Monday, November 20, 2017

Showtime

How I happen upon graphic novels is a varied thing. I read this one, Showtime, because someone I follow on Twitter recommended it as an antidote to "restricted nerd bullshit." So I decided to check it out and see what she meant by that. I have to say that this book is a pretty unique reading experience in terms of its scope, focus, and narrative. For starters, it's narrated by a rat who is pushing a can of Coca-Cola up a staircase. Secondly, it's about a weird car trip, a reclusive magician, and a trio of hitch-hikers who purport to be stranded wait-staff on the way to a gig.

The magician in question is in the mold of a David Copperfield or David Blaine, who trucks in grand public illusions, including a floating cruise ship. His works have made people question reality, which is also what this narrative does, and he is coming back for a comeback tour after years of being out of the public eye.

As you might guess from the high concept set-up, this tale is full of potential avenues for interpretation and existential exploration. It is thought-provoking and philosophical but also relatively fantastical. I will not say it is a book for everyone, but I do feel that it is expertly constructed and very satisfying to read in terms of intellectual and aesthetic experiences. It features a fascinating story and also creative and provocative lay-outs. Just check out this page:
Showtime was created by writer/artist Antoine Cossé. He has a few other works under his belt, including such titles as Harold, Mutiny Bay, and La Villa S., as well as several anthology entries. He also posts many excerpts from his various works at his blog. He speaks about his comics work in general in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been positive. Madeleine Morley called it a "richly cinematic tale." Laura S. Hammond concluded, "Dark yet ironically funny at times the sinister elements and plot twists will enchant those who have a penchant for the uncanny and weird."

Showtime was published by Breakdown Press, and they have extracts and more info about it here. For those interested, you can learn more about Breakdown Press in this interview.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cici's Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training

Cici's Journal was an intriguing reading experience for me. It combines elements of a personal journal, picture books, and comics in following the exploits of a little girl who is curious and figuring out her way in the world. In many ways, the two stories here are quotidian, though the daily life they chronicle is full of wonder. In many ways, I felt like I was reading a graphic novel with a few sections that read more like a good elementary-aged novel excerpt. And I mean that in a good way.

The plot in this book follows Cici, an inquisitve and energetic ten and a half year-old. She is enamored with her friend Mrs. Flores, who is an author, and channels all of her energy into observing adults and trying to learn their secrets. She conducts investigations and writes them up, often with the help of her friends Erica and Lena. They act as springboards for her ideas and also they provide convenient cover stories to distract Cici's mom from what she is really up to.
In the first story (excerpted above), "The Petrified Zoo," she follows a peculiar, old man into the woods to find that he is decorating an abandoned zoo. The second story "Hector's Book" she notices an old woman who keeps checking the same book out of the library each week. And in addition to unfurling that mystery, her personal life comes more into focus. In many children's books that feature sleuthing, like Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew, the main character can become pretty single-minded and insufferable. I liked that in this book, that type of behavior gets called out. Cici's friends, mother, and even her hero Mrs. Flores all show her how her actions alienate them, and she learns more about how to balance being a decent person as well as an effective writer.

In terms of story I liked the gentle, human way that both mysteries resolved as well as the attention to the personal interactions of the main characters. But my favorite part of this book was its artwork, which is gorgeous and vibrant. The characters all are full of color and personality. The settings are all well grounded in reality but also beautifully rendered, and I loved the visual storytelling and facial expressions.Just check out that excerpt above and you'll see what I am talking about.

The two books contained in this volume were a collaboration between artist Aurélie Neyret and writer Joris Chamblain. Neyret has published work in many anthologies and magazines in France, and she shares much of her artwork via her blog. Chamblain has written various other comics, most notably the series Sorcières Sorcières (website in French). Cici's Journal was translated into English by Carol Klio Burrell, and I felt she did excellent work making this entire enterprise funny and contemporary in a different cultural milieu.

The reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly wrote that Neyret's "delicate, finely worked portraits bring elegance" to Chamblain's "smart" stories. Sharon Tyler summed up that it "is a book that made me smile. It reminded me of Harriet the Spy in the best of ways, and still felt new and fresh. I think this will appeal to a number of readers."

Cici's Journal was published in the US by First Second, and they have a preview and more info about it here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Science Comics: Dogs: From Predator to Protector

I went into reading this book thinking it would be a light, breezy read about the history of dogs. I was right about the first part, because boy was I surprised by how much more comprehensive and detailed it turned out to be, all while still being light and funny in tone. Pulling off this tough balancing act, the latest volume in the Science Comics series, Dogs: From Predator to Protector, touches on a great many scientific subjects, including genetics, evolution, and DNA. And better yet, it covers all this ground narrated by a cute and energetic pooch named Rudy.
As you can see from the excerpt, this is a colorful, interesting, and informative book. It touches on all kinds of issues and information about dogs, including an account of how they evolved from wolves, became friendly with people, and have been bred in particular ways to suit specific jobs and human whims. Along the way, there are many interesting episodes and asides, including information about how they see, smell, and hear. This book gets at how they socialize, why they sniff butts, why they chase balls, and what their barks can mean. Amazingly informative and gorgeously playful, this book should be a big hit with anyone who loves dogs, science, good comics, or learning about the world.

This impressive blend of educational and entertaining comics was created by Andy Hirsch. He has a number of comic book series, including The Baker Street Peculiars, as well as a couple of other graphic novels under his belt, including his own Varmints. He has volumes in the Science Comics series coming soon, one about trees and the other cats. He speaks extensively about his work on Dogs in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. Johanna Draper Carlson gave it high praise, writing, "All the Science Comics are great, but this is one of the best of the bunch, an outstanding read." Kirkus Reviews stated, "The scope and depth of information is truly impressive and could be formidable, but the comic-book format keeps things on the accessible side as well as helping to illustrate more complex points." Suzanne Costner wrote that it was "an excellent introduction to the history of domesticated dogs, and offers enough basic facts to give readers a good place to start researching the topic more deeply on their own."

Dogs: From Predator to Protector was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more about this book here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Demon, Volume 2-4

As I've written before, I seek out Jason Shiga's work. It is usually fun, funny, and cerebral, full of puzzles, strange gadgets, and/or unique situations. His series Demon is no exception, although here I have to say he has dialed his sensibilities to 11.

This series stars characters from Shiga's past works (Meanwhile, Bookhunter, and Empire State), though it treats them like actors playing new roles. As I recounted in my review of Volume 1, Demon follows the exploits of Jimmy Yee, an accountant who attempted suicide only to find that he kept coming back to life because he is a demon. Shockingly, he went on a murder/crime spree that put him on the authorities' radar. In the three books that follow, much gets revealed about his situation and its causes, and the cat and mouse chase between Jimmy and Hunter escalates to a bloodbath of global proportions. This series revels in depravity, but it is also amazingly clever, well thought-out, and masterfully executed. I cannot do justice to them in this space (and I don't want to spoil much either, so I'll simply give you a free-verse poem for each book:
2. surprise surpise
daughters can be demons, too
3. 100 years in the future
a demon meets his maker
plus uncovers a plot for world domination
4. the fight for freedom involves
a high body count
conjoined twins
and peg-legged amputees wielding baseball bats

Overall, I found these books to be compelling and almost impossible to put down. These adventures follow their own logic, are incredibly graphic, and delve into areas of bad taste in the most entertaining of ways. I think that the whole narrative is a smart, grotesque masterpiece, and I am kind of anxious to see where Shiga goes from here.

Shiga speaks about his future work as well as his take on Demon here. Publishers Weekly gave the books a starred review and wrote, "As with Shiga’s other books, there are puzzles aplenty to solve, with an added layer of urgent narrative drive." They also added that "the story will prove just as addictive for readers finding it in print." Dustin Cabeal called it "one of the funniest and yet intelligent books I’ve ever read."

Demon was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here (Volume 2), here (Volume 3), and here (Volume 4). This series was first published as a webcomic, but now only the first chapter is available online.

These books contain lots of violence, some profanity, and some sexual content, so I advise them for mature readers.

A review copy (of Volume 4) was provided by the publisher.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Creeps Book 3: Curse of the Attack-o-Lanterns

This third book in The Creeps series (I reviewed the first two books here) caps off their adventures. In this volume, our quirky quartet finds themselves up to their eyeballs in trouble again (with the local authorities as well as with a new supernatural menace). They not only have to deal with service detention, they also have to contend with an ages-long curse, a modern day witch, an unlikely romance, and murderous pumpkins with deadly bites.
The curse begins...

Like the other books in the series, this one was delightfully gruesome, with some legitimately horrible and scary moments. Also, it rewarded astute readers of the first two books, using many established character traits and situations from those books to pay off in some very touching, human moments as well as great jokes and dramatic scenes. This book features masterful storytelling as well as some masterful comics making.

This book was also the creation of Chris Schweizer, an impressively talented comics creator who has been nominated for multiple Eisner Awards and is well known for his work on the  Crogan's Adventures. Currently, he is providing the colors for Rock Candy Mountain, an action series about hobos in post-World War II America. He talks extensively about his work on The Creeps books in this interview.

I was unable to locate reviews for this book, which I think is somewhat strange and unfortunate because this book is at least as good and enjoyable as the second book, The Trolls Will Feast. That book had a much more inventive villain, though I feel this book has a more intricate and complex plot. It does have a four star rating on Goodreads, and there seem to be at least of couple of reviews here as well, though they are behind a pay wall.

Curse of the Attack-o-Lanterns was published by Amulet Books, and they have a preview and more here.

