they’re beautiful, well-written, and an all-around underestimated genre. Still, a great graphic novel is rare and elusive, and will possess some quality that can’t be found in any other book, a unique visual element that the novel cannot subsist without. My favorite graphic novel is Asterios Polyp, which exhibits this quality effortlessly. The Sculptor, Scott McCloud’s book that came out in early February, also contains visual elements that make it settle above the crowded alleys of its neighboring competitors.
The story is as follows: David Smith is one of many David Smiths. He’s not even the only David Smith in the art world. But one day he’s offered a deal by Death himself–a tremendous gift that would allow him to leave his artistic mark on the world, at the price of his remaining life, which would be cut down to 200 days. David accepts the deal and is given the ability to mold any material with his bare hands, but shortly after meets a girl and falls in love.
At nearly 500 pages, this formidable graphic novel is gorgeously illustrated in blue monochrome. Though this is not McCloud’s first foray into books–he has written a few others about comics–it is his first graphic novel. Despite this, it reads like a self-actualized veteran’s accomplishment.
The main character, David, is a frustratingly tortured artist struggling to make his mark on the world. He continues his downward spiral even after he receives his thorny but incredible gift from Death. Then he meets Meg–who appears to him as an Angel during a street performance–and immediately falls in love. Meg is the embodiment of the manic pixie dream girl, instantly loved by all who meet her, constantly helping others at her own expense. As the story progresses, Meg’s character grows beyond the stereotype. McCloud has addressed the manic pixie trope in interviews. Meg is actually based on his own wife. “I married the trope — what am I gonna do?” he says.
Though The Sculptor does not necessarily tread any new ground, it explores its themes of death, memory, and artistic fulfillment, well. David’s artwork, which he takes to the streets, eventually manipulating the entire city to fit his vision, is the needed element in The Sculptor that elevates this novel from good to great. It’s a sad tale, but it gives the gift of hope to the reader and the graphic novel enthusiast who wants this art form to succeed.
In case you need a refresher, since it’s been awhile, I’m going to take a brief look at what happened in the last series of Sage Escape comics before we jump into the brand new issue that just came out.
Previously: Sage survived the destruction of her village by Friendly Corp and seeks revenge. She travels to Mars and learns the person responsible for the media cover up was Elvis Cray. She assassinates him and is hunted down for it. We last left her trapped in an emergency escape pod, falling endlessly through space.
We pick up in the midst of a final conflict between the salesman assassin empire and the human resistance. Two ships on opposite sides of the conflict will discover the escape pod which holds our hero, Sage. Who will get to Sage first? And what will she do when she finds herself caught in the middle of the war? The first chapter in the “Equinox” storyline sets up what promises to be another grand adventure with Sage. This issue came out April 15th, so use your tax money and join us, won’t you? It looks like we’re going to be in for a treat. I’d hate for anyone to miss all the excitement.
Comic Review: A Tale of Sand by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl–illustrations by Ramon K. Perez
Review by Prof. Jenn
A Tale of Sand is a screenplay written by the late great Jim Henson, which never saw the light of movie day. It was written back in 1974, the heyday of Henson’s immense creative output, and one can very much experience said creativity by reading A Tale of Sand. To have this surreal screenplay illustrated sketchbook style by an artist such as Perez only enhances the experience–I opine that this is better as a sketchbook-cum-comic than it would have been as a 1970s film.
The story follows Everyman Mac, who is on a quest for he knows not what (except that he really wants to light that last cigarette). He meets strange people and places as he crosses the desert, some of which are attempting to hinder him, not the least of which are the sinister Patch and mysterious Blonde. When Mac finally reaches the end of his journey, it’s not at all what he (or the reader) imagines.
The illustrations are pleasingly sketchbook-like, some unfinished and some inked to perfection. It adheres well to the odd dreamlike quality of the adventure. There is plenty of backstory about the project in the forms of introductions and afterwords (though in the Afterword, we read about how the lettering was created and handled, and we see colorized, more finished versions of some of the pages–did I miss something in my Press version of the book?), which again gives us another window into the fertile mind that was Henson’s oeuvre, including and beyond the brilliant Muppets.
Bottom Line: bar my confusion as to whether I’ve been given a different version, I still highly recommend A Tale of Sand.
