Category: Reviews

Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch by Dorkin, Thompson, Dyer, Dewey, Mignola and others
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Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch by Dorkin, Thompson, Dyer, Dewey, Mignola and others

It’s an odd thing: while actually reading a Beasts of Burden book, it’s entirely plausible – my disbelief is reasonably suspended. But both before and afterward

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, in retrospect, it all seems silly and I struggle to write about it in a non-dismissive way.

If that tone sneaks in, I don’t really mean it. But there is something inherently goofy about the whole series, and I do have to acknowledge that.

As seen previously in the original Beasts of Burden  (later subtitled “Animal Rites,” har de har har), and seen later in the follow-up series Wise Dogs and Eldrich Men , all animals can talk to each other and some animals have magical skills and abilities.

I don’t know if series creator Evan Dorkin meant it this way, but domesticated animals (dogs and cats so far) are on the side of Good, and wild animals (rats, corvids, some more exotic monsters) are on the side of a quite Lovecraftian Evil. The forces of Evil are led by the usual extradimensional entities in the final extent, but usually an evil human (alive or currently dead) in the immediate situation. [1]

The Good animals do coordinate with humans, some of the time, and there’s a long tradition of partnership, man and dog, but the dogs are fully capable of battling eldritch menaces without the aid of opposable thumbs. So the Beasts of Burden stories are mostly about dogs running around the woods around Burden Hill, Pennsylvania, barking at and biting monsters to save at least this small corner of the world from the Many-Angled Ones. I should add that they do have mages as well: a couple of the animals here can cast spells, but most of them are just the standard somewhat-stronger-tougher-and-longer-lived-than-normal.

Neighborhood Watch  is the miscellaneous collection of the series; it gathers all of the smaller and shorter series that came out in between the original series and Wise Dogs. So we have a couple of single-issue stories, a two-part epic, several anthology stories that were later stuck together into one comic book, and a crossover with Hellboy.

Hm, I may have discovered why I’m having trouble taking this seriously. When Hellboy wanders through one of your stories and puts a main character in his pocket, showing that what are massive supernatural threats to you are no big deal to him, the overall universe loses a certain amount of tension. Sure, these dogs might fail to stop any particular nasty thing, but that just means Hellboy or one of his crew will have to come in and quickly mop up. Sad, but not apocalyptic.

Anyway, these are miscellaneous stories, about (mostly) the same main cast as the other stories. Dorkin wrote or co-wrote all of them; Mike Mignola co-wrote the Hellboy story (semi-obviously), Sara Dyer co-wrote one other story. Art is by either Jill Thompson, the co-originator of the series, or Benjamin Dewey, who took over for a lot of this stuff and then did Wise Dogs. Lettering is credited to Jason Arthur and Nate Piekos: I don’t think they worked on the same stories, but I can’t tell you if it lines up as neatly as Arthur lettered Thompson and Piekos did Dewey.

And, as I said up top, I enjoy reading these stories even though I am in no way an animal person, particular a domesticated animal person. I suspect the people who really like them are much more heavily invested than I am, but that’s fine: we all like and react differently to different things. If you want comics about dogs fighting supernatural evil, I don’t know of any better option.

[1] Thinking far too deeply about it, I would love to see a series with the opposite premise: dogs and cats are the villains, because they have been tainted by human evil, and badgers or foxes or opossums or maybe raccoons are the heroes. Actually, yes, raccoons, maybe with corvids as advisors: that’s the one I want.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: No Way Home
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REVIEW: Spider-Man: No Way Home

What has made Peter Parker an enduring hero for the last sixty years is that he could be us. He is someone who has great highs and really low low, but strives to do right because that’s the way he was raised. As Peter he is bullied for being shy and withdrawn, for being smart, for not being popular. As Spider-Man, he is belittled, picked on, subjugated to immense criticism and faces impossible odds with regularity.

We root for him because he rarely gives up, always comes back for more, and always tries to make things right. When Peter’s (Tom Holland) secret identity was revealed in Spider-Man: Far from Home we knew this was going to be a new set of obstacles. Spider-Man: No Way Home opens with the world adjusting to the idea that this high school student is a super-hero or menace. We see its impact on him, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and his friends. The hunched shoulders as he strides in the school hallways shows just how much he hates this.

