Category: Reviews

REVIEW: Max Fleischer’s Superman

REVIEW: Max Fleischer’s Superman

One of the joys of growing up in the 1960s is that you were treated to cartoons from earlier eras, long before limited animation filled the Saturday morning airwaves. Among those gems were the work of Max and Dave Fleischer, including Popeye, Gulliver’s Travels and, of course, Superman. Since then, they have fallen into public domain and were widely available, but never in the best condition.

Until Warner Bros. Home Entertainment got involved. First came a DVD set in 02006 and now we have a Blu-ray collection, mastered from the original film negatives. All seventeen episodes from September 26, 1941 through July 30, 1943 are here.

For those unfamiliar, the fairly formulaic stories involve a problem, Lois Lane (Joan Alexander) getting into trouble, Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) changing in the phone booth (the trope introduced in the second short), and Superman to the rescue. This si the early Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster Superman, so he’s not invulnerable to everything, he can’t exactly fly, and actually can wear down. We root for him to get back up, to not give in, and to fight the good fight.

None of the cartoons are based on any of the comic book stories and no supporting player or villain makes the leap. Even Perry White (Julian Noa), the Daily Planet editor, is named, just seen.

With an unprecedented $50,000 per ten-minute cartoon budget, the Fleischers rotoscoped portions of the stories and provided lush, multi-plane animation. The first nine the brothers produced remain among the most beloved animated cartoons produced in America. They were certainly influential on subsequent generations, notably Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, who used that look and feel for their Batman The Animated Series (but you knew that by now, right?).

Mad scientists, mechanical monsters, defrosted dinosaurs and the like are all here. As is World War II patriotic themes and caricatured villains. Each has their own thrills and with just ten minutes totally avoids characterization or much real interaction between rescuer and victim.
The effort to retore the cartoons has been hotly debated with Digital Bits slamming the effort with a scathing review. I suppose if you’re a videophile, their concerns have merit. But for someone who just wants a nice, clean DVD containing Superman history, you will barely notice.
Are they perfect? No. Errors from the DVD set, such as the incorrect intros, remain uncorrected. Clearly, a little more care could have been expended for the 1080p upgrade.

There’s nothing major to complain about regarding the DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track.

The disc comes with the twin bonus features from the 2009 DVD— First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series (12:55) and The Man, The Myth, Superman (13:37) — plus one new piece: Max Fleischer’s Superman: Speeding Towards Tomorrow (13:20). Here, Warner Animation’s director Matt Peters, producer Jim Krieg, supervising producer Rick Morales, and screenwriter Jeremy Adams hold forth on the legacy of the cartoons.

This is likely as good as it will get so if you don’t have this in any form, or want a reasonably priced upgrade, then this comes well recommended.

Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me by Vaughn Bode

Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me by Vaughn Bode

When you get The Complete Something, you expect some kind of explanation of what Something is, maybe a potted history, maybe an appreciation by an illustrious colleague or someone famous from a younger generation. Sure, the audience mostly knows the details of Something, but there’s always a host of commonly misremembered and mythologized factoids – plus makers of books do want to draw in new readers every once in a while.

Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me  is, I think, The Complete This. And there is a foreword by cartoonist Vaughn Bode’s son Mark Bode – himself a reasonably notable cartoonist – as by “Da’ Lizard” – which does, in its single page, give a few details. And there’s some scattered text here and there with some other context.

But Book of Me starts out with about thirty pages of sketchbooks and similar non-story material, which admittedly does include a lot of character explanations and even a map of Cheech’s world, but lacks a certain focus. (It also seems to memorialize a whole lot of material that, from the evidence here, were never actually created as stories.) Then there’s some multi-page stories, I think mostly from ’60s undergrounds, before we transition to the mostly single-pagers from the National Lampoon run in the early ’70s, the bulk of the continuity and the pages here.

Last is a clutch of stuff that I think is all by Mark Bode, long after Vaughn’s death in 1975, since all the copyright indications I can find start with “20.” These are obviously different in tone and style and manner, though also clearly in the Vaughn tradition.

All in all, it comes across as a whole lot of stuff, with only a minor through-line. The NatLamp material has a continuity, with characters being added, events building from one story to the next, and so forth. But that’s maybe fifty pages in the middle, roughly a third of the total. The rest is all less focused and more scattered, with festival posters, full-page illos and what might be a couple of graffiti installations in addition to the sketchbook stuff up front.

All that said: you might be asking what is the This here.

