Well, reviews of comics that were nominated for the 2007 Eisner Awards. Sadly, the Eisners ignored CSBG's contributions to the art and science of comic blogging, because they're assholes and I hate them.
But they DID manage to nominate a couple of pretty good comics, and I'm gonna take a look at some of them over the next few weeks.
Let's start with an angry Brownie Scout Dressed in Drag, from a "Best Reality Based Work" nominee.
I LOVE LED ZEPPELIN Review.
Hey! Neat! Sherman Alexie did the introduction. Y'all hear that he's supposed to be writing for Marvel in the near future? How weird izzat?!?! Potentially cool, mind. But completely unexpected, like finding 2 pairs of (clean) panties in the blender.
(I speak from experience.)
But, despite being one of my favorite novelists AND one of my favorite screenwriters, Alexie (If I may Bendisize for a second) screws the pooch on the first couple pages of this book. He spends the introduction tryin' to describe I Love Led Zeppelin in one word. He ends up with "eclectic," after randomly picking words from the dictionary. (His first attempt yielded "Curry.")
Eclectic? Sure. Kinda generic, though. Seems like an easy out. I got a much better one.
Or Seattlian, maybe, since a proper noun isn't really an adjective. Or, to be even more precise, half- Seattlian. Forney's *The* voice of the cool, infinitely hang-outable Seattle, the sit on your porch all day and drink beer and look at the sky Seattle - But not the "Oh shit, it's raining again, I'm going to kill myself now" Seattle. The good side, just barely skirtin' the dreary underbelly.
Hell. Even without the constant references to local landmarks, this ex-Seattlite would've recognized the tone. Sure, this book is fulla sex and drugs and rock 'n roll, (and gay sex at that) but it's not the party 'till you puke, dude I almost died, over-the-top rock 'n roll New Yorkish or LAesque insanity that dominates their respective "scenes". It's measured, excess. It's careful excess.
"I looked up at the bedroom window for a while... I wondered if he still lived there. I never got to thank him."
"One Night My Whole Class of 37 took ecstacy together... and the people I hated I still hated, just a little more warmly."
Or here's a Youtube link to a live presentation by Forney of some of the material in this book, where she talks about her Rock 'n Roll Death.Of course Seattlite excess isn't ALWAYS measured and careful......
I'd Trade My First Born For a Cup of Coffee.
The Seattleness of these strips is really the only thing that links them together. Some date as early as '92, some are as fresh as '05. Most are collaborative with Forney doing the drawing and a local-type celebrity writing. I remember a few of them from the Stranger, the local Seattle weekly arts and entertainment paper which I read back when I lived in the Olympia, circa 01-04.
Certainly you could see a strip about Yoga from an LA Cartoonist. But a strip about Yoga with a butt joke in the middle? Unquestionably Seattle.
My absolute favorite batch of strips from this eclectic collection are the fourteen "How To" strips at the beginning. (A few of these are links.)
- How D'Ya Sew An Amputated Finger Back On*
- How to Twirl Your (Boob) Tassles in Alternate Directions
- How to Become a Successful Call Girl
- How to Fuck a Woman with your Hands
- How To Tip Your Server
- How to Kick at Home
- How to Use Your Voice (For Self Defense)
- How D'Ya Survive the Coming Chaos (Written by a Montana Militia Member)
- How to Smoke Pot and Stay Out of Jail
- How to Talk About Drugs With Your Kids
- Old Glory: How to Fold the Flag and Present It To Next of Kin
- How to Make a Nice Sciue Sciue dinner.
Betcha good money there's something there you need to know. (I've used 4, 5, and 7 myself.)
I Love Led Zeppelin isn't life changing, but it's funny and classy, and the cartooning is top notch - Forney's pen's got a broad stylistic range, and in one case she completely reinvents her style in the middle of a strip. Twice. Maybe it's more appealing to me as an ex-Seattlite, but I can't imagine not bein' charmed by these little slices of life..
Although, OK, truth to tell I'm a little annoyed I never noticed the sign on the building downtown that looks like a vagina. My life feels somehow... incomplete.
- There's a four star Amazon review that says, anI quote, "It's funny and informative. I reattached my own severed finger with the help of one particular cartoon."
Y'know, I think that would be worth FIVE stars.
