Archaia – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/07/23/cow-boy-a-boy-and-his-horse/ Mon, 23 Jul 2012 13:00:14 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2353 Written by Nate CosbyArt by Chris EliopoulosAdditional stories by Roger Langridge, Brian Clevenger, Scott Wegener, Mitch Gerads, Colleen Coover, and Mike Maihack96 pages, colorPublished by Archaia

There are books that sneak up on you, and I’d put Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse in that category. On its surface it looks like a cute [...]]]> Written by Nate Cosby
Art by Chris Eliopoulos
Additional stories by Roger Langridge, Brian Clevenger, Scott Wegener, Mitch Gerads, Colleen Coover, and Mike Maihack
96 pages, color
Published by Archaia

There are books that sneak up on you, and I’d put Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse in that category. On its surface it looks like a cute kid’s book, with a 10-year old boy dressed up like a cowboy holding what looks like a toy gun. I challenge you to read this book, though, and not find yourself utterly captivated. Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos have created a graphic novel that slowly but surely pulls you in, turning what at first appears to be a one-note joke into a deeply-affecting story about the bonds of family.

Coy Boy: A Boy and His Horse gives us Boyd Linney, a young boy who’s hunting down a series of criminals and turning them in for their bounty. At first, the gimmick seems simple: Boyd’s just 10 years old and his shotgun looks like a hobby horse. As he gruff-talks his way through the first town holding one of his targets, you find yourself chuckling along with Cosby’s script. Boyd talks like someone four times his age, with a gruff attitude and a no-holds-barred drive. Then you meet the first of the criminals that Boyd’s chasing after and the book takes a sudden turn to something holding a bit more drama than it initially seemed.

Cosby’s story for Cow Boy is one that gets progressively sadder despite the humor that surrounds individual moments within the script. (This is, after all, a comic where Boyd is able to sneak into a saloon keeper’s office by climbing inside a woman’s bustle.) As the initial reveal shows us, we’re reading a book about a situation so bad that a young boy has to hunt down and bring to justice his entire family. With each family member captured and hauled in, it becomes increasingly clear that Boyd is completely alone in the world, even though he’s just a kid who has a living family. Still, it’s hard not to laugh when, upon being asked if he’s going to cause a ruckus, little Boyd replies, "I do not. But the byproduct of my intentions could well lead to ruckus." He’s adorably cute even as he spits out lines that John Wayne would be proud of.

That cuteness is no small part thanks to Eliopoulos, whose art is probably best known from the all-ages Franklin Richards comics that Marvel used to publish. It’s a clean, jaunty style; little pools of black ink for eyes, a pert nose, small round mouth. Watching Boyd’s short stature struggling to clamber up onto a rocking chair is the sort of moment where you know that Eliopoulos is the right man for this job. Boyd is disarmingly cute, but he’s also immensely dangerous thanks to Eliopoulos. Don’t let that cuteness distract you, though; there’s also a lot of great storytelling. He knows when to focus on his main character, when to switch the viewpoint to a specific action (like a tight close-up on his hands loading shotgun shells while continuing to talk), and when to go for something entirely differently. It’s a good control of the visual look of the book, and I appreciate that Eliopoulos doesn’t use "all ages book" as an excuse for any short cuts.

There are four additional short stories included in Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse by some strong creators (Roger Langridge, Brian Clevenger, Scott Wegener, Mitch Gerads, Colleen Coover, and Mike Maihack) and while I enjoyed all of them, I must admit that I’d have actually been happier without them. I adore new comics by people like Langridge or Coover, so to have me getting antsy between each chapter as we would temporarily cut away to a new two- or three-page story, that says a lot about how good a job that Cosby and Eliopoulos performed here. Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse is one of my favorite comics of the year so far, easily. Highly recommended, and then some. I’m already on board for the sequel, whenever that might be.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Dare Detectives: The Snow-Pea Plot http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/06/27/dare-detectives-the-snow-pea-plot/ Wed, 27 Jun 2012 13:00:55 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2323 By Ben Caldwell208 pages, colorPublished by Archaia

Sometimes we do get a second chance. Take, for example, Ben Caldwell’s The Dare Detectives: The Snow-Pea Plot. My only previous exposure to Caldwell was his Wonder Woman strip in Wednesday Comics, which never quite clicked for me. And somehow, I’d entirely missed the original two-part publication of [...]]]> By Ben Caldwell
208 pages, color
Published by Archaia

Sometimes we do get a second chance. Take, for example, Ben Caldwell’s The Dare Detectives: The Snow-Pea Plot. My only previous exposure to Caldwell was his Wonder Woman strip in Wednesday Comics, which never quite clicked for me. And somehow, I’d entirely missed the original two-part publication of The Dare Detectives by Dark Horse quite a few years ago. But inevitably, what’s old is new again, and with Archaia collecting both installments into an attractive hardcover, this seemed to be as good a chance to check out Caldwell’s comics. What I found was an interesting mix of comics and animation sensibilities.

