Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1767- Li Kunwu and P. Otie: A Chinese Life

Another book brought to my attention courtesy of Paul Gravett's Mangasia book was A Chinese Life written and illustrated by Li Kunwu with assistance from P. Otie. Gravett had used it as an example of historical comics, a genre that enjoys popularity across a large swath of Asia.

It's interesting to note that A Chinese Life is also Kunwu's autobiography as I found myself questioning his role as history teacher. Documenting China from 1949 (creation of the People's Republic of China) to the present, it is through one individual's eyes; one who was a celebrated propaganda artist for the Republic and became a member of the Communist Party. P. Otie, who is French, states in his intro that he tried to balance patriotism against fact, propaganda against critique. And while I'd suggest that they succeed on that front, I wondered if one man out of a billion would be representative. I'd be okay if he wasn't (it's A Chinese Life after all, not Chinese Life), but when all was said and done, I do feel that I have a better sense of China as a whole, rather than just of Li Kunwu.

This period of history is fascinating and like nothing I can compare it to in Canada. The overt and sudden upheavals brought on with Mao, the adoption of Communism, the Cultural Revolution, felt almost shocking in its intensity. Children ratting out adults resulting in imprisonment, outright disdain for cultural history, modern technology coming almost shockingly late compared to most of the world, the hybrid of socialism and capitalism that they have currently adopted... it's all so very overwhelming.

Li Kunwu's art is perfect for this story. It actually (and this will probably seem like an odd comparison) reminded me of Jim Unger's Herman cartoons. This was in the inky, rough, caricatures. Clearly the roughness was intentional. Describing his time as a propaganda artist, Kunwu shows some of his Mao art and we can see that he is quite capable of refined line work. But there's something more truthful about the roughness. It also seems at times like Kunwu barely raises his pen, and it gives the history more of a connection, more of a natural fluidity.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1766- Molia Dumbleton: If She Were to Lay Down

Molia Dumbleton's "If She Were to Lay Down" is a quietly beautiful story of a woman working through her attraction toward a man who is asleep on her couch.

At the very beginning there's a slight implication that she doesn't find him physically attractive, perhaps even finds him a bit on the simple side. But as the story progresses, we (and she) begin to understand just what she does like about this man.

It's thoughtful, full of purposeful imagery, and overall, quite lovely.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1765- Rob David and Larry Goldfine (writer), Freddie E. Williams II (artist): He-Man/ Thundercats

I was a huge He-Man fan back in the day, spending any chore money I had on the dolls, refusing to let go when all my friends had moved on to G.I. Joe. Somehow though I don't have any recollection of the Thundercats. Looking them up, I see that they first aired just a couple of years after He-Man, when I was still a Saturday morning cartoon junky, so I must have encountered them, but even this crossover comic between Thundercats and He-Man didn't jog any memories.

I did learn a little about a few Thundercat characters and the mythology through this book, enough to find it even stranger that I wasn't into them back in the 80s. My favourite He-Man characters were the animal based ones (Buzz-Off, Stinkor, Clawful) and Thundercats were all cat-based He-Man-looking heroes. Again, how did I miss these??? Was my childhood retconned?

Despite being impressed with the Thundercats though, the crossover comic by Rob David and Larry Goldfine didn't do a lot else for me. The story, which revolved around Skeletor and Mumm-Ra, the main villains of both franchises, teaming up to take over the world was pretty obvious for a crossover comic. That is to say, it was fine, but nothing terribly original. Likewise, all the typical crossover tropes were there. There's a contrived scene where the heroes turn on each other, that sort of deal. There wasn't much of the background characters either, which in old He-Man cartoons I always found more interesting than He-Man himself.

There were some small problems that perhaps would have been overlooked with a stronger story. For instance, there are attempts at narration, basically the heroes offering their philosophical interpretations, but it's completely unnecessary and distracting. Also distracting is the busy art. Normally I like watercolours, but combined with Freddie E. William's abundance of lines and panels, the pictures were a bit over-complicated.