So, of course, he tries to make it right. And as we know from the comics, the Parker Luck will make sure it’s not an easy solution. From there, the movie, out now from Sony Home Entertainment, things grow increasingly complicated.

On the one hand, this is Peter’s journey, a possible final act for Holland as the webhead, and he makes a tough matter worse and in trying to fix it, things grow chaotic. There will be a price to pay for asking Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to make the world forget the secret. It first comes in the form of villains drawn from across the multiverse, which to these characters, is a new concept to reckon with. It then comes in the form of a tragic death. And finally, a novel sacrifice to restore the status quo. In this regard, the film is near-perfect in tracing his journey, and Holland sells it with every frame.

On the other hand, this builds on the worlds-shattering events from WandaVision and sets up May’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and as a chapter of Phase Four, it opens up an entirely new front to be explored in subsequent films and television series. We even get Easter egg hints at future Sony-produced films such as the now-shooting Kraven the Hunter.

Screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers manage to service both requirements for the Marvel juggernaut without making things feel bloated. With Jon Watts back for the third installment

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, his sure hand maintains order, making certain everyone has their moment or two, starting with Ned (Jacob Batalon), who is shown to have mystic potential, and MJ (Zendaya), who has come to embrace her boyfriend’s weird life.

What’s especially pleasing is how human the villains feel, and watching Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Elektro (Jamie Foxx), the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) interact with one another and the teens is a pleasure.

Willem Dafoe’s tortured Harry Obsborn/Green Goblin was also a fine wild card in the mix.

And if super-villains are brought from the multiverse to Peter’s world

, so too can there be allies in the form of other Spider-Man, somewhat older (Tobey Maguire) and wiser (Andrew Garfield). The three interacting is a delight and we can sense the unique qualities each brought to their webbed roles. Nicely, each of them deals with leftover issues from their film series so you get triple closure for the price of one.

Should Holland never don the suit again, we are left satisfied. But, we’re also ready for the next chapter.

The movie is streaming or available on disc in the usual combo packs. The 1080p Blu-ray transfer is near-perfect, all the textures and colors pop nicely, either in the shadows, night, or daylight. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack is equal to the visuals making this quite worth seeing on a home screen.

The disc boasts quite a bit of Special Features, some taking a victory lap after three films, others exploring the large cast of characters. Interestingly, there are no deleted scenes. We do the following: Bloopers & Gag Reel (4:01); Action Choreography Across the Multiverse (6:25); A Spectacular Spider-Journey with Tom Holland (6:16); Realities Collide, Spiders Unite (8:09); Graduation Day (7:07); Enter Strange (5:04); Weaving Jon Watts’ Web (7:18); Alternate Reality Easter Eggs (4:41); A Multiverse of Miscreants (6:38); A Meeting of the Spiders – Heroes Panel (7:23); The Sinister Summit – Villains Panel (8:44);  The Daily Bugle clips (4:15);  Stunt Scene Pre-Vis (3:35); and Theatrical Marketing Materials: Tom & Jacob Lie Detector (1:58), Tom’s Press Tour (1:03), and Georgia Promo (1:15).

Fowl Language: The Struggle Is Real by Brian Gordon
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Fowl Language: The Struggle Is Real by Brian Gordon

If something works, you do it again. Brian Gordon’s Fowl Language comics – originally appearing online starting in 2013, and ramping up after he lost his cartooning-for-Hallmark-Cards job a couple of years later – were a hit online, and then a hit in their first book form, Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting.

So, a year later, Gordon’s book publisher, Andrews McMeel published a second collection of the Fowl Language strips, Fowl Language: The Struggle Is Real . (For those counting on their fingers, that would be in 2017.)

It’s not entirely clear if the books reprint all of the strips, or reprint them in order – Andrews McMeel has been doing comic strips in book form for a long time, so I trust they know how to do this right, but this is not a continuity strip in any way. The only real markers of time passing would be the age of the kids, and, well, they’re ducks to begin with. Gordon might well draw them as small hellions for another decade, even as they act like tweens and then teenagers, just because that’s funnier.

So this second book is very much like the first: the kids are mostly in the same life-stage (very young, in their very first school years, the years when they scream and run around for no reason all of the damn time), and the attitude and style are still the same time.

The format has settled down a bit: nearly everything here is that odd Internet main-comic-and-then-a-bonus-panel format, with the main comic on one page and the bonus panel, typically an afterthought or secondary punchline, on the next page. I read this digitally, so each page was on its own, but the book is laid out with the main comic on a left-hand (even-numbered) page and the bonus on the right, so Gordon is not trying to make it a similar “reveal” to how bonus panels work online.

Again, it’s the same kind of jokes and humor as the first book, and the kids are still in the same life-stage: small children are exhausting, demanding, and at least borderline insane, with demands and passions that appear and disappear in a second but are all-encompassing while they last. And the father character has to deal with them, and swears more than is typical for “funny-kid” humor.

It’s durable stuff

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, and Gordon has a good cartoonist’s eye to make it work, both in his precise writing and his expressive drawing. (He did make cartoons for Hallmark for nearly two decades; he might not have done public-facing stuff with his name on it, but he’s been doing humor in public for a long time and has the chops to prove it.)

Like any book of cartoons, you need to both want a book of cartoons (they’re fun and breezy and may seem expensive for the time you spend reading them) and want cartoons about this (if you’re aggressively child-free, this is not for you). But if you do, and if you do, Gordon, again, is good at this and makes a lot of jokes that land really well. I also still think there’s a potential (and maybe actual; I haven’t checked) merchandise empire in his single-image comics – lots of these would be great as posters or T-shirts or similar.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

In Search of Peter Pan by Cosey
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In Search of Peter Pan by Cosey

Some titles are meant to be taken literally; this is not one of them. Peter Pan is not a character in this story, and no one is searching for Peter Pan the person. Or for any fantastic element, actually.

But Peter Pan is also a metaphor – though usually a metaphor for a certain kind of man-child who refuses to grow up, which is not the case here – and that is much more relevant.

Cosey’s graphic novel In Search of Peter Pan  is set in the remote Valais Alpine village of Ardolaz, in the late 1920s. The British writer Melvin Z. Woodworth – he’s of recent Serbian ancestry, which will be important to the plot – is vacationing there, hoping to find inspiration for his next work. He is of course late with that book, with letters from his agent and editor hounding him and threatening dire consequences if he fails to deliver. He is of course carrying a copy of J.M. Barrie’s works, and reading Peter and Wendy.

He is also chasing his dead older brother, Dragan, who left for the continent to become a famous composer, and apparently succeeded, since he sent home regular payment and stories about his triumphs in the continental capitals. He died, in a pointless accident, near Ardolaz a few years back.

Melvin mostly keeps to himself in this snowy valley: skiing and hiking around, reading and drinking quietly in the bar in the evening, wandering the town to look around and chat with a few of the more colorful locals. The reader realizes that he’s looking for inspiration for his next story pretty quickly, and that he’s also looking for traces of his brother, and perhaps the truth of Dragan’s life, somewhat more slowly.

But In Search of Peter Pan is mostly about what Melvin was not looking for, but finds anyway. There are rumors of a major counterfeiting ring, which ran for many years, shut down suddenly, and may have started again. There are ominous rumbles from the snowpack higher up the mountain, and talk in the village that they will all be evacuated ahead of an apocalyptic avalanche….sometime soon. There’s a gorgeous, mysterious young woman who he sees bathing naked in a high-mountain hot spring. Someone is playing the piano in the big old hotel, late at night, and slipping away before anyone else arrives.

All of that is related. All of that circles around the mysteries of Dragan, and of the local outlaw Baptistin, who Melvin aids on the spur of the moment at the beginning of the story and who is key to the counterfeiting ring.

There is an avalanche. There is an evacuation. Melvin does meet the mysterious naked woman – that’s what mysterious naked women are for in fictions by men, part of the rewards for figuring out mysteries and solving plots – and he does learn both what Baptistin has been doing and the true story of his brother’s life. There is a happy ending.

Melvin manages to square the circle of being both a very, very respectable man in a respectable classy occupation and also a master of derring-do criminality, getting all of the benefits and none of the detriments of both sides. I also could quibble that the ending may be slightly rushed, and a little too much of “and then Melvin got all of the good things in the world, all at once, because he’s the hero.”

In Search of Peter Pan is atmospheric and evocative: Cosey is good at both long stretches of dialogue and at entirely silent pages. This is a deeply enjoyable story with real depth to it

, marred only slightly by some pretty blatant male wish-fulfillment.

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Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Muse by Zidrou and Oriol
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The Muse by Zidrou and Oriol

If that cover image trips any warnings on whatever computing device you’re reading this on, I apologize – but it is the cover for this book.

The Muse  is an album-length graphic novel, written by Zidrou, drawn by Oriol, translated by Matt Madden, and published – only electronically; there’s no print version in English – by Europe Comics a few years back. It’s the story of a painter over a hundred years ago, as told by a painter about eighty years ago, doubly distanced.

In the very last days of the nineteenth century, Vidal Balaguer was one of the most talented of the painters of Barcelona – but also in the worst troubles. His father has recently disowned him, so his debts are mounting. The woman who was both his best model and his lover, Mar, has mysteriously disappeared and the police suspect he may have killed her. And the one painting he might be able to sell is his masterpiece of Mar – the one that is the cover of this book – which he can’t bear to part with.

One of his friends tells this story, to another model, forty years later, in a frame story that disappears for most of the book and is not important at the end: it’s a way in rather than a full frame, and I’m not completely convinced it actually adds anything to the core story of Balaguer. I even lost track of which one of the 1899 friends this old painter was supposed to be, since he doesn’t do anything important in the Old Days.

Balaguer is beleaguered – maybe the word is similar in Spanish? I don’t know if this is deliberate, on Zidrou’s part or Madden’s. Things are disappearing from his apartment. Creditors are circling, threatening to take everything he has. A police detective threatens even more.

There is an explanation, and this reader guessed it – and Balaguer’s way out of his situation – much sooner than the book revealed it. I can’t say if that is a common reaction; I’ve been that kind of reader for thirty years or more

, always picking apart the stories I encounter and predicting where they will go next. I’m not always right; I was this time.

Oriol has suitably painterly art for this story; the spaces are deep and rich and evocative

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, the people subtly color-coded, the action mostly interior. Zidrou gives it a leisurely, talky script – these are mostly painters with time to waste in cafes or scraping paint onto a board – but reading it electronically (on a tablet screen, in my case) makes the balloons and lettering smaller than I would have preferred.

I did not find this a surprising story, or a profound one, though I did enjoy the telling. Zidrou may have aimed at surprise or profundity; I can’t say. In the end, there’s no real sense of why this happened to Balaguer rather than any of the other painters in his circle: was he better? was it his connection to Mar? was it just the luck and frisson of a moment?

Muses are fickle by nature, of course. Maybe that’s the answer.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Thud by Mikael Ross
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The Thud by Mikael Ross

Americans are more likely to take this book’s cover wrongly. There’s a young man, tying something around his neck, and a title that could be a vivid, short, violence-tinged name.

Americans are likely to jump into some kind of superhero explanation

, either real in the world of the story or imagined by the protagonist – to assume, first of all, that this young man is “The Thud,” and the story is about his adventures, in whatever mode.

The Thud  is not a person. The Thud is an event. It’s a moment, one that led this young man – his name is Noel – to stand outside that hospital, clutching that blanket.

I’ve had Thuds in my life: moments where everything changes. If you’re old enough, you have, too. The point of a Thud is that it’s unexpected, and that it’s usually not happy. Something breaks, something shatters, something is gone forever.

Noel Flohr lives in Berlin with his mother as The Thud opens. He’s twentyish, but clearly has some kind of developmental disability: he’s loud, and not good at social interaction, and seems to be obsessed with a few things. We don’t know his diagnosis. But we know he needs help, that he needs support to make it through life. And his mother is that help and support: it’s just the two of them against the world, and that’s fine with them.

Thud.

One night, Noel heard a noise. He finds his mother lying on the floor, a pool of blood by her head. He knows enough to call the emergency services. He saves her life, probably.

But she’s had a stroke. She’s in a medically induced coma. It is no longer the two of them against the world.

Noel is put in the care of a guardian, who he thinks of as “the man with the ‘stache.” He’s sent to live in a group home in the village of Neuerkerode, which seems to be largely populated by the developmentally disabled and their minders.

The bulk of the story happens from that point: how Noel settles into Neuerkerode, the people he meets there, his new way of living. It’s told in episodes, moments in Noel’s new life. There’s Valentin, another young man in the same home, who becomes something like his new best friend. There’s a woman he is attracted to, and another woman who may be attracted to him. All of them are disabled in some way, all of them have some kind of trouble interfacing with the “normal” world, something that led to them living in Neuerkerode.