Caldwell’s basic thrust for The Dare Detectives is simple enough; three detectives (Maria and Toby Dare, plus a rabbit named Jojo) in a world that’s a mixture of pulp adventure, fantastical, and just plain odd. It’s taking a lot of familiar elements and smashing them together; the end result is a format that’s familiar (in part or in its entirety) to just about everyone. It lets Caldwell start with a big action sequence right out of the gate as a result; aside from a quick bottom-of-panel introduction of our three protagonists ("Maria: The Brains. Toby: The Muscle. Jojo: The Jerk.") there’s no slow exposition or lengthy explanation provided, just a hit-the-ground-running level of excitement.

When the book finally slows down, Caldwell does let the reader get their bearings, although even then he does so in a cheeky manner. When Maria complains that they have no money and will have to shut down the detective agency, Toby and Jojo (in a wink to the reader) note that every time she says that, some sort of case promptly shows up and drags them into a new adventure. And with that knowing moment of how these sorts of stories work, Caldwell does just that in a strange theft/kidnapping story involving snow peas and their Uncle Chan (landlord and Chinese food chef extraordinaire) that keeps the book hopping for almost 200 pages. The basic plot is a bit meandering in spots, and there are times when I get the feeling that some of the villains (Mme. Blue and Furious George in particular) are better fleshed-out in Caldwell’s head than what we get on the page, but it’s an entertaining and fast-paced story, and all in all it’s certainly fun.

Caldwell’s art is attractive, and most of the time I love it. Caldwell has a background in animation and it shows here; character designs are big and blocky and just begging to shift from still to live images. Nine times out of ten, I think it’s a big success. Having a clean art style means that it’s easy for all ages to follow, and that it works well with these slightly smaller dimensions. Caldwell gives his characters some wonderfully expressive faces too; I love Toby’s innocent smiles when Maria gives him something to do that isn’t terribly serious ("You and your bright orange sweater can stay here and hide the bikes!" "Oh boy! … If I was a bike, where would I want to hide?"), and Maria manages to come across as cross without being mean, no small feat. Every once in a while, though, I feel like there’s a panel or two missing between images, that transitions aren’t entirely clear. It’s just often enough that I started to notice that it was happening, but considering that this was originally produced six or seven years ago, I’m more than willing to chalk it up to a relative newness at the time to the art form.

The Dare Detectives: The Snow-Pea Plot is cute and fun; if I had a teenage niece or nephew, I know they’d be getting a copy for their birthday, absolutely. I think what got me the most by the time I was done is that Caldwell clearly has dozens if not hundreds of additional stories in mind for these characters; he provides us with lots of mock covers for stories that have yet to have been told, and even just reading the story in this volume you keep getting the feeling that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully a second volume will be showing up before too long; I’d like to see just what Caldwell has up his sleeve now. In the case of The Dare Detectives, I’m glad to have received a second chance.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Judge Bao & The Jade Phoenix http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/06/01/judge-bao-the-jade-phoenix/ Fri, 01 Jun 2012 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2285 Written by Patrick MartyArt by Chongrui Nie160 pages, black and whitePublished by Archaia

While I’d never read any of the historical Judge Bao stories before, while in high school we did read some other retellings of classic Chinese "judge" stories. In most of them, a traveling Judge would enter a town, discover a great wrong, [...]]]> Written by Patrick Marty
Art by Chongrui Nie
160 pages, black and white
Published by Archaia

While I’d never read any of the historical Judge Bao stories before, while in high school we did read some other retellings of classic Chinese "judge" stories. In most of them, a traveling Judge would enter a town, discover a great wrong, and together with his assistants find the corruption inherent in the town’s government and right all the wrongs. That’s what we have here with Judge Bao & The Jade Phoenix, the first in a series of Judge Bao graphic novels originally published in France that take a classic Chinese character and create graphic novels around him. And all in all, it’s something not quite like anything else in the North American comics market right now.

It’s hard to talk about Judge Bao & The Jade Phoenix without first mentioning the great publication design on display. Published as a small, landscape oriented book, it’s instantly attractive. With a high quality cover, excellent graphical reproduction, and a nice overall look (with the red stripe running around the book depicting characters from the story within), the book practically jumps out at you. It also means high expectations for the reader when they open it up, to see if the insides match the outside.