There were a few fun moments here or there. In the final comic, for instance, they explore the multiverse. In one world and making the best of their home at DC Comics, we see Prince Adam/ He-Man as Clark Kent/ Superman. In another we see a world where the Thundercats and He-Man characters are all morphed into hybrids. I would have liked a visit to Etheria and a meet-up with She-Ra as well, but I guess I couldn't have it all.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1764- Inhae Lee: My Milk Toof

Finally, a photocomic more aligned with what I was imaging the form could be. Finally a writer that takes the time to create stories, takes the time to create photos that help tell the story.

My Milk Toof, which began life on a blog, tells of two baby teeth who move back in with the adult (unseen, except for a hand now and then) who'd lost them in her youth. This collection is subtitled, The Adventures of Ickle and Lardee, and based on these character names, you'd be correct to assume that the book can be on the cutesy side.

So, it's a little more saccharine than I'd normally choose, but it's occasionally funny. Plus, I appreciate the creativity and effort that went into it.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1763- Jordin Tootoo, with Stephen Brunt: All the Way

Two huge takeaways for me from Jordin Tootoo's autobiography All The Way: My Life on the Ice are Jordin's love for his brother Terrence, who committed suicide in 2002, and how much of an advocate for communication Jordin is.

I don't have a lot to add about Terrence's suicide except that I was living in Rankin Inlet when it happened at went to a very emotional service in the middle school. I was new to the town at the time and didn't really know the Tootoos, but the impact of Terrence's death on the town (everyone went to that service) was palpable and has stuck with me. Sadly, suicide, as I would soon learn was a very common tragedy in Rankin and the rest of Nunavut.

Perhaps related to that is the issue of communication. Jordin describes being a young boy when him and Terrence would escape the house to avoid his parents' alcoholism and abuse. They'd be playing outside at all hours with other young friends who, in hindsight, he figures were also avoiding trouble at home. Still, that fact he has to figure is underscored by the fact that they didn't talk about it. To be fair, they were kids looking to escape. Who'd want to talk about crap going on at home? That said, even as adults there was a lot being hush-hushed, too much being kept in secret, bottled up until it exploded. I wonder if this is yet another terrible side-effect of colonization of the north.

Jordin's book is almost immediately shocking from the very first chapter in his unflinching openness. Right away he gets into his troubled relationship with his parents, their drinking, their abuse. I've met both parents and didn't know this. I didn't hear it talked about. I've seen Jordin touring the town with his father and things looked great. I found myself wondering what the effect of this book was. How did they feel when they read it? I think a follow-up book is necessary. I would imagine that emotions were initially negative, some sadness, some anger, but I would also imagine that Jordin's dragging the past out into the light is an important first step toward healing.

I'm not much of a hockey follower, but I found All The Way to be a compelling human story with important messages.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1762- Michael Deforge: Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero

I was a few pages into Michael Deforge's comic Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero before I was confident that it was meant to be funny.

That might sound like an attack on his writing or comedy, but it's not meant as such. It is, however, meant to convey how wry and idiosyncratic it is. It's also sometimes witty, sometimes silly. There's a species of snake in the book called a Harmless Snake but they are deadly poisonous and have given themselves the name as a "form of camouflage". If you don't "get" the humour right away, if you're like me, it will quickly grow on you.

Most of the book is told in page length strips but nonetheless, characters become well-defined. They're flawed characters but I came to appreciate them.

The art matches the style in quirk and is coloured in black, white, and pink.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1761- Kentaro Miura: Berserk Vol. 1

I became aware of Kentaro Miura's Berserk manga series thanks to the 11th Annual Graphic Novel and Manga Challenge where another participant has been enthusiastically reviewing the series.

I wish I could share the enthusiasm, but I suppose I can help balance it out with a dissenting voice?

While I'm terrible at finishing any manga series, even if I wasn't I don't think I'd be continuing with this one. I found it hyper-masculine and gratuitously violent and while I thought I could appreciate the humour of how over-the-top it all was (the main character's name is Guts and his sword is ludicrously big), the novelty of that wore off very quickly. It then seemed like cheap shock tactics.

