PEDRO AND ME
I finally found a copy of PEDRO AND ME: FRIENDSHIP, LOSS, AND WHAT I LEARNED this past Friday. Published by Henry Holt - a "real" publishing concern - and written/drawn by Judd Winick, it's a deeply moving and personal story of Winick's relationship with Pedro Zamora, who you'll remember from REAL WORLD: SAN FRANCISCO as the AIDS speaker, himself inflicted with the disease. Winick provides all the appropriate background to explain Pedro's character, and chronicles much of what happened with Pedro after the cameras finished rolling, as well as showing what the episodes themselves didn't show.
I started reading it Saturday afternoon and I had it finished by Saturday night. It's the kind of book you just can't put down. Once you start it, you get sucked in and don't want to leave. It's not like you can read the book and root for Pedro to live. You know the ending. By now, you may even think you know most of the story. But Winick manages to recount it in a clever, clear, and honest way. It's a real page-turner in a non-traditional way. There are so many little things that are enjoyable that you just want to get to the next one right away.
Despite the heavy tone of the book, it is not without a sense of humor. Winick does a good job in conveying, for example, the sheer lunacy it was to try to "act natural" when you had a cameraman and a boom mic guy following your every move. He recounts the little humorous give-and-take teasing between he and his roommate of six months.
Much of the strife the show is remembered for is gently skipped over. Most notably, the infamous Puck episode ("This is not a healthy environment for Pedro.") is reduced to a sentence in passing. The book is not about Pedro's relationship with the other cast members. It's about Pedro, himself, and his relationship with Judd.
It's not a perfect book, but it's well worth reading. For one thing, Judd Winick's cartooning style is a bit unpolished. The heads are all too big - which actually acts as part of his style - but proportions are sometimes off (hands look really small compared to the rest of the bodies), and the lettering oft-times starts reading a little crooked. Caricatures sometimes fade in and out of recognizability, but I think that's the toughest part of the art. The technical knowledge needed to draw caricatures - especially of people who burned into your memory for a few months on MTV - has got to be vast. Nonetheless, Winick does a good job. It's still pretty obvious who is who, although there were a couple of panels where I had to think about it to figure out which one was Pedro and which one was Judd. (When in doubt, Pedro is the one wearing the flannel shirt.)
But these are all surface issues, and in the end can be overlooked for the sake of the story. I'll join in the chorus - this is a book that deserves an Eisner nomination.
It also has the potential to be an important book. In some circles, this could be something of a minor celebrity biography. I can only imagine the hell Winick's agent went through to shop this book around - as a graphic novel! As straight prose, some publishers might have been interested in it. But drawn out as a "comic book," it must have received some strange glances. I'm glad Henry Holt had the guts to take on the project and publish it. I'm also glad that this will be in all the major bookstores without problems. Let's just hope they do their duty and shelve it next to the other biographical tomes, and not just next to the X-Men trade paperbacks. This is a book that should go over really well with a younger, college-age demographic. It has the ability to attract more people to comics. If nothing else, it can show a wider audience that comics aren't just super-heroes and kid stuff.
OTHER REVIEWS WITH SOME COMMENTARY ALONG THE WAY
Begrudgingly, perhaps, I'm really starting to like THE PUNISHER. While Steve Dillon's art still does nothing for me, I think I've also come to terms with the fact that it's not actively harming the story. I can look past it. (Just look at the second page. It's an overhead shot of Punisher laying in bed and Joan the Mouse watching over him. The only problem here is that Joan the Mouse ends up looking to be about the size of a mouse, and Frank Castle the size of an elephant by comparison. That's just one example.)
Maybe it just took me a while to warm up to Garth Ennis' style of writing, but I'm liking it now. Heck, I even found the cartoony ending with The Russian to be laugh-out-loud funny. Not only that, there's even a moment in there that is genuinely touching. In a comic starring the Punisher! The dialogue between Soap and Molly is just as good as anything else being written in comics today, including Brian Bendis' stuff.
So now I'm really looking forward to next month's issue. Go figure.
I have mixed feelings about Ed Brubaker and Warren Pleece's DEADENDERS. It's a solid piece of work. It stands up well on its own. It paints a picture of a depressing post-catastrophic earth, and shows us the lives of some teenagers that live in it. This is their book and these are their relationships, and we're just eavesdropping. For as depressing a book as it might seem, it also glimmers with a ray of hope, both figuratively and literally.
For the purposes of this review, I read DEADENDERS: STEALING THE SUN. It's the trade paperback collecting the first four issues of the series. (It also collects the short story from the third annual WINTER'S EDGE anthology.) This holds up well as being the set-up. When you're done with this story - and it is one complete story, more or less - you'll feel adequately welcomed into the new world. You'll look forward to the next set of adventures that these kids will get into.
But as well-crafted as it may be, it just isn't my thing, I suppose. The lead character is a drug-runner who doesn't appreciate his girlfriend and is prone to rash behavior. His girlfriend is much more interesting, if only because she hangs out with this guy after all the crap he's put her through. Why would she do that? I'd like to learn more. The other supporting characters are an assortment of like-minded drug goons, oddballs, and manic depressants. Granted, the catastrophe that robbed the city of the sun explains a lot of it, but if I want to be depressed, I'll watch the 6 o'clock news.
