November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
A new book, conceived by Amherst- based illustrator Rebecca Guay, tackles stories of angels in a way that mixes Bible stories with “The Canterbury Tales” by way of some of the hottest writers in their field.
Guay’s book “A Flight of Angels,” from Vertigo, features collaborations with Holly Black, Bill Willingham, Alisa Kwitney, Louise Hawes and Todd Mitchell.
She will appear at a book signing with Black at the R. Michelson Gallery 132 Main St., Northampton, on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m., which will also serve to launch a gallery show of Guay’s pages from the book.
Guay is best known for her work on “Magic: The Gathering” and “World of Warcraft,” as well as a number of children’s books. She had just finished a book for Houghton Mifflin when she found herself at a creative crossroads.
“I was asking, ‘What do I really want to do now?’” she said. “I was in that creative brainstorm place of ‘What’s the best thing I could do? What do I really want to sink my teeth into at this point?’” One idea she had was a book on angels that encompassed some of her most long-standing interests.
“I love winged creatures, I love mythology,” Guay said. “I was really into Greek mythology, and Cupid and Psyche, when I was a kid and that launched my interest in winged beings,” She had also found a following in fantasy art depicting angels, which furthered her intent to pursue them in a book. A dinner with author Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple gave her the opportunity to expand on her ideas for the project.
“I was talking about the angel book,” said Guay, “and how I really wanted to do a collection of angel stories that explore atypical ideas of angels — falling in love, falling from grace, falling from heaven — these particular arc of themes that were perhaps tied together by a framed story,” Yolen and Stemple suggested that Guay ask a number of authors at the top of their game to help her with the project, and reminded her of her neighbor, Holly Black. Black has found much success in the field of YA books, with supernatural and mythological scenarios.
“I had coffee with Holly and I told her about the idea about the arc of angel stories that I really wanted to explore,” said Guay. “She was a little worried that we would offend the angel community because it might be toying with something that they hold very dear.”
“I said that it won’t be disrespectful, it will just be something that takes it in another place and we’ll end up seeing them a little bit differently.”
Black’s mind then got to work and provided the pivotal detail for the book’s plot, a nugget from Scandinavian folklore.
“She said ‘Did you know that fairies come from fallen angels?’ and I thought, ‘Well, that sounds like a really good direction to go in,’ ” Guay said. “From early on, it began to be a collaboration. I had conceived the arc of angel stories and had the drive and passion to seek out writers who I loved dearly and I wanted to work with.”
Once Guay firmed up her stable of collaborators, they all began working with them to shape the stories that resulted. “It’s one of the things that I do like about the format of words and pictures, that it allows a deep creative process with collaboration in a way that I think other areas of illustration don’t,” she said.
The writers added elements that Guay had never considered — Guay, in turn, began embellishing their ideas in the visuals. At that point, she had been approaching the work as single-page illustration, but after several manifestations of that format, began to think that the illustration needed more and she pulled from her past to bring it all together.
“I realized that it wouldn’t work as well if it were singlepage art,” Guay said. “It needed to be a graphic novel. We broke down the stories and retold them as sequential art. I started as a sequential artist so I was comfortable shifting to that place.”
The structure of the book also gave the Guay a chance to switch styles and shine in each of them. The stories run thegamut from Biblical to historical romance to traditional folklore and more than that, and Guay portrays each genre differently.
“It was always part of the intent to shift stylistically within my look to shift tone to look like the personality of each story specifically,” said Guay. “The narrative style is meant to switch with the illustration style and further the experience of the reader.”
Guay’s book represents a intellectual move forward in a recent genre that has seen traditional Christian concepts treated on equal level as more typical Pagan folklore involving fairies and elves. There is a fantasy element in angels specifically that begs a return to the idea of Bible stories as myths — something abandoned in modern fundamentalism — on equal footing with other fables and stories.
“I think that happened as a natural progression of the topic, the theme,” Guay said. “People spin a little bit toward that area of mythology. What I like very much about it is we use the two together in a way that I don’t often see.”
The result is a book that examines the way stories are told, with a Rashoman-like approach to explaining the tales behind angels and, therefore, the multitude of spiritual myths and legends that swirl in our cultural heritage.