So I have a warning for readers of The Thud. We often expect a story to have a certain shape, to be about people who grow and change, who encounter new things and become better people, who fall in love and build lives with others.

Noel, and most of the other characters in The Thud, aren’t capable of that kind of easy growth, certainly not in any short period of time. They are not going to “get better.” They are not going to “learn to be normal.” They are not going to “get over it.” This is who they are; these are the lives they have to lead.

What they can do – what they do do – is to live those lives, as best they can, within the guardrails those neurotypical guardians make for them. (And some readers may find there’s a lot of  leeway in what the inhabitants of Neuerkerode are allowed!) They may act out, they may be inappropriate, they may try to do things for reasons that seem weird or wrong from a neurotypical point of view. But they’re living their lives, as best they can.

That’s what The Thud is about: how Noel lives when the way he lives is completely upended. It’s based on true stories: Neuerkerode is a real place, though I think Noel is completely fictional. Mikael Ross visited it several times while working on this graphic novel: this isn’t an “official” publication of that institution, but it’s close. 

The Thud is meant for younger readers: people a few years younger than Noel, probably in their teens. Maybe neurotypical, maybe not. Maybe German, maybe American, maybe from other places. I suspect a lot of those younger readers will get more out of The Thud than their parents will; I’ve already seen a few wrong-headed reviews by American adults

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, too focused on their own guardrails and expectations.

If you’re not too rigid in your own guardrails, you should read it. If there’s someone not neurotypical in your life – yourself, a child, a friend, a spouse, whoever – you should read it. If you wonder what would happen to your life after a Thud…read it.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: American Underdog
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REVIEW: American Underdog

Okay, so why is ComicMix reviewing a football movie? Well, first of all, we’re a little more than just comics and secondly, it stars Captain Marvel himself, so there’s that.

Besides, it’s about a real-life hero, and who doesn’t love heroes?

Kurt Warner’s story is well worth exploring and the Lionsgate Home Entertainment release of last year’s American Underdog does a fine job recounting the story. For those unfamiliar, Warner was a star at Northern Iowa but spent four years unable to get signed by an NFL team. Finally, the Green Bay Packers signed but released him in 1994. He then played three seasons for the Iowa Barnstormers in the brief-lived Arena Football League before finally making it to the NFL with the St. Louis Rams. Once there, he led what has been dubbed the Greatest Show on Turn, culminating in winning Super Bowl XXXIV.

It’s a story about perseverance and support at home, in the form of his loving wife Brenda (Anna Paquin). Levi, at 41, is a little old to be convincing as a man half his age, but his enduring charm and charisma makes that easy to overlook. Together, they make a charming couple, and their scenes anchor the film’s emotional story. Brenda has a blind special needs son, Zach, and Hayden Zaller make a fine debut in the role.

Dennis Quaid, as Coach Dick Vermeil, leads a fine supporting cast that includes familiar faces such as Bruce McGill and Ser’Darius Blain. Best of all, Levi is reunited with his Chuck costar Adam Baldwin, who plays Warner’s college coach.

Directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin, better known for their Christian-themed movies, certainly are reverent here, avoiding some of the sport’s rougher edges. The film is inspired by All Things Possible by Kurt Warner with Michael Silver, and the screenplay comes from Friday Night Lights veterans Jon Erwin & David Aaron Cohen and Jon Gunn. They are supported by a strong score from Composer John Debney.

Make sure you watch all the credits since there’s some touching archival footage of Warner and Zach.

Available in Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD, the movie look strong with a fine 1080p MPEG-AVC with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio, The high def transfer and rich color palette are nicely presented. The accompanying Dolby Atmos and a core 7.1 Dolby TrueHD Master Audio track works just fine.

The disc is packed with a fine assortment of Special Features, an above average collection including Audio Commentary from Directors Andrew and Jon Erwin and Producer Kevin Downes; “Inspired” (16:08), about the production; “Making the Cut” (13:45)

, about the editing; “A Coach’s Faith” (30:48), focuses on Vermeil and his biggest fan, Saturday Night Live’s Heidi Gardner; “New to the Scene: Hayden Zaller” (6:10); “Meet the Champion” (14:49), Warner himself speaks;  “Behind the Game” (8:13);  “American Underdog: Behind the Story” (3:39); and

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, Deleted Scenes (17:44), with and without director commentary.

Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting by Brian Gordon
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Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting by Brian Gordon

Sometimes there are things that you know you like, but you realize you’ve never really dug into.

Brian Gordon’s comics strip Fowl Language is like that for me: I realized I’ve been seeing it randomly probably since it started (2013, I think), but never actually tried to read it. So I did.

I grabbed this book

, Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting , since it seemed to be the earliest of the three published so far. (Further exploration shows that to be true.) It collects about a hundred of those strips, which break down almost evenly into single panels (many of which would make great posters or response memes; Gordon is good at the crisp specific saying) and four-panel strips.

Gordon, as I understand it, sometimes cartoons about other things, but most of Fowl Language is about his kids. In the strips collected here – from the 2013-2016 time period – there were two of them, first a boy and then a girl, and they were very young, first babies and then toddlers and maybe up to preschoolers. You know: the loud, demanding, incoherent

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, psychopathic years.

My children are vastly older, which may make reading comics like this more distant but also makes them more entertaining – I can remember all of that, but the scars have mostly healed.

They are all from the point of view of the father, who is not exactly Gordon. His name is “Dickie,” but that comes up almost never. Well, and also he’s a duck, like the rest of the family – you might have noticed that. It’s a cute cartooning thing, and it ties well into the title, which also refers to the fact that Dickie is admittedly not the world’s best parent.

So this is somewhere in the humorous-parenting world alongside Ian Frazier’s “Cursing Mommy ” pieces and Guy Delisle’s “Bad Dad ” books. That’s good company to me, and Gordon can do both the funny and the sentimental. Also, to be clear, his sentiment is modern and inclusive, not the same old vague American glurge, with great comics on GTA games, gay marriage, and how kids can be assholes. (That’s not my language: that’s straight from the comic.)

I expected to like Fowl Language in larger doses, and I did. There are two more books: I might have to find them, and see how the duck-kids have grown up, and if Gordon is cartooning about pre-teen hell these days. I bet he’d be great at that, too.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Always Never by Jordi Lafebre
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Always Never by Jordi Lafebre

Stories don’t have to be told forwards. Sometimes a story can be told best in reverse.

The description of Jodi Lafebre’s graphic novel Always Never  makes it sound like a late-in-life love story: mayor Ana and Zeno, who has been for decades almost equally a doctoral student in physics, a commercial sailor, and a bookstore owner, finally are in the same place at the same time in their sixties, possibly ready to finally give their relationship a chance. And that is where the story starts…in chapter twenty.

The following chapters are also the preceeding chapters, as Lafebre traces the story of their lives backwards, jumping a few days here, a decade there, to wind all the way back to the moment when they met. We get previews of their history as we go: Ana and Zeno, like everyone else, talk about their shared past.

But, also like everyone else, they can’t talk about what hasn’t happened yet. So what we see later in the book will color what we’ve already read that happens later in time, but the narrative will continue moving forward. Which is to say: backward.

It’s not just a way of telling the story, though. Zeno has a theory about time, about the possibility of rewinding time, and his long-delayed doctoral dissertation is about exactly that. And that dissertation may have been accepted as the book opens, which means….he’s right?

That possibility stands behind the entire story, and crystallizes the final moments here. This may be exactly what he theorized – but, if it is, that’s outside of this story. If time rewinds and tells a different story, what happens then?

Ana and Zeno are mostly separate, those long years, trading letters – sometimes actually trading them, sometimes writing and discarding those letters, for themselves rather than for the other one – talking on the phone, thinking about each other, and mostly living their own lives. Ana married and had a daughter, who is grown with a child of her own by the beginning (or end) of the book. Zeno was engaged

, in his telling, many, many times, but nothing more than that – how do you tie down a sailor?

There are other motifs besides the doctoral thesis

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, other pieces that recur. One of Ana’s longest projects as mayor was building a bridge for her town, connecting what seem to be the neighborhoods on top of two very steep hills – and that project takes much longer, and goes through more changes, than anyone expected. But, of course, because of the way Lafebre tells the story, we see it completed first – because of the way he tells this story, we see the end of everything first.

That, almost paradoxically, makes Always Never a more positive, happy story. We already know how it will end; we know things will be just fine. What we don’t know, or don’t know enough about, is how it begins.