Comic Review X2: Edgar Allan Poe’s Spirits of the Dead and Springheeled Jack
Reviews by: Prof. Jenn
Edgar Allan Poe’s Spirits of the Dead by Richard Corben
The well-thought-out introduction to this collection states that Poe’s oeuvre is one of the most frequently comic-ized bodies of literature around. The dark subject matter and often taut tension makes for a good image-to-text pairing, I would guess, and the mysterious nature of much of the subject matter lends well to the interstitial storytelling of comics. Being able to read between the frames is especially appropriate for the unhinged characters and strange plots of Poe.
If only this collection rose to the occasion.
What I liked:
- The androgynous, Faerie-ike narrator character, Mag, who looks as though she stepped right out of Brian Froud’s Faeries, and who links all the stories together like a TV host.
- The brief, sometimes one-frame flashes of a dream-like world within a real one. It’s an entertainingly jarring effect, like in films Natural Born Killers or Fight Club.
What I didn’t like:
- The art is so grotesque as to be distracting to the storytelling. In a Poe collection the emphasis should be on a twisted dream world or world of madness, as graphically violent as the stories can sometimes get. The art doesn’t evoke Poe, but goes beyond the grotesque into the just, well, gross.
- While I can appreciate that putting the Poe stories (and especially poems) into a different medium requires some adaptation, blatantly changing the endings to stories, or rewriting events is taking adaptation too far. The worst culprit of this treatment is “The Raven”–not only is it no longer in verse, but in brutal, sparse prose, with a completely different outcome to the climax of the narrative. What was a psychological thriller (with a verse rhythm well-suited to illustration) turns into a badly written gory slasher film.
Springheeled Jack by David Hitchcock
It’s not every day you see a black and white graphic novel, and it’s rarer still when it is richer than many full color ones. Springheeled Jack is a masterful graphic novel which takes a real legend from Victorian England and spins explanations (and other literatures, characters, etc. from that era) into a compelling Twilight-Zone-like story.
This book won an Eagle Award for Favorite Black and White Comic, and it’s easy to see why. The richness of the grayscale matches the London fog of the setting (and the morose mood of our protagonist) perfectly, and the detail in each panel is astounding. Those who like to read the fine print in their comics, both in words and in images, will enjoy savoring each page of this book, even as they can’t wait to turn said pages, to see what will happen next.
The terror of Springheeled Jack was an unsolved mystery that pervaded the mid-1800s streets of London–what devil-like horror was it that killed and disappeared so many people? This story takes a plausibly creative sci-fi turn on the “true” events and also ends on an amorphous enough note that we can hope the story will continue.
Bottom Line: I highly recommend Springheeled Jack for comic lovers, steampunk aficionados, and anyone else who likes a thriller with sci fi flavors.
We have reached the end of the series and…I’m not sure I can say I am satisfied with the twist. In storytelling, we commit to a plotline, and when we learn that the journey has not been as it seemed, there is often a sense of betrayal. While it wasn’t quite like that in this series, there was a tinge of the feeling, and that brought about a range of mixed emotions as we closed the cover and thought over what it all meant.
We started off the issue with memories, but also a foreshadow. Thomas is recalling what he was doing during 9/11 and how his girlfriend was in one of the towers. You remember his girlfriend, the love of his life, Susie? Yes, commit her to memory, because she plays a larger part in this series than first realized. But that reveal comes later.
Thomas arrives at the scene of the remembrance and plays up the crowd with an overabundance of showmanship. It feels wrong, disrespectful, but it’s for a purpose. By stirring up the strong emotions, he can fuel the spell and release the souls. And by utilizing one more item in his family’s bag of tricks, he even manages to escape the cops who come after him, giving him long enough to go through the ritual and transport the soul box over to Emma while he is taken into custody. She ensures the souls were released to heaven. All seems to be going according to plan.
Though, I wonder if the assassination attempt was quite foretold. When an angry bystander pulls a gun on him, ranting that Thomas must pay for his sacrilege, not only does Thomas get shot, but Marcus as well when he tries to protect Thomas from the second bullet. But they’re alive, quickly transported into an ambulance, where Thomas says he just wants to get back home to Susie. That’s when everything you thought you knew about this story gets turned on its head.
We’ve seen Susie throughout this series, joining Thomas on multiple occasions. They were a happy couple, committed to one another. Except, it was all a lie. For ten years, Thomas has been living in a hallucination. Susie hasn’t been with him, because she’s been dead since the planes hit the towers. And if that weren’t bad enough, the morning of the attack, she had just revealed that she was pregnant. Piling on angst after angst.
So, how does this make us feel as readers? I am all for twist endings, and I enjoy when I can be surprised. But, there’s a difference in twists and deception. The latter is what I’m feeling now. Perhaps I’ll feel different once it’s sunk in, but for now, betrayal seems a good summary.