For Guay, though, the appeal with angels is less intellectual or even religious, but more emotional.
“My interest in them comes from a grand place that taps into something inside,” she said. “There’s a deep grandeur and the emotions that are caught up in that grandeur can create angelic and god-like beings in your art that lift your spirit and that instill a feeling that I respond to when I draw and paint these kinds of images.”
Guay sees emotion as the center of artistic pursuit, so it only stands to reason that angels would be that for her.
“I think any great artist who I have loved over the years, what makes them great is that they can convey an emotional content within the quality of their work,” she said. “They can draw in the viewer and make their heart hurt or soar or have a deep emotional connection. It’s what defines the people who stand the test of time as artists.” “If you can’t do that as an artist, you won’t have a following, you won’t have fans, you won’t stand the test of time without that emotional connection, so whether it’s angels or fairies or dark things or urban gothic, whatever area you’re passionate about.”
December 4, 2010 § Leave a Comment
It’s in the middle of this travel-memoir graphic novel that Sarah Glidden finally bursts into uncontrollable tears. It’s not because her journey contains any real terrifying danger, any hardships that make you wonder how she got through it — in fact, it’s for quite the opposite reason.
Glidden’s travels in Israel unexpectedly reveal a normalcy that she can relate to. For one moment, after an entire trip that has her questioning the country’s relationship with the rest of the Middle East and with its own Palestinian citizens with a true skeptic’s distance, she can’t step back anymore. There’s a rush of history inside her, one that brings a wave a war and terrorism, of brave pilgrims and teen soldiers, of Nazi atrocities and Zionist groups, and she can’t take it anymore.
Israel — and by proxy the entire world — suddenly becomes more difficult than any solution can ever really address.
Glidden toured Israel on a Birthright Israel tour. Although these function much like school trips, their purpose is to introduce young American Jews to their homeland, both modern, historical and mythological, and to help them become supporters, ambassadors, citizens.
It is no doubt an emotional journey for a young Jew. For a conflicted one like Glidden, it starts out as a journey to discover the truth and transforms into an examination of her own world view and of simplicity in a reality that has no use for such things.
Glidden’s presentation of her trip is matter-of-fact, and it’s this casual quality that draws you in. Within her group, she becomes a little pinball of ideological confusion, bouncing from person to person and location to location with the desire for some of it, any of it, to make some clear sense. As she works to find something that will unite her knowledge of the larger situation in Israel together with her current personal experiences, the possibility of one theory of everything becomes dimmer and dimmer. She is left to mash her educated idealism with the uncertainty of reality.
At root, it’s a personal tale of growing political awareness and of that moment when one steps into that horrible part of adulthood when true clarity of the vistas become next to impossible.
Glidden’s book doubles as a great primer for Israeli history — she chronicles each group stop, even the historical sites and museums, and documents the lectures and exhibits. This could be a dry presentation, but she melds the informational parts with the personalities of the Israelis passing along the information, as well as her own skepticism coming up against the participants of history.
With this tactic, Glidden melds history and politics with more personal moments and draws lines between all the components that compose the reality of any country’s political situation.
A guided tour isn’t normally thought of as the most exciting way to see another country — safety, convenience and orderliness are more likely plusses — but Glidden has found a powerful and inclusive way to adapt such an experience into book form. She looks to the interpersonal drama that is directly related to the surroundings in order to paint her passion.
If desired, Glidden has a great career ahead of her in travel cartooning — and the promise of taking what to some might be mundane details and turning them into points of learning and understanding.
July 7, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Cartoonist Howard Cruse put his time and energy into only one complete graphic novel in his career — and if you have ever read “Stuck Rubber Baby,” it’s apparent why. Cruse’s book is an exhausting, emotional journey — and this bleeds through in every detailed line on every character’s rendering in every panel of the book. The intensity of Cruse’s emotional investment in the characters and story hangs on every bit of the work. It’s harrowing enough to be a character in the book, but I can’t imagine being its creator.
Finally given a new hardcover re-release from Vertigo, Cruse’s magnum opus packs the same punch it did 15 years ago — if not more so — and cements its place as one of the most important pre-boom graphic novels published.