Chongrui Nie’s art is both the strong and the weak point of Judge Bao & The Jade Phoenix. It’s certainly intriguing at even a small glance; highly detailed and textured character designs, with faces that look almost like they’ve come directly out of photographs. Some panels have beautiful backgrounds, while other ones are curiously blank. Everyone here actually looks like they’re Chinese, too; Nie has done his research, in both physical types as well as period costume. The one problem with the art, though, is that some panels feel unbelievably posed and stiff. I get the impression that Nie might have used models for Judge Bao & The Jade Phoenix, and if so it certainly shows. There are mock expressions of fear and panic that feel like someone crouching in a position and making a face, rather than displaying honest emotion. It’s tough, because some pages look great, other ones show this limitation. I know there are already three more Judge Bao graphic novels in France, so I’m hoping that with time, Nie’s able to stick to his strengths and shed his weaknesses.

Patrick Marty’s script is exactly in line with what I was expecting from the story. I don’t know if these are based off of actual Judge Bao stories or if Marty is merely taking the character and running with him, but while it could quite easily be the latter I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be the former. Judge Bao and his companions are just being introduced to us here, and while they’ve all got light dustings of stereotype, they’re not a bad bunch. I was a little surprised at the utter lack of introduction to the characters or their situations (there’s a prose introduction that explains who Judge Bao was, his role in Chinese society, and who his companions were), but once the book gets rolling Marty gives us enough that we need to keep reading.

Judge Bao & The Jade Phoenix is a quick read, but it’s entertaining. While I found Nie’s art to be variable, I still can’t stop flipping through the book and examining it over and over. This really doesn’t look like anything else on the market right now, and even this particular type of writing—a slow, rhythmic pace that builds piece by piece until Judge Bao can bring an end to the corruption—feels like an outlier. Will I read the promised Judge Bao & The King of Children? Absolutely. The book might not be perfect, but it’s interesting and different enough that I’d like to see more, if only to see what Marty and Nie do in the volumes to come. Judge Bao & The Jade Phoenix is an attractive, interesting book that makes me glad to see publishers and creators taking chances with the comics medium.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Genetiks™ Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/05/21/genetiks-vol-1/ Mon, 21 May 2012 13:00:06 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2279 Story and layouts by Richard MarazanoArt by Jean-Michel Ponzio104 pages, colorPublished by Archaia

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a graphic novel written by Richard Marazano—I think the only other one of his comics to be translated into English was Dusk back in 2000—and I’d not heard of Jean-Michel Ponzio at all. Genetiks™ [...]]]> Story and layouts by Richard Marazano
Art by Jean-Michel Ponzio
104 pages, color
Published by Archaia

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a graphic novel written by Richard Marazano—I think the only other one of his comics to be translated into English was Dusk back in 2000—and I’d not heard of Jean-Michel Ponzio at all. Genetiks™ Vol. 1 was an impulse read, the sort of book that literally caught my eye thanks to its dynamic cover layout. What I found was a graphic novel with some slight rough edges, but overall something that was worth my time.

Genetiks™ is one of those books that starts off relatively simple and then slowly expands its reach. We open by meeting Thomas Hale, a genetic scientist working on man/bee hybrids called chimeras, and looking after his wheelchair-bound father. Thomas is in many ways the stereotypical privileged protagonist; successful and arrogant, and clearly heading for a massive fall. That fall happens rather quickly, with Genetiks proving to be a big, evil corporation with such speed you’ll get whiplash, and Thomas ending up in a rather bad situation where he’s asked to sign over his life to the company. And all the while, if that’s not bad enough, he’s having strange visions interspersed with reality.

In many ways it’s that basic set-up that defines the entire first volume of Genetiks™. It’s a mixture of stereotypes so broad that it’ll make you groan, and genuinely interesting material that at times seems to get the short shrift. (Interestingly enough, digging up an old review I wrote about Dusk Vol. 1, the same problems existed with Marazano’s script for that book too.) I wanted to see a lot more about the chimeras and the strange visions, but the book keeps sidelining into extended scenes with Thomas being locked out of the company network, arguing with his father, and inadvertently offending the beautiful art student that also happens to be his best help in rebelling against Genetiks. So much of Genetiks™ is villains-by-the-numbers (and Thomas has only just begun his climb towards redemption), and occasionally there are bits that don’t seem to quite make sense (like how Genetiks claims ownership of Thomas). Every time we angle towards the larger plot, though, Genetiks™ would pull me back into the flow and make me want to learn more about the central mystery and Project Anqã.