Rating: 3/5 Stars
With 2014 beginning to fade from recent memory, it’s about time I write about my favorite graphic novel of the preceding year: Bryan Lee O’Malley’s book Seconds. Released over the summer, it is O’Malley’s first published work since the last Scott Pilgrim installment was issued in 2010. The story follows Katie, a young chef trying to open another restaurant so she can leave Seconds (her first culinary establishment and the place where she lives in an apartment upstairs). After a dramatic incident in which a young waitress gets injured, Katie discovers her resident house spirit, who gives her a mushroom and an opportunity to erase a mistake and rewrite events. Soon afterward, Katie finds a patch of these mushrooms and begins abusing their power, despite Lis, the house spirit’s insistence that they should only be used once per person.
The book itself is beautiful. The half dust jacket and cover boards have different designs, giving it a unique style. I’m also a sucker for any novel that takes the color of the panel lines into account (props to the colorist, Nathan Fairbairn).
Seconds differs quite a bit from the Scott Pilgrim series, and more resembles his first graphic novel Lost at Sea. The book is a single, contained story, rather than a series released manga-style. The story also incorporates a narrator, though there is some witty banter exchanged between it and the main character, implying that the narrator may be an inner voice of Katie’s. These quirks bring the story to life. There are even some nods to Scott Pilgrim for O’Malley’s dedicated fans. (Scott and Ramona are eating in the restaurant on page 259, for example).
One of the Second’s flaws is its main character, which is admittedly sort of the point–she is flawed to a fault. As she digs herself farther into trouble by continuing to eat the mushrooms that erase her numerous mistakes, it seems to take an unbelievable amount of time for her to learn from these errors. She is hard to root for. Katie differs even in style from the others. O’Malley’s style is cartoony, but Katie’s design takes it to another level, as she is the only character with gravity-defying anime hair.
There is nothing groundbreaking in Seconds; no new story elements or decisions that set it far apart from other works, but it has just the right amount of humor, quirk, and design to make it pop. I want more graphic novels like this, with a single developed story that plays with narrative styles, and some nice resolution at the end. Seconds is worth checking out, and not just for Scott Pilgrim fans.
Comics Review: Crime Does Not Pay vol. 8: ed. Philip R. Simon
Review by Prof. Jenn
The 8th volume of vintage comics, Crime Does Not Pay, is an entertaining collection of not only vintage true crime comic stories but a delightful and instructional collection of vintage ads as well. Remember when I reviewed volume 5? Well volume 8 is even more entertaining as well as historically educational.
The true crime stories in this volume are more gruesome than in volume 5, and more diverse, as we have female villains in this as well as your customary male ’30s-’40s gangster types. The ghostly narrator character is back, celebrating his acolytes’ descent into worse and worse malfeasance, until their comeuppance causes the repeated declaration, Crime Does Not Pay. The art is colorful and newspaper-y in style, and the ads are a continued delight in historical study and odd nostalgia, as are the letters to the editor. Two dollars for a published letter? Count me in…
Bottom Line: The Crime Does Not Pay series is a fun read and an excellent exercise in edutainment.
The 9/11 memorial is quickly coming up, and Thomas is determined to be there…even if it means breaking the law to do so. I feel like the end of this series can only be a success for him, but at times I doubt the through line.
When we start the issue, Thomas is still being detained down at the police station. The detectives on his case are of no use, and are trying to keep Thomas in custody overnight, just long enough to ensure he misses the ceremony. His lawyer, Mr. Hughes, has decided to take matters in his own hands if Thomas has any hope of getting out. Hughes distracts the detectives long enough for Thomas to do some magical slips out to freedom.
This is one of the many times I have issues with the “random magical item there to save the day” but it also underlies a problem with the universe as a whole. At times, Thomas seems to be using his position to his own financial advantage, but at other times he keeps all these magical ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ abilities pushed to the side until he can flash them in an emergency. I was hoping for more consistency as we went on, but I don’t feel like we’ve gotten it. Small issues, though, and things I can overlook for the grand scheme of things.
Upon Thomas’ escape, he calls the mayor to tell him to call off the cops, but the mayor refuses. Then he tries to get up with Emma Caldwell, but she’s a little busy at the moment. Instead, he’s left to fend for himself, and dealing with the public is going to be quite difficult. He gets in a fight with the locals on a ferry and then they throw him overboard. Cue the memory flashback that enforces the lesson he learned way back then – he needs to get back up and keep fighting, even when it seems he’s already lost. He takes that advice now, and onward we go.