Back in 1995, this “Stuck Rubber Baby” was a daring undertaking for DC Comics, who first published the title under its Piranha Press imprint. It was a time when graphic novels were far from mainstream popular culture acceptance. Depictions of homosexuals in the aboveground comics world was much more rare back then, and barely went beyond caricature — and the idea that their social and political struggles could be framed within the scope of civil rights would not sit well with everyone.
Cruse took a never say die approach with this subject matter by doing the unexpected. Instead of opting for outrageousness, he wraps these controversial ideas in a good-humored Told from the point of view of Toland Polk, “Stuck Rubber Baby” jets back to the early 1960s and the Southern town of Clayfield, a hot bed of racial tension and playground for Polk as he comes of age during the fury of the era. Coming to terms with his homosexuality is at the center of Polk’s struggles, but one shared with another issue — Polk is also beginning to realize the realities of the world outside his skin and his place in it. « Read the rest of this entry »
June 22, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Age of Dinosaurs #3 (Dark Horse)
One of the most beautiful comics in print, this penultimate issue of Ricardo Delgado’s new paleontological epic continues to follow the mass migration of various dinosaur species. Fraught with the violence of nature and the fury of the journey, Delgado’s story unfolds in a total silence that keeps the narrative unfolding on the dinosaurs’ terms and not the readers’. Delgado was an animator on “Wall-E,” but the visuals here are more intimate, and any anthropomorphism comes off as a delicate touch.
Crogan’s March by Chris Schweizer (Oni Press)
In the previous volume creator Schweizer investigated political order versus chaos as a human struggle in a pirate setting. In this new book he tops his previous effort with a tense French Foreign Legion adventure that asks questions about war, borders, bravery, class, prejudice and the tentacles of history. Even with the heavy themes, it’s a lot of fun. With a whimsical but detailed European style of cartooning and an accessible scholarship, this series deserves a lot of attention outside the comics world.
First Wave #1 (DC Comics)
Superheroes with nothing but their fists and guile to help them defeat crime — oh, and a stylish 1940s period adventure to propel them — root around a mystery that will no doubt gather them together in the end. Doc Savage and The Spirit dominate this issue, but Rima, the Jungle Girl, does make an appearance, as do the Blackhawks and Batman — it’s all shaping up to be a fun romp. The beauty of this book is that it does recognize the absurdity of superheroes when placed in a real world setting, but doesn’t allow that inescapable fact to hijack it into silliness — and still the humor is there on the page.
Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallero (First Second Books)
Teen fantasy fiction legend Yolen picks up where Minx Books left off with this comedy romance that unfolds precisely before bursting into all out wonderment. Aliera is an up and coming fencer, as well as a high school student with no self-esteem for her social skills. Her game is thrown out of whack by a crush on her lab partner in science class, but as the story progresses, little chips in the walls of her safe world begin to appear — and like many other a teen trapped in a coming of age tale, she finds her place in the universe is far less mundane than she thought. A great one for teen girls with promise for future stories. « Read the rest of this entry »
June 22, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Two alternative comic legends have returned this year with original graphic novels that show them to be not only in peak form, but also leading the pack in their work.
Peter Bagge leaves behind the territory that made him famous in books such as “Hate” in “Other Lives” from Vertigo — a modern satire on Internet communities and identity politics.
Freelance writer Vader Ryderbeck in is the midst of researching an article on people who make use of multiple identities online. By sheer chance, Ryderbeck overhears a guy try to pick up girls in a bar by selling himself as an anti-terrorism agent on leave — a confrontation with him leads Ryderbeck to realize he had gone to college with the fellow, Javy, and doubts he is what he says he is.
But he also seems like a good interview for the story — Ryderbeck suspects a lot of his spy talk is actually culled from his adventures hiding behind an online identity — and sets about getting the goods on Javy.
Thrown in this mix are Ivy, Ryderbeck’s marriage-minded Asian girlfriend, and Woodrow, another old college friend. As Ryderbeck pursues his story, Woodrow pursues Ivy through an online service called Second World, a parody of Second Life, where users fly around a virtual world via outrageous animated avatars.
