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ALIAS THE CAT
Written and Drawn by Kim Deitch
Published by Pantheon Books

Kim Deitch and his wife Pam collect cartoon-style cats from the early 20th century. Certainly, that doesn’t make them strange in any sort of way; many people collect much stranger things. But their passion for cats leads them to some extraordinarily odd people along the way, including a sailor who wants a thousand dollars for a cat he claims was made on an island in the middle of nowhere to be sacrificed to a volcano, and the owner of a strange cat suit that might have been the property of a Polish movie star who also wore it to commit acts of anarchy in 20s New Jersey. But it’s Deitch’s final obsessive attempt to put together the pieces of the other men’s tales that leads takes ALIAS THE CAT into the realm of the bizarre and puts a meta-cherry on top of the ending and renders the book a somewhat unsatisfying reading experience.

So much of ALIAS works; Deitch’s rendering of the sailor’s tale, and of he and Pam’s experience with the cat suit’s owner, is virtuoso storytelling. You’re never quite sure when to call him out on what he’s presenting in the first two-thirds of the book, because he fully invests in telling his own tale, and you buy in. But, reminiscent of Spielberg’s worst habits as a director, Deitch doesn’t know when to quit. When he depicts his final journey in the book, he takes the book into a self-referential, meta realm, and the story collapses on itself. The goodwill he’s spent considerable time building with the reader makes a hasty exit, and you don’t buy the results of his “mental breakdown” and the shape they take on at all, and it saddens.

I had read this material in its original form and had the same response, so I was curious if it would read differently in collected format. Oddly, the first two pieces of the book are that much stronger brought together this way, and the third chapter dissatisfies more. I appreciate the creative way that Deitch approached the material (if not the scary and disturbing way he draws himself- Deitch has a way of making himself look like an Amber Alert waiting to happen), but I wish he had found a better way to conclude this journey. Ultimately, I can only offer a middling recommendation for the book.

 

Marc Mason

VAMPIRELLA QUARTERLY #1
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Drawn by Stephen Segovia
Published by Harris Comics

A scantily clad woman buys a ticket at a nasty-looking porn theatre, drawing in the poor slob following her down the sidewalk. But when he gets inside, there’s a surprise waiting for him: she’s not quite what she seems, and has the butcher knife in her purse to prove it. Fortunately, Vampirella is on the scene, ready to fight. The question is: whose side is she on? The woman in red has a brand new mission, and it isn’t as “good” as we’ve come to expect from her.

That’s the setup for the latest adventure in Vampi’s long and illustrious career, which, by the way, remains firmly entrenched at Harris. Rumors of her begin bought out and starting over elsewhere turned out to be just that; now, her keepers can get back to letting her do what she does best under their watchful eyes: kicking ass while wearing as little as possible.

Fialkov’s tale is pretty decent, though the resolution to nature of the woman buying the ticket was a bit too predictable. Still, he keeps Vampi well in character, and the whole thing meshes well with the recent REVELATIONS miniseries. The one thing that doesn’t quite work is Segovia’s art. He completely lets his poorer nature get the best of him. VAMPIRELLA has always been a cheesecake book, yes, but always within limits. Segovia lets loose and skips past those limits quickly; some of Fialkov’s script is printed at the back, and you can see where Segovia maneuvered the panels to maximize the amount of flesh he could shove it. It reads as more than gratuitous and distracts from the story.

To see how it can be done to perfection, one only need to turn to the back half of the book, where a classic Vampirella adventure written by the great Archie Goodwin and drawn by Jose Gonzales gets reprinted. Great writing, cheesecake with context, and art that functions purely to tell the story… this reprint alone is worth the cover price to this book. Ultimately, it’s great to have her back on the shelves; I’m just hoping that the art will “find its level” soon.

 

Marc Mason

RED EYE, BLACK EYE
Written and Drawn by K. Thor Jensen
Published by Alternative Comics

In 2001, K. Thor Jensen had a pretty bad stretch of luck. He lost his job, broke up with his girlfriend, and was evicted from his New York City apartment, as well as dealing with an ill grandmother and 9/11. So what’s a guy to do when his world has caved in? Jensen hit the road, buying an Ameripass on Greyhound, which allowed him to bus anywhere in the country he wanted for two months. Aided by longtime friends and internet acquaintances, he put the rest of his life on hold and set off to try and have an epiphany about his life. Of course, we all know that it’s never that easy, and it certainly wouldn’t be for Jensen.

RED EYE, BLACK EYE is a terrific travelogue, a format that’s notoriously difficult to pull off in graphic novel format. The decision for an artist going this route always winds up being a choice between focusing on the environments visited versus the people. Jensen wisely chooses the people, and the book is far more compelling for it. He also allows those that he meets and visits to take the spotlight, telling the stories that they told him during his journey. That prevents the book from becoming an exercise in navel gazing, too, eliminating another odious possibility for a book of this type.

Some of the people he meets are boring, some a little bit on the crazy side, but they all inform the underlying story in ways that fascinate. My only issue with the book was that Jensen left out one class of people who informed his journey and their stories: those he rode with and next to on the Greyhound. At multiple points, it was clear that Jensen had become the “crazy, creepy smelly guy” on the bus that we all fear and try and avoid. How were the others around him reacting? Did he have conversations with them? Did they tell him stories, too?

Still, that’s a small nit to pick for what is an excellent, absorbing piece of work. Jensen is someone to watch, and this book definitely ranks as a contender for year-end honors.

 

Marc Mason

 


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