NOTES OVER YONDER, TIGER!TIGER!TIGER!

NOTES OVER YONDER/TIGER!TIGER!TIGER!
Written and Drawn by Scott Morse
Published by
Red Window/AdHouse Books

Scott Morse is one of those talents whom it can be easy to forget about. Why? Because he’s quiet. He doesn’t work on “mainstream” comics. He doesn’t start fights on the internet. He doesn’t spend his time criticizing other artists’ work. And he takes his time with projects, making sure that he has achieved his vision fully before releasing them. In short: he’s something of an anomaly. Plus, he’s kind of busy at his day job, toiling as a story artist and designer for Pixar, only the greatest animation company in the world. So when he releases a new book, it tends to be something special.

And within the space of two months, he’s releasing two!

NOTES OVER YONDER is a wordlessly told tale of a musician suffering from terrible heartache, his cat, and the dreams which carry him along until it is time to pick up the guitar again and play his soul out into the crowd. It’s a beautifully painted book, presented as a sweet little hardcover, and definitely an emotionally resonant offering. While there is no dialogue, there are three written notes in the story that tell you all you need to know about what has happened to this man and what will happen to him in the future. Perhaps just as much as the story, I was drawn into NOTES by looking at the composition of the pages; each page is an individual “panel”, forcing Morse to execute his storytelling on multiple levels. This is a fine, fine effort.

TIGER!TIGER!TIGER! is a wildly different animal (pardon the pun). Functioning as sketchbook and as a guide through Morse’s adventures as a father, there’s an aching sincerity to the book. The author is full of doubt and worry, putting up a front to carry himself through the difficult moments. I admired the book’s honesty, and was struck by how facile Morse is in working in different artistic mediums, but at times, it was a bit too much for me. A little less spiritual “nudity” might have made for a more comfortable read. Still, as presented in a lovely Euro-style hardcover, this is another worthy effort from a great talent.

Marc Mason

GARFIELD MINUS GARFIELD, GARFIELD: 30 YEARS OF LAUGHS AND LASAGNA

GARFIELD MINUS GARFIELD/GARFIELD: 30 YEARS OF LAUGHS & LASAGNA
Written and Drawn by Jim Davis
Published by
Ballantine Books

I have had an interesting relation to Garfield the cat since his creation. My childhood best friend, Billy, immediately took to the big orange hairball and began drawing him in class at every turn. I also did my best to draw the furry strip star, but never could quite grasp it. And the more that people “oohed and ahhed” over Billy’s artistic efforts, the more frustrated and pissed I got. And since creator Jim Davis lived about forty-five minutes from us, it was doubly painful; any young Hoosier wanted to be able to show the big artistic star their talent. Jealousy? Oh, yes, its name was “Marc.”

Of course, years past, we all got over the GARFIELD phenomenon. In fact, into my 20s, I began to gain a serious disdain for the strip. To me, it was unfunny, lacked focus, and I thought Davis was phoning it in and getting fat and happy off the merchandising. I continued to hold this thought until earlier this year when a man named Dan Walsh (whom I can only call a genius) did something remarkable: he created a website called GARFIELD MINUS GARFIELD.

GARFIELD MINUS GARFIELD took Davis’ strip and stripped out the cat. That left poor Jon Arbuckle talking to himself, musing to himself, and wallowing in his own pathetic life. Suddenly, there was a new perspective on this old beast; without the snarky thought balloons from the cat, Jon was exposed as a jumble of inner turmoil, narcissistic pain, and raw neuroses. MINUS captured the true essence of the comic that I had never put a lot of thought into. Simply put, Garfield’s thought balloons are just that: thought balloons. Jon doesn’t know what the cat is saying or thinking. He is conversing with himself and laying bare his innermost pain. With the cat, it’s a sarcastic on a sad little man. Without the cat, it’s a surprisingly commentary at how easy it is to feel lost and alone in modern society. So to say that I recommend the GARFIELD MINUS GARFIELD book would be an understatement.

