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REVIEW: Space Wars: Quest for the Deepstar

REVIEW: Space Wars: Quest for the Deepstar

Space Wars: Quest for the Deepstar very much wants to be one of the plethora of low-budget 1970s knock offs of Star Wars riding the comet tail of that phenomenon. It’s just not bad enough to be lumped in with Bartle Beyond the Stars or the 3-D mess of Spacehunters. Nor is it good enough to be a thoughtful low-budget meditation on the soul. It falls in between and is quickly forgotten the moment you turn off the DVD of the 2022 release, out now from Uncork’d Entertainment.

Late in the 30th century, mankind has somehow managed to survive the contemporary mess we’ve made of ourselves and has even managed to find a way to preserve the human soul, reducing it to a blue goo. The catch is that it’s expensive, so only the top 1% of the 1% can afford it, although starship captain Kip Corman (Michael Paré), a scavenger eking out a living, won’t let that stop him. He’s recently lost his wife and wants her essence poured into an android. With his daughter Taylor (Sarah French), they search for credits and the legendary Deepstar, where his salvation awaits.

This quest occupies the bulk of the film, as any story adhering to the three-act structure demands, and here there are some interesting obstacles, such as pirate Dykstra (Olivier Gruner). They even encounter an interesting scientist, Jackie (Anahit Setian), who promises them the starship’s location in exchange for their protection.

Based on what we’re shown, the future is shinier but nowhere near as advanced as one would have hoped. The costumes and sets are okay while the CGI effects get the job done.

Paré was on the cusp of stardom in the 80s with features like the underrated Streets of Fire, and here, he’s an older but engaging leading man. The relationship between him and French show some genuine warmth. However, they’re stuck with mediocre dialogue from Joe Knetter and Garo Setian, with the latter directing in an adequate, if unimaginative, manner. The rest of the cast are less talented and without stronger material to work from, fill the screen, and keep things moving.

The film is available as a DVD only and comes with a fine 1080p digital transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track. Neither are great, nor do they need to be given the content.

There are a reasonable number of Special Features including Commentary from director Garo Setian, screenwriter Joe Knetter, and stars Anahit Setian and Sarah French. Additionally, there are four Deleted Scenes (5:29), the inevitable Bloopers (4:15), and the Trailer (1:34).

REVIEW: The End we Start From

REVIEW: The End we Start From

Climate change has become the Go To dystopia for stories these days, each with an apocalyptic feel, showing little hope for humanity. Paramount released the film adaptation of Megan Hunter’s novel The End We Start From, the latest such installment, in December. Now available for streaming rental, the film, starring Jodie Comer, explores the aftermath of such a climate incident.

Water rushes from the skies, flooding ensures, and soon towns and cut off and cities can’t cope. England is submerged (the rest of the world’s fate is left up in the air) and the Woman (Comer), finds herself giving birth without any of the usual medical support. When we first see her, she’s in a bathtub as the rains fall outside so there’s no escape. The graphic birth shows the stakes she  and her partner R (Joel Fry) face in not only their survival but of the infant.

Thankfully, they make it out of London and are briefly ensconced in his parent’s home in a village located on higher ground. But supply chains have been wrecked, food and tempers run short, and they find themselves separated.

What follows is a largely episodic film, directed by Mahalia Belo, from Alice Birch’s script, following Woman’s struggle to stay sheltered and keep the infant safe. Along the way, she finds O (Katherine Waterston), with her own two-month-old. They bond and work to survive together against increasingly bleak odds.

There is an almost monotonous pacing to the film, as we see man’s humanity toward fellow man, leavened here and there with genuine acts of kindness. Still, so much of the emotional weight is carried by Comer, who gives a strong performance There is conflict, but nothing she can’t seem to navigate so she’s not challenged and we’re left lulled.

We never get to know Woman, or her relationship with R. Her friendship with O is the warmest part of the narrative, set against gray skies and damp environs. She survives, which isn’t a spoiler, but the world she is left to raise her child in is a cautionary one.