Vaughn Bode created the character of Cheech Wizard in his mid-teens, around 1957, and the character bears the usual hallmarks of an author-insert: he gets the last word all the time, he always wins, he gets all the hot babes with essentially no effort, and he’s the center of everything. He also talks a lot. Well, undergrounds are relentlessly talky to begin with, but this one is mostly Cheech, using Vaughn’s oddly clipped and somewhat distracting abbreviations all the time.

Cheech is a hat. We can see what seem to be legs in tights coming out of the bottom of the comically oversized be-starred wizard’s hat, but he’s basically a hat and a voice – no arms, no face. He claims to be the greatest wizard ever, but never does any magic. He never does much of anything – this is an underground comic, again – other than lazing around, drinking, tormenting his anthropomorphic lizard assistant, and fucking. As noted before, the women here are all gorgeous semi-nude fleshy creatures – other than a foul-mouthed four-year-old girl whose dialogue and character have not aged well – who exist pretty much just to be available for Cheech to fuck.

I should note yet one more time that this is an essentially underground comic. In my cynical opinion, undergrounds were about a cluster of a few things: drinking and drugs, free love, sophomoric philosophical musings, and agitation against anything considered “the Establishment” – sometimes vague, sometimes specific. Vaughn Bode ticks off a lot of drinking, only a bit of drugs, lots and lots of free love, fairly bland philosophy towards the end, and only some scattered anti-Establishmentism.

It is about as sexist as you would expect, from a comic that appeared in the early NatLamp. Not horribly so – the characters pretty much would all claim to love women, especially the friendly ones – but the idea that women are people is somewhat alien to all of them. It’s also occasionally racist as well, with two notable “Asian” characters. The first is a one-note, one-appearance Vietnamese ninja assassin stereotype; the second is his brother, equally stereotyped but at least on the positive side, with traditional insight into The Wisdom of the East.

This is a heaping helping of You Had to Be There, aimed mostly at Boomer nostalgia, with some spillover into my generation. (I collected NatLamp not too long after this era, but never really gelled with Cheech Wizard when I saw those strips.) It is The Complete This, though, so if you’re at all interested in “the hat,” this is where to go.

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

Macanudo: Welcome to Elsewhere by Liniers

Macanudo: Welcome to Elsewhere by Liniers

A daily strip is usually analogous to a TV show: a few are dramas, like soaps, but most are sitcoms in printed form. (And let’s remember that “sitcom” is a portmanteau of “situation” and “comedy” – it’s a comedic story set in a particular situation.) There are odder things, like The Far Side and its followers – my sense is that those are mostly single panels, and are closer to a dedicated slot for magazine single-panel style pieces by a single creator. Still “com,” but much less “sit.”

Liniers’ daily strip Macanudo is somewhere in the uncharted regions between the pure single panel and the strip sitcom. He does have a situation, but it’s a vague one – well, actually, he has, in this first book, at least four clearly recurrent situations, which range from almost normal strip set-up all the way to a couple of clicks above General Gag Premise. And I gather that he’s got a lot of additional situations that he’s used over the course of the strip as well – Macanudo is a collection of situations, I suppose.

Macanudo: Welcome to Elsewhere  collects what seems to be about the first year of the Macanudo strip as it appeared in English. Liniers is Argentine, and has been making his comics in Spanish since 2002; the English-language version started to be syndicated by King Features in 2018 and this book came out in 2022. It’s not clear if the English version is reprinting the Argentine strip from the beginning [1], picking bits and pieces out of the history of the strip, keeping up with Liniers’ contemporary work, or some combination of all those things. (So if you read the English-language version, and become a completionist, you probably need to learn Spanish and seek out the seventeen Argentine collections up to 2017.)

And I suppose I should explain some of the situations. In rough order of frequency, we see:

  • Henrietta, an imaginative girl in a blue dress who is a devoted reader. She appears along with her cat Fellini and teddy bear Mandelbaum, who do not talk to her. Mandelbaum doesn’t even move in the strips I’ve seen, which is unusual for a strip like this.
  • The furry blue monster Olga and her boy, whose name I discover from Wikipedia is Martin. (At first I thought Olga was another companion of Henrietta’s, until I realized Martin and Henrietta wear completely different clothes.) They mostly romp around outside, which Henriette and crew also do, adding to my confusion. But Martin does not spend as much time sitting and reading, I suppose.
  • A group of nameless penguins, doing things that are similar to but not quite identical to what human beings do, in their usually-featureless icy landscape.
  • A group of “elves” (small figures with color-coded outfits including long, prehensile pompom hats – they look more like gnomes) who talk about vaguely philosophical things. There’s always at least two – most often light-blue and red, if only two – and sometimes larger groups.
There’s also some things that seem more like single jokes that Liniers makes in different ways: The Mysterious Man in Black, who is all of those words exactly and equally and nothing else; La Guadalupe, who seems to be the ambulatory skeleton of an older woman; and the two witches Huberta and Gudrun, who here mostly do broom-based gags. And there’s also a lot of one-off strips, about John Venn and Elliott from E.T. and aliens abducting cows and random people having random conversations.
So, again: some aspects of the random single panel (though generally presented in strip format), some aspects of the sitcom strip. More random and individual than continuity; there is one two-week epic here, but it’s presented in-strip as a comic that Henrietta created, so it’s distanced and metafictional to begin with.
Liniers has a soft style, using what I think are watercolors over line art – the color is intrinsic to the art, not added in as an overlay like traditional dailies. In North American comics, it’s probably closest in look to Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts, and Mutts fans would probably also like a lot of the whimsy and philosophy of Macanudo. It’s very expressive and illustrative, occasionally cartoony but more often a classic storybook look – there’s echoes of Gorey, for example, in The Mysterious Man in Black.
For topics and tone, it’s harder to find comparisons for Macanudo. The Far Side followers tend to be weirder and more bizarre; Liniers’s strip is imaginative, bookish, and almost always optimistic. I guess it’s somewhat like Grant Snider’s work  in that way.
I suppose that’s my log-line: if you’re looking for something that looks like Mutts and reads like Grant Snider, from an Argentine with a great illustrative style in the tradition of the 20th century greats, Macanudo is for you.
[1] Actually, given several references to Twitter, this is clearly not the 2002-era Macanudo, or at least not entirely.

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

MBDL: My Badly Drawn Life by Gipi

MBDL: My Badly Drawn Life by Gipi

I don’t know if I’m missing cultural context or just goodwill for a well-known creator, but I was missing something when I read this book. It’s gotten a lot of praise, around the world, since it was originally published in Italy in 2007, so this could easily be a problem on my end. But this felt like a long, self-indulgent shaggy-dog story that – ironically – had some quite nice art along the way, but didn’t actually tell its story in a clear or coherent way.

Also, is the title really supposed to be MBDL , with “My Badly Drawn Life” as just the subtitle? That’s a level of self-indulgence well beyond the normal range. [1]

MBDL – I’ll use the abbreviation, since it does seem to be official – was a mid-career book by Gipi (Gianni Pacinotti), who seems to be most famous as a cartoonist for his previous project, Notes for a War Story. It was translated into English by Jamie Richards for publication last year, which implies (to me, at least) that it was seen as a more difficult book than War Story, which was translated more quickly.

(I don’t know if this is at all related, but Gipi seems to be one of those modern entrepreneurial/artistic types who are all over the place. Besides doing full-length BD books, he’s also made multiple films and a card game.)

OK, so MBDL is not the story of Gipi’s life. Or, rather, it’s a loose and discursive memoir that circles one aspect of his life, in a very wordy, heavily narrated, almost sketchbook style most of the time. To be blunt, it’s a Medical Problem Memoir, but it’s told in a very obfuscating way, maybe because the subject is embarrassing and maybe just because that’s the way Gipi works.

The medical problem…well, Gipi never talks about it in any medical detail, which is part of the problem. He also – admittedly, in his notes at the end – says that this book is only about the doctors that didn’t help him, who were “bad guys,” because he only cares about “bad guys.” (Cf.: one of the other threads of the book, in which Gipi mythologizes his teenage, or maybe young-adult group of ne’er-do-well friends, who do the usual young-man incredibly stupid things and manage not to die from any of it.)

What Gipi says on the first page is “I told him about this thing I have on my peen.” He also repeatedly refers to his ailment as something that turned him into a “sexual spastic, a Bobby Brown.”

And, I’m just, um, what?

He uses those same words over and over again. Never actually calls it a penis or cock or John Thomas, just “his peen,” like a snickering ten-year-old boy. Never says what the thing is – a lesion? an erectile dysfunction? some kind of fungus? a discoloration? the yawning mouth of hell? the head of Ronald Reagan ? Never explains – does he mean “sexual spastic” in that he avoids sex, because this thing is painful or off-putting or both? Or does it affect how he has sex?

And what the hell is “a Bobby Brown” in this context? My Prerogative Bobby Brown? I can’t even come up with options here; it’s just a huge “what the fuck does that mean?”

I spent all my time reading MBDL trying to figure out what the deal was with Gipi’s peen, which is annoying and frustrating, particularly once I realized he never would do anything but say those three things over and over again.