I also didn't really like the art which reminded me somewhat of Hajime Isayama's work in Attack on Titan. In both I found the body proportions to be often slightly amateur-looking and off, a head sometimes too small, fingers occasionally too short, people bending stiffly, that sort of thing.

If I was to name one positive feature, I did enjoy the horror. It's largely a fantasy based tale but touches of the grotesque added a more interesting element. Plus, if it's a monster, it's hard to argue that the proportions are wrong.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1760- Jesse Jacobs: Crawl Space

Jesse Jacob's Crawl Space is unlike anything I've ever seen or read before. Even if I didn't wind up enjoying the book, I'd have to give credit for originality.

The graphic novel begins with what appears to be a bunch of random colourful squiggles and circles falling into place to form a (still abstract) picture. I was nervous after the very first page that I was not going to get this.

Soon, some of the shapes form into a couple of humanoid figures. There were still psychedelic backgrounds but the vague, now talking figures, was enough to land some comprehension. Later, the colours and shapes fade in and out of this bizarre world with a more traditional cartoon world.

There's a surface story about a character introducing another to a new found world and experience, eventually sharing it with a slightly larger group of their peers. There may be a metaphor about drugs, religion, or just general open-mindedness or it might just be meant to be a weird little story.

It's certainly eye-catching and engaging and awesome.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1759- Doretta Lau: Best Practices for Time Travel

It's kind of fascinating to me that Doretta Lau's short story "Best Practices for Time Travel" opens with a quote from Louis C.K. I cannot find a year on the story, but I believe it was written in 2016. It was only last year that the revelations about Louis C.K.'s repulsive behaviour hit mainstream media, though many remarked at the time that it hadn't exactly been a close guarded secret. Whether Lau had heard of it when she wrote the story or not, it makes for an even more powerful statement in 2018 to open with one of his quotes. It certainly accentuates the theme of the story.

For those expecting a sci-fi story, as I was, you may be disappointed that it doesn't quite deliver on that front, but you might also be pleasantly surprised, as I was, in the idea behind the story: would a woman or minority even want to time travel? Things aren't exactly great for them in the present, would the past be even worse?

The story serves as an important reminder of things (pressures, prejudices, etc) that others (such as white males like me) often take for granted. Even among minority groups that may relate on many things (in the story they all advise against reading the comments), each person is still an individual with unique questions and struggles.

I also enjoyed the story as a chance to "eavesdrop" on a discussion I'd normally not be a part of. Though, I also like the point in the story when the narrator talks about fetishism of other cultures.

It's a very thought provoking piece.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1758- Tony Isabella (writer), Trevor Von Eeden (artist): Black Lightning 1

Less familiar with DC Comics' superheroes, it wasn't until this year's TV adaptation of Black Lightning that I became aware of the character though he's been around since the 70s.

This is a collection of these early days and as such should also be prefaced with a few disclaimers. Created by Tony Isabella, who's not black, Black Lightning is nonetheless a black character. In the introduction to the collection, Isabella recalls his motivation in the first place. Specifically, he noted the few black superheroes, fewer still at DC than at Marvel, and sought to remedy that. So, I suppose, the intentions were fine. That said, if DC really wanted to support the idea, it would have probably been a safer bet to go with an actual black writer.

Much has been said about a much more offensive character named Black Bomber who DC had been eyeing as a headliner before settling on Black Lightning. To be sure, that character was much, much worse (he was a white racist who turned black when stressed). But, Isabella's stereotyping doesn't get him off the hook completely. Black Lightning was a schoolteacher by day, Afro-wig wearing, jive-talking superhero by night. And while I'm certainly no expert on 70s slang, especially urban black slang, I think some of Black Lightning's "authentic" dialogue was dubious at best.