 

REVIEW: Special Ops: Lioness

REVIEW: Special Ops: Lioness

Paramount+ was called, by some, the Star Trek channel when it first launched, but it rapidly was changed to the Taylor Sheridan channel, as his various series fuel their original programming slate. Thankfully, they are different and distinct, each with its own genre.

After conquering the modern and historic Western, he gave us the gritty Mayor of Kingstown and Sly Stallone’s Tulsa King. Then, this fall, came Special Ops: Lioness, an international espionage story that was (finally) female-centric.

The premise for the ten-episode show is based on a real CIA program, “Team Lioness,” from a Marine Corps program, “created to grant the Marine Corps closer access to women involved in potential terrorist plots,” according to Collider. The female Marines could search for potential female threats and form bonds in Iran and Afghanistan that their religious beliefs kept them apart from men.

Sheridan took things one step further, with the Lioness team actually embedding a Marine, Cruz Manuelos (Laysla De Oliveira), close to an Iranian daughter of their target, the moneyman behind Iran’s terrorist activities. Each team had a searcher and a guardian angel, with the latter being the hardened Joe (Zoe Saldaña), and her support troops.

There is a tense relationship between Manuelos, who had a hard life before enlisting, and Joe, who distances herself from her husband (David Anabele) and two daughters. Who watches the watcher? The ubiquitous Nicole Kidman fills that role back at Langley, and she reports to Morgan Freeman, so the cast is stellar.

The story traces Manuelos’ recruitment into the program and hurried training, and then we see her befriend the mark, Aaliyah (Stephanie Nur), about to be married, bringing her elusive father into the public eye (and target scope of Manuelos’ rifle, they hope).

There are some digressions that feel like filler to stretch out the story and tension across the episodes. Still, the domestic and international stories are riveting, and Sheridan’s hallmark of never leaving his characters undamaged effectively continues here. Manuelos’s arc is the most compelling as she is pushed way beyond her comfort zone, forming a social and then romantic entanglement with Aaliyah.

The series may or may not be back for a second go, but Paramount Home Entertainment has released Special Ops: Lioness Season One in a three-disc Blu-ray package. No 4K or digital HD code, but each disc has special features.

The 1080p digital transfer is fine, if unspectacular, good for home viewing. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack is an equal match.

As for the features, on the first disc you get Behind the Story: Sacrificial Soldiers (7:21), The Beating (7:14), and Bruise Like a Fist (4:11). On disc two: The Choice of Failure (6:16), Truth Is the Shrewdest Lie (4:29), and The Lie Is the Truth (7:43); and on disc three: Wish the Fight Away (7:25) and Gone Is the Illusion of Order (7:30). There is also Embedded with Special Ops: Lioness (21:38), a behind-the-scenes exploration, Battle Forged Calm: Tactics & Training (9:02), and Inside the Series (19:00) with LaMonica Garrett, who plays Tucker, leading us through more background.

Monica by Daniel Clowes

Monica by Daniel Clowes

Some cultural artifacts are so rigorously assembled that one hesitates to criticize them, expecting that the answer from the trufans will be something like “well, but you see, the figure at the top left of the back cover is obviously there to explain your complaint, and you are a churl for missing that, and therefore all of your complaints are invalid.” But here I go anyway.

The figure at the top left of the back cover, by the way, is a satyr. There isn’t one in the book itself. This is clearly A Clue. But this is the kind of book that makes you tired of Clues long before you reach the back cover.

Monica  was Daniel Clowes’ new graphic novel for 2023; he reportedly had been working on it for five years, roughly since Patience . It’s told in nine chapters, all of which have Clowes’s standard mature art style but which diverge greatly in voice and tone. They also, I think, don’t all take place on the same level of story: I originally thought it was alternating the “real” story with in-story fictions, but it’s not quite that clear or obvious. My guess, as much as I care (which is frankly not much) is that three or four of the chapters are stories told by the title character, though it’s not clear when she told these stories, to whom, or why she wrote them within the confines of the overall story.