In some ways, the problems with the writing of Genetiks™ mirror those with Ponzio’s art. There are moments that Genetiks™ looks beautiful and energetic, with carefully drawn characters with just the right touch on the inks to look realistic without fake. Then you’ll turn the page and the characters are stiff and obviously posed. Thomas’s face is expressive one moment, and looks dead the next. It’s frustrating, because like Marazano’s story, I ultimately liked Ponzio’s art but I wanted to love it. I’m not sure if the problem has to do with Marazano providing the layouts for Ponzio or if that was ultimately an assist, but either way Genetiks™ looks like a book on the verge of being even better than it actually manages.

Genetiks™ Vol. 1 is a book where it’s strong enough that I’ll read the second volume, but hasn’t quite lived up to its promise. I’m glad I read Genetiks™ Vol. 1, and I want to see where the story is going, but Marazano and Ponzio are at times teasing but not delivering the level of quality they seem capable of. Still, the book does get better as it progresses, and if that rate of improvement continues into Vol. 2, it’s going to knock everyone’s socks off. Definitely worth a look.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Tale of Sand http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/01/27/tale-of-sand/ Fri, 27 Jan 2012 14:00:49 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2011 Original screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry JuhlAdaptation and art by Ramon K. PerezAdditional inks by Terry Pallot, Andy Belanger, Nick Craine, Walden Wong, and Cameron Stewart144 pages, colorPublished by Archaia

Archaia’s been publishing some comics based off of some of the smaller Jim Henson properties in recent years; books like The Dark Crystal and [...]]]> Original screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl
Adaptation and art by Ramon K. Perez
Additional inks by Terry Pallot, Andy Belanger, Nick Craine, Walden Wong, and Cameron Stewart
144 pages, color
Published by Archaia

Archaia’s been publishing some comics based off of some of the smaller Jim Henson properties in recent years; books like The Dark Crystal and Fraggle Rock come to mind. But perhaps the most interesting one to date isn’t a prequel or sequel to a Henson creation, but rather an adaptation of one that was never made. Henson and Jerry Juhl had written a screenplay titled Tale of Sand early in their careers which was never made, one that artist Ramon K. Perez has adapted into a graphic novel. And the end result? It’ll probably make you wish someone had filmed this script.

It’s hard to describe the story of Tale of Sand beyond the absolute basics. A man comes to a small town, his presence is suddenly celebrated, and then he’s given a map and a bag and told he’s got a ten minute head start. Also, not to trust the map. From there, his life transforms into a desperate chase across the desert, both from a group of people trying to hunt him down as well as a mysterious man with an eye patch who keeps turning up when least expected.

So much of Henson and Juhl’s Tale of Sand switches between thrilling and surreal; it initially feels like a normal chase story, but quickly changes tactics when a limo that pulls up has a lion step out and attack. It’s at that point where you begin to realize that anything and everything can happen in Tale of Sand, and the story transforms into a dizzying spiral of unpredictability. An outhouse that contains a massive fine dining hall. A swimming pool with a man-eating shark. A gramophone playing sound-effects records that change reality. And throughout it all, the man with the eye patch forever dogging our hero’s heels.

In lesser hands I think Tale of Sand could have been a disaster. Why should you care about this nameless man’s plight as he struggles to reach Eagle Mountain and its purported safety? Why aren’t we cheering on the man with the eye patch? I think it helps in part that Henson and Juhl kept the story moving at such a brisk pace that you don’t get a chance to truly stop and think. Instead it’s a scramble to make it forward, to survive the latest moment of oddity. With small running through-lines like the eye patch man, or the hero’s inability to ever get his cigarette lit, there’s an overall narrative just strong enough that this doesn’t feel like a random set of unconnected events.

That said, the heavy lifting in Tale of Sand is by Perez, whose art is a revelation to me. He’s had some comic credits to his name before this, but I can’t help but feel like this is going to make his comic career skyrocket. His art is beautiful, able to handle both the most normal and the craziest parts of the script with equal aplomb. He’s good at tight focused panels, zooming in tightly on specific moments and ideas to bring the story to life, and doing so with life and vibrancy in his characters. His montage scenes are just as great; a sequence of panels (or sometimes with no panel borders at all) which guide the reader through the sequence to give a number of images and ideas that form a greater whole. His sense of motion—critical for a book about a chase—is exquisite. From the hero’s initial run across the desert floor, to getting attacked by and punching a shark, I feel like every moment has come to life just as strongly as it would have, if Tale of Sand had been made into a movie.

