Thursday, April 20, 2006

Graphic Lit -- 4/9 and more

Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. I and most of my family has been laid down by colds and various other ailments over the past few weeks, not to mention the Easter holidays and a family wedding, leaving little time for blogging.

Comic reviews especially have fallen by the wayside, mainly because I haven't had space on our paper's Books Page to run any. There is good news though, as it looks like Graphic Lit will be revamping and expanding to become a weekly column. More on that as it develops.

In the meantime, here are some reviews that ran April 9, as well as some that ran much, much earlier. Enjoy.

"Christina and Charles"
by Austin English
Sparkplug Comics, $10.

Done entirely in an intricate childlike scrawl, English's graphic novella loosely follows two romantics -- one an insecure teenager, the other a more mentally damaged young man. English adopts a conversational, almost poetic tone that might easily alienate readers looking for a more straightforward narrative. Those looking for something a bit different and experimental than what usually passes for comics should check this book out, however.

"Death Comes to Monkeysuit"
Monkeysuit Press
128 pages, $11.95.

The signal-to-noise ratio in this anthology is much higher than in some previous editions, a good thing since this might well be the last book in the series. The "Monkeysuit" anthologies have generally featured work by animators dabbling in comics, and that continues here. There are a few duds, but strong entries by Mo Willems, Steven DeStefano, Pat Giles and Jonathan Royce push this anthology into the above-average category.

"Persepolis 2"
by Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon Books, 187 pages,$17.95.

The first volume of "Persepolis" detailed Satrapi's childhood and adolescence in '80s-era Iran and concluded with her departure for a private school in Europe. The second half delves into the author's experiences as a lonely, alienated teen in Europe and her eventual return to her home country.

Some of the initial emotional impact of the first collection may be lost here -- stories of jerk boyfriends don't resonate as well as life under an oppressive theocracy -- but Satrapi remains a compelling storyteller and her deceptively simple images help convey an adolescence trapped between the repressive East and the prejudiced, thoughtless West. And there are enough harrowing tales -- like that of a police raid at a cocktail party that takes a sudden tragic turn -- to make one grateful for not living in a country where you have to watch your back every five minutes.

"Rabbit Head"
by Rebecca Dart
Alternative Comics, 24 pages, $4.95.

Fans of formal play and experimental comics should get a real kickout of "Rabbit Head," a slim but impressive book by relative newcomer Rebecca Dart. The story begins at first with a rabbit-headed female adventurer braving a surreal landscape, but quickly (and literally) branches off, flowchart-style as it simultaneously follows various characters and animals that come across Rabbit Head's path before the book finally condenses and collapses back on itself.

Each path you follow has an underlying dog-eat-dog gruesomeness and even in its more comical moments "Rabbit Head" has a sense of underlying savagery that's a wee bit unsettling. That barbarity, however, is tempered with a humanism and genuine emotion for its varied characters that helps make the book such a pleasure to read. In other words, you don't just have to be a fan of avant-garde comics to enjoy "Rabbit Head."

"The Technopriests Book One: Initiation,"
by Alexandro Jodorowsky and Zoran Janjetov
Humanoids/DC Comics, 160 pages, $14.95.

"The Horde"

by Baranko
Humanoids/DC Comics, 144 pages, $17.95.

DC's recent deal with the French publisher Humanoids means that comics fans will soon see a glut of trippy sci-fi stories like the kind found in Heavy Metal magazine. "Technopriests" and "Horde" are the opening salvos in this onslaught, though I give the slight edge to "Horde," with its surrealistic, tongue-in-cheek visions of a futuristic totalitarian Russia on the hunt for the reincarnation of Gengis Khan. Both books are fun, though your enjoyment level will strongly depend upon your tolerance for over-the-top fantasy stories that have little regard for nuances like character development, realistic dialogue and a sensible plot. If that sounds like you, then by all means, purchase these books without delay. If not, well, perhaps you should move on to the next review.

"Rosetta Vol. 2"
edited by Ng Suat Tong
Alternative Books, 268 pages, $19.95.

Easily the most notable sections of this above average anthology are the striking illustrations by two 20th-century Chinese artists, Feng Zikai and Liao Binxiong. Their graphic (in both senses of the word) commentaries on World War II, the Cultural Revolution and the rampant poverty and corruption that occurred during said times are worth the price of admission alone. Stories by other critically acclaimed international artists like Jason, Edmond Baudoin, Martin Tom Dieck and Max should help induce comics fans even further. Not every submission here is a home run, but there's enough good stuff to keep one from feeling like their time and money was wasted.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006

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