THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A COMICS EMERGENCY
ZIG ZAG #2
Written and Drawn by J. Chris Campbell
A turtle to a bear to a man waiting for a bus. A man waiting for a bus to a butterfly to attic bugs being chased by angry ants. Angry ants in a mechanical octopus to a battle robot to a fireman telling their story. The fireman back to the butterfly to a man dressed for a costume party. A man in a costume to a robot playing hide-n-seek to a germophobe back to the turtle. That’s ZIG ZAG in a nutshell.
“But Marc,” you say, “That makes no sense.” No, it doesn’t, not written out like that. But in the structure of the book, it goes down just fine. Basically, one brief little story leads to another, and with each tale, Campbell shifts his artistic style to match. Some are more complex; some are drawn to look more like a children’s book. Some are done with a minimalist line. It’s really quite an interesting variety. Indeed, there’s no way the book is readable without those shifts, because the stories work in no small part due to their artistic foundation. A lovely marriage, really.
ZIG ZAG is one of those rare books that actually work best in pamphlet format, I think. 96 or 200 pages of this at one time would wear on the reader and be a tough read. But 24 to 32? That’s just about right. It also forces Campbell to stay tight in his storytelling. Good stuff.
SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST #4
Josh Cotter’s unusual tale of a Midwestern boy and his imagination comes to a close, and as usual, it’s an absolutely terrific effort. From the book’s humble beginnings as a mini-comic to its close, he has delivered one outstanding page after another, which is no mean feat. But now, we get those pages plus a wonderful sense of closure and resolution. The collected edition will be one to buy and keep.
The highlight of issue four is a sequence in the middle where our young protagonist lays down to read a comic book, and Cotter shifts his style and draws the actual comic within a comic (Cotter was obviously a ROM fan as a kid, and of Marvel in general). However, as the pages of the comic progress, his style shifts, the tone of the story shifts, and you suddenly realize that the boy has fallen asleep while reading and he’s know dreaming himself into his own version of the comic. It reads brilliantly, looks phenomenal, and demonstrates just how much Cotter has mastered his craft in the span of four issues.
SKYSCRAPERS has been filled with a lot of heart, yet also a ton of weird stuff and wonder, but it never felt incongruous at any moment. I can’t say for sure why not, except to say that the grounded nature of his characters kept the flights of fancy close to the ground. The only flaw I could point to in issue four is that the amazing cover lacks Cotter’s name on it anywhere. Take some credit next time, sir, and take a bow: ya done good.
JOHNNY HIRO #2
Picking up where the first issue left off, Johnny and his girlfriend Mayumi are moving into a friend’s apartment, as theirs was destroyed by their encounter with a giant lizard. But even while moving, the pair must go to work, and today at work will test Hiro as he’s rarely been tested before. A famous food critic is visiting the restaurant where he works, and the critic has ordered the lobster. Unfortunately, they’re out. Undaunted, Johnny is given orders to steal one from a rival restaurant, but getting away with it won’t be that easy. This leads to a chase across the rooftops and through the alleys of New York he’s not likely to forget soon.
I was head over heels in love with the first issue of this book, so issue two certainly had some work to do to live up to it. However, Chao smartly doesn’t try. He goes a completely different route, staying away from kaiju gags and instead taking a page from Jackie Chan. He also slips in an amusing Alton Brown joke (and who’s seen that in comics?) and ups the level of character interaction and development. This is very, very wise.
Honestly, trying to out-do issue one every time would be futile, so focusing on the bigger picture (and other cinematic references) is how this book will become a long-term success. The art and dialogue is delicious, and with a second terrific issue under its bely, JOHNNY has likely earned a spot on my year-end top ten list.
THE RIDE HOME
Nodo is a gnome. But not just any kind of gnome, mind you; Nodo is a van-gnome. What’s a van-gnome, you ask? Is it anything like a Van Halen? Not even remotely. It’s a gnome that lives, well, in a van. He keeps the place tidy, creates an orderly environment. And he keeps out of the van owners’ way. Until one fateful day, when on a trip to the vet, the van owner’s cat frightens Nodo and he finds himself exiting the van and lost in the city with no idea how to get back to his red metal home. But with a little help from some new friends, including a female gnome named Flora, he may get himself straightened out. Or, his general lack of direction may leave him stranded and alone in the grip of creatures that think gnomes make a tasty treat. Considering that this is an all-ages book, you might be able to guess how that part plays out.
