Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Graphic Novel Review: Tamara Drewe

Part 1 of The Best of 2008
(see the full list here)

Tamara Drewe
by Posy Simmonds
(Jonathan Cape/Random House)

review by BK Munn

Posy Simmonds draws the best cows of any living cartoonist and her ability is ably demonstrated in this pastoral farce that reads like Leah McClaren as drawn by Frank Thorne (or maybe David Lodge meets Colleen Doran?) --and is in reality an homage to Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd (which was originally illustrated by another woman, Helen Paterson, way back in the 1800s). The book has a wonderful polyvocal narrative centred around the goings-on at a writers' retreat in the English countryside. The titular heroine, a zaftig columnist-turned-novelist, is the catalyst for a series of romantic and literary calamities that befall a small group of creative types forced into close quarters in the wide-open spaces. For a comic, Tamara Drewe has relatively large chunks of text, and the book feels very writer-ly, as befits its source, subject matter, episodic plot, and original serial publication, but it actually has a very tight structure built on a foundation of humour, beauty, and skilled storytelling.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Batwoman loves Catman

I love this cover. Sort of a Freudian dream image combining a child-like approach to lust and femininity with bold iconography. You can see why artists like Dan Clowes have made so much of Silver Age DC comics tropes. Background: Catman was a Batman villain who had a major crush on Batwoman (Kathy Kane) and fantasized about her wearing kinky costumes. Sort of a superhero (or supervillain) stalker. But he had a cool pad and liked cats, so he couldn't be all wrong. The Catman "epic" played out over a scattered trilogy of issues during the mid-60s.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Captain Canuck vs The Nihilists of Sarnia

This classic comic book adventure presents the superhero dilemma in a new light. Canada's favourite son, Capt. Canuck, superhero with a cause, fights U.S. imperialism as only he can, through meditation.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Who Cares If A Comic Book Doesn't Solve a Problem?

I wonder with some of these vendors, these artists, these companies--are they really asking themselves ‘what problem does this solve?’ --Nina Stone

Maybe I just didn't understand the argument, but I'm not sure if I get the point of Nina Stone's post about the New York Comicon. Stone writes with great empathy about the plight of the lonely vendors with empty booths at the convention, dredging up her own memories of being a gifted elementary school near-crybaby and comparing her experience of being thrust into the adult world of problem-solving without the tools or even the desire to figure out solutions in a logical, "adult" way, to the experience of entrepreneurs, publishers and artists who have created products for which there appears to be little or no market. Stone blames the "insular" and "self-serving" (read: childish) nature of comics fans for their inability to be "more successful."

Businesses and products (and art) flounder and fail all the time. And its not just because the creators can't see past their own navels and are stuck in a sort of anal-stage of business development, playing with themselves like monkeys in a cage and filing their own shit in sealed mylar sleeves. If the magic key to "success" was "solve the 'right' problem" (which sounds like "build a better mousetrap" to me), you would still have the same situation. There are so many other factors that go into "success" it's almost not worth talking about. Much more than "guidance," a lot of it seems to be luck and timing. Oh, and intelligence. And talent. And a million other things. And what is "success" anyway? I'm guessing, the financial renumeration enjoyed by people on the bestseller list or people with a blockbuster movie. Or "success" means having a girlfriend or the respect of strangers, maybe?

For many, comic conventions are therapy. They are a thousand other things. Comic conventions --just like hardware conventions or fashion tradeshows-- are also filled with dishonesty and ugliness. Intellectually and aesthetically. Sometimes they are also filled with great art or, at the very least, even products that satisfy a small but needy and grateful market.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Best of 2008

by BK Munn

Of the graphic novels and comics I've read from 2008, here are my favourites. I've categorized according to rough genres. I'm drawn to long-form fiction comics (graphic novels) more than most forms of comics and tend to favour them in my reading and list-making. Dash Shaw's Bottomless Bellybutton was a revelation for me, wonderful art, a mesmerizing, emotional narrative. It was also the work of a relative newcomer, as is the work I've listed in minicomics. I feel kind of silly comparing, say, Jason Kieffer's or Jesse Jacobs' short comics with Shaw's massive book but end-of-year lists seem to do that all the time. Some things are easier to rank. I actually read more new superhero comics in 2008 than in any year since 1986, including large chunks of the latest from Grant Morrison, Brian Bendis, and Ed Brubaker, and I can honestly say that the 6 pages of Gary Panter in Omega #7 and the first two chapters of Jaime Hernandez's superhero saga in the new Love and Rockets blew most of those long-underwear types out of the sky. They were also more profoundly beautiful than several of my choices in other categories.