Bluntly, those chapters are horribly overwritten in a clanking style. I think this is deliberate on Clowes’ part – but it also calls the reader’s attention to the fact that even the “well-written” bits are overwritten, over-narrated, and overcooked. Clowes has always been a creator who loves extremes and trashy genre elements, but I don’t think it was a smart thing to call attention to his overwriting in a book as overwrought as this one.

Monica is the main character, and our wordy narrator. The book covers her whole life, in leaps and bounds, plus those digressions that I’m going to take as her (mentioned once, never important) adolescent attempts at fiction.

Before I go further: I will run through each section of the book. There will inevitably be spoilers. I do not recommend this book for anyone other than those who enjoy watching train-wrecks in slow motion. Take all that into account if you read on.

We start with “Foxhole,” in which Johnny and Butch, two footsoldiers in what we realize later is Vietnam, talk in a massively self-consciously doom-laden way for three pages about their lives, philosophies, the specter of imminent death, and how everything must be going to hell back Stateside. This has the tone of the later “fictional” pieces in Monica – overwrought, clunky dialogue and all – but I suspect it’s meant to be part of the “real” narrative. 

Smash-cut to “Pretty Penny,” where we open with Johnny’s fiancé having just fucked some other guy – he’s Jewish, which I suppose is supposed to make it worse? They also talk in a patently ridiculous way: even dull readers should realize by this point that this isn’t to be taken seriously, that it’s dialogue reconstructed much later from someone’s slanted perspective.

That fiancé is Penny, who, in the much later words of Elvis Costello, doesn’t know what she wants, but wants it now. We soon learn we’re hearing her story told by Monica, who is born almost three years later (assuming we start in the late ’60s, that puts her birth somewhere around 1969-1972) – and that may be why it’s sketchy and random and why Penny comes across as an unknowable ball of anger, reaction, and spite. This section is about twenty pages long, getting Monica to about the age of three, when Penny – after a pinball round of boyfriends and apartments and random caregivers and emotional explosions – dumps Monica with her own parents and disappears forever.

Next we get the seemingly unrelated “The Glow Infernal,” a vaguely Lovecraftian tale about a young bowl-cutted man in an ugly purple suit who returns to his childhood town to find it controlled by blue-skinned people of vague origin. He quickly joins the resistance and is instrumental in their downfall, but is transformed in the process – very literally.

Monica returns to tell “Demonica,” the story of how she fell apart during college when her grandmother died suddenly. She holed up in a lake cottage, talked to no one, and claims to have communed with the spirit of her dead grandfather through an old radio. At the end of this period, she has a car accident that puts her in a coma.

By this point, the reader may wonder if Monica is a reliable narrator. I don’t think that’s the direction Clowes wants the reader to go, but if one assumes she’s prone to psychotic breaks (perhaps like her mother?) that’s one way to interpret the story.

“The Incident” is another story written by Monica, I think, in which a version of her father is some kind of detective or fixer, bringing a young man back from bad companions to his family, only to find (yes, again) something unexplained and maybe inexplicable has happened to the town, so he has to flee with his charge.

Monica wakes up from her coma for “Success,” told from a viewpoint twenty-two years later. (Note: that is not now, and not the frame story for any other section. Every section vaguely hints at being a document from a particular time-period, without ever making that clear or doing it believably.) She started a candle business after a few years of recuperation from the coma and then the usual youthful dissipation, but has just sold that business for a small fortune. She’s now getting obsessed with finding Penny, and learning the truth about her mother – but gets sidetracked by a pamphlet from her childhood from a nutty cult.

“The Opening The Way” continues that story, with Monica learning about the cult (which schismed into a blandish New Age convention business and a hard core of the really loony ones) and then, inevitably, joining it and getting caught up in its horrible philosophy, unpleasant people, and grungy surroundings. She gets out in the end, still not having found Penny.

And then we get “Krugg,” which is probably another story written by Monica – this late in her life? who knows – in which a painter monologues tediously as a blatant stand-in for the father Monica never knew (and who she sought in the crazy cult just before).

Last is “Doomsday,” in which an aged Monica, in what seems to be the present day or near future, explains how she did find Penny – who was old, and more than a little unhinged, and didn’t give Monica any real insight before she died – worked through her problems with a therapist over a number of years, met a nice man that she might be able to have a relationship with, and finally found her father, who was a bland old man who also couldn’t give her any real insights into herself.

Oh, yeah, and then she unleashes Armageddon in the last panel, because why not?

Um, OK.

I have to assume Clowes means that literally, and thinks that he has constructed his story to lead to that point. I didn’t believe it at all, and didn’t see even the kooky cult teachings as really leading to this particular apocalypse. (There’s a demon-figure in the cult’s mythos – if he appeared to Monica, that would be one thing. This is something entirely separate.)

My working assumption is that this is another sour Clowes story, about how all of humanity is sordid and corrupted and horrible. But I took it as a story about one woman with serious mental problems, who tells us the entire story but, in the end, can’t be relied upon at all.

I can’t recommend this at all. It’s longer than it looks, it’s full of bad writing – most of it on purpose, I hope – and doesn’t say anything new or interesting for Clowes. It’s just a confusing, kaleidoscopic wallow in his typical misanthropy, without anything new or special to redeem it.

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

The Problem of Susan and Other Stories by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, et. al.

The Problem of Susan and Other Stories by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, et. al.

I don’t know if Dark Horse is actually trying to adapt every last bit of short Neil Gaiman into comics form. He’s written a lot of stuff, and much of it wouldn’t adapt well. But it does feel like they’re trying, at least, with a long sequence of individual graphic novels and a few omnibuses stretching back more than a decade.

The grandly titled “Neil Gaiman Library” has mostly been stories that can turn into reasonable-length books. I’ve seen a bunch of them: A Study in Emerald Only the End of the World Again Chivalry ; Snow, Glass, Apples ; and Troll Bridge . But not all Gaiman stories can be fit into that length, no matter how hard Procrustes works.

So in 2019 we got The Problem of Susan and Other Stories , which includes adaptations of the title story, another short story, and two poems. Presumably, with this as a model, the rest of his oeuvre on ISFDB is now under development, and we can look forward to Nicholas Was… and Other Festive Poems Real Soon Now.

My joking aside, it’s actually good to see that someone realized that not every short story is suitable to be turned into a sixty- to eighty-page graphic novel. If you’re going to adapt things to other formats, it’s important to keep what works and is distinctive about the original.

All four pieces in Susan were adapted, scripted, and laid out by P. Craig Russell – as usual, Gaiman’s participation seems to consist entirely of signing contracts and allowing his name to be used – two of them for other artists and two of them drawn by Russell. 

Now, I say “laid out,” but the last piece here is “The Day the Saucers Came,” a quick bit of doggerel that is presented on seven splash pages, one for each stanza, so I don’t know how much credit Russell should get for that one. It was a fun little poem, and it’s a fun little story here, with art by Paul Chadwick.

The other poem is “Locks,” which has Russell art. It’s a shorter piece (four pages) but broken into regular comics panels – and not as obviously verse, actually, reading like “normal” comics. It’s also slight: most of the Gaiman poems I’ve seen have been interesting ideas turned into solid verse rather than poetry, in the lets-explicate-the-deep-meaning-here sense. (My headcanon is that Gaiman intermittently writes poems to solidify ideas, and sometimes it turns into a fuller story and sometimes the poem is it.)

The other story is “October in the Chair,” in which the personified months of the year meet and tell stories. (A very very Gaimanesque idea, clearly.) Most of it is taken up by the story October, the host this time, tells – which is a somewhat creepy one, about a “runt” of a boy who runs away from home and what he decides to do then. The art here is from Scott Hampton, I think in full paintings as he often does, and it’s moody and deep to match the story. 

