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GNR Update — Conan: The Tower of the Elephant and Other Stories

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 4:57 pm

I’ve just updated with a review of Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord’s Conan: The Tower Of The Elephant And Other Stories

Here’s an excerpt:

What really sets this version of Conan apart from the rest, though — and apart from almost any other action/adventure comic book being published today — is the mind-eatingly splendid artwork. That sort of thing gets said a lot, by graphic novel reviewers, when they’re talking about fantasy books. Usually, it means that the artwork is the kind of overly-rendered, photorealistic, pose-centric crap that you see on the covers of heavy metal albums and in posters for big budget fantasy movies. That’s not what this artwork is like at all. It’s something I’ve never seen before: scribbly, deliberately unfinished-looking, on the lowest level (the figure and the line), and yet gussied up at the highest level with the latest mainstream comics coloring techniques and painterly washes. It’s a strange, tense marriage of styles that works very well. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a bit of Kubert’s Tarzan to Nord’s Conan, but where Kubert puts his ink line in the forefront, making everything all about the line, Nord allows his line to fall to the back, in favor of pure shape and action, when necessary. In some places, the coloring by Dave Stewart swallows the line entirely, giving the characters and the settings a carved-in-soap kind of look. In other places, you get the sense that there was a tightly-pencilled line, which has been covered over by the coloring, and then one or both of the artists came back in with a Sharpie to just touch up a couple of key details with a thin black squiggle. I’m not sure if that was the technique or not, and I’m sure I’m not describing it well enough — suffice it to say that the style is distinctive and well-done. Together, Nord and Stewart have managed to breathe visual life into a character and an idiom that had become tired and old under the influence of geeky fan-favorites like Frank Frazetta, Barry Windsor-Smith, and John Buscema. I’m not saying that these artists weren’t masters — they were great, each in his own way — but that’s precisely the problem: they were masters. Their vision of the character and the world, bastardized by imitators and by imitators of imitators, like fifth and sixth generation mimeographs, had to be blasted out of our brains before we could actually “see” Conan again, with fresh eyes. Nord and Stewart have done that. This Conan is alive: he’s funny (his body language, I should say, is witty), he’s vicious, and he’s something else entirely. The fact that, toward the end of the book, another great fan-favorite, Michael Wm. Kaluta, actually draws a longish sequence in the middle of a story, in a completely different style, without putting the younger and less-well-known artists of the rest of the story to shame, or jarring us in any way, is another testament to their accomplishment.

Artwork by Cary Nord and Dave Stewart
© 2006 Conan Properties International LLC

…read the rest of the review


Graphic Novel Review: Night Trippers

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 12:10 pm
Detail from Night Trippers © 2006 Mark Ricketts and Micah Farritor

There’s novelty packed into the edges and margins and interstices of this book, cute ideas and miniature high concepts that sound cool when described, but which don’t really serve any purpose within the larger (fairly predictable) story, except, well, to sound cool when described. For example, vampiric Beatles, mumbling “All you need is blood. Blood is all you need.” Or a bumbling octogenarian pair of vampire-hunters, who stumble out of the nursing home, and onto the scene, long enough for one of them to get killed, performing no real work in the story that couldn’t have been handled more efficiently without them. Even the most interesting character, the quasi-superhero, a vampire-killing “teddy boy” who idolizes Elvis and talks in a sort of Lenny Bruce “beatnik hip” patois, when he’s not just shouting rockabilly lyrics verbatim, is, like the two old guys, only interesting because of surface characteristics — specifically, the surface characteristics I’ve just listed. That’s pretty much all there is to him. The protagonist (or, at least, the character with whom we spend the most time throughout the course of the story — I’m not sure if she can be called a protagonist, because she’s entirely too passive and unreadable to do any agon-ning, pro- or otherwise), a working-class girl who finds herself promoted into a Twiggy-like pop star by an ancient, wealthy vampire, for reasons that are never entirely clear (he says he wants to create a legion of undead superstars for the kids to emulate, so they’ll beg to be made vampires; but then he never bothers to make our heroine a vampire — he deliberately avoids doing so, as a matter of fact), fails to engage. Until the very end, she’s nothing more than a MacGuffin for the other characters to fight over. Inexplicably, in the last couple of pages, she becomes a vampire hunter herself, complete with an unusual weapon, and an outfit that doesn’t really qualify as a superhero costume — but only just barely doesn’t qualify … read more