Henson and Juhl came up with a great script for Tale of Sand, but it’s Perez’s art which makes this graphic novel sing. Beautifully drawn and dreamlike, it makes its story structure work in a way that draws the reader in; in a lesser hand I think it would have frustrated rather than captured its audience. If you haven’t already, do check this book out. And when you’re done, I suspect you’ll want to read it again. From its everything-seems-normal to its dizzying conclusion, it’s hard to put Tale of Sand down.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Dark Crystal: Creation Myths Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/01/13/dark-crystal-creation-myths-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/01/13/dark-crystal-creation-myths-vol-1/#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2012 14:00:31 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1980 Written by Brian Holguin and Barbara Randall KeselArt by Alex Sheikman and Lizzy JohnConcept by Brian Froud96 pages, colorPublished by Archaia

As a kid, I didn’t like the film of The Dark Crystal. The problem I had with the film was simple; I’d read A.C.H. Smith’s novelization first. I remember reading it over and over [...]]]> Written by Brian Holguin and Barbara Randall Kesel
Art by Alex Sheikman and Lizzy John
Concept by Brian Froud
96 pages, color
Published by Archaia

As a kid, I didn’t like the film of The Dark Crystal. The problem I had with the film was simple; I’d read A.C.H. Smith’s novelization first. I remember reading it over and over again back in 1982, fascinated by the world of Thra’s mythology and grand ideas that came to life in the book. By the time I finally saw the film a few months later, it felt curiously empty in comparison. So many of the big ideas that I’d gotten from Smith’s book were muted in the film, and it just didn’t live up to what I’d wanted from it. It’s somewhat apt, then, to find that Archaia’s new The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths manages to scratch that same itch that Smith’s novelization did back in the day, filling me once more with that sense of awe and wonder.

Brian Holguin tells the story of the world of Thra from the beginning; the forming of the planet around the Crystal, and the creation of Aughra, the great scholar of the world. As The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths follows Aughra, we see the beginnings of the Gelfling race, the first Great Conjunction that brings the UrSkeks to Thra… and Aughra’s son Raunip. It’s Raunip that becomes a much more central character as The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths progresses; if Aughra is the mother goddess figure that watches over Thra, then Raunip is the trickster figure that will bring discord.

For devotees of The Dark Crystal, Raunip is a character that will sneak up on those readers. It’s easy to get distracted by the big events of The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths; the thousand years between the UrSkeks’s arrival and their eventual sundering into the urRu and the Skeksis is only hinted at in the original film, so this is the first chance to see more than glimpse given at the film’s ending of what the UrSkeks are like. But while they will ultimately be the ones that break the Crystal, it’s hard to keep from feeling like Raunip, with his jealousy and scheming, is the one providing the serpent’s whisper into the UrSkeks’s ears. And, as the one major character who is brand-new and not in the film at all, his fate is unknown. It makes sense for Holguin to focus on Raunip, because we don’t know just yet how his story will end. Additionally, we’ve got some mystery surrounding Raunip as well—the identity of his father—and it’s more than enough to keep reader interest strong. Barbara Randall Kesel provides some text pieces in-between each chapter, various poems and fables of Thra that add to the overall feel and mythology of Thra, and they set the mood quite well here. They could have easily been a throwaway, but instead they’re just a larger piece of the puzzle.

Alex Sheikman and Lizzy John are the artists for The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths and they’re a good choice, keeping in the style of creator Brian Froud but still having their own look. They bring a softness to the world of the Dark Crystal, with the birth of Aughra looking gentle and gorgeous as she arrives from within the planet itself. Sheikman and John do a strong job with bringing the Gelflings to life as well, making them look (as with Aughra) recognizable from the film but without looking like tracings from movie stills. Raunip’s awkward character design is good too; he has just enough resemblance to Aughra that you can see he’s her son, but at the same time he looks different from everyone else on Thra to make him an outsider from day one. Overall, there’s a gentleness to The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths; even moments like Aughra’s eye getting burnt out during the first Great Conjunction (as mentioned in the original film) manage to keep from being gruesome. It’s not glossed over, but they don’t make it disgusting, and if anything it manages to still be an all-ages-friendly moment.