And leading off is the title story, a riff on C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, in which an old academic – who we suspect, by the end, is Susan, or maybe the real-world version of her – talks to a young reporter about her life and work studying folklore and fantasy. Susan was the Pevensie who didn’t die in a train crash in The Last Battle, who didn’t get to return to Narnia at death, because she had already grown up too much and was no longer innocent. That is the problem, as both the old academic and the young journalist agree. Gaiman also has a somewhat darker view of the Lion and the Witch here, which will be unsurprising to those who have read his fairy-tale retellings like “Snow, Glass, Apples.”

So all four of the stories are interesting and done well, and they vary substantially in tone – the poems are much lighter than the stories, and “Susan” is perhaps even darker than “October,” if you accept its cosmology. There isn’t really a thread that ties all four pieces together, other than being by Gaiman – but that, I suppose, is the deal of the whole series.

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

Memoirs of a Man in Pajamas by Paco Roca

Memoirs of a Man in Pajamas by Paco Roca

So the book today is all kinds of things – source of an animated romantic comedy , compared to Seinfeld, a new 2023 collection of the work of the cartoonist behind Wrinkles  and The House . What it isn’t, though, is a single thing.

Memoirs of a Man in Pajamas  doesn’t explain itself. But it collects Paco Roca comics in three sections and has three copyright dates – 2011, 2014, 2017 – which three sections are somewhat different in style and format and concerns. And it says, here and there, that these comics originally appeared in Spanish publications, I think always weekly, at those times.

I’ll note, here, that all of the reviews I’ve seen of it focus most tightly on that first section, making me wonder if Publishers Weekly and all the rest only flipped through the back half of the book.

The strips here feature a cartoonist, happy with his life as he hits forty and most enthusiastic about the fact that he works from his home in his pajamas. He is mostly Paco Roca himself, but there are a few strips here that make it clear that Roca intends the pajama-clad cartoonist as a fictional character: this is not a diary comic, it’s not trying to be true, and he implies that he’s taken stories from friends (other cartoonists, perhaps?) and adapted them for Pajama Man.

That’s most important in the first section, too, which is entirely single-pager slice-of-life stories about the cartoonist and his life. The second and third sections see Roca shift to two-pagers (with a few longer pieces here and there, particularly to open each section) – the second is mostly slightly deeper concerns about the cartoonist’s life, shading into larger issues, and the third section shifting in the other direction, mostly Pajama Man thinking about larger societal issues with a few this-amusing-thing-in-life pieces mixed in.

What’s notable is that none of this is personal. We see Pajama Man’s girlfriend consistently, but never learn her name or job or backstory. A small child appears midway through, also without a name. We see Pajama Man traveling to give talks about comics, but – except for a couple of sly references to Wrinkles – no one talks to him about specific books, nor do we see him working on comics. He’s just at a screen that we can’t see, working long hours like any other knowledge worker – again, this isn’t a diary comic, Roca doesn’t talk about tools or art supplies or styles or anything about the creative work.

The Seinfeld comparison is apt in an unexpected way: this is a packaged, fictionalized version of a life – turned into comedy for a particular purpose. It looks real, because that’s the way to make it work best. And that – Roca has Pajama Man complain a few times here – of course makes his readers think it is real, which is good (for the work) and bad (for Pajama Man, and presumably Roca speaking through him).

Man in Pajamas is denser and longer than you might think – the strips are wordy and discursive, and the book is over two hundred pages long. It’s all amusing, and much of the back half is deeper and more thoughtful than that, as Pajama Man grapples with capitalism and Spanish history and the modern world in general. Roca’s line is detailed and illustrative, but still fairly close to ligne clair – there are a lot of small panels here, and the type can get a bit small (I read it digitally), but Roca is a fine storyteller, even when the story he’s telling is “one guy sitting around, trying not to do anything.”

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

Mickey Mouse: Zombie Coffee by Régis Loisel

Mickey Mouse: Zombie Coffee by Régis Loisel

Formats come with expectations and assumptions – not always warranted, but they’re along for the ride already.