GNR Update: La Perdida by Jessica Abel

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 9:47 pm

Jessica Abel’s La Perdida takes the “novel” part of “graphic novel” more seriously than most. It feels hefty, meaningful, novelistic, and not just because of its actual pagecount. As a high-stakes coming-of-age story set among young, politically idealistic but ethically challenged expatriates, it reminds me of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories (albeit with more cocaine and less cabaret). Granted, Isherwood’s Communist (and fellow-travelling) characters lived closer to the bone: their wished-for, gabbed-about, imaginary revolution felt more real — because it was actually starting to happen in other nearby countries, maybe, and because Germany, the setting for Isherwood’s book, was in the process of turning itself into Hitler’s Third Reich at that very historical moment, in part due to middle-class panic induced by the rise of chattering, well-off expatriate intellectuals purporting to be the vangard of a Soviet-style revolution while gobbling canapes and guzzling fancy cocktails. As in Isherwood’s turn-of-the-century Germany, the politics in La Perdida’s turn-of-the-millennium Mexico come across as dangerous, deceiving poses. For example, Abel’s self-professed Communist agitator, a balding lounge lizard named Memo, uses his presumed moral superiority as a weapon against (primarily) women: self-righteous political outrage as pick-up line. When he does act upon his “convictions,” it is in a deeply nasty, pathetically opportunistic way. That he is able to justify a simple grab for money with high-sounding rhetoric is entirely believable, and handled very well, and very subtly, by Abel, making him more interesting than he might have been in any other graphic novel, but, all the same, we feel nothing but contempt for him. He is abhorrent. We never understand what the other characters see in him — and we never understand what he sees in the other characters, either, by the way. There’s not a winner in the bunch.

read more


Graphic Novel Review: The Ticking by Renee French

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 10:44 pm

I’ve updated GNR with a review of Renee French’s bizarre, quiet masterpiece, The Ticking. Here’s an excerpt:

Some of the most interesting sequential work in the book, on a panel-by-panel basis, explains and intensifies Edison’s gaze as he narrows in on an object he wants to draw. Here is Edison, staring. Here is the scar on his dad’s face. Here is Edison’s face, in profile, and his dad’s face, in profile, to show you the spatial relationship between Edison’s gaze and the scar itself. Here is a fuller drawing of Edison’s dad’s face, so that you can see more clearly and precisely where the scar resides, and its spatial relationship to nose, eyes, mouth. And here is the drawing Edison made of the scar (complete with a diagram, over in the margins, of the scar’s placement in the world, the other objects and things that live around it). And so on. Edison watching water drip off of his own fingers. That sort of thing. Edison’s infatuation with the small and the ugly — which is the defining element of his personality, and the only thing that makes life bearable for him, maybe, given his deformed facial features — is what puts him at odds with the rest of the world, represented by his dad, who is similarly deformed, but who has dedicated himself to hiding and/or “fixing” the aesthetic imperfections that Edison chooses to investigate and celebrate. That conflict plays out almost like a regular story (but, yeah, not, um, quite). But, as mentioned before, the story doesn’t matter all that much, really.

The Ticking is about drawing itself, the act of drawing — Renee French’s drawing, Edison Steelhead’s drawing — as an act of performance, as a way of engaging the world, inventing the world, defining the world, understanding the world, putting the world in its place. The drawings are all that matter; they are all that there is to this book (on the most literal level, of course, as well as the metaphorical, thematic level) … read more …


GNR Update: East Coast Rising by Becky Cloonan

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 10:17 pm

I’ve just posted my review of the first volume Becky Cloonan’s TokyoPop OEL project, East Coast Rising, over on Excerpt:

More than anything, the story structure reminds me of a videogame — not the two-dimensional fighting games that inform, say, Sharknife, nor the coin-collecting platformers that provide the underlying metaphor for Scott Pilgrim, but rather the lavishly-produced, heavily-scripted, so-called role playing games (”so-called” because the role the player gets to play, unfortunately, is almost always fairly cut and dry) of the Playstation 2 era. Like those games, the widescreen action sequences are separated by a series of quieter, introductory “cut-scenes,” wherein our protagonist (the stowaway I mentioned earlier — name of Archer) explores his new environment, is introduced to the rest of the cast, one or two characters at a time, and figures out what his next objective will be, in incremental stages. You’ll even find a couple of “mini-game” sequences, like when Archer goes fishing off the bow of the ship with his soon-to-be love interest, or when he chases “seachix” across the deck, for their eggs, so he can help the galley cook make omelettes for dinner. Like most of those kinds of games, the story itself isn’t particularly original. In fact, in this case, it’s completely derivative (of Pirates of the Caribbean, of Waterworld, of Robert Louis Stevenson, of a million million other high-seas and/or post-apocalyptic adventures), but not offensively so, in large part because of its sheer, unadulterated charm. Wherever a lesser modern pulp creator might go for the high-pitched insincere squeal of melodrama (in the final monster battle sequence, for example), Cloonan deftly cuts in light, easy sub-scenes, warm and strangely non-urgent personality bits between the characters, while the climax rages around them. “Hey, I found your leg.” “Sweet! I was wondering where it went!” These moments live in a sort of calm bubble of time, almost separate from the main storyline, and are often drawn that way, over in the margins, with deliberately scribbly renderings of the characters. The banter between the heroes and the villains, who are obliged to work together to defeat the final “boss,” comes off as almost affectionate chiding, more like the fans of rival local bar-bands shouting at each other across an East Village avenue at closing time than like the usual seething cliches of high adventure back-and-forth. “You guys so suck!” “I said we gotta work together!” “Pork forever? Joe, you’re not making any sense.” In the context of the book itself, that stuff is a lot of fun, and not (I feel compelled to add) lame, or Stan-Lee-like, in the least, though it probably comes across that way, reading it here in prose form. This kind of charm goes a long way toward fending off the dreadfulness of cliche.

… read more


GNR Update: Challengers of the Unknown

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 8:41 am

Howard Chaykin is a master storyteller and an illustrator of the highest order, whose lines may be wobbly, and whose draftsmanship may seem unwieldy when individual figures are contemplated in isolation, but who knows how to lay out a page, establish an evocative setting, introduce an “actor” with a couple of quick, uniquely human and distinct facial expressions or gestures, and (in the meantime, with his left hand tied behind his back) cut seven different, tangentially-related scenes together in alternating beats, using powerful graphic design and even more powerful chutzpah to hold it all together. Watching him do his thing takes your breath away. When it comes to technique, Chaykin makes the work of run-of-the-mill action/adventure comic book creators look like those slow-footed oil paintings by elephants. But all the storytelling mastery in the world cannot salvage a deeply unworthwhile story, which is what Challengers of the Unknown : Stolen Moments, Borrowed Time ultimately turns out to be.

… read more


Graphic Novel Review Update: Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 2:46 pm

I’ve just posted a new review over at GNR, this time on R. Kikuo Johnson’s literary debut, Night Fisher:

“I get enough of the everyday every goddam day,” a friend of mine (not a superhero fanboy, by a long shot) told me recently, in the course of griping about the “self-masturbatory” (his word, not mine) American Splendor movie and the comics that inspired it. “When it comes to comics, I want bigger-than-life!” So, yeah, he probably wouldn’t like R. Kikuo Johnson’s debut book, Night Fisher, which is just about exactly life-sized, and not one inch taller or fatter than that. If it had been a prose novel, it would be called “mainstream” — but this is comics, so it’s fairly unusual in its focus on the ordinary, even on the highbrow end of the graphic novel bookshelf.

Read more …


Write for GNR. Get Paid.

Filed under: — Alexander Danner @ 4:08 pm

The Graphic Novel Review is now reviewing submissions for our March issue. All contributors to The Graphic Novel Review are paid for their writing, in addition to receiving 10,000 complimentary ad impressions on the Modern Tales ad network. To get a sense of the type of material GNR publishes, please read through recent issues. Writer’s Guidelines available at the web site.


Graphic Novel Review Update

Filed under: — Alexander Danner @ 3:34 pm

You may have noticed that The Graphic Novel Review website has been down and redirecting to the TalkAboutComics website for the past couple of days. I just want to assure readers that we haven’t gone anywhere – GNR is still very much ongoing. This was just an accidental side effect of the server issues that Joey documented in his blog, and should be fixed shortly.

Unrelated to this is the fact that Issue 5 is currently several days past due. This is partly due to my desire to include material paying homage to Will Eisner in the next issue. Since the issue was already nearing completion when the sad news came out, it necessarily meant extending some deadlines to give our writers time to do the work. The issue is done now, and should go live just as soon as Joey finishes up handling some other high-priority technical issues (such as the security problems with TalkAboutComics).

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