MBDL is a fairly long graphic novel – about a hundred and twenty dense pages, full of narration and words. Not of detail – Gipi uses the same words and ideas over and over again, about everything else as much as his peen. We see the crazy friends of his youth, over and over again. We see him talk to doctors, who are all useless at best.

And we slowly get more details about an event that happened when he was ten, at night in a room he shared with his eight-years-older sister. Somehow – we never learn why or how or even much of what – a “bad man,” “the man in the dark” came into that room and threatened them. It sounds like a stranger, an intruder, but even that isn’t clear. The Bad Man threatened to rape Gipi’s sister, but (I think) was unsuccessful.

Let me be blunt. MBDL is the story of how Gipi associated some kind of penis-related deformity he had in early adulthood with his trauma from being powerless to protect his sister from sexual violence when he was a child, and how that trauma apparently led him to consider all strange men as horrible monsters and yet not to ever question the sexist nonsense he and his close friends stewed in all day every day.

One of the things I’m most uneasy about is Gipi making this all about him. On the one hand, he’s the one telling it, and he’s clearly deeply wrapped up in his own head. But the core traumatic event is not about him. How did his sister react to this? Has she had medical problems? How did she get “the bad man” to leave? What actually happened?

I frankly don’t care that this made Gipi sad and that he later had “a thing on his peen.” I worry about the woman who was almost raped, especially since the “almost” is partially a guess.

On the positive side, it is not badly drawn. There’s a fictional thread, which I won’t spoil, that’s fully painted and looks amazing. I also would not call it badly written, though Gipi writes frustratingly and elliptically at all times. If I were God of Books, I would force it to be retitled My Badly Explained Penis.

Gipi is a fine cartoonist and observer: there are great pages and sequences here, and his work is engaging throughout. But there’s a massive lack at the center of the book that I could never get around, and I can’t really call it successful because of that.

[1] Answering my own question: the Italian original is LMVDM: La mia vita disegnata male, so, yes, this does seem to be very deliberate.

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

Glacial Period by Nicolas De Crecy

Glacial Period by Nicolas De Crecy

There’s a odd collection of graphic novels inspired by the Louvre museum, which has been running longer than I thought and has more books in it than I expected. Each bande dessinee is entirely separate; they’re all by different people with different plots, and seem to only have in common that they all involve the Louvre in some way.

There’s a list of the series on Goodreads; I don’t know if it’s comprehensive, but it’s fairly long, at least.

And I read a few of the early books years ago: The Sky Over the Louvre  by Yslaire and Carriere in 2014, On the Odd Hours  by Liberge in 2010, and The Museum Vaults by Matthieu in 2008. I don’t remember any of them well enough to compare.

Today, I just read Nicolas De Crecy’s Glacial Period , the very first book in the “series.” It was originally published in French in 2005, translated into English by Joe Johnson the next year, and the current edition (no indications if anything is new or different, and I doubt it, having worked in publishing) came out in 2014.

My guess is that all of the books in this series are about “the power of art” pretty centrally, however each creator defines that. This one is, eventually, though it takes a long time to get there. It also has a pretty major fantasy element that just pops up almost two-thirds of the way through the book, which is somewhat surprising.

Glacial Period takes place – so it says – about a thousand years in the future, when a glacier covers Europe and has wiped out all memory of the previous civilization. This seems multiply unlikely – that there would be a new and completely unrelated civilization at the same tech level so soon after such a crash, that everything would be lost so comprehensively, that everyone would still be speaking European languages and seeming to be European people after that crash, and that what’s described late in the book as global warming would lead to whopping great glaciers in the first place.

Maybe global warming led to a series of devastating wars that killed most of the Global North really quickly, then the few survivors (perhaps in Brazil?) actively destroyed all records of the North, created some super-science cooling device that worked too well, changed their language to English, and went into a prolonged social crash, only to emerge recently? Oh, and bioengineered a race of talking dogs along the way, because why not?

The talking dogs are a definite, by the way: we see them, and one, Hulk (named after one of the important gods of the pre-glacial civilization, ha ha ha) is a major character here.

Also, there are a couple of panels that seem to imply how the catastrophe happened, only they make no sense. First, everyone got fat and lazy in the beginning of the 21st century. Then, global warming happened, really fast! (With a picture of the glacial landscape?) Only a few people “resisted” and fled South. There apparently was no one already living in the South to which they fled.

Frankly, I’m ignoring those panels, since they make no goddamn sense. I’m assuming they’re wrong somehow within the story, for a reason I didn’t figure out yet.