For example: Mickey Mouse: Zombie Coffee , a bande desinée by Régis Loisel, originally published by Éditions Glénat in France in 2016 in (waves hands) some format, possibly within Le Journal du Mickey , is laid out like a newspaper comic. Four panels across, most of the time, about four times wider than tall, two strips to a page, 137 strips total.

As an American comics reader, on first glance I assumed this was a little less than half a year of dailies in some newspaper, and my thought was “who knew there was a regular Mickey Mouse strip in French newspapers?”

But I think that’s wrong. I think these appeared in that magazine, weekly – maybe one at a time, maybe two or three on a page each issue – and that the strip format is either an artistic choice or a very specific slot in that magazine that might look like an American daily, but is a different thing.

So I’m left wondering about the rhythm of this story: was it just one strip a week? That’s pretty slow for an adventure strip – though a lot of webcomics are on a similar pace, these days. It might explain why a lot of these are pretty wordy – you need to remind the reader of what’s going on. Or, to be positive, perhaps this ran in a really large space, and these strips are shrunken a bit for this book publication.

In any case: it’s a Mickey Mouse story, of the old school. The time is during the Great Depression, the place is Mouseton (presumably USA, but unspecified), and our hero and his friends are the downtrodden, pushed-around little guys of the early days rather than the fancy suburbanite or corporate icon of more recent years.

Mickey and Horace Horsecollar are looking for work, with no luck. Mr. Ruff, “the foreman” (seemingly the only way to get hired in Mouseton) keeps finding excuses not to hire them. So the two decide to run off with their girlfriends (Minnie and Clarabelle Cow) to go camping and fishing for a while, bunking with Donald Duck on a lake somewhere, because “camping is free.”

That takes up about the first quarter of the story – they return to Mouseton to find things have changed. A rich developer, Rock Fueler, is turning their neighborhood into a golf course. The potential good news is that means jobs, plus money for the houses he’s buying. But of course the capitalist is the villain, so his plans are much more nefarious than simply building something.

Fueler has employed two chemists to create massively addictive “Zomba” coffee, which he then distributed free to all of the citizens of Mouseton. The men, zombified by coffee, work almost for free, and the women and children get packed off to a new housing project on the outskirts of town. And the chemists are working on further foodstuffs, to squeeze the last few cents out of the Mousetonians.

Even Goofy, left behind, is now a coffee zombie, though Horace and Mickey do save and reform him.

And then our heroes fight back, against the nearly overwhelming forces arrayed against them. Pegleg Pete is one of Fueler’s top henchmen, as of course he must be, so he does a lot of the immediate attacking, sneaking, and other evil deeds. There are chases and fights and confrontations, and various bits of comedy along the way – for example, the chemist’s food is so seductive that noseplugs are required to resist its tantalizing aroma, so the big end scene is played out almost entirely with people speaking with those stuffed-nose voices.

I read this digitally, and I think that means I saw it somewhat smaller than the printed book – I hope so, since it’s full of detail and life and energy, and a larger format would make it a lot better. I haven’t seen Loisel’s work before, but he’s clearly great at this style, and has had a long and respected career making things that mostly haven’t been translated into English.

It’s a classic Mickey story told well for a modern audience – my understanding is that the French audience is mostly middle-graders, but there’s no reason it needs to be limited to that age.

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

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: The Interconnectedness of All Kings by Ryall, Akins, Kyriazis, & Livesay

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: The Interconnectedness of All Kings by Ryall, Akins, Kyriazis, & Livesay

I suppose the Hitchhikers‘ ground has been thoroughly salted at this point – I’ve seen the movie; you don’t need to tell me – which is why we’ve gotten two Dirk Gently TV series and these comics over the past decade. But even leaving aside how much Douglas Adams was a writer of voice to begin with, the Dirk books were fun because of the way they were told rather than the vague shaggy-dog stories they told. So doing the same sort of thing in a different medium feels like the wrong next step: the Adams estate would have been better off commissioning someone to write more Dirk novels, I think: assuming anyone could convincingly do that, which is the rub.