Hotwire Comix and Capers review
Hotwire is nominated in the Best Anthology category, which SHOULD be won by Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators if there's any justice, and it's... Well, I don't want to say it's bad. There's some awfully nice work contained herein. However, "Good" is not the correct term either. In fact, this whole book... Just don't seemta add up to much. I read the stories first and circled back to the introduction -written by editor Glen Head - but that didn't help provide much context either. He lists a couple of story types he thinks don't belong in Hotwire; "Poetic sensitive personal memoirs" (which are absent enough,) "Splatterfest anti-narrative" (which is a pretty good definition of the fold-out centerpieces,) and "high end art zine" with "maybe not much story there." And when he mentions what we WILL find in this anthology... Well, I'm not sure what kind of comics are going to "Lark Me Up," but it sounds painful about the rearmost parts and I'd just as soon they didn't.
Despite what the introduction says, there's quite a lot of "Not Much Story Here." Many pieces are dark, dream-like surrealism, there's a few outright joke and/or parody strips, (What if Garfield was the devil?) and a couple of strips tryin' to gross-out the audience. My absolute favorite work was the most straight-forwardly narrativistic, Tim Lane's The Drive Home, a realistic and somberly drawn story about puttin' regrets behind you. The whole strip is one guy, driving and thinking back on his past, but it really does build to one hell of a climax by the end. The rest of Hotwire was less impressive. It wasn't articularly funny, and speakin' as a jaded and jaundiced Crumb reader there wasn't much that shocked me. The Publisher's Weekly review on Amazon said that it was tryin' to recapture the spirit of the seventies underground, but I didn't get the sense of personal involvement or sniggering, illicit thrill-seeking that's present in the head-shop comix of Spain or Shelton.
If I mentally reassign The Drive Home to some other, better, anthology, the nicest thing I can say about Hotwire is that it's occasionally... and ain't THIS a shock... very pretty. Sure, there's plenty of self-conscious ugliness, including a series of mock ups from the fictional magazine "Inbreed Illustrated." But this type of Garbage Pail Kid style humor just serves to illuminate some down-right beautiful art, including Max Andersson's surrealist sci-fi "Car Boy,"
Tony Millionaire's Krazy-Katty landscapes in "Lord Save the Little Children" and Carol Swain's perfectly colored and quiet "Family Circus" (No relation)..
Ok. Enough with the compliments. We were discussing my general antipathy.
The problem with the rest of the book is that the pieces are so stylistically diverse that they don't really jigsaw together, but there's enough of a link between many of the strips (dreamy surrealism, gross out humor) that they don't come off as enjoyably "What are we gonna see NEXT, huh, huh?" random, either.
I'm gonna play backseat editor here and say that the placement of the stories is part of the problem. Maybe the whole anthology woulda worked better if there was kind of a bell curve effect, where the calm, pretty strips would be placed exclusively in the beginning, and subsequently weirder and more frantic strips would follow them throughout the book. Instead, the actual product gives us bunch of individual little statements that don't really add up to much just kind of... suspended there, floating, bereft of context. Just gimme something to grab onto, man!
On the other hand, the overall design of the anthology is very good. The front and back covers are bold and eye-grabbing, the faux centerfold in the middle is a cute idea, and 20 bones for an over-sized, (often) full color comic containing well over a hundred pages certainly isn't a bad deal for your money.
(Also, I kind of want that POO comic featured on the cover.)
But overall it's disappointing and disjointed. Maybe the contributors tossed off some weaker efforts, maybe the editor was tryin' for a kind of random 'n spontaneous feel that just didn't happen. Head's a fine artist, but fails as an editor. (Aside from the bits I scanned, his work is some of the strongest in the book.) But I gotta call poor Hotwire a failure on most every level.
Moomin: The complete Tove Janson Comic Strip
So, Wow! I'm Wikipediaing these Moomin critters are they're apparently HUGEly popular in Finland. And Denmark. And Russia. And Japan. And the UK. And most of Not-America. There are books about them, a movie, a freaking Moomintroll theme park, even. Strange, then, that I'd never heard of Moomin.