As “Lord Burlington,” Woodrow takes Ivy on a destructive cyber spree even as his own life falls apart. Ivy, meanwhile, keeps her wild virtual life a secret from Ryderbeck even as he begins to spill revelations about his past to her — and to find out a number of truths he’s accepted for decades are beginning to crumble around him.
The obvious center of Bagge’s satire is the Internet, and his points about its use as a tool to seize control of your identity and prop yourself up to an insane ideal stolen from your silliest fantasies are well taken. Bagge doesn’t just leave it there — through the drama, he draws the line between new lies and old lies and makes clear the human compulsion to present yourself in a controlled manner to other people, whether it’s as immigrants changing their past or fan boys affecting sad power fantasies stolen from their favorite superhero.
Whatever the process, humans have a great capacity for misrepresentation and a desperate need to believe the fib being presented to them. In Bagge’s book, the lies eventually all bleed into reality, but the conclusion is not as pessimistic as the set-up. Despite the darkness, Bagge seems to think people can get past that and work things out in the end. It makes for a not only an intellectually sound satire, but also a rather sweet story.
Dan Clowes returns to the world of graphic novels with “Wilson,” from Drawn and Quarterly, after years of playing the Hollywood game and creating work for outlets such as The New York Times Sunday Magazine. In the world of graphic novels, he’s as acclaimed as it gets, and he deserves that praise. Angry, sarcastic, biting and smarter than most, Clowes is as sharp a social satirist as it comes — and more negatively funny than any other.
“Wilson” consists of a collection of full-page comic strips in which the titular character encounters other people in conversation or has a moment of deep reflection and then disarms any of those situations with a nasty gripe about it.
Beneath the hostile monologues, though, Wilson’s own story unfolds — an empty life of bitterness created, thanks to his own negative disposition, which is dangled a carrot promising a second chance. You already know Wilson won’t make that redemption work for him or anyone else involved.
“Wilson” provides Clowes the opportunity not only to show off his comic timing — still masterful after all the years — but also his grasp of humor art styles as appropriate to the specific joke being told. It also allows him a serious moment or two in which to sympathize with the devastation wrought from Wilson’s oblivious, nasty bravado, even as you’re thinking this guy got what he deserved.
“Wilson” is indeed hilarious reading, but it might function better as a desk calendar or a daily e-mail. Read in rapid succession, it’s like being pummeled by the world’s meanest man, living the universe’s saddest life. That’s not a big criticism if you’re up to the task — there’s a great beauty in its machine-gun negativity. As distilled through Clowes’ world view, it’s as artful as it is cringe-inducing.
Through the character of Wilson, Clowes has taken it upon himself to disarm almost any trite affectation that might come up between two people — it’s Clowes’ version of the emperor having no clothes, except here it’s pleasantries that have no depth. If you can take these terrorist acts against friendly interaction in succession, please do so — they’re hilarious. If you’re worried you might get beaten down by them, take them at a pace that will allow their meaning to sting without any serious injury. It’s an act of serious beauty, though, when Clowes is able to put this little monster in a moment in which you appreciate his candor.
The lesson here seems to be that even miserable jerks are people, too, and I can’t argue with that. There are plenty of stories of nice people being told every day, but thank goodness Clowes is there to capture the rest of us for posterity.
May 29, 2010 § Leave a Comment
When Howard Cruse’s first and only original graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, was published by DC Comics’ Paradox Press imprint in 1995, it garnered great reviews where it could find them, and then silently slipped away from a world that wasn’t quite ready for it.
Poised for rerelease this June from DC, Cruse’s autobiographical — and ahead-of-its-time — work explores the gay themes that his shorter cartoon work did for years, but within context of the Civil Rights movement in 1960s Alabama — the world in which he was born and raised. It was a creative high point for Cruse that saw not only a maturity in his storytelling, but in his artwork as well, rendering a dark tapestry of a time in history that was both personal and public for him.
Cruse made his name in underground comics in the 1970s after moving on from his initial dream of having his own daily comic strip in a national syndicate and into a more raw creative field. In 1980, he helmed he first issues of Gay Comix, and his regular strip Wendel appeared in The Advocate, a precursor to the autobiographical slice of life style comics that would dominate self-published and Indie titles in the 1990s.
For the past several years, Cruse has made a new home in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts with his husband Ed Sederbaum, pursuing personal projects, as well as his freelance career. He published two issues of the area art zine The North County Perp, which features his own work alongside local creators, and has put together print-on-demand collections, most notably From Headrack To Claude, which collects a number of his gay-themed comics. Cruse also regularly maintains his blog Loose Cruse.
John: Is the reissue of Stuck Rubber Baby the result of your idea or DC’s?
Howard Cruse: I got an email message from Joan Hilty, who is an editor at Vertigo and also an old friend, and she said that DC Comics was going reissue it as part of a reissuing a bunch of books from the back list, specifically Vertigo books. As I understand it they have developed a new cooperative distribution deal with Random House. I think that’s the impetus partly, and, of course, the landscape has changed. When Stuck Rubber Baby came out, it was pretty much ignored by most of the mainstream press. It did get some reviews here and there, but, for example, it did not get a review in the Times Book Review. The book had a hard time breaking through to readers who might be interested who didn’t already know my work from the work I had done in the gay community. I think they are hoping that at this point the book — having gained more visibility by virtue of winning a number of awards and getting a number of translations into other countries — maybe will get some fresh attention. We are all certainly hoping that. They wanted a new package, so I’ve done new cover art, and they have a new introduction by Alison Bechdel.
J: Fifteen years has made a big difference for gay themes and portrayals of gay people in mainstream popular culture — what impact do you think that will have on the reissue?
HC:: In the ‘80s there was a burst of gay themed novels that made it into the mainstream, and people were saying, ‘Oh, this is a new gay fiction boom.’ Since then it has been more common for straight people not to feel that if a book has gay themes it’s not for them, and so that makes for a more accepting situation for a gay author — however I think the prejudice has been more about comics than about gays. Obviously earlier than that gay content was a big issue, but I think people learning to view stories told in the comics form, as literature, is still fighting its way. I think the opinion-makers and the intelligentsia — so-called — have gotten that idea more, and there are art galleries that are showing original comics art on their walls, and a number of books have become so familiar that no one questions if they are literature. But still you’re kind of fighting uphill with a lot of people. There’s still this tendency that drives comics people crazy when newspapers put the headline for a story about some new graphic novel as ‘Bam, pow, comics are now for grown-ups!’ It has a condescending ring to it. Also at this point, a bigger problem than non-acceptance of gay artists is simply that the world of print is falling apart,. There are no longer nearly as many gay papers or alternative papers that will run comics, so a lot of cartoonists are limited to the web, which is why web comics is where the real creativity is flowering at this point in history for both gay comics and non-gay comics.
J: Your life has changed enormously since you did Stuck Rubber Baby — for instance, you left in New York City in 2003 after three decades there. How has the transition to rural life affected your work?
HC: The fact is that I am now no longer a young turk in any sense of the word, I’m a guy who went on Social Security last year. I no longer live anywhere near a major gay community, but the kinds of things that made me want to draw stories about that community, I’ve already drawn that. I have a low boredom threshold and I don’t like covering the same ground over and over again. Wendel flourished because it grew out of the experience of not just being gay in New York, but being gay at a time of great challenge under the Reagan administration — there was a great deal of ferment within the gay community, some of it in direct response to attacks from outside. At this point there are still attacks from outside, but it’s not as ferocious as it was during the 1980s. I mean, Eddie and I are married. That was unimaginable in the ‘80s!
J: A long-form work like Stuck Rubber Baby was really a one-time endeavor for you — what are you looking forward to doing creatively at this point in your life?
HC: I don’t have the markets I used to have, but also I have to find myself as a person. Who am I as an older person? What are my interests and what do I want to do artistically? I don’t want to do a succession of graphic novels. I was able to do Stuck Rubber Baby because it dealt with themes that had been simmering within me ever since I was a kid in Birmingham. It summarized pretty much everything I had learned about making comics from the preceding 20 years I had been doing underground comics and Wendell. So while I was doing Stuck Rubber Baby, I also had the feeling that this was the peak of that experience, although I will continue to enjoy drawing and probably draw comics from time to time, as the central core of my creative being it doesn’t play the role that it used to. I’m interested in other things — I’m interested in doing some playwriting and perhaps writing fiction in text form. I’m also interested in rediscovering my roots in theatre. Right now I’m in a community theater production — this is returning to my roots from my college days that haven’t had a chance to be expressed in quite a few decades because there was simply never the time. It takes out of your life to do theater. I’m in a real period of ferment right now. What I’ve done before isn’t necessarily predictive of what I’ll do next, and I’m not entirely sure where this will all lead.