Anyway, there is a comics series continuing the Dirk Gently books. This first miniseries, from 2016 – probably not coincidentally the same year as the second, more successful TV show – promises there will be more, but a quick Google here in 2023 did not actually discover more. So I think this slots in just like the original novels: fun, faintly disappointing, not quite going anywhere despite apparent velocity and direction.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: The Interconnectedness of All Kings  was written by Chris Ryall, long-time comics scripter and (probably much more importantly) then the head of IDW, publisher of this series. Art is by Tony Akins (pencils on the first two of five issues), Ilias Kyriazis (rest of the pencils), and John Livesay (inks). Colors are by Leonard O’Grady. There is also an introduction by Arvind Ethan David, who produced the second TV series and says here he will be writing the second – so far nonexistent – comics series.

As the book opens, Dirk is moving – carrying basically nothing – from his native UK to San Diego, for no obvious reason. (This isn’t a problem: “for no obvious reason” is the way Dirk does everything.) Your Cynical Reviewer assumed San Diego was chosen because Ryall and IDW are headquartered there, but I’m willing to entertain alternate explanations. None are provided, let me be clear. But I’d entertain them if they were.

He soon gets caught up in multiple quirky plots: he grabs a random suitcase, which belongs to a yuppie couple who are engaging in serial-killer touristry: I mean, both being serial killers and doing it in ways that are inspired by classics of the field. There’s also a couple of ancient Egyptian men, King Ahktenhamen-adjacent, who are now in the modern world after half-explained magical shenanigans and have the traditional life-stealing curse. Someone is also giving nifty gold cellphones to the homeless of San Diego, but this is much less important to begin with. And Dirk is also casting about for a new base of operations, which of course he does by walking into a random business and claiming it.

There’s a lot of complication and goofiness, and the tone strikes me as authentic to the Dirk novels – but I have to admit it’s been decades since I read them, so my memory could be off. It’s less jokey than Hitchhiker, as I recall – light adventure rather than near-parody.

The whole thing was pleasant but didn’t feel Adams-esque, if you know what I mean. Douglas Adams had a tone and a way of constructing sentences, so I’m not sure (as I said up top) that any other medium  or writer could replicate that to begin with. And Dirk is a quirkier, more fragile thing than Hitchhiker to begin with. So this is a nice light adventure comic about a guy called “Dirk Gently” that was pleasant to read but left me a bit flat. Given no sequel has appeared in nearly a decade, I have to assume that reaction was common.

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

Macanudo: Optimism Is for the Brave by Liniers

Macanudo: Optimism Is for the Brave by Liniers

Some comic strips have ongoing stories – adventure strips are rarer these days, but long continuities still exist, here and there. Some have recurring gags, done slightly differently each time – Lucy and the football, the possibly imaginary Ernesto Lacuna, a sergeant viciously beating a private.

Those are things to grab onto, when you are, as I am now, trying to write about a new book collecting that comic strip.

Liniers’ Macanudo is a wispier, quirkier, more variable thing – it does have recurring characters (five or six sets of them, in fact), but their interactions are oddly both more and less templated. The elves always talk about the same kinds of things, ditto the penguins. Olga and Martin have imaginative adventures, usually outside. Henrietta reads books, and does other little-girl things. But what they each do is more intellectual, more about the life of the mind, and less “little Billy draws a dotted line through the neighborhood again” – it’s more patter, and less business, to put it in comedy terms.

It’s not really patter, either – I think Liniers means it. His characters are serious about their thoughts in a way that’s mostly alien to the least-common-denominator dullards of North American zombie strips, who enact the same few actions over and over again because those actions once won their original creators hundreds of syndicated papers and minor fortune.

That’s what’s interesting about Macanudo, and distinct and exciting. But it does make it difficult to find things to say about a collection of two hundred or so strips. Especially when you (well, me, in this case) said it all once already.

Macanudo: Optimism Is for the Brave  is the second collection of the strip in English [1]; the first was Welcome to Elsewhere , last year. I had a long post then, talking about the style and feeling of the strip, and cataloging all of the recurring situations I saw in that first book. There are more, I understand – the Wikipedia entry lists two dozen, so some of them may appear much less often, or were only in the earlier Spanish-language days, or have been left out of these books for other reasons.