Having read that book, I was able to dive in to GARFIELD: 30 YEARS OF LAUGHS AND LASAGNA with a renewed perspective on Davis’ work. Thus, this selection of the comic’s best efforts over the 30 years of its existence felt like a warm homecoming for me, and I was able to appreciate what it had to offer once more. Part of what made it interesting was to watch on the page as Davis refined his artistic abilities and found the characters. I was also interested in some of the commentary he offered, intrigued by character choices and reasoning behind the strip’s concepts. And obviously, I had to admit that Davis has been doing something right all this time: GARFIELD is the most widely syndicated cartoon strip in the world.

This attractive hardcover does its level best to show you why. And while the daily strip can still be very hit and miss with me, I do now see it with new eyes and appreciation for what Davis hath wrought. These are two fine books and would make solid holiday presents for a loved one.

Marc Mason

KICK DRUM COMIX

KICK DRUM COMIX 1-2
Written and Drawn by Jim Mahfood
Published by
Image Comics

I’ve been a huge fan of Jim Mahfood’s work since he was a Tempe local, and to this day I do my best to follow and see what he’s doing. Food is one of those creators who marches to his own drummer and never compromises his work; what he wants to do, he does. Period. He’s that rare punk talent that has never given in to the mainstream and taken the money and ran. That continues with this nifty two-issue miniseries.

KICK DRUM COMIX is an anthology book, printed at an oversized 7.5 by 11 inches. Inside are tales about strange rap stars and their
family beefs, a young man finding musical inspiration, punk skateboarders, and space-going heroines. But each has its own common denominator, and that’s Mahfood’s aesthetic: pure, raw attitude. Perhaps more than any other time in memory, Mahfood throws caution to the wind and eschews layout and perspective for a more free-flowing look to his pages. He composes his panels with a harsher edge, lets the inks fall where they may, and instead focuses on getting across the characters and ideas in a strange sort of pop-punk art confection. Vibrant colors, scattershot dialogue… It’s sort of like watching this proven talent go back in time fifteen years and teach his youthful self how to draw, a weird mash-up of skill and “fuck you” to “proper comics” presentation.

And in owing that that middle-fingered aesthetic, you have to admit that what is here does fade away fairly quickly. Mahfood means to entertain, like a great single you catch while trolling across the radio dial, but when the commercial comes on, it’s time to change the channel. Maybe you’ll hear it again, maybe you won’t, but while the lyrics will fade, something about one or two of the notes will linger. That, in essence, is what KICK DRUM COMIX happens to be.

Marc Mason

PURI PURI VOL 5,6,7

PURI PURI VOL. 5-7
Written and Drawn by Chiaki Taro
Published by
DrMaster

The adventures of young Kamioda traveling the road to the priesthood continue in these three volumes, each one offering up new tests of his willpower and commitment. Whether it’s putting together the school’s Halloween festival, helping a young girl overcome her fear of all things male, or dealing with a girl determined to break him and expose him on a sexual level, each day the boy faces is certainly never a dull one.

PURI PURI began as a somewhat serious take on Kamioda’s journey, with the occasional dollop of fanservice thrown in to keep the otaku satisfied. But as the book has evolved, it has taken a turn away from that path; while it still keeps its focus on Kamioda’s path, Taro-san has wayyyyyyy kicked up the level of fanservice, to the point where it’s almost the co-star of the entire series. And while it would be easy to chalk that up as a primary complaint and write the book off, I can’t quite do so.

Why? Because the author has also done the unheard of and allowed the story itself to evolve. Kamioda completes his first round of tasks at the girls’ school and is moved to a church nearby to apprentice to a priest. Also, he and Ayano actually get around to admitting having feelings for one another, moving their own plot point forward. Anyone with any familiarity with manga knows that your average manga-ka has the ability to draw out such things for years on end, so seeing Taro opt for progress is pretty sweet and it gives the book a kick in the pants to keep moving forward.

He has also become a more accomplished artist as the book has progressed. The storytelling has gotten a bit easier to follow, his layouts are stronger and more interesting to look at, and he seems to have a better grasp of anatomy (and not just the stuff he shows off in the fanservice bits). You can’t quite shake the feeling that, in a certain respect, he’s making it up as he goes along, but it has such a light-hearted spirit that it’s hard to hold it against him. PURI PURI is still worth the time and money.

