Today: A comic that's a perfect example of how bad art can almost ruin a good story, and why all editors in the world should be replaced ... by me!
Gauze is a new graphic novel published by Arcana for $14.95. It's written by Gerrin Tramis and drawn by four different artists, each handling a different chapter. Dave Hamann, Bruno Oliveira, Sebastián Piriz, and Gian Fernando handle the art. I don't have a problem with the four different artists - it's kind of interesting, based on the way the book is structured. I do have a problem with the art itself, which ranges from competent (Fernando's) to early-Image annoying (Hamann's). It's not often that I come across a book on which one component (the art or the writing) is so much better than the other component that the lesser component threatens to ruin my enjoyment of the comic. I mean, a book with Liefeld on art is going to look awful, but usually the writing is awful, too, so it doesn't matter. But Tramis's story is pretty good, and it's a shame it's not served with better art.
I always give art short shrift when I review (I'm getting better, though), mainly because I don't have the language to properly express myself on the subject. This is a common theme among the comics blogosphere - most reviewers, it seems, are writers, so they focus more on the writing - so I'm not blowing your mind with my revelation, but I have tried very hard to become better at discussing art in comics.
With Gauze, I'm forced back into a defensive crouch to say, "I just know I don't like it." It's hard to articulate why it's lousy. Hamann isn't great with figure drawing, as he's kind of Humberto Ramos-lite, but it's not completely exaggerated like Ramos's art is. His faces are somewhat out of proportion, but again - it's comics art, and it's not like we haven't seen that before. It just rubs me wrong, mainly because it doesn't fit the subject matter (I'll get to the story once I'm done with the art). Oliveira, who draws the second chapter (off of Hamann's layouts, according to the credits), is even worse with figures. Some of his faces don't even look human, and his perspective feels out of whack in some panels. Then, in one panel, he draws a fearful man so grossly huge that it's hard to take him seriously. This is a book about a serial killer, and although all the artists draw him larger than the other people around him, this one drawing made me think of Mr. Hyde in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie - and we remember how ridiculous he looked, with that tiny head on that bloated body. Piriz does a slightly better job, toning down the exaggerated figures (except on video games, which isn't surprising), and Fernando actually conveys the horror of what Tramis has been writing throughout the entire book, even though his work is still somewhat bland. So the art does get better, but by the time we get to merely decent art, we've almost lost interest in the story. That can't be good.
There's also a depressing lack of editing skill on display in this comic. I can forgive typos to a degree in a first draft, but Tramis made some egregious grammar/spelling errors and editor Sean O'Reilly missed them.
I've given up caring whether correct punctuation is used in comics, because it's kind of a lost battle, but here are a couple examples of poor editing: "There bodies" instead of "their," "medal" in others' affairs, "this whole thing has been drug out for over two years now" - and those are the more obnoxious ones, as there are plenty of other more minor ones. For some, of course, this doesn't matter, but I'm always annoyed by the butchering of the English language that often takes place in publications. The idea that some of these errors are characters talking and therefore we can forgive them is one thing (the final example up there is spoken dialogue, but that's still horrible), but the first two examples are unforgivable, as they're both annoying spelling errors that are easily corrected. I know I'm in the minority around here (at least, I think I am, because whenever I talk about grammar and spelling I get comments telling me to ease up), but I will always make a stand against the dumbing-down of our language. That's just the way I am, man!
As I mentioned, it's frustrating with regard to this book, because Tramis has an interesting story to tell that doesn't necessarily go places we expect. It's a comic about a serial killer, and is therefore pretty bleak, but Tramis tells it in a very interesting manner. The book is divided into four chapters, and each one tells the story of a different character, who may or may not be a victim of the killer. The first chapter is about Liz Morgan, who is living a normal life in New York until the police tell her they found some victims of the killer in Tennessee.
She's taken to a safe house, leaving behind her boyfriend and the life she's built, but we don't find out why she's a target. She is, of course, and the chapter ends in violence. The second story is about a woman who wanted to be a star but got hooked on drugs and her estranged husband and son, who want her to come back to them. It's a somewhat stereotypical tale of someone who desperately wants fame and can't handle it when she fails to achieve it, but Tramis again does a good job twisting our expectations. In the third story, Nelson, a geeky video game designer, lusts after a co-worker, but never has the courage to talk to her. A good-looking dude keeps horning in and putting the moves on her, driving Nelson insane with jealousy. He finally decides to take drastic measures, but are his measures drastic enough? Once again, Tramis does a good job subverting what we expect, both with regard to the object of Nelson's affection and how the story resolves. In the fourth chapter, we finally find out how all these various characters and stories are connected. The connection isn't a stunning revelation, but Tramis has done a good job making all the stories interesting and building the anticipation of what's to come. And he has one more twist for us that makes the story of the killer more tragic.
Tramis isn't great at scripting, as his writing is a bit painful to get through occasionally (not helped, as I pointed out above, by the poor grammar and spelling). But he does a very nice job plotting this story out and making sure it doesn't fall into the old "serial killer" clichés.
The killer's path, ironically enough, doesn't cause horror for everyone, a point Tramis makes nicely in the fourth chapter. This story, even with all the trappings of a boring horror story, is much more about the way actions have unintended consequences than we expect from something like this, and that makes it a bit more thoughtful. It's an interesting way to present a comic about a serial killer - Tramis focuses very little on the actual killer and not even that much on the crimes, choosing instead to examine the victims and how they live, with the killer only intersecting with them seemingly randomly (it's not random, as we find out, but it feels that way). It's a brutal and bleak comic, to be sure, but it's a nifty way of telling the story.
I can't completely recommend it because of the reasons I've gone into above, but if you can get past the art, it's a pretty cool book that shows how lives are affected by violence and how the consequences of violence extend far beyond what we might expect. It's a shame that it's not better served by the art, but it's still an interesting comic.
Tomorrow at noon: Noah! Floods! Myths! It's all here!