So what I said then is still true: it’s still the same kind of strip, as you’d expect for something that has been running (counting the Spanish-language-only years, which of course you have to) since 2002.

The title of this one is appropriate: it is a strip with an optimistic tone, most of the time, a strip about the casual bravery of everyday life – the bravery of being positive and open and welcoming to the world instead of closed and hateful and destructive. All of those situations – even the witches, who tend to be more put-upon by people unhappy with their lifestyle – are in a positive, optimistic mode, about being happy and learning new things and exploring both physically and intellectually.

It’s not exactly a gag-a-day strip – each strip is a thought or a moment, and they do tend to be separate moments. But they’re not “gags,” most of the time. They are amusing, or thoughtful, rather than the “hey laugh at this!” post-vaudeville rhythms more common in the standard comic strip. That makes Macanudo a quieter, different  thing, and I wonder how well it fits on the page with the usual comics rabble.

(I only read it in book form, myself – it’s not in my local paper. I have no idea how many English-language papers it is in. Given the contractions of the industry, I’d bet fewer than it even was in a year ago.)

You probably know already if Macanudo sounds appealing to you. If it does, you will enjoy it. If it sounds fussy or overly precious to your ear…you might still like it; it’s simpler and more grounded than I might be making it sound. But it is different, it is a strip about thinking rather than bonking people on the head. I like that; I hope you will, too.

[1] There’s an asterisk if you both read Spanish and have access to the book markets of Argentina, where a dozen previous collections were published.

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

I Must Be Dreaming by Roz Chast

I Must Be Dreaming by Roz Chast

Don’t tell anyone, but I think this is a stealth reprint collection. If it were in prose, I might even go so far as to call it a fix-up.

Roz Chast is one of the giants of contemporary cartooning, a New Yorker mainstay since the late ’70s and the author of the major memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?  about a decade ago, plus a number of other books, both reprints and original. All of her work is fun and quirky and specific, coming out of a relatable New York sensibility – so I’m purely talking categorization here, not making a value judgement.

I Must Be Dreaming  was her new book for 2023, billed as a “new graphic narrative, exploring the surreal nighttime world insider her mind.” Which is true, as far as it goes: the narrative is clearly new. But I think a lot of the pages here, probably a majority of them, already existed. I think this is a themed reprint collection lightly cosplaying as an original graphic novel.

The alternative, though, is that all of the things that look like individual cartoons here – mostly retelling specific dreams – were all new work, that Chast dug through her dream notebook and did all of this work in one rush as a book. That’s possible, but it feels like a compendium of several decades of dreams – that she pulled published cartoons and sketches and ideas from the body of her work, maybe with a tropism for things that hadn’t been in a book yet, to cover this material.

Because creators don’t just suddenly have a completely different idea that they’ve been working on for years, and Chast has been thinking and cartooning about her dreams for a long time now.

Either way, Dreaming starts out with what is clearly new material, in Chast’s GN-esque style – hand-drawn type in paragraphs around individual illustrations – as she explains what she finds interesting about dreams, and how she’s captured hers – then dives into compendia of different types of dreams, mostly drawn as single-page cartoons – and then has a somewhat historical/overview section, again in that more discursive GN style, to close.

Everyone’s dreams are weird and random, I think – some in an interesting way, and some in a tedious way. Chast is clear that she’s curating dreams here: illustrating the most distinctive or visual or bizarre ones, and avoiding the dull ones. (Anyone else had the “trying to walk somewhere in the rain, and your legs don’t work right?” Unpleasant to experience, boring to explain.)

It’s a Roz Chast book, so it’s full of her sensibility and viewpoint – though maybe more so, because of dream logic. I liked it a lot, again because it’s Roz Chast. In sum, unless you are one of those weirdoes who can’t stand Chast, this book will make you laugh and enjoy life just a bit more during the time you read it.

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