Category Archives: Comics

comics this week – Chris Ware’s Building Stories

Just got notice that Building Stories comes out tomorrow & my copy is in the mail. I’ve been saying that Chris Ware’s last book “Jordan Lint” (Acme Novelty Library #20) is light years ahead of what anybody else is doing with comics… This one looks more ambitious than anything Ware’s done before, which is saying something – apparently it is 260 pages spread over 14 different pieces of printed matter, in a box

Eagerly anticipating, and discarding all other plans for the end of the week…

Publisher’s Weekly review “…one of the year’s best arguments for the survival of print”
publisher’s page
Amazon link

Brandon Graham: King City vs Prophet

Brandon Graham‘s King City (12 issue series that was collected in trade paperback back in March) basically ranks up there with Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier, Ellis & Cassaday’s Planetary, and Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library as some of the most fun, imaginative, thought-provoking & beautiful comics work of the 21st century. The plot basically revolves around our main character who is a “cat master” (like a ninja/jedi but with cat as a swiss army knife); his best friend who is trying to rescue a beautiful mermaid alien girl from a mobster; his ex-girlfriend, whose new boyfriend is a veteran of an alien war that has left him addicted to a bizarre drug; and somehow these all intersect with them saving the world from a plan to invoke some Cthulhu-esque demon… But, really, the plot is not the thing here in King City – the thing is actually following along with some disarmingly charming lowlifes on a rollercoaster of weird craziness.

Graham’s the primary exponent of what I’ve been calling alien xenophilia, comics stories with a surfeit of completely bizarre sf/fantasy themes, with roots back to the early Heavy Metal days (think Moebius & Matt Howarth). Convoluted analog time: If Stekoe’s Orc Stain is Moebius’ Arzach meets Howarth’s Keif Llama: Xenotech, then King City is Moebius’ Airtight Garage meets Howarth’s Bugtown stories — one simulatenously gets the feeling that this is all very extemporaneous (like it was not really plotted out in advance, like the characters are propelling the story along with very little creative intent) and that HOLY FUCK HOW DID THIS GUY COME UP WITH SO MANY CRAZY IDEAS?!

When I toyed with the idea of blogging reviews earlier this year, I was thinking of rating on 2-axis scales, with the 2 scales being called “Strangeness” & “Charm” – which are 2 of the properties of quarks, but pretty accurately reflect the proprties that really have to be there in any movie, book, or comic book (arguably applies to music as well) that I really like. King City pretty much pegs the meters for both Strangeness & Charm scales. Graham pretty well understands all the awesome fun that comic books had when we were kids, and manages to recreate all that awesome fun for adults.

Graham is apparently working on his other series Multiple Warheads right now (hopefully to be released later this year), and in the meantime he has been doing the writing for Image’s Prophet relaunch – picking up again at issue 20 an old Rob Liefeld title from the early Image days – along with a rotating stable of artists. To be completely honest, those early 90’s/Image creator days were really the darkest of the dark comic book ages, so I really don’t know anything about the original storyline (in contrast to, say, the Supreme & Glory relaunches, the history of which I was at least familiar with because of the Alan Moore period), and there is not a lot online about the original series either… As best as I can determine Prophet was some kind of time-travelling-super-powered-secret-agent. I’ve got no idea how Graham’s Prophet relaunch relates to the original, but, in plot synopsis terms: Prophet wakes up in a truly alien future, and his first task is to wake up a bunch of alternate Prophets(?) Remission collects the 1st 6 issues of the Graham relaunch.

There is a lot of ‘strangeness’ here – we can safely say that: there’s an awful lot of crazy weird sci-fi ideas. Unfortunately, there is not a lot charm – there’s not really any characterization to speak of: Prophet’s really the only ‘character’ in an alien world, and most of the story is just him hearing voices telling him to get to the next plot point. So, this just does not have the depth of emotional attachment here that there is in King City… And where King City had a sort of four-color/Sanrio-almost-pastel palette that reminded me of those early Moebius Heavy Metal days, Prophet has a sort of 99-shades-of-gray/Enki Bilal/Humanoids palette. I’m certainly gonna keep picking up Graham’s run on Prophet – I’m more than happy to even indirectly support his work, and it still has some crazy ideas even if it is not really as satisfying as his own work.

finished reading: James Stekoe’s Wonton Soup v1 & v2

Some highly unique science fiction here… I picked up on James Stekoe via a lead in the back of an issue of Brandon Graham‘s King City. The story here is about a promising culinary student who drops out of school, becomes a space trucker, and travels around the universe in search of the ultimate recipes, with lots of time out for things like spaceship breakdowns and fights with space ninjas. Graham and Stekoe (at least for me) are the primary proponents in modern comics of a sort of alien xenophilia that reminds me of early Heavy Metal (and I’m probably thinking strongly here of Moebius & Matt Howarth…) There’s not a lot of sustained narrative here – this is mostly episodic incidents, revolving largely around explaining some completely bonkers alien recipe. Consequently, it is a breezy read and continuously entertains with off-the-wall ideas (penny postcard version: Hunter S Thompson meets Han Solo?)

The two volumes are in the wonky “manga-sized” format of 5″x7″x1/2″, and all in black & white, so my only real complaints here are purely technical. Compared to Stekoe’s later color work in Orc Stain, the art in Wonton Soup can get pretty obscure especially when dealing with something totally alien – the monotone makes some novel depictions difficult to resolve without some effort. [Edit: Stekoe needs to learn how to draw the reader’s eye to what’s important, rather than filling up the page with lines.] Also, the tiny page size & thick spine means that half of the art is obscured either down into the crease or by your hand holding the page. Oh well.

Both from the venerable Oni Press – vol 2 is still in print, but vol 1 is sadly out of print :(