January 16, 2010 § 2 Comments
Starting as a Harry Potter satire but transforming into something much more, Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ “The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity” (published by Vertigo) is the first volume of a new series of graphic novels that offers mystery gravitating around a literary conspiracy and the promise of real magic.
Tom Taylor is the son of Wilson Taylor, author of the legendary Tommy Taylor book series and supposed role model for the magic title character. He makes a living doing the exact opposite of his reclusive father — making media and convention appearances — until one day he’s confronted in public about his real identity. Having made a killing on the promotional circuit, Taylor begrudgingly presented himself as the real-life inspiration for fictional wizard Tommy Taylor of his father’s books. Taylor’s world falls apart at the public accusation, splitting the Tommy Taylor fandom into warring factions. One side is out for his blood; the other side is convinced he is the word come to life.
Taylor isn’t content to let it unfold and goes on a hunt for the truth — back to his childhood home, where not only the Tommy Taylor books were conceived, but also “Frankenstein” and “Paradise Lost.” At the point of his arrival, it’s also the scene of a professional horror writer’s seminar that sees Carey skewer the bickering sub-genres as to each’s purity and mastery of the form.
Carey wraps Taylor’s flight into passages from the Tommy Taylor books, causing fiction and reality to fold into each other. If the book threatens to descend into an action conspiracy tale, Carey pulls back marvelously in the last chapter, where he investigates some historical background from the point of view of Rudyard Kipling and involving Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. There is no sign of the previous cast here, but there is plenty of hinting as to the scope of Carey’s story.
At root here is the power of fiction and the mystical way in which stories guide our psychology — and eventually our physical landscapes. One of the recurring motifs in the story is Taylor’s memory of his father grilling him on literary locations — where works were written and what locations inspired them. In context of Tom Taylor’s dilemma, these places operate as zones between fact and fiction, where they most obviously collide and make a stain on the real world.
It’s the same method in which Carey uses the parts of the Tommy Taylor books to mirror his real life counterpart’s situations — and it’s a sly rumination on the importance of stories in culture and psychology and how they shape our histories, both personal and natural.
“The Unwritten” speaks best for the medium in which it appears — the graphic novel. As the closest printed counterpart to film, Carey gets to show off its strengths, providing literary depth and background to the story, while still allowing for thrills and chills. It’s an adventure that’s packed with text and information, and its complications unfold at the pace of the reader — the final collaborator in the storytelling process.
December 7, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Beginning his story as a gritty slice of crime noir, Baker is not satisfied to stay in that territory, moving from landscape to landscape and always occupying a stark, psychological one. There’s a heaping amount of Fellini in there, and it stands as a perfect example of what graphic novels might look like if they were written by Paul Auster.
Alik Strelnikov skulks around modern-day Coney Island, a low-level mobster who spends his time pushing people around for the money they owe his boss and taking drugs to forget a past betrayal — and the accompanying horrors — that took place in Chechnya. This loss bears heavily on his present, which is dominated by his affair with Marina, who works for the rival Brooklyn crime boss and offers the temptation through which Alik may well find his undoing.
What unfolds isn’t what you expect, though. As revelations about Marina’s situation unfold, and the two plot and plan to pull themselves out of their horrible little lives, Alik is headed for a labyrinth of double crosses that reveal themselves as more than window dressing in his personal demise. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 8, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Just about the most accessible mainstream comic around, “Air” follows the adventures of befuddled stewardess Blythe, whose chance encounter with a mysterious stranger — and the crazy adventure that immediately follows — propels her into a conspiratorial world that involves terrorism, Aztecs, Amelia Earheart, and Information Theory all blended agreeably into some comic book fun. Part of the thrill is the rotating cast and changing settings, from airports to lost cities to secret air bases to , the series always keeps the reader hopping.
DC has released two volumes this year, collecting issues of the series — “Letters from Lost Countries” and “Flying Machine.”
The book has garnered comparisons to Lost, but I would suggest that is far off the mark. Lost is a television show and its success is derived from playing on the conventions of that longterm narrative format in a way that comics can’t duplicate, though the form certainly shares. In that manner, Air reminds me more of the numerous great, fun science fiction comics of the 1970s — Kamandi, Skull the Slayer, Hercules Unbound, Prez, Omac, Killraven, Star Hunters, Logan’s Run, Planet of the Apes, 2001, Omega the Unknown, Kobra and on and on — that indicated, however briefly, that comics were moving out of the strict superhero territory when it came to entertainment for 12-year-old boys. Those books, while sometimes burdened with the typical comic cheese and clunk of the time, were also defined by a sense that comic book scripters were interested in something beyond guys in tights fighting against other guys who wanted to control the weather — and if they were concerned with that type of story, they were at least ready to find other ways to tell it.
Unfortunately, that era imploded, but independent comics paved the way for a a more financially-acceptable resurgence of that form, to varying degrees of success. Air, though, is successful not only as a part of the new wave, but as a throwback to the old and that’s what makes it stand out so well. Parts of it are a little corny, but the ideas always transcend that quality to make it special. You could see a grain of this in “Cairo,” but I think the stock characters there overtook the story and made it a little stiff— here, they walk alongside it as equals, bringing the concept down to earth via an agreeable, familiar pulp quality that makes the whole damn venture just a lot of fun. Equally, Perker’s black and white work on “Cairo” was serviceable, but uninteresting — coloring makes all the difference in the world. There’s still nothing here to compare with his great stylized illustration work, but there’s an energy to the visuals that match the words — it just all glides along.
From my vantage point, it’s rare that mainstream comics offer something as vivid and joyful as “Air,” and it’s almost easier to describe it by what it is not — it’s not filled with posturing tough guy violent noir and it’s not filled with pretentious conceptions that add too much of a precious quality to the story as it unfolds. That said, it is alternately thoughtful AND filled with action, it offers really great female characters that should not alienate male readers, and it does make a creative blend of myths, legends, religious beliefs, and socio-political realities — as well as the romance genre — to come up with something actually new as Blythe and her co-horts face the airborne menace of the Etesian Front. The thrills literally fly off the page — and I don’t mind spouting a cliche like that at all if it’s in the service of something that’s so much fun.
September 9, 2009 § 3 Comments
Like a backwoods reworking of Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, Jeff Lemire’s floppy comics debut, “Sweet Tooth,” offers a lot in the way of promise. Much like his Essex County trilogy — and the aforementioned Kirby title — “Sweet Tooth” concerns itself with a unique boy living a solitary life with a male caretaker who suddenly finds the outer world infringing on his lonely bubble. In this case, it’s Gus’s father, at the end of his life and consumed with that descent while his son, an apparent deer/human hybrid, mopes around with no idea quite what to do with himself. He looks at the world outside and relates what he sees to the tales his father tells him about it, but the placid landscape doesn’t jibe with the horror stories and Gus is left adrift without any plan.
Of course, Gus’ home in the woods becomes the target of outsiders, and it’s through this encounter that the series will no doubt unfold. Though Lemire himself describes the book as “Mad Max meets Bambi,” there’s little evidence of this in the debut issue. If you take into account the original Bambi novel by Felix Saltkin — a nightmarishly gruesome and apocalyptic tale of genocide — then “Sweet Tooth” will no doubt go into some dark territory. Not that what is presented here is light, by any means — but it is quiet. Lemire manages to duplicate the gentleness of his work in both The Essex County Trilogy and The Nobody — soft-spokenness is the greatest quality of his authorial voice and it serves this low-key prologue well.
My only complaint is that while the art is obviously Lemire’s and features many of his signatures — including his marvelous, worn faces — Jose Villarrubia’s coloring also softens the cragginess. Lemire’s landscapes, as well as his people, were stark and rough existences, but in this venue it’s as if a filter has been placed on the visuals in order to make them less depressing or hopeless.
Still, Lemire’s work in this book hold his usual understated power and I’m excited to see where the story takes us.