Anyway, there’s a scientific expedition across the trackless icy wastes of the forgotten northern continent – it is so forgotten than Hulk finds a coin marked “2 Euro” and this is a major discovery of their name for themselves. [1] There is some tedious interpersonal bullshit that doesn’t go anywhere or mean anything, but gives some slight characterization to a vague love triangle among the humans. (There’s one woman, whose father apparently financed and created this expedition, and the requisite one intellectual and one man of action both desire her.) There are some other characters – a few other humans, some dogs like Hulk – none of whom are important.

It’s not clear what this expedition is looking for, or how it’s looking. They seem to be wandering aimlessly, hoping to find something sticking out of the ice. They have no maps or documents from the Before Times, as previously noted.

Luckily, the author is on their side, so they do see a building sticking up out of the ice. No points to guess what that building is. Due to shifting ice and the needs of plot, the party is split, with Hulk alone deep within the halls of what he doesn’t yet know is a museum, and the woman and man of action similarly separate elsewhere in the structure for no good reason.

We also get a lot of panels of attempted anthropology based on the art – mostly a Delacroix gallery, I think – which is meant to be humorously wrong-headed, and gives De Crecy the opportunity to pop in a whole bunch of famous art into his book. (This seems to be the real purpose of the whole series, frankly.) This section is where we learn that our new civilization has absolutely no records of the vanished Europeans, which frankly seems completely disjoint with the fact that an entire museum of priceless artworks is still sitting, undamaged by time, under a protective snowball.

Anyway, then the fantasy element kicks in. I guess I have to explain it, though I should warn you that it’s just as random and bizarre as everything else in Glacial Period. You see, all of the art is alive. Or the spirits of the things painted live through the art? Something vague and muddy in between those two points, I think. All the art comes to life to talk to Hulk, to give the potted history that he so desperately needs, and to tell him that he has to save them from the imminent destruction of the whole museum.

Because all of this art can survive without any damage whatsoever for a thousand years, but there’s going to be a big ice-earthquake any minute now that will crush the Louvre and anything unlucky enough to be left within it.

Does Hulk do something unlikely and weird to save his entire expedition and all of the priceless artworks of the Louvre, leading them to safety across the ice? Of course. Does he do this in any way where the reader can figure out what is going to come out the other end of the saving motion? No. Not in the slightest.

Glacial Period is a weird book with muddy colors and baffling dialogue, set in a world that would contradict itself a dozen times if it made any sense at all. It is entertaining to read and full of great art by famous dead people, but I didn’t find it plausible for more than two or three panels at a time. Your mileage may vary.

[1] Belatedly, I’m coming to realize the core issue of Glacial Period: it’s of that classic genre in which only Europe is important, only Europe matters, and the world is essentially a blank canvas for European people to make their marks on. I’m more familiar with the derivative American version of that, where all the same but only European-descended Americans, who have kept the true germ plasm of the race alive within them, do all of those colonialist things and are the true lords of All Creation. (It’s bullshit either way, of course; I’m just pointing out the two strains, and maybe why I didn’t notice the older one as quickly.)

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

Wicked Epic Adventures by Will Henry

Wicked Epic Adventures by Will Henry

This is the third collection of Will Henry’s Wallace the Brave daily strip; it follows Wallace the Brave  and Snug Harbor Stories . Usually, with a series, the advice is to start at the beginning – but any half-decent newspaper comic has to be capable of standing on its own, every single day, out of any context, providing a little moment.

And Wallace – if it’s not in your paper (it’s not in mine), you can read it online at GoComics every day instead – is much better than half-decent. It’s at least all-decent: funny, involving, memorable, drawn with verve and written with a puckish wit.

So you could jump into Wicked Epic Adventures  first if you wanted. Or either of the preceding books. Or, probably, the fourth book, which I haven’t read yet. Or, as most people do with daily strips, with the daily strip itself, until you get the point where you want to read a big clump in one designed package at once.

Wallace is a person: a six-year-old boy in the bucolic New England town of Snug Harbor. His creator lives in Rhode Island, but I’ve gotten more of a Maine vibe from Snug Harbor – it’s not near a big city, and seems to be on an island or otherwise separated from anywhere else. (Tourists arrive by ferry at a dock, for another touchpoint.)

Wallace McClellan is one of those relentlessly positive, endlessly active kids – the kind of person who has so much energy and crazy ideas that he would be annoying if he weren’t so nice. (And, frankly, I still find him annoying some of the time.) He’s also the center of the two semi-separate casts of the story, as often happens in a strip comic. One group is his family; the other is his friends at school.