Lafebre tells this story in a mostly-sunny palette and with character designs that seem to my eye to have a bit of animation influence in them: these are people made to move through space, to interact with their world, to be dynamic in their bodies and faces. And even as Ana and Zeno end up on opposite sides of the world, we’re on their side – on the side of each of them in their struggles, and on the side of wanting Ana-and-Zeno to be together. (Although Lafebre manages that in large part by keeping Ana’s husband Giuseppe mostly in the background; his version of this story would be very different.)

Always Never is assured, confident, lovely, and sweet. It’s also remarkably happy for a love story about two people who spend forty years about as far apart from each other as possible. I see it was the first book Lafebre wrote after drawing a number of bandes dessinées from other people’s scripts; he’s clearly been taking notes along the way.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness by Peter Kuper

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness by Peter Kuper

I’m not crazy about adaptations

, by disposition. I’d generally rather see new stuff in Creative Format X, rather than a Format X version of a story that worked well in Format Q.

I seem to be in a pretty small minority in that, though. The world demands movies from their comic books, TV shows from their novels, opera from their stories about historical figures, stage musicals assembled from random songs. And vice versa: look at the deeply incestuous “casting thread,” in which random observers squee over which actors in TV-shows-based-on-books should be their favorite characters in a potential movie-based-on-a-comic-book.

On the other hand, I don’t mind as much with old stuff. A new movie based on a Shakespeare play? Yeah, OK – that’s closer to the point to begin with. A graphic novel based on that hundred-year-old book everyone has heard of? Well, I suspect it’s because the publishers want to get in on that sweet, sweet adopted-by-a-million-school-systems money, but it’s closer to the original format, and might bring in new readers and…OK, why not?

That’s how I came to Peter Kuper’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s short novel Heart of Darkness , which has the usual quirkiness in its title common to adapted GNs. (It always reminds me of “Rod Torfulson’s Armada! Featuring Herman Menderchuck!” for a reference none of you will get.)

Kuper has a detailed, inky art style and goes in for fleshy, unpleasant faces a lot of the time, which are all strengths with this material. He also is adapting the story basically straight: it’s not transposed to the modern world and moved to another continent or “reversed” or anything like that. He even maintains the fussy frame-story element, though I’m unclear whether the benefits (believability, collegiality) of that ever outweighed the vast lost of immediacy.

Kuper’s introduction is about one-half process description and one half responding to Chinua Achebe’s mid-70s declaration that Heart is inherently racist and colonialist. Kuper disagrees with “inherently,” and emphasizes Conrad’s anti-colonialist credentials, but responding to that kind of criticism in his frontmatter tends to undermine the book. Remember: if you’re explaining, you’re losing. Kuper starts explaining, and explaining something he didn’t have to bring up in the first place, before the reader gets a chance to see the story itself. Afterwords, says Andy who is not actually the King of the World of Books despite his grandiose visions, is the place for material like that if you absolutely must include it.

Otherwise: this is Heart of Darkness. Marlowe goes upstream on a river the text does not name (but is clearly the Congo, and Kuper shows it as such on a map) in a continent equally unnamed (also put into clearer images by Kuper), first to be captain of a boat on that river but eventually to find the mysterious and central Mr. Kurtz. He tells this story to a group of others, including one who is officially our narrator, lounging on a boat in the estuary of another big river (the Thames) on another continent (Europe) that the text also pointedly does not name.

Kuper does his best to give the (entirely unnamed, mostly background) Black characters more stage business, agency, and importance here than exists in the raw text – this is their world

, and the various fat, stupid, and greedy white people are invaders – but they’re not really part of Conrad’s story, so this is not always successful. They’re still scenery, even in Kuper’s version: there to make changes on white men, the ones worth telling stories about.

Achebe’s criticism is still valid: that’s what I’m saying. Kuper does what he can, and the story is not in favor of colonialism, but it’s still a hundred-year-old story by a white guy about another white guy going crazy from the jungle atmosphere.

But that’s Heart of Darkness. That’s the story. Kuper does a good job of retelling it

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, of moving all those Black people at least closer to the center of the story, but it’s still about one relatively good white man thrown into a milieu of horrible white men and going through a transformative journey to find the one iconic white man who embodies the place.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.