Despite all of that, I'm going to give the book one more shot. I'll pick up the next couple of issues after this TPB and see where the story goes. Like I said, this book just does a nice job of setting up everything. I'm curious enough to see where it goes from here to try a couple more issue. Maybe with the setup out of the way, the relationships and the "adventures" these characters have will ring truer to me.
(Oh, and I don't know how the story arcs are structured, but I would have liked to see the first six issues in a trade paperback, instead of just four. Also, the Vertigo TPB design does nothing for me. It is similar to the style used for THE INVISIBLES' trades, and those were rather blah, too.)
ALISON DARE LITTLE MISS ADVENTURES saw print last week. I reviewed it here a couple of weeks ago. It printed well, and it's still highly recommended. This book has charm and a ton of potential. Be on the lookout for more of the same next year sometime. Oni would be out of their mind not to publish more.
J. Torres also saw print with Image's MONSTER FIGHTERS INC.: THE BLACK BOOK this past week. (It's drawn by Francis Manapul and Rob Ross, with some designs from Rick Cortes.) It's a mildly entertaining tale that will be exciting and kinda cool for those of us who've been following J. Torres around for a little bit. I don't want to be the one to give it all away, but I think you'll like it. The story itself is an almost farcical series of dread events, with MFI handling them as well as can be expected. The art is very good, and the lettering printed at full size this time, so the book is easily readable. Even the colors printed nice and brightly, given the dark nature of the book.
The problem with the book right now is that it just hasn't defined its characters all that well. Part of this is just due to its intermittent publishing schedule, which doesn't allow it to develop the momentum it needs, or to let Torres stretch out the writing muscles enough to look at the characters more closely. I'd like to know more about these characters. The Christmas book last year was a nice start to that, but I want more. This book comes across fairly plot-centric. While it's a nice light-hearted romp through a bunch of interconnected weirdness, I'd like to see more character.
MIDNIGHT NATION #2 lays out the groundwork for the series. This is the point where the lead character knows his mission and must now decide whether to embark on it, or how hard to work on it. Usually, this is the kind of thing you'd find out in the first couple of pages of a comic, but if you're reading this series as a 12-issue mini-series, then the timing does, indeed, fit perfectly. We had our adventurous opening to grab our attention in the first issue, and then the second issue uses our introduced characters to guide us into the main story arc. It's actually textbook storytelling. You use your first scene to establish tone and character. That should lead directly into establishing the overall mission of the story. Often, the two can be combined into one. But that's a topic for another column…
The trick now, of course, is waiting to see how long JMS lets things fly in this direction before he pulls the rug out from under all of us, as well as the characters.
There must be something in the water these days. We haven't had so many comics with so many "gotchas" in a while. First, we had Devin Grayson's most recent issue of BATMAN GOTHAM ADVENTURES. Then, we had the twist ending in TELLOS #9. Now this past week, Brian Bendis (with art from Alex Maleev) gives us another one with SAM AND TWITCH #15. Since Bendis doesn't do it quite this often (like, say, Erik Larsen), it comes as quite a shock to the readers and the characters. This big shock leads the way to the appearance of everyone's favorite bounty hunter, Jinx. By the end of the issue, she's fairly well latched on with our two detectives, and things promise to get interesting. The interplay between Sam and Jinx is precious, and makes the entire issue worth it. If you like the kind of stories Chuck Dixon, for example, tells when he teams up superhero characters, you'll like this. (Remember the meeting between Nightwing and Superman in the most recent ACTION COMICS? That was handled really well, with the strong force of their different characters behind every move. I can already see the same thing happening here with Sam, Twitch, and Jinx.)
Maleev's art style, by the way, fits in with all the previous artists on this book. It has that same sort of dirty, average man art style that doesn't seem to glamorize or overly-polish up anything.
For more on the Bendis rant from last Friday, be sure to stop by here this Friday. I'll have my reaction to the fallout from that column. There's some interesting things to be gleaned from that whole post-rant discussion last Friday.
TECHNICAL EXPLANATION AND APOLOGY
For those of you who were curious about all the question marks in last Friday's column, I have an explanation. I didn't mean to make everything in the second half of the column sound like a question, nor a couple of sentences in the first half.
As you may have realized by now, I'm something of a computer geek, and an Open Source utilizer as much as possible, as well. (I'm geeking out tonight because I just got the Third Edition of PROGRAMMING PERL in the mail today.) I was using the new Netscape 6 third beta last week and used it to submit my column. The column is written in Microsoft Word, which replaced an ellipsis "…" with a special code of its own. When that column got cut-and-pasted into Netscape, the code was mistranslated into a question mark. Thus, all those annoying question marks between titles in the PREVIEWS section last Friday should have been "…". Hopefully, I'll get that fixed soon for the archives. Sorry for the hassle.