His father is a commercial fisherman; it’s a bit vague about whether Mr. McClellan works for a larger company or is an independent guy with his own boat and operation. His mother doesn’t work outside the home, but is an avid gardener and surfer, and a more modern version of the tough, loving mom figure than you see in most strip comics. She also seems to be the source of Wallace’s imagination and crazy ideas. His younger brother Sterling is less prominent here than he’s become more recently, but he’s a different and pure kind of wild child.

In school, Wallace often fails to heed the grounded, helpful Mrs. Macintosh, who is mostly in these strips to be a voice of reason when there needs to be an unheeded voice of reason. His best friend is Spud, my favorite character: a quirky, food-obsessed fussbudget who I suspect would be much more at home further away from all this nature and who gets dragged along on all of Wallace’s crazy schemes without ever enjoying or agreeing to any of them. And then there’s Amelia, who is still “the new girl” at this point – fairly newly arrived in town, with the take-charge, no-nonsense attitude of a girl who is smart, knows it, and has plans for herself and the world.

The core plot for these strips is still mostly “Wallace does something nutty” – that has changed a bit, more recently, with particularly Amelia driving some plotlines and the newer character Rose being a voice of reason that does get heeded, at least sometimes.

And the joys of a daily strip are in how the creator works out semi-standard plots with well-defined characters – Henry does that well in Wallace, which follows the rhythms of the school year (we get a summer vacation in this one) and relies on everyone’s established character points for his storylines. He’s also a light, visually inventive artist, happy to dive into sidebar visions and ideas, with a line that’s always illustrative and loose.

Bottom line: Wallace the Brave is one of the best strips currently running, fun and distinctive while still clearly in the great tradition, with interesting echoes of a number of predecessors. If daily strips are anything you’ve ever cared about, you should check it out.

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

It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth by Zoe Thorogood

It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth by Zoe Thorogood

This is all true, as far as I know. Zoe Thorogood says this book is the story of six months in her life, as filtered through her own head. But everything everyone ever sees or knows is filtered through their heads, so that’s reality as best we know it, always.

It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth  is the name – I guess you’d call it a graphic novel, since it’s in comics format. Or maybe a comics memoir, or graphic non-fiction.

I suspect it’s vastly more carefully constructed and conceived than it seems to be: the best works of art always have a lot of prep-work and invisible details. Centre of the Earth says it’s the comics pages that Thorogood made during this stretch of time, to be a GN memoir, to chronicle an expected trip from her native England to the US for the first time.

She also says, up front, that she wants it to be a positive story, a particular kind of story – one of those “learn to live with yourself” stories, the kind with a quirky girl who gets better.

If this were a movie, the audience would leave the cinema feeling fine, maybe bordering on pleasant. But this isn’t a movie – and I’ve been considering stabbing myself in the neck with a sharp knife.

Her previous GN was that kind of story, fictional. It got good reviews. Thorogood sees the parallels. She doesn’t explicitly say why this new book is autobiographical, but Center of the Earth is all about art. She cares a lot about making art: drawing comics pages, telling stories, turning her own pain and confusion into something better and maybe, just maybe, getting one of those quirky-girl endings for herself along the way.

It’s not impossible, right? If you treat your life as a story, and tell that story really well, you can get the right ending, can’t you?

How Thorogood works through that is what happens in Center of the Earth. She doesn’t talk about any particular diagnosis – I get the sense that institutions have not done well by her, that whatever peace and balance she’s found has been hard-fought, and not aided by medication or therapy or diagnoses, even as a reader suspects any or all of those things, done right, would be hugely positive for her.

Call it depression, I guess, if you need a name to hang on it. Suicidal ideation at times. Thorogood draws it as a grinning tall devilish figure, mostly a dark silhouette with what looks like a frozen mask for a face. It’s there a lot of the time, lurking around the edges of a lot of these pages. That’s what it’s like: it’s always there, somewhere, sometimes more prominently than others. Whispering to her, saying unpleasant things she can’t unhear.

Thorogood draws herself many different ways: there’s a realistic version of herself, at her current age, that is more or less the “protagonist” of the book. But there are also younger Zoes, at several ages. There’s also a cartoony-headed version that takes over page-space for long stretches – I think the cartoon version is the maker of comics and the realistic one is the character in the story, since they interact with each other.

All of the versions of Thorogood interact with each other. At times it’s a little cluster of Zoes, though, as you might expect from someone this hermetic and lonely, they’re not much of a support group.