Marc Mason

 

STATION 2-4

STATION #2-4
Written by Johanna Stokes and Drawn by Leno Carvalho
Published by Boom Studios

STATION #1 introduced us to the International Space Station, a multi-billion dollar project where astronauts, scientists and space tourists can call home for a period of time. Yet something went awry, and when the cosmonaut Nicolay went out on a spacewalk to fix a solar panel, he was unable to return and ended up floating helpless into the black abyss of space.

The series continues with growing tensions as Dyson Wales and Karen James tell the rest of the crew their suspicions that someone purposely sabotaged Nicolay’s space walker and sent him to his death. Further investigation shows both tanks were tampered with, providing further proof this malicious act was intentional and premeditated. And if that wasn’t enough, a fire breaks out on the space station, compromising the life support systems.

The hits keep on coming for the crew aboard the station, and the body count continues to rise with each issue. Stokes does an excellent job of injecting each issue with pulse-pounding action, rarely giving the characters a chance to breathe. Add in a dash of humor and some decent character development and it makes it easier to accept the fact that the ‘whodunnit’ plot isn’t that much of a mystery. Plus, by the third issue the focus is less on the murderer and more on how the surviving crew members are going to make it back to Earth alive.

The pastel colors and grainy lines allow the intensity of the situation (namely mortal danger whilst stranded in space) to shine through. The art did get a bit spotty in the last two issues; a few panels did not appear as complete and well-rounded as the rest of the book. Overall, however, Carvalho’s pencils complimented the story well, and his character’s expressions really stood out, giving the story more emotional depth.

STATION is good book for those looking for a quick, heart-racing read. Stokes does not overwhelm the reader with complex astronaut jargon but rather gives the character voices that are believable and easy to follow. The anxiety created by people floating hundreds of miles above the Earth in a damaged craft never fails to keep readers on their toes. Albeit slightly hokey by the end, STATION still delivers an entertaining read for anyone who’s had dreams, and nightmares, about touching the stars.

Avril Brown

 

HIGH ROLLERS 2-4

HIGH ROLLERS #2-4
Written by Gary Phillips and Drawn by Sergio Carrera
Published by Boom Studios

The HIGH ROLLERS series started off strong and continued that way throughout the four-issue run. Phillips did an excellent job of creating complex characters in the dark and turbulent world of the Los Angeles underworld that readers want to see succeed in their illegal and oftentimes violent enterprises.

Cameron Quinn survived the drive-by attempt on his life at the end of the first issue, and during the second he sets things in motion that will forever change the L.A. gang scene. Taking cues from William Shakespeare, whom he likes to call ‘Willie the Shake,’ CQ lets loose the dogs of war and turns criminal against criminal in his campaign to take over his ex-boss’s business and crew. With short-tempered felons pointing fingers in the wrong directions, CQ gets his hands dirty, takes out Trey Loc, his old employer, and emerges the temporary victor.

Cameron is depicted as an ambitious young man with his own set of goals, but it isn’t until the third issue that we begin to see the depth of his darkness. Compared to his cokehead, recently deceased ex-employer, CQ is not the lesser of two evils, but rather the more ruthless, efficient evil. He informs his sister that in exchange for getting the trigger-happy bookies off her husband’s back, she is going to deal drugs for her rich co-workers and friends. He also informs her this new business relationship is not a negotiation if she wants her husband to live. An element of humor is injected in one scene when CQ educates his new crew they will be trading in their street clothes for something a bit more high class. When one person objects, and is quickly silenced with a left hook to the face, others are in immediate support of the clean-up plan. “Anybody got a comb?” one member asks, while another insists: “I’m pulling my pants up now!”

Yet things continue down a dark and bloody path as CQ tries to get his drug pipeline back on track. There are men of the cloth who are not as holy as they appear, a lawyer turned drug addict who seems to love her white powder as much as her daughter, old ladies are getting blown up and traitors are revealed. This is not a book for the faint-hearted or easily influenced. Readers find themselves rooting for the ‘bad guy,’ not because there are no other choices, but because through it all Cameron Quinn shows himself to be more than just a gangster. He is an intelligent man who is loyal to his family and willing to scheme, fight and scratch his way into his own niche in the world.