Out of the river, he goes to see Arnica, who has a client (Albert) tied up and gagged, as she was in the middle of a scene. She lets him use her phone to call Marcus and Thomas asks for help – show the live feed of the exorcism on the blog so that he can harness the power of multiple people believing to make the magic stronger. With that done, he heads out, with The O on his trail. Emma’s having the same problem, and they both manage to do away with them, temporarily for Thomas and seemingly permanently for Emma. I want to know what she did on that beach, because she’s got some serious power behind her to achieve such a feat.
As we end the issue, The O follow Thomas to the bar he had previously mentioned in a tweet, and thankfully a group of fans eventually show up to dissuade a bloody showdown. The group puts off The O temporarily, though Thomas vows to destroy them once he’s done with the 9/11 event. Will he even make it through the event? And if he does, is he in any place to follow through on his threat? We’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out.
Rating: 3/5 Stars
I am ready for the action, and we’re hopefully nearing it since we’re down to the last three issues of this series. What will happen on 9/11? Will Thomas defeat Neziah or will the island be damned forever? I am hoping we’ll see something explosive coming down the line because so far it’s been more of a waiting game.
Even though Thomas is beaten and bloody, he is determined not to give up. He’s got a destiny and he’s finally living up to it in all the ways he was meant to. We soon learn that the ghost who made off with the box is someone Thomas is familiar with – Randall (Smoke) Clever, an old engineer who was cursed to his form by Neziah Bliss and has haunted the subway ever since. Well, that’s the first story we got. We soon learn that Randall was Neziah’s lover, and that he was cursed into his form because Neziah got Tunde to raise him from the dead. Don’t tick off a powerful Shaman because he will mess with the spell he was supposed to do, twisting it into a form it was not meant to be.
Thomas manages to regroup, heading to the Alsop Family Armory for supplies before taking on Randall. While I enjoy the vast array of items in the armory, I get tired to the multiple panels that show us items that aren’t of immediate importance. And, also, considering Thomas didn’t even use the items for Randall, but instead handed them over to Emma for safe-keeping, it’s less likely readers will recall their significance month to month. Maybe just show the items one at a time as he’s using them, which would help my memory better.
Thomas does eventually deal with Randall, I guess for good? The smoke ghost eats a finger that’s been stored in the armory and he seems to disappear, so I’m going with the theory that the storyline for him is over. Now Thomas needs to deal with Neziah, The London Rose, and the whole 9/11 fiasco. That is, if he can get out of jail in time. That’s right, we end the issue with Thomas getting arrested. The poor man just can’t get a break, can he? Until next issue, it’s onward and upward as we head toward the climax of this series.
Rating: 3/5 Stars
It’s a constant struggle between Thomas and the public, as the world is slowly turning against him in his pursuit to save the souls of 9/11. His approach might not be the best, but his motivations seem solid. If only he could make it out of this with his reputation intact.
We start off the issue with Thomas interrupting a late night talk show. He comes in and uses his appearance as a platform to make an announcement about his current case. Jovial acceptance soon turns negative as Thomas talks about what he’s planning to do. Thomas says he’s going to perform an exorcism at the site of the towers on the 10th anniversary of 9-11. This seemingly crazy talk gets him permanently banned from the talk show. It seems the public is willing to go along with his paranormal talk as long as it’s good entertainment, but using the memories of people lost in tragedy is a step too far. I wonder if they will all forgive him if his plan succeeds.
Thomas keeps going on shows, talking about the case, and is continually labeled as insane. However, his promotion team is trying to spin the situation to their advantage. If they can make it seem like he was only kidding, if he tries for forgiveness, maybe his brief stint of craziness will be forgotten? But he’s not going to let anyone dissuade him, not even those closest to him. Finally, his producer gets fed up with him and casts him aside. Both public and private opinion is solidly against him.
And if that wasn’t enough, Thomas gets summoned to a meeting of the Five Families. They question his methods, mad over the fact he talked so publicly about the upcoming spell. Nothing really gets settled, and he leaves to hit some bars around town, tweeting his progress the whole way. It seems that Thomas has a motive for his actions. He is building up energy through public hate, meant to fuel his spell.
And with the last component, the hidden box, he would be in a good place to move forward with his plan. But that is going to prove to be the hardest to obtain. He almost has it, but then a ghost creature emerges and grabs it away. Will Thomas get the box back? Will he be able to go through with his spell and save all those lost souls? We have to wait until the next issue to find out.
Rating: 3/5 Stars