The pages circle those core concerns: living the story, telling the story, constructing the story. Living in the world, the way she wants or can, the way the world wants her to, the way maybe she can get to someday. Planning for that big trip, having it cancelled once, planning again, finally going.

I’m making this sound messy and complex, but it isn’t. It’s organic and straightforward and personal. It’s Zoe Thorogood’s story, told by all of the Zoe Thorogoods. It doesn’t quite go the way she wants it to, and that’s a large part of what Center of the Earth is about: what you want, what you get, what you make of it.

Her art is inventive and quick and supple, changing modes and styles within individual panels and mixing up levels of representation all the time. I’ve never seen her work before, but she has some serious art chops, and brings thought and skill and insight on every page to tell this story in the strongest, deepest way she can.

Centre of the Earth is masterful and moving; there’s a moment a few pages from the end that nearly made me tear up. I hope that all of the positive things are true and that all of the negative things are overstated; I wish Thorogood all of the happiness in the world and a long career making books just as surprising and magnificent as this one.

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

Ordinary Victories, Vol. 3: Precious Things by Manu Larcenet

Ordinary Victories, Vol. 3: Precious Things by Manu Larcenet

The first time this book was translated into English, a decade and a half ago, the title came out as “What Is Precious.” This time, in a translation by Mercedes Claire Gilliom that I think I found more colloquial than Joe Johnson’s back in 2008, the title is Precious Things .

What difference does that make? The first has the echo of a question; the second is more clearly in line with the titles of the previous books – Ordinary Victories , Trivial Quantities . Both of those are plausible things to want in your translated title, but you can’t have both. Translation is a game of choices: of veering closer to the exact meaning in the original language, which can be more formal or clunky in the new one, or of aiming for more colloquial expressions in the target language, which can deform the original words.

Every translation is its own artistic work, separated inexorably from the original. Each translation is closer to the original than a sequel, but still a separate thing, as languages are separate things. And those of us who don’t read the original languages are left like the blind men and the elephant, grabbing pieces, feeling differences, trying to decide what it was originally, in the land of its birth.

Ordinary Victories is a semi-autobiographical bande dessinée series by Manu Larcenet, about the purpose of art and life (among other things), so those concerns are in the book – and they may tend to circle when a reader encounters it again, in a new translation. Gilliom uses a very naturalistic English here; I noted that Johnson seemed to be trying to stay as close as possible to the French grammar and meaning back in 2008.

I read in English, so I like colloquial language I can read. Selfishly, I prefer this newer translation. (It was published, digitally, in 2016 by Europe Comics, a collective mostly designed to get other publishers in the Anglosphere to publish comics from continental Europe.)

Speaking of translation: the series title in French is Le combat ordinaire. I gather that’s a French idiom; it means something like “the everyday battle.” You could hang a whole essay on the difference there – the French focus on the fight, the American need to be assured of a victory.

There are no assured victories here. Marco Louis is a thirtyish photographer with a serious anxiety disorder and a career he’s mostly successfully shifting from war photography to artsier work, with a gallery show of dockworkers turning into a book in the course of this story. Marco Louis is Manu Larcenet, to some degree, and his battles, I think, echo those of his creator – but how close the echoes are, and what the echoes bounce off is a much more tangled question.

Marco is also navigating what seems to be his first really serious, long-term relationship here, with a woman named Emily. In this book, she makes it clear she wants children: she’ll give Marco some time to come to terms with that, but it’s not a point for negotiation. She will have children, either with him or without.

At the same time, Marco is dealing with the recent death of his father: visiting his now-widowed mother, cleaning out a workshop, reading a diary of his father’s that isn’t as personal as he wanted, arguing with the brother who is also upset after the death.

As with the first two books, this is a slice-of-life story with serious depths, a story that is much more constructed and organized than it may seem. Marco is Manu, but he’s not just Manu, and this is probably not “what happened to Manu” transmuted from comics to photography – it’s a memoir-ish story influenced by Larcenet’s life, that comments on or look at many other aspects of life as it goes on.

It’s a deep and resonant book, and I’m glad I’m reading Ordinary Victories in order this time, and equally glad to read it in Gilliom’s language. This would be a good book to read any day you need to face your own combat ordinaire.

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

REVIEW: His Dark Materials: The Complete Third Season

REVIEW: His Dark Materials: The Complete Third Season

Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy has stood the test of time, becoming beloved young adult fantasy novels. HBO saw enough promise in the story that they picked up a television adaptation after sister company New Line Cinema failed to ignite a fervent following with their singular film. Season One\ got things off to a good start while Season Two stumbled a little.

After pandemic delays, the third and final season of His Dark Materials arrived earlier this year and is now available on home video from HBO Home Entertainment. The final eight episodes loosely adapt the third book in Pullman’s trilogy The Amber Spyglass and does so in a satisfying enough way that we will miss the series, this world, and the fine ensemble that brought the characters to life.

The focus remains on Lyra (Dafne Keen) and her growing relationship and Will (Amir Wilson). First, they have to find one another what with Lyra still in Mrs. Coulter’s (Ruth Wilson) clutches, and Will is being told to kill Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), which he might do, but only after finding her.

The varying worlds and faiths are on full display as The Authority in Magesterium is tested, threatening its existence.

It’s beautiful to look at, densely packed with plots and religious allusions, and ultimately honors Pullman’s work.

The eight episodes look superb in 1080p with the 2.00:1 ratio. The gorgeous cinematography, coupled with superior CGI creatures, looks terrific on disc. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is its equal so the home viewing experience is an excellent one.

Despite being an HBO series, this box set does not have any Special Features, mores the pity.

Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy has stood the test of time, becoming beloved young adult fantasy novels. HBO saw enough promise in the story that they picked up a television adaptation after sister company New Line Cinema failed to ignite a fervent following with their singular film.

After pandemic delays, the third and final season of His Dark Materials arrived earlier this year and is now available on home video from HBO Home Entertainment. The final eight episodes loosely adapt the third book in Pullman’s trilogy The Amber Spyglass and does so in a satisfying enough way that we will miss the series, this world, and the fine ensemble that brought the characters to life.

The focus remains on Lyra (Dafne Keen) and her growing relationship and Will (Amir Wilson). First, they have to find one another what with Lyra still in Mrs. Coulter’s (Ruth Wilson) clutches, and Will is being told to kill Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), which he might do, but only after finding her.

The varying worlds and faiths are on full display as The Authority in Magesterium is tested, threatening its existence.

It’s beautiful to look at, densely packed with plots and religious allusions, and ultimately honors Pullman’s work.

The eight episodes look superb in 1080p with the 2.00:1 ratio. The gorgeous cinematography, coupled with superior CGI creatures, looks terrific on disc. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is its equal so the home viewing experience is an excellent one.

Despite being an HBO series, this box set does not have any Special Features, mores the pity.

REVIEW: Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes & Huntsmen, Part One

REVIEW: Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes & Huntsmen, Part One

Let me start by saying I am not now, nor have I ever been a fan of RWBY, an American anime series that has been chugging along since its debut in 2013. For the last few years, producer Rooster Teeth has managed to partner with DC Comics for crossovers between the warriors, trained and dedicated to protecting the world of Remnant from Grimms, actual monsters.

I suppose it was inevitable that the comics crossovers would eventually find their way to the animated world where RWBY enjoys its fame. So, released recently is Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes & Huntsmen, Part One, available as a 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack from Warner Home Entertainment.

The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes are brought to Remnant to help the teen heroes save their world. Somehow, DC’s stalwarts wind up as teen versions of themselves, to better match the warriors. As a result, Superman (Chandler Riggs), Wonder Woman (Natalie Alyn Lind), Batman (Nat Wolff), and The Flash (David Errigo, Jr.) arrive scattered among the kingdoms of Vale, Mistral, Atlas, and Vacuo, unaware of how they arrived or why. They encounter Ruby (Lindsay Jones), Weiss (Kara Eberle), Blake (Arryn Zech), and Yang (Barbara Dunkelman) and pairings occur, so they adventure is spread around the world. Other Leaguers seen briefly in the film include Cyborg (Tru Valentino), Green Lantern (Jeannie Tirado), and Vixen (Ozioma Akagha).

Of course there’s a cliffhanger since this is part one, but I can easily wait. The familiar tropes are on display with little variation on the expected. Frankly, the screenplay from Meghan Fitzmartin, who previous wrote Justice Society: World War II, does precious little with the Teen JLA members which may explain why the RWBY characters feel predominant. This is definitely only for those who appreciate the RWBY world and characters. With Rooster Teeth overseeing the animation, our more familiar heroes certainly have a different look and feel, leaning in to the Anime influences.

The 2060p transfer is fin, nicely capturing the color palette of Remnant and its inhabitants. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is merely adequate but acceptable.

There are just two Special Features: Justice Comes to Remnant (7:35) and You Look … Different (9:01). Additionally, fans can enjoy Justice League Unlimited’ s “Kid Stuff” (23:09) and Justice League Action’s “Plastic Man Saves the World” (11:14).