The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths Vol. 1 tickles that same fancy that the novelization of the film did almost 30 years ago. It’s more than just a prequel to the film, it’s a story that feels alive and rich with detail. That’s not an easy feat for a tie-in comic to a film, but The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths makes excellence look easy. I’ll definitely be back for volume 2; a job well done by all involved.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/01/13/dark-crystal-creation-myths-vol-1/feed/ 3
Rust: Visitor in the Field http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/12/30/rust-visitor-in-the-field/ Fri, 30 Dec 2011 14:00:26 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1967 By Royden Lepp192 pages, two-colorPublished by Archaia

One of the things I like about comics these days is that the idea of launching a series of graphic novels isn’t as outlandish as it was a decade ago. Normally you’d have to go for the 32-page comic serialization route, even if the story didn’t necessarily fit [...]]]> By Royden Lepp
192 pages, two-color
Published by Archaia

One of the things I like about comics these days is that the idea of launching a series of graphic novels isn’t as outlandish as it was a decade ago. Normally you’d have to go for the 32-page comic serialization route, even if the story didn’t necessarily fit that structure. Royden Lepp’s Rust: Visitor in the Field is a prime example of a book that wouldn’t have worked quite so well as a series of single comics. A lot of the book’s power is its slow build and spooling out its future history to the reader; at 192 pages, it’s just the right length for an opening installment.

Lepp’s Rust: Visitor in the Field opens with a sequence set almost half a century before the book’s main setting, as war rages with a mixture of humans and robots through a mixture of forests and World War I’s trenches. From there, though, the book moves to a calmer location; Roman Taylor’s farm, as he recalls the day that a jetpack wearing boy named Jet Jones crashes into his barn, pursued by a massive robot. Not only does that opening flashback serve an important purpose much later in the book, but right off the bat the contrast between the war zone and the farm is hard to mistake. It makes the sudden arrival of Jet Jones and the massive robot a jarring moment, and unlike the flashback to the war, it’s instantly clear that neither of them belong there. It’s a emotional hook that Lepp uses well to draw us into the story, and keep our interest once the memory of Jet’s arrival is over.

Rust: Visitor in the Field is clearly the first in a series; there’s no definitive end point offered up here, but at the same time I still found it satisfying enough even without anything being truly wrapped up. We are given information about Jet (although older readers will have figured it out on their own, as well as savvy younger ones) that serves as a good end point for the volume, and Roman himself comes to a good turning point. It’s a lot of setup, though, and it’s much to Lepp’s credit that it’s engrossing setup. It helps that the world that Lepp has built is so rich; you get an almost instant understanding of its people and history as Lepp guides us through recent events, and it’s because of the larger page count as a graphic novel that Lepp has the room to do so.

Lepp’s art is attractive, with big heads and bushy eyebrows alongside clanky mechanical creations that run on springs and gears as much as their mysterious power cells. It’s a wonderful mix of aesthetics, from steampunk to old war stories to classic science-fiction; gas masks and automatons, marching side-by-side. The two-color look of the book helps the overall feel of the book work; its sepia-tone atmosphere makes it feel almost washed out at times, an old film strip that has just been re-discovered. In many ways, I feel like this is what the animators on computer games like Professor Layton would create if they moved into comics; it’s a beautiful end product.

Rust: Visitor in the Field isn’t Lepp’s first comic, but it is certainly his highest-profile one by a long shot. It’s a great debut for his new series; the characters are enchanting and the overall look and feel of the world will draw you in and make you want more. Fortunately for all of us, the sequel (Rust: Secrets of the Cell) is already in the works and tentatively scheduled for 2012. Even before I read the preview pages included here, I knew that I would definitely be on board for more. This is good stuff, there’s no doubt about it.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
The Sigh http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/12/14/the-sigh/ Wed, 14 Dec 2011 21:00:07 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1947 By Marjane Satrapi56 pages, colorPublished by Archaia

It would be a reasonable assumption to feel that Marjane Satrapi’s new book, The Sigh, is a comic. After all, she’s best known for her comic Persepolis (which was created into an excellent animated film), and has continued to work in that medium since then. The Sigh is [...]]]> By Marjane Satrapi
56 pages, color
Published by Archaia

It would be a reasonable assumption to feel that Marjane Satrapi’s new book, The Sigh, is a comic. After all, she’s best known for her comic Persepolis (which was created into an excellent animated film), and has continued to work in that medium since then. The Sigh is an illustrated story book, though, showcasing her drawings but pairing it with prose instead of panels and sequential art storytelling. It’s a charming book, though, one that mixes elements from several different familiar fairy tales and turns them into a greater whole. The Sigh borrows the most from Beauty and the Beast, with the merchant promising to bring back presents for his daughter, and the mysterious castle with the secretive person inside. Almost immediately things change, though; Satrapi gives Rose (the Belle stand-in) an interest in botany as part of her request for a gift, and one gets the impression that this is going to be a smarter and slightly more daring take on the story.