Another, but less important issue considering how often the two companies did it to one another, is the ripping off of Marvel. While there's not a perfect carbon copy of Black Lightning at Marvel, other ideas and characters in Black Lightning's world seem lifted from there. First off, Black Lightning is presented as a street level alternative to the world-saving exploits of Superman, set in the Suicide Slum quarter of Metropolis. Clearly this a take on Marvel's heroes of Hell's Kitchen. Speaking of which, one of Hell's Kitchen's most notorious baddies, Kingpin, is clearly the inspiration behind Black Lightning's nemesis Tobias Whale. One difference between these two villains, and an unfortunate aspect they kept for the TV show, is Whale's albinism. Why are so many albinos presented in the media as villains? Oh wait! I forgot. Different = evil.

All of these issues aside, it's a fun introduction to the character even if, I'm told, much of his origins and superpowers have since been retconned. It's a 70s superhero comic so the stories are exactly profound, but they are entertaining. Also like other 70s DC and Marvel outputs, there's too much talking, the colours are garish and flat (the shading is all done with line work), but from a 2018 perspective this level of cheese is fun in itself.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1757- Keiji Nakazawa: Barefoot Gen

Reading Paul Gravett's Mangasia recently, Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen came up as a particularly notable example and trendsetter of political and historical Asian comics. It tells of Nakazawa's experiences pre, during, and post the bombing of Hiroshima. This first volume that I read is predominately pre-bomb but it is dropped before the book ends.

Much controversy of Barefoot Gen seemed to be around the harsh critique Nakazawa makes on Japan at the time. Largely, to be fair, it is demonstrated not by Nakazawa who was only a child at the time but by his father who was particularly against Japan's propaganda and war-mongering. I suppose some readers felt this was not the time or place to criticize Japan. Clearly the bomb dropped by the US was horrendous and nothing could justify it. Perhaps Nakazawa's critics felt he was making a "both sides" argument similar to Trump's recent remarks regarding white supremacists in Charlottesville?

I'm not sure. In any case, I found the portrayal of WWII era Japan fascinating and certainly important. I've been to Japan, and a brief visit would lead one to believe it to be one of the most peace-loving countries on Earth. Perhaps they are. If so, they certainly weren't always that way (generally, speaking) and there's a hopeful message here that even the most militant of peoples can change. Hopefully, of course, it doesn't take an atomic bomb to learn such a valuable lesson and I suppose if one must have something positive to come from the tragedy that was Hiroshima, that would be it. It also doesn't, by any means, absolve the U.S..

At first Nakazawa's account seems uneven. While his father is being critical of Japan's jingoism, such political messages as these are pushed somewhat to the background and belied by the over-the-top emotions and physicality of Nakazawa and his younger brother. These kids reminded me a little of old Astro Boy cartoons. I couldn't often tell if it was meant as comic relief, perhaps a cultural difference I didn't understand, or an outdated style but there seemed to a lot of leaping into the air, a lot of big, unrealistic reactions to small things.

Then the bomb hits and it all makes sense. These scenes are horrific.

The earlier silliness is suddenly more understandable in retrospect. Yes, leading up to the bomb was a very serious time, but Nakazawa was still a child and much was shown through his eyes. He didn't always appreciate the magnitude of what was happening. What seemed important to him prior to the bomb was not necessarily of true importance. Nakazawa's own hindsight would come with and after the bomb.

Barefoot Gen, like my visit to Hiroshima, will stick with me for a very long time.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1756- Saladin Ahmed (writer), Christian Ward (artist): Black Bolt Hard Time Vol. 1

The hype for Saladin Ahmed's Black Bolt: Hard Time run was well deserved.

Black Bolt is not an easy character to write and, as the recent tv Inhumans show proved, when he's adapted poorly he comes across as a dud, though he's supposed to be one of Marvel's most powerful superheroes. The challenge comes with his main power, a voice that can flatten buildings with as much as a whisper. He cannot, however, control when his voice has force and it always does. This means that the character cannot talk most of the time and in TV or comics, where dialogue is typically relied upon heavily to tell a story and to give insight into a character, options are limited. (In the TV show the actor raised an eyebrow now and then which... didn't cut it. Like at all.)

In the first chapter of Hard Time, Ahmed uses skilled narration to do the work.

Black Bolt wakes in filth. He does not know where he is. He does not know how he got here. He only knows... that he is leaving.