Sergio Carrera’s artwork continues to blend seamlessly with the idea behind the story. The blocky lines and smoky backgrounds really bolster the feel of HIGH ROLLERS. With art as visceral and real as Carrera’s he makes it even easier to dive into the world Phillip has created. Their teamwork helped create a darkly entertaining underdog story about a man who never loses sight of who he is and what he was born to acquire.

Avril Brown

4 MANGAS, 7 VOLUMES

4 MANGAS/7 VOLUMES
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by
Del Rey

PASTEL VOL.12 is written and drawn by Toshihiko Kobayashi, and features more wacky hijinks as Mugi tries to get his shit together and tell Yuu that he loves her. In the meantime, Yuu continues to send so many mixed signals that you don’t know whether to hit and run or steal second. I disliked PASTEL when it first began, then warmed to it as it got a bit more intelligent and mature in its storytelling, but am now dismayed to see it backsliding. Volume twelve feels like a lot of stuff we’ve seen before: the duo are stranded overnight on an island during a storm and their relationship goes nowhere; they get entered in a “best couple” contest but Mugi folds before he has to kiss her; Murakami returns and announces that she still likes Mugi, making Yuu jealous, but she refuses to tell Mugi her own feelings. PASTEL has a lot of potential, particularly because of how Kobayashi has grown as an artist, but it’s beginning to tread water. I’d hate to see it drown.

 

Kiriko Yumeji continues to work from Tou Ubukata’s story in creating LE CHEVALIER D’EON, and it remains a unique reading pleasure. Set in 18th century France, the adventures of the Sphinx/Lia as she inhabits her brother’s body and battles wicked and magic-enhanced poets is a blast. From the costuming to the odd fights, CHEVALIER captivates.

Volume four was my favorite of the series to date, finding the heroes trapped by murderous twin poets in rooms that can only be exited by solving an esoteric riddle wrapped in a poem that encompasses the walls. It gives the book an intellectual quotient to match the action quotient and adds an extra layer of thrills into the narrative. Skipping ahead to volume six, the action gets even weirder as an evil high-level poet uses the sign of the cross to create bloodthirsty creatures that form out of the walls and ground to grotesquely devour his foes. Unfortunately, the book ends with a bit of confusion; unlike with every other volume, there is no preview of the next one coming, yet there’s no mention of the series concluding. However, online sources seem to indicate that the original, un-translated material only went six volumes. If this is the end, I have to say that it’s a damned unsatisfying one, with loads of story threads still dangling. Some clarification would be lovely.

Taisuke and Yuta continue their travels in search of other powered individuals and to put a stop to the murderous rampages of a former friend in ALIVE (written by Tadashi Kawashima and drawn by Adachitoka). Volume three was a strong one, featuring a story that really grabbed the heartstrings; the duo meets a couple of kids on the run from their own father, who is determined to kill his children so that they do not have to suffer the terrible things awaiting the human race at the hands of evil people with powers. It adds some emotional stakes to the book that I think it lacks at times and the battle itself was interesting. Skipping ahead to volume six, Taisuke finds himself wanted for a questioning in a series of murders he did not commit and must also confront a priest with the power to petrify his victims. This fight was much more brutal, and on the surface appeared to have a stronger emotional core to it, but ultimately lacked the heft of some of the earlier fights in the series. Still, it was good to see Taisuke begin to begin to use some wit as far as his power goes. ALIVE has never really lived up to its spectacular first volume, but it is a solid read and one that I move towards the top of the pile when it comes in.

However, the one that’s really turning me on right now is PRINCESS RESURRECTION. This action/horror series continues to grown in scope and excitement, with volumes three and four putting out some terrific material.

Hime, the title character, is surrounded by werewolves, vampires, and all sorts of ghouls in her everyday life, not to mention her resurrected “blood warriors” that take strength drinking from her veins. It sort of gives her a small army to draw upon in her battles against other mystics and gods. But challenges are everywhere, and not just for Hime; her vampire friend is beset by other vampires for her allegiances, the blood warrior Hiro must learn to use his own gifts in order to keep Hime safe, and the werewolf must overcome her own anger at how the vampire treats her in order to work with what would normally be a natural enemy.

The best material, though, comes from a classic horror setup, as Hime and Hiro enter a small village devoid of people, only to discover that it is actually moving through time and happens to be beset by a killer who had wiped out the local populace along the way. This story really sets the nerves to tingling, and a follow-up down the road acts as a very worthy sequel. PRINCESS RESURRECTION has become a very strong book, and I can’t wait to read more of it.

Marc Mason

GOTH CRUISE

GOTH CRUISE
Directed by Jeanie Finlay
Premiering on
IFC Free on November 27, 2008

Even if you aren’t a goth, you know someone who is or was. The one subculture that still thrives despite its roots in the 1980s, goth is everywhere and running strong. And yet still, after over twenty years, completely misunderstood by “mundanes” or “norms.” Who are the goths? What are their values? Important questions. But the most important question is this:

What do goths do on vacation?

Much to what may surprise some, they go on cruises. Yep, cruises- those same boat rides that swallow the disposable incomes of millions of senior citizens every year. Documentary filmmaker Jeanie Finlay, remembering her own teenage years as a goth girl, took her cameras along for the ride in 2007, and the result is GOTH CRUISE, a fascinating and illuminating look at how a dark subculture mixes in with a vacation synonymous with sunshine and light… and how 150 goth folk mingle in with 2500 other cruisers that are not only wildly uninformed about the goth lifestyle, but that also harbor some fears of the tattooed and pierced people sharing their dinner tables.

What emerges in Finlay’s narrative is a story about acceptance. First and foremost is the level of acceptance that the goth cruisers have amongst themselves. Unlike so much of “norm” society, those in the lifestyle have a stronger level of body acceptance with each other. There is no pressure to present a certain body type to the world; women with curves are respected for who they are, not rejected for failing to conform to an ideal. The portrait that Finlay paints is one of a group that lacks a certain level of vanity about their shapes. It’s heartwarming and inspiring to see it.

The flip side of that acceptance is in how the fellow cruisers perceive the goths among them. What unspools along the way is an understanding by the “norms” that they are dealing with a group of people who have morals, values, families, jobs and mortgages… just like them. Some passengers do have a level of fear and keep their distance, but for the most part, you can see the non-goth sailors warm to the presence of the darkly clad vacationers.

Filling out the story is a cast of characters that vividly capture the imagination and interest. There’s an elder goth, who is a veteran of the first Gulf War, and his cruise is a break from raising his two teenaged daughters as a single father. A pair of goth newlyweds is using the cruise as their honeymoon, and their ceremony and families play an integral role in giving the documentary an emotional center. Finlay also covers a different married goth couple and focuses on where their union has taken them as far as personal philosophy goes. But two other cruisers catch your eye more than others, and it is them that makes the movie tick.

The first is an extrovert named Lobster who does not consider himself to be a goth, despite the fact that his dress and manner squarely place him within the culture. The highlight of his journey comes when he slathers on $50 worth of red makeup and horns in order to venture out into the night dressed as Satan. On the flip side is DJ Storm, a six-foot-six black man who not only lives the goth lifestyle but also enjoys cross-dressing as part of it. If you’ve ever wondered if they make size 16 women’s patent leather boots, you’ll get your answer here. Watching his transformation into character is something you cannot turn your eyes from, and the final product is something to behold.

GOTH CRUISE could almost serve as an infomercial for the goth lifestyle; these people are fun, funny, and more interesting than the majority of people you’re ever going to meet. Finlay’s camera plays fair with their quirks and oddities, and despite plenty of opportunities to come off as scary, the cruisers simply come off as… normal.

The irony is palpable, really.

Best of all, I enjoyed this documentary because it reminded me of my youth when chasing goth girls was all I wanted to do, because I thought they were the sexiest girls on the planet.