I tracked Schweizer down at HeroesCon this past year, and he was a swell guy who was also kind enough to sign and draw a little sketch in my copy:
Thank you!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Head Games: The Graphic Novel

A graphic novel adaptation of an Edgar-nominated novel by Craig McDonald, Head Games follows the exploits of Hector Lassiter, a fictional pulp novelist and adventurer who seems to find himself constantly in interesting, difficult spots. At the beginning of this book, he happens into possession of Pancho Villa's skull, which brings him all sorts of unwanted attention. There are treasure hunters who want it for a map that is supposedly hidden in/on it. There is the mysterious Skull & Bones Society who want it for their collection. There are shady businessmen, federal agents, and collectors who either want it for their own or to auction it off to the highest bidder. And all of these groups are not afraid to get rough or murder in order to get it.
Along the way, he falls in with poet/journalist Bud Fiske and the haunted, feisty actress Alicia Vicente, and together they dodge lots of adversity and peril. At the time of this book, Lassiter is more like a lion in winter, but still he is quite capable and athletic. His status sets up a hearty context for self-exploration, rumination, and reflection, and there is lots of personal drama to go along with the high adventure. Also, there are a bunch of cameos from famous people of the period, including Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway, Marlene Dietrich, and even a young George W. Bush.

I am a big fan of books like this one and am particularly fond of the adventures of Travis McGee and Parker, as well as pretty much anything by Max Allan Collins or Lawrence Block. As it is, this volume is a thrilling tale that stands on its own, but I would love to see how other volumes in the series could follow in its wake. I know that this book is technically the 7th in a series of 10, and, without spoiling things, I was a bit shocked and amazed by how it resolved. I hope this book sells like hotcakes, because I really want to follow Lassiter's exploits in graphic novel form. I'm already adding the novels to my ever-growing to-read list.

The two people behind this adaptation are Kevin Singles and Les McLaine. I was not able to locate much info about Singles, but I do know that this book is his graphic novel debut. McClaine is a veteran of comics and animation, an Eisner Award nominee, and is best known for drawing the series The Middleman and the webcomic Jonny Crossbones.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly called it "a breezy thriller designed to hit the sweet spot for crime fans and history buffs alike." Pharoah Miles summed up, "Overall, it feels like those old pulp novels that Robert Parker and Dashiell Hamlett used to write, a time capsule of very different men and women." Maite Molina wrote that it has "plenty of action and humor to keep you engaged from start to finish." Tom Batten proclaimed it "Good fun for fans of pulp, crime, or historical fiction."

Head Games was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and much more here. I don't think this book would appeal to younger readers, but I should add a small caution that it contains violence and some brief nudity.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature

I had a chance to buy this book this summer at HeroesCon, but instead went with All My Ghosts. I really liked that one, and I was intrigued enough to buy this Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature on Comixology. Like the title promises, it offers two stories (in a flip book format in hard copy). And I also must say that the title misses out on its other promise, as the book is sadly devoid of any creatures. Still, I found it a fun, if silly, romp through horror story genres.

The first story is a teen summer camp murder tale called Bee Sting. It is a fun, gory tale about a couple of teenage boys who decide to become camp counselors in order to meet and hook up with girls. Their plan seems to be working until a potential bee allergy leads down a path of unlikely twists that takes them to a convention of redneck cannibals.
Granted, this set-up is not the most novel or literary set of plot devices, but the story is still fun and energetic. There is an obvious love of the slasher genre that makes the book enjoyable and a sense of humor that sells a lot of ridiculous circumstances. I had a good time reading this story, even if it was not the most highfalutin kind of narrative.

For those interested, Bee Sting was made into a full length, indie film that led to a sequel called Bear Sting.

The second story in this book is The Curse of Stranglehold, and it is more of a horrific urban legend. The premise is that a teenage outcast mysteriously vanished 20 years ago, and he was presumably murdered by a mob of angry, jealous rivals. Two decades later, the teenage descendants of the townspeople dare to drive up to and make out in the infamous scene of that crime, and those who are sexually active pay a terrible price. They also learn much of the past misdeeds of their parents.

As with the first story, this one was a fun take on a hackneyed genre and has its charms, even it I saw the ending coming. I liked it less than Bee Sting, however, mostly because the end of the story devolved into many panels full of expository text rather than action played out via the images.

These stories were a collaboration between writer Matthew D. Smith and artist Jeremy Massie. The duo have another work under their belts, the current ongoing, all-ages series Amazing Age. Massie has a few solo titles to his credit, including the aforementioned All My Ghosts and a quirky superhero tale called The Deadbeat.

I was not able to track down many reviews of this book, and the ones I did find were somewhat negative. Jessie Sheckner concluded about Bee Sting, "Smith and Massie both have a great deal of talent – that much is plainly evident – however they’d do well to either channel their work into something with more originality and substance or, at the very least, avoid sleepwalking through clichés in a tired narrative that ends with a bad lesbian joke." Roby Bang called The Curse of Stranglehold "a decent comic," but felt that "the art is inconsistent and sloppy, dragging down the overall quality of the work."

Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature was published by Alterna Comics, and they offer a preview and more info about the book here. Given the subject matter and gore, I recommend this book for more mature readers.