Written narration isn't new to comics of course, but I find it less common now than it was in the 70s and earlier and when you read some of those older comics, it makes them seem dated. It also makes it feel like the writers didn't trust the artists to get their points across and the results were often redundant. Ahmed's narration, however, works with the art. He pulls back when the art pushes the story forward and steps in when it does not.

In later chapters, Ahmed "cheats" a little by having Black Bolt and his fellow prisoners (the overarching story is essentially a prison break-out) discover that their powers have been stripped away leaving Black Bolt free to talk without hurting anyone.

Likewise the art by Christian Ward is most fascinating in the first chapter, full of futuristic, pyschedelic shapes, angles, and colours. In later chapters this is all toned down a little.

But while I may feel the first chapter was the strongest, it's not like the collection ever goes off the rails. It remains an engrossing, exciting story with wonderful character building. The friendship that forms between Black Bolt and Absorbing Man is a beautiful thing. 

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1755- Michael Avon Oeming (writer), Mel Rubi (artist): Spider-Man/ Red Sonja

Webcomics, photocomics, old-timey comics, lesser-known-superhero comics, non-Japanese manga... I'm starting to have a lot of comic obsessions. My latest is crossover comics, particularly crossovers between publishing companies, so expect a lot of those in upcoming months.

Bringing me to Spider-Man/ Red Sonja, a crossover between Marvel and Dynamite back in 2007, with the trade collection in 2008. This is not the first time these two characters have met and fortunately, this trade also includes that first encounter from 1979. I don't really consider that a crossover, however, as at the time Red Sonja was a Marvel property.

Being set in a fictionalized, medieval time, with no superpowers beyond being a skilled fighter, Spider-Man doesn't seem like an obvious choice for a Red Sonja crossover. She's more akin to Conan the Barbarian (who she's already crossed over with). From Marvel's roster, I'd think Ka-Zar or Shanna the She-Devil would be better fits. Then, those are hardly household names and I suppose the Spider-Man pairing was a better financial bet. Besides, as a fan of musical mashups (and essentially crossovers are mashups), it's sometimes the less obvious mixes that are the most interesting.

In Spider-Man/ Red Sonja, Michael Avon Oeming uses a slight resemblance between Spider-Man's girlfriend and Red Sonja to work the story (they both have red hair). Red Sonja's nemesis Kulan Gath recalls his previous attempt to take over modern day New York and how it was thwarted by Red Sonja and Spider-Man. This time he's planned a rematch but schemes to pit his two adversaries against one another as a distraction. To do so, he transposes a medieval version of New York over the modern one, affecting almost everyone inside with the inexplicable exception of Spider-Man. This is when Mary Jane becomes Red Sonja, or becomes trapped inside of her...

Okay, so it's not high art, not the most literary comic I've ever read, but it was fun and as such does what a good crossover should.

The art is decent, though as I've complained before, I'm never wild about the sexist way Red Sonja is typically portrayed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Reader's Diary #1754- Antony Johnston (writer), Sam Hart (artist): Atomic Blonde

I was excited to see a spy book with a female lead though in hindsight, I've never been a huge fan of the genre and so I'm not entirely sure why I thought having a female protagonist would change that.

My biggest issue has never been the sex of the spy but that I tend to find espionage plots confusing. This was the case with Atomic Blonde as well. I started off okay; the initial plot involves an MI6 officer named Lorraine Broughton (who isn't blonde by the way, the title was changed from its original The Coldest City to capitalize on the recent film adaptation starring Charlize Theron) heading off to East Germany in 1989 to get back a list that threatens to blow the covers of all the good spies. Then it turns out there was no list and a couple of double crosses and questionable motives later and I was thoroughly lost.

So, after I was done and still scratching my head, I decided to see if someone else online could explain it to me. It turned out it wasn't just me and my usual trouble with spy books, but plenty of others were left bewildered by just what the heck happened in the second half of the book.