(And I still kinda do.)

Check it out November 27 at midnight on IFC Free.

Marc Mason

THE SWORD 12

THE SWORD #12
Written by Joshua Luna and Drawn by Jonathan Luna
Published by Image Comics

Having not read the previous eleven issues in this series, I was hesitant to read a book when so much has presumably already happened. Although there are clearly still questions to be answered, the basic premise of this story was relatively easy to grasp, making it easy to enjoy the tension and pain felt by Dana Brighton, the heroine of THE SWORD.

This issue opens with Dana waking up on a beach to find her legs have been cut off at the knees and are now lying several feet from where she is. As if that wasn’t traumatic enough, the next two pages show the new reader why this situation is even more painful than it appears. There is a flashback scene from five years ago when Dana used to be in a wheelchair. She had fallen trying to get from her bed to her chair, and was crying for help when her sister arrives. Although she is obviously sympathetic to her handicapped sister’s plight, Andrea tells Dana in no uncertain terms to help herself, because she is stronger than she is acting.

Getting back to present time and the battle royale on the beach, Dana has found that inner strength, ripped off the skin that has already begun to grow over her severed stumps, crawls over to her disembodied calves and put them back onto her legs allowing the magic of the sword to meld them together again. This is just in time to find Zarkos, obviously enemy number one, reattaching his arm in a similar fashion before he attempts to elude the vengeful Dana by fleeing over the water.

The fury and determination in Dana is something any sibling can attest to as she dodges his attempts to subdue her. Dana’s fervent belief that yes, avenging her beloved sister Andrea is worth the lives of several gods and more, never wavers.

The lines are pretty basic, which completely fits with a classic tale of revenge, of mortal versus god. The pain and anger in Dana’s eyes as well as the shock and frustration in Zarkos’ shine through, giving this simple style more depth and dimension than expected. The muted pastel colors give this issue a feeling of partial completion without overshadowing what she has accomplished here; Dana obviously still has more work to do. THE SWORD is for anyone who has truly felt they would do anything for their family, even if it meant spitting in the eyes of the ancient gods themselves.

Avril Brown

PETEY AND PUSSY

PETEY & PUSSY
Written and Drawn by John Kerschbaum
Published by Fantagraphics Books

When reviewing a book like PETEY & PUSSY, it is difficult to know where to begin. If Looney Toons characters decided to star in a fetish porn film, it would start to resemble the twisted ride Kerschbaum has decided to take us on with this grotesque and hilarious graphic novel.

Petey is a balding, handkerchief-wearing, ball-licking pooch whose desires don’t extend beyond sticking his nose into whatever substance he can find, savoring a good boilermaker, and helping out his friend Pussy with his latest debacles. Pussy lives to torture his birdie roommate Bernie by not ending his life, threatening the cigarette-stealing mouse in the wall with decapitation, and trying to hang onto the pair of glasses that don’t make him look like he’s been on ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’

Both cat and dog have the mouth (and thirst) of a sailor and they get into (and out of) more crazy-ass situations than your average cartoon character. The Old Lady who lives with Pussy and Bernie has an ever-present scotch on the rocks in one wrinkled hand, does more harm than good when it comes to proper bird maintenance with the other, and in her off-time apparently likes to stick various items up her vagina. In one memorable scene Pussy’s warns Petey to stay away from the sausage as this was one of the unfortunate food products to enter into Old Lady’s cooter, but instead Petey gleefully interprets that as a dinner bell and feasts on the “twat-wurst” with unrestrained abandon.

Very few lines remain uncrossed in this crass comic, which induces as many belly-laughs as it does horrific groans. As if the language and fucked up situations weren’t enough to keep you morbidly turning page after page, Kerschbaum spares no detail with each twisted panel he’s created. From Petey’s hairy and minute genitalia, to the blood spurts after Bernie begins pecking his own leg off, to Old Lady’s sagging box and boobs, PETEY & PUSSY will leave an indelible burn on your brain whether you want it to or not. And surprisingly (or not, considering how often you’ll laugh out loud), you can’t help but be grateful for the everlasting impression.

Avril Brown