Well, until now. Here's the first four-complete-stories-worth of the long running Moomin strip, translated into English, an' stuck in a spiffy looking oversize hardcover. These early fifties srips aren't the first to feature the Moomins and their literary roots date back even further, to The Moomins and the Great Flood from 1945. But they were certainly one of the driving forces that imbeded these Hippo-lookin' heroes in European popular consciousness. (Sez Wikipedia.) So. Moomins. Been around a while, very popular. But that doesn't mean that these strips are any good. And I'm not sure that in this case even "Very well executed" makes it good. At least to my 30 year old and deeply cynical eyes.
The stories, which are definitely intended for all-ages, are 'bout equal parts comedy and adventure. The hero is the Hippo-esque Moomin, pictured above...
Who I guess is supposed to be a troll, and not to be nationalistic or anything, but our good old hairy American trolls are VASTLY superior to your damn junky hippopotamus-resembling foreigner trolls.
Anyway, where was I... family comedy... Oh yeah. Each of the four stories contain one specific adventure. In this book they excise Moomins unwanted guests, fend off the Moomin's harsh (but very rich) Aunt Jane, take a holiday on the Riviera, and get marooned on a dessert island with pirates. There's certainly a lot of content in these 95 pages.
The Moomins engaging personalities shine through nicely, but the real star of the show is cartoonist Tove Jansson's narrative skills. The strips are short; only three to four panels long, with none of 'em running longer, ala American Sunday Comics. (And in a cute Watchmen-esque touch, each strip begins with Moomin's plump, plump rumpus, just as pictured above.) But in each and every one of the well over 300 strips Jansen sets up the scene, introduces and spotlights some characteristics of her cast AND advances the overall meta-plot of the big, big story. And THEN the last panel ties it all up with a cliffhanger or punchline. Honestly, I've never seen an American comic DO that. The continuitized strips on this side of the pond tend to end weakly and move glacially, and even Real-Time strips like for Better or for Worse often offer up simple character pieces that don't really tie into any on-going plots.
OK, since it's a crappy scan, I'll fill you in on the plot. The Moomins (not pictured) are in hiding, and their rich (and EVIL) Aunt Jane is askin' Moomin's buddy Sniff where they are. The relevant points are (A) the beginning of the first strips neatly reprise the beginning of the next strips while every panel advances the narrative, and (B) the especially cool cliffhanger, with Moomin and friends heading towards Aunt Jane with a roll of barbed wire.
So what's with the discontented tone up above if the cartooning is so top notch? Two things: Some of the language feels a little off. Now this ain't a UNIQUE problem... The economy of language needed for successful strip cartooning means that every word has to be perfectly chosen in order to maintain the rhythm of the piece. And when translated, y'tend to end up with some linguistic clunkiness. This might be unavoidable, really, but it but it felt particularly noticeable here.
The second problem is the presentation. Like I said, these are VERY good daily comic strips. And this is a problem in itself. Moomin is almost perfectly designed to fit in the daily paper.. And suffers when removed from that environment. Constant re-introduction of the characters and re-setting the scene is needed to keep the daily audience up to speed, but the collected edition reader doesn't need it, and might find it downright annoying. (Well, he does if the reader is me.) I'd hope that for the next collection Drawn and Quarterly would go with a squatter format, maybe displaying a nice, Garfield-esque two strips per page. This might comes closer to recreating the feeling of reading them in the dailies, and give the page-turning cliffhangers some Oomph.
But all that's forgiven, 'cause, Hey! Pirates! Awwwww Yeah. Ain't nothin' awesomer than Pirates.
So SWEET of you Dears. You'll have your glass of rum in a minute.
So Moomin earns my highest possible recommendation. Of course "Has Pirates in it" *IS* my highest possible recommendation. But kids and comic craft aficionados should eat this up with a spoon. Overall, the sheer mastery of craft overcomes the format an' translation flubs. And just look at those cute l'il pirates!
(Moomin is nominated for best Collection of Foreign Material and Best Kid's Comic.)
Tales of Woodsman Pete Review
Lilli Carre's Tales of Woodsman Pete. (Well, OK, it was really funny and sweet and definitely worth the seven bucks it costs. Carre is nominated for best writer/artist humor. Here is a scan.
It is also short, like this review.
Up next: Magical Realist Autobiography from the dude who drew Cassanova and his twin, and, according to Chris Sims "the single greatest noodle-related comic book ever published."