As the book progresses, Satrapi throws in several curveballs that will no doubt surprise readers. In particular, there’s a casual attitude to slavery that might throw Western audiences for a loop, even as subtly reminds them that this is a book born not only out of fairy tales that we grew up with, but ones that Satrapi did as well. The Sigh becomes episodic in nature for the second half, but it’s to Satrapi’s credit that she also keeps it from going on for too long; by the time you see the pattern forming, she’s cut it off at the knees and moved on to the conclusion. Readers might be a little disappointed to not get a full graphic novel from Satrapi, but her art is still soft and charming—at times it looks almost like it was (expertly) drawn in crayons, which helps the fairy tale nature of the book—and in the end it’s satisfying in its own right. Satrapi takes the familiar and makes it just unfamiliar enough that it will have your attention from start to finish.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
An Elegy for Amelia Johnson http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/05/18/an-elegy-for-amelia-johnson/ Wed, 18 May 2011 13:00:33 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1779 Written by Andrew RostanArt by Dave Valeza and Kate Kasenow120 pages, black and whitePublished by Archaia

It’s hard, sometimes, to not feel a tiny bit cynical about a graphic novel, in a time where so many are secretly (or not-so-secretly) doubling as movie pitches. In the case of An Elegy for Amelia Johnson, writer Andrew [...]]]> Written by Andrew Rostan
Art by Dave Valeza and Kate Kasenow
120 pages, black and white
Published by Archaia

It’s hard, sometimes, to not feel a tiny bit cynical about a graphic novel, in a time where so many are secretly (or not-so-secretly) doubling as movie pitches. In the case of An Elegy for Amelia Johnson, writer Andrew Rostan confuses the issue a bit, giving that feel perhaps because so much of the book is about making a movie. It is apt to feel that way, though, because just like many a movie, An Elegy for Amelia Johnson is the sort of book that is all right on your first exposure, but just falls apart the more you look at it.

The basic plot is fairly simple; Amelia Johnson, on her deathbed, asks two friends to deliver a series of messages in the forms of videos to some important people in her life before she dies. As Henry (an Oscar-winning filmmaker) and Jillian (a writer) begin their trip, they turn the experience into a documentary shoot about Amelia’s life, but of course nothing goes quite as planned. A lot of An Elegy for Amelia Johnson feels awfully familiar; the pair of friends brought together to work together that start sensing something more, the unspooling of a larger story by a series of interviews and flashbacks.

Reading the book, it was hard to shake the feeling that Amelia Johnson herself is a slightly manipulative person (to put it mildly), and as the book progresses down a predictable path, it was the idea that Amelia herself isn’t necessarily the best person out there that kept me going. It’s around there that I began to realize that An Elegy for Amelia Johnson probably wouldn’t work for me as anything but a print book, because an actor could just as easily soften the role. In a print medium, a lot of those acting cues are gone, letting the reader have a bit more leeway on how they’d like the story to be read.

Of course, while Rostan probably left some of the ambiguity about Amelia in the book deliberately, it feels like he was leaning towards a happier reading of the book and the titular character. The one character to speak negatively of Amelia (her brother) is the exception to the otherwise glowing praise, and there’s some insinuation that even he forgives her in the end. And of course, as signposted from the beginning, it’s a romantic journey for the two leads who end up together in the end, clearly one final "gift" from Amelia. It’s still a little hard to buy their getting together in the end, despite the intention of the book from day one, though. They’ve got a remarkable lack of chemistry together (even on the printed page) and they’re both such clichés at being so uber-talented that they’re a little unbelievable as characters in general. The more you look at them, the less you ultimately like them. Then again, it’s hard in general to feel sympathy for characters like an Oscar-winning director who gets in trouble from his studio by going off and recording an unremarkable documentary without talking with them about it first. It’s a bad combination of unbelievably talented and unbelievably naïve.

The saving grace of An Elegy for Amelia Johnson is, easily, the art. Dave Valeza and Kate Kasenow’s exact collaboration isn’t explained (although it sounds like Valeza provided breakdowns and/or pencils, while Kasenow finished/inked the art), but whatever it is, I like it. It reminds me of artists like J. Bone, with loose, open faces and figures. From Henry’s little black dots for eyes, to the rims on William Johnson’s glasses, every character is carefully drawn in a way that provides something to catch the reader’s eye and make them remember the character. Generally speaking, it’s a book of attractive, clean-cut characters, and they all look good together.

I wanted to like An Elegy for Amelia Johnson much more than I did. The first read through, it was all right if immensely predictable, but ultimately the slightly saccharine tone coupled with some uninteresting main characters (and a manipulative person that is supposed to be great) makes it a book you probably shouldn’t revisit. Like many a similar type of movie, it’s fine until you stop and think about it.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>
Return of the Dapper Men http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/01/19/return-of-the-dapper-men/ Wed, 19 Jan 2011 07:00:45 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1618 Written by Jim McCannArt by Janet Lee128 pages, colorPublished by Archaia Comics

There’s a certain rhythm and storytelling style to children’s books that I’ve always appreciated; that exploration of the mythic and the feeling that you’re getting a story that will stand the test of time, even if it’s brand new. It’s a feel I [...]]]> Written by Jim McCann
Art by Janet Lee
128 pages, color
Published by Archaia Comics

There’s a certain rhythm and storytelling style to children’s books that I’ve always appreciated; that exploration of the mythic and the feeling that you’re getting a story that will stand the test of time, even if it’s brand new. It’s a feel I kept getting when reading Jim McCann and Janet Lee’s Return of the Dapper Men, with its clockwork people and city where time has stopped. What struck me the most after finishing this book was that McCann and Lee have created a book where style has slightly won out over substance, but that as a reader you’ll be just fine with that.

In terms of basic structure, Return of the Dapper Men is almost a fable about growing up and moving forward, with the city of Anorev where the clocks have stopped and no one ever changes or is curious, save for our two heroes. With the robots living on the surface and the children underneath, it’s a classic setup courtesy McCann. You get the impressive that McCann’s had Return of the Dapper Men mapped out in his head for years, now, and it’s a place that we’re just now getting to visit. But in his telling the story, I couldn’t help but find it interesting that the sections of the book told in a comic book style versus those told as a children’s book felt almost like two entirely different writers had tackled the book.

The sections with dialogue and word balloons are the ones that didn’t quite click for me. It’s not that it’s bad, but rather it feels slightly rushed and very ordinary. There’s a lot of talking back and forth that feels like it’s going nowhere, that in some ways these portions of the book exist because it’s from a comic book publisher and that’s what you expect. It’s very average, and with the exception of the one Dapper Man, none of the characters seem to have their own voice.

It’s the parts with narration that ultimately enchanted and sold the writing of Return of the Dapper Men. It feels lyrical and timeless, almost like it’s a story you heard so many years ago that you can’t remember it on your own, but each sentence brings back those snatches of emotion and idea tangled up in the book. I also think it’s in these sections that the real heavy lifting takes place; not only does the plot move forward, but it fully comes to life and draws you in. When we first hear about how time stops, McCann writes, "Until one day, there was no tock. With no tock, there could be no tick. And all that was left was No." It’s a beautiful string of wordplay, and it’s hard to not feel enchanted with every sentence along those lines. Return of the Dapper Men unfolds when McCann switches over to narration, and at the end of the day it makes the writing of the book a winner.

The art in Return of the Dapper Men, on the other hand, is great from start to finish. I love Janet Lee’s art style, with complex gears one moment and stripped down Dapper Men the next. Her character work is made for this sort of story; every little metallic feather on a robotic bird is carefully crafted, and beautiful doors and wallpaper are constructed to make the buildings as much a part of the story as the characters. And some of the moments are breathtaking, be it an homage to Magritte’s Golconda to a visit to the gearworks; they’re always visually stunning. Lee also kicks the visuals up a notch when it comes to the backgrounds. Using decoupage, she cuts her finished art up so that it can get pasted onto painted boards and papers that serve as the background, and the result is stunning with washes of blues and greens drifting behind the characters. It’s an effect that wouldn’t be quite the same if created on computer, and the extra time spent (there’s an essay in the back of the book explaining the step-by-step process for those interested) is well worth it.

When it’s all said and done, Return of the Dapper Men was a joy to read. There’s something about the way that McCann and Lee tell their story that will charm you; it’s a bit light on plot in places, but ultimately that doesn’t matter. It’s just fun to read from start to finish, and the page advertising the upcoming Time of the Dapper Men is reason to cheer. It’s easy to see why Return of the Dapper Men is one of the hits of the season—this is a book that has heart and invites you to share. Be it more Dapper Men books or something entirely different, if McCann and Lee are collaborating on a project, I’ll buy it with no questions asked.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

]]>