I did diverge somewhat from other reviewers though as it seems plenty of others also didn't enjoy the art. I actually did. It's heavily inked in black and white but still without a lot of detail. It looked at times like wood prints. The cold effect created by such a stylistic choice fit the setting, fit the plot heavy (vs character driven) story, and any more detail would have been too distracting for what was already a difficult to follow tale.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Reader's Diary #1753- Eric Grissom (writer), William Perkins (artist): Gregory Suicide

In a lot of ways, Eric Grissom and William Perkins' Gregory Suicide felt like a Black Mirror episode. Dealing with artificial intelligence, the sci-fi aspect was definitely there. But it also has the mystery element; where the plot is a bit confusing at first but then the pieces start to fall into place (and new mysteries begin to pop up).

The titular Gregory in this story is the early version of an AI program. This was in earlier, friendlier times. Now the new AI robots and the humans are hellbent on wiping one another out and Gregory is caught in the middle.

It's stark in a near apocalyptic sort of way both in themes and art. Perkins work is reminiscent of Jeff Lemire's with just the slightest bit more refinement, fitting of a dystopic, futuristic tale. The colours, too, which are mostly monochromatic, fit well.

It's instantly engaging and provocative throughout, complete with interesting, well-defined characters.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Reader's Diary #1752- Charlotte Ashley: Sigrid Under the Mountain

I don't read a lot of fantasy, but Charlotte Ashley's "Sigrid Under the Mountain" has convinced me that I should read more.

Like good sci-fi, good fantasy came make a reader reflect upon the current world while offering an entrancing alternative reality. That's exactly what "Sigrid Under the Mountain" did for me. I was completely invested in this rich world and its mythical creatures, the cultures, the geography. Remarkable that it could be so richly developed in the space of a short story.

And then the strong themes of feminism and prejudices? I think fantasy is often written off as mere entertainment. While "Sigrid Under the Mountain" is certainly entertaining, it was also thoughtful, provocative.

The titular Sigrid is a strong character who is frustrated by her husband, by the mysterious kobolds, by an oncoming war. She takes matters into her own hands...

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Reader's Diary #1751- Spike Steffenhagen (writer), Joe Paradise and Larry Nadolsky (artists): Joan Jett and the Runaways

A fan of the Runaways, Joan Jett, Lita Ford and rock biographies, I had much higher hopes for this book than I was ultimately delivered.

First, it's quite short. There are three stories in here, the first about the Runaways, then Joan Jett and Lita Ford's solo careers respectively and the whole thing is just 30 pages long. If you've seen the Runaways movie a few years back, you won't likely learn anything and beyond an interesting factoid or two and not a whole lot more about the two successful solo breakouts.

The art is also a mixed bag. The Runaways story is drawn by Joe Paradise and while technically better than Larry Nadolsky's work on the follow-up stories, it's also wildly offensive. The women are consistently objectified (which renders the criticisms over their then manager Kim Fowley's sexism as hypocritical) and in one scene set in Japan a fan is drawn with exaggerated buck teeth, bald head, slanted eyes, and big ears a la WWII anti-Japanese propaganda. Larry Nadolsky's work on the other hand looked far more amateur. It was, however, less offensive and I kind of felt that it looked like fan art which suited the book anyway.

An additional troublesome feature were the occasional condescending and disrespectful "edits" by Jay Allen Sanford. In the worst of these he feels the need to jump in regarding Runaways lead singer Cherie Curie stating that her only talent is being photogenic. How rude.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Reader's Diary #1750- Warren Ellis (writer), Gerardo Zaffino and Roland Boschi (artist): Karnak The Flaw in All Things

Last year Marvel Comics seemed to be pushing a few more Inhuman titles. Notable the Karnak: The Flaw in All Things and the Black Bolt: Hard Time runs had some critical acclaim. Perhaps they were trying to capitalize on the new tv show. Pity then it was so god-awful. And that's coming from a hard core Marvel fan who even enjoyed the much maligned Iron Fist show on Netflix.

My knowledge of Karnak was largely based, unfortunately, on the TV show. (I read a Inhumans trade a while back, but I've largely forgotten it.) There are very few similarities between Karnak of this comic and the one played by Ken Leung on television except that both are unlikable. The biggest difference is that Karnak on TV had superpowers while the one in the comic doesn't (on tv it's Maximus who is powerless, though in the comics he has super intelligence).

As for him being unlikable in his own solo series comic, that's fine, I suppose, though I did at times find the comic trying a bit too hard to be gritty (a la Alan Moore or Frank Miller). Still, when we finally see an ounce of doubt or humility, really any human emotion besides smug detached superiority, the payoff is bigger.

The story involves Karnak being asked by SHIELD to help track down a new inhuman who has been abducted by a cult. This inhuman is either powerless or one of the most powerful they have ever encountered.

It's not a bad series overall. Again, I didn't necessarily like Karnak but he's an interesting sort of character and decently developed. He's a bit of a rational philosopher. The story was compelling and the art by Zaffino or Boschi is suitably gritty. I liked the occasional use of ben day dots, looking like it was coloured on newsprint and had just leaked through-- a nice nod to the "flaw in all things" theme.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Reader's Diary #1749- Pab Sungenis: I Can Has Empire?

Moving along in my exploration of photocomics, I'm also able to overlap with my study of webcomics thanks to Pab Sungenis and I Can Has Empire? the 2nd printed collection of his The New Adventures of Queen Victoria series which first appeared online.

Getting a bit of the negative out of the way first, this publication by Lulu is of very poor quality. The images and font are too small and often blurry which is frustratingly distracting.

That said, I did enjoy Pab Sungenis's work more than my more recent look at Joey Comeau and Emily Horne's Anatomy of Melancholy. Besides being just funnier, it felt more like an actual comic (versus captioned pictures). Also, the gutters of Sungenis' strip were real and had the usual comic implications.

The New Adventures of Queen Victoria still doesn't, unfortunately, much lift the reputation of photocomics as being a bit lazier, less work than drawn comics. To be fair, Pab Sungenis does put some work in. He writes the speech balloons and chooses old stock images of Queen Victoria and other historical figures to pose. Sometimes he even draws on expressions. Still, it's a far cry away from my idea to have people pose, carefully choose settings, select appropriate lighting, etc.I think a good photocomic can be just as much work if not more than a drawn one.

As a side note, I once again found myself thinking of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. He does a chapter on the somewhat counter-intuitive role of simple cartooning. I believe his theory goes that we're often more able to relate to, see ourselves in, simpler cartoon faces than more realistically drawn ones, the ones we tend to see as others, as characters. It will be interesting to reflect upon this as I read more photocomics. It doesn't get much more realistic looking than a photo! This would also suggest that photocomics would work better from some stories than others.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Reader's Diary #1748- Sina Grace (writer), Alessandro Vitti (artist): Iceman Thawing Out Vol. 1

Iceman, until recently, hasn't been the most respected X-Men character, but last year he was making headlines and starred in a critically acclaimed series that even drew attention from outside typical comic circles. Largely this was because the series dealt with the character finally coming out.

Iceman is not the first gay superhero, not even for Marvel (Canada's own Northstar got married to another man all the way back in 2012), but he is one of the better known characters. Plus, while it's nice to have comics where being gay is just another character fact, coming-out stories are still important.

Interesting about the X-Men is that their story about being accepted/ not accepted for who they are has often been used as a parable for the LGBTQ community. In this series, Iceman has to deal with both prejudices. He now needs to come out to parents who already don't accept him for being mutant.

Not having lived such an experience, I can't say that the story would read as sensitive or authentic to someone who has, as an adult, come out to his parents. (I have since read though that Grace himself is gay, so I am thankful that Marvel chose a writer that would at least have a clue as to what he's talking about.) It felt real in any case. Well, the non-superhero parts anyway. Not that the superhero parts weren't welcomed; they provided a good reminder that everyone has value and worth regardless and not necessarily related to their sexual or gender identity, and they provided some more fun elements for what could have been too heavy of a story.

That all said, I really did not like the art. Specifically, the colouring looked like the original artwork was heavily spray painted over with a software program and the line work was re-added very poorly.