It’s easy to overuse the word “charming” but there’s really not a better way to describe THE RIDE HOME. From its cute and offbeat concept to the crazy cast of characters, Weiser hits one solid story beat after another. I got a kick out of the book from start to finish, marveling at the way the author created his underground society (and a literal one at that) and mixed it into the real world in a way that made sense. The strongest material created for younger readers doesn’t talk down to them or fail to take them seriously as readers. Weiser, by factoring in things like the vet visit, gives the reader a base to work from. Kids know this world. Adults know it, too.
It’s shaping up to be a real solid year from AdHouse. With books from Paul Pope that appeal to the most mature and sophisticated audiences, and books like this one, they seem to be making a solid effort to create a crossover audience and make a niche for themselves. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of their year plays out.
THB: COMICS FROM MARS #1
Mention THB to a comics fan with an ounce of knowledge of books beyond the Marvel and DC part of the catalog, and you’ll likely get a knowing smile. THB means a lot of things. A lost classic. An intellectual mind-warp. But mostly it means two words: Paul Pope, one of the last remaining rock star comic book creators.
What’s THB about? Perhaps when the entire thing is collected in 2009, we’ll really find out. But what you need to know for this issue is this: Pope has produced four new stories set in his world, and by the time you’ve finished the first one, you don’t realize you’ve been reading a story. That’s how tricky the man can be. Fortunately, he does take a small sliver of pity on us with one of the stories, “A Brief History, or How There Came to be People on Mars” which provides at least some small context to his mad, mad world. But even then, you can’t help but wonder how much of what Pope is telling you is genuine in its artistic truth, because he toys with the reader in his backgrounds, using his Euro-flavored stylings to warp the reality of what amounts to a huge tragedy.
And really, that’s the genius of Pope’s work, and always has been, no matter what he’s worked on. The Paul Pope reality is a tragic one; even when it looks like a roller coaster ride, it’ll turn out to be one where the cars jump the tracks in the end. The simple act of two girls getting a milkshake becomes a miracle in one tale presented here, and even then, it stems from an act of pain and impropriety. Maybe that’s the ultimate message of his work: innocence doesn’t survive- ever.
Any new release of Pope’s work is usually cause for celebration, and this is no different. It’ll contend for awards, be named to multiple end-of-the-year lists… see for yourself why.
Written and Drawn by Jamie Tanner
I’ve started and stopped writing this review multiple times.
It isn’t because I don’t know how I feel about the book. I do. Mostly. Mainly, though, it’s because I don’t know how to describe it. Here goes:
THE AVIARY is a book made up of many short stories set in an interconnected “world” featuring a number of recurring characters that show up in each other’s stories. But not really. THE AVIARY is about a man named Casualty J. Organ who makes lifelike bird dolls, hosts bizarre masquerades, and funds erotic art displays. But not really. THE AVIARY is about a lonely man who gives up his life for a doll, a stripper who dies for love and art, a simian serial killer, a boxing robot, a stand-up comedian without arms and legs, a cat-man who falls in love at the drop of a hat, father and son crime scene photographers… and a number of different characters who cross their paths in a wild tapestry of insanity and oddity.
You’ll have to trust me when I tell you that, somehow, Tanner makes it all work. There’s a true sense of purpose and plan at work here, which frankly scared the hell out of me. How he got from the old man and the doll to the final story here… I have zero clue. But if he truly mapped out this wild bit of storytelling DNA in advance and made it through his own maze… this guy’s a genius.
Did I like the book? I’m not entirely certain. I may respect it more than I like it. The journey it takes you on, the thought processes behind it… “wow” stuff. The grim sense of nihilism that lays bubbling at the surface of each story? I’m all over it. Was I emotionally involved beyond my fascination with how bizarre the book was? No. So that mitigates my feelings about the book a bit. Still, I can’t do anything but recommend it; someone this clever has the potential to be a huge star in this field, and bears keeping an eye on. Might as well start the watch here.
Copyright 2006- 2010 Marc Mason/Comics Waiting Room. All rights reserved