I also refuse to rank archival re-issues of classic comic strips by past masters, some of the best comics of all time, alongside new minicomics or memoirs or prints of Japanese horror adventure comics. And speaking of translations, I decided to lump the translated Canadian comics on my list in with the other translated comics I read. So, more divisions. I thought of a separate Canadian category for all, but thought the Canuck entries stand up well in international company. It also says something for the current era of comics publishing that there is enough interesting, quite excellent and even wonderful work being published in a number of different categories.

Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds
Bottomless Bellybutton by Dash Shaw
Skim by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware
Dietch's Pictorama by Kim, Simon and Seth Dietch

What It Is by Lynda Barry
Drop-In by Dave Lapp
My Brain is Hanging Upside Down by David Heatley

Kieffer #2 by Jason Kieffer
Blue Winter, Shapes in the Snow by Jesse Jacobs
Small Victories by Jesse Jacobs

Breakdowns by Art Spiegelman
Little Orphan Annie Vol 1 by Harold Gray
Popeye Vol 3 by EC Segar

Paul Goes Fishing by Michel Rabagliati
Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle
Tokyo Zombie by Yusaku Hanakuma
Cat-Eyed Boy by Kazuo Umezu
Red-Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi

Love and Rockets #1 by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez
Omega the Unknown #7 by Gary Panter, Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple

Webcomic by Kate Beaton

Friday, February 06, 2009

Canadian Fan Project: Super Letters

More missives from the distant past of fandom, when Canadian comic book fans weren't shy about speaking truth to power:

"As an ardent reader of your fascinating magazines, this is my first opportunity to catch you. In 'The Unknown Superman', you show Strong Bear boring with his hands in the coarse soil and tough rocks. If his ring was not destroyed by that, why was it destroyed when Lois dropped it? And why didn't the ring become indestructible on earth just as everything from Krypton does, if Strong Bear automatically gained superpowers here?" Robert Romano, Montreal Quebec (Lois Lane #52, 1964)

"I though Jimmy Olsen No.101 was just great because it had an interesting plot and plenty of excitement. But in my opinion, it was a mistake to kill off Miri and her father, Dr, Zak-Lor. This was a pretty drastic and unnecessary move, because they were two very important characters in the story. But aside from that, the feature was out of this world!" Arpad de Szoeczy, Weston, Ont. (Jimmy Olsen #103, 1967)

"I say, guv'nor, this is Ringo Starr speaking on behalf of all us Beatles. We are quite flattered that you mentioned us in your comic. But if you're going to put us in, please do it properly. On the first page you show Mr. James Olsen watching us on the telly and your artist depicts us with lapels on our jackets, whereas we have none. We want to thank you for the publicity. You see, we are making all this money to get something we have always needed --a haircut!" Pat (Ringo) Boardman, Toronto (Jimmy Olsen 81, 1964)

"I especially like Rose and Thorn. I am looking forward to seeing much more of her. I don't really know why I like Rose, but maybe its because she has the same haircut I do!" Linda Hamilton, Winnipeg (Lois Lane #108, 1971)

"I truly enjoy your stories, and their characters. They're simply great! I don't believe in telling people of their mistakes, especially since I haven't any to speak of ...So I'm writing just to tell you that I think you're very fair in your attitudes towards your readers. You take the complaints of those who do write to complain, and you answer them constructively. As long as Lois Lane is on sale, I will continue to buy it, and remain a follower of Lois adventures!" Bonnie Erickson, Alberta (Lois Lane #137, 1974)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Superman Robots

Some of the most poignant melodramatic aspects of the Superman family children's comics of the 1950s and 60s involve the Superman robots. Automaton slaves created by scientific genius Superman to act as his backup beards, and kept hidden in the closet when not in use, many classic stories relate the AI-like attempts at individuality and rebellion of these sad creatures. Superman kept his robots stashed away in his parents' basement, in a cave at the North Pole, in the closet of his apartment (whole Phds await!). Supergirl kept her robot double waiting patiently in the trunk of a tree, never sleeping, in those anxiously whimsical stories drawn by Jim Mooney.

The most recent robot tale I've read concerns Robot X-3. While training a new batch of robots (Superman trains his robots instead of programming them with essential information like, "don't let anyone see you change into Clark Kent"), Superman is turned invisible by red kryptonite and X-3 has to take his place and rescue some astronauts. X-3 gets lost in space and ends up on a tiny planet where he meets a stranded mermaid woman who reminds him of Superman's first girlfriend, Lori Lemaris. X-3 is such a hero-worshipper that, when the mermaid dies, he creates a robot mermaid family and builds a little house where he lives forever and happily ever after, kind of like The Little Prince meets Space Family Robinson, as illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger .