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Top Shelf Comics

Written and Drawn by Renee French

Confession: I have yet to enjoy a single bit of Renee French’s work. I’ve read plenty of other reviews praising her to the heavens, but the appeal has escaped me. So I went into MICROGRAPHICA with extremely low expectations.

MICROGRAPHICA is ostensibly the story of two rodents living the wild and free life, and how one random day plays out for them. There’s the find of a well-formed ball of crap, a meeting with an annoying fellow rodent, the chance to play inside a corpse… I suppose it’s everything a nasty bottom feeder could ask for.

So did I finally find a Renee French book that I enjoyed? Unfortunately, no. That isn’t to say that MICROGRAPHICA is a bad book, though; this is easily the most accessible bit of work that French has ever produced. I was at least able to read this one and feel like there was a genuine bit of effort to make it a pleasurable reading experience, and it was. But ultimately, the oddity of the characters prevented me from really diving in and getting invested in the fates of those we meet as the day passes.

I’m all for the odd and the twisted, don’t get me wrong. But there’s just something fundamental about French’s work that blocks me out, keeps me distant. Perhaps that’s even somewhat intentional on her part; maybe her work is meant to create a distance between the reader and characters? I’m not sure. But either way, I’m not sold. If you love French’s earlier work, I suspect this will be completely to your taste. If you don’t, this likely isn’t the place to start.

Marc Mason
Written and Drawn by Christian Slade

Former Disney animator Slade delivers his first graphic novel with KORGI, an all-ages fantasy about a young girl and her fire-breathing dog and their lives in Korgi Hollow. Mixing a European aesthetic with an American sense of impish humor, the book offers up a charming read and maintains reader interest in seeing more volumes of the series.

Story-wise, the young girl (named Ivy) and the dog find themselves wandering the forest one day and run afoul of the local nasties. Fortunately, Ivy has a sharp wit about her, and she manages to out-maneuver the beasts, but they hold a grudge; that means her exit from the forest is about to be a whole lot tougher, and it’s going to take every last bit of her knowledge and cunning (along with the dog’s handy super power) to survive.

Youngster versus nasty beast is a fairly common trope amongst fairy tales, so Slade isn’t necessarily plowing new ground. However, he seems to understand this, and puts extra focus into his pages and producing striking and powerful artwork. KORGI is an amazing looking book, starkly rendered and lushly detailed. Every line in every piece of bark on a tree pops off the page and catches the eye. Slade is easily Top Shelf’s best find since they drew Aaron Renier into the fold.

The other intriguing thing about KORGI is that it is completely dialogue and caption free. I am working from a PDF copy that is apparently lacking around fifteen story pages according the enclosed PR, but nothing is mentioned at all about the lack of words. Yet, the book doesn’t need them- not even close. Slade’s experience as an animator allows him to present the tale in perfectly understandable fashion. This series should be one to keep an eye on.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Jeff Lemire

FARM is the first in a trilogy of graphic novels from Lemire, each meant to focus on a fictionalized version of the area where he grew up, Essex County in Ontario Canada. In volume one, we follow the exploits of a young boy named Lester who has gone to live on his Uncle’s farm after the death of his mother from cancer. Traumatized, bored, and knowing that is an outcast, Lester grows increasingly frustrated with life at the farm and seeks out new worlds in his mind. Much to his surprise, though, he meets a kindred spirit in a former hockey player named Jimmy who runs the local gas station. Jimmy understands Lester’s world in ways the ncle never could, and the pair find a strange sense of fun and belonging in their pretend world of alien invasions and superheroes.

While many books might take that setup and create something salacious or dirty about it, Lemire instead crafts a tale of sensitivity and warmth. Jimmy has no ill intentions towards Lester, aside from helping the boy adjust and enjoy his new life. And even though the uncle doesn’t understand the boy, Lemire plays fair with his point of view; a haunting sequence shows how he accepted the responsibility for taking Lester in, even though he knows he is ill suited for the role of parent or guardian. He also displays a fierce protective nature about Lester, which offers a glimpse of the real feelings in his heart.

Lester himself is a troubled boy who genuinely needs help that no one around him seems to recognize or want to offer. His fantasy life so consumes him that he wears his mask and “cape” to school, adding to the derision and pain he suffers from his fellow students. He has no social skills anymore, and the realization that he is obviously not coping with his mother’s death also escapes the school’s counselors.

Textured and emotional, this is some very good work from Lemire, and easily recommendable. My only qualm comes from the lettering, which needed to be done with more care. The handwritten, scrawling style isn’t necessarily a bad choice; computer lettering would ruin the emotional effect Lemire is looking to produce. But even then a bit more care on some of the pages would make them more readable.

Marc Mason

Written by Robert Venditti and Drawn by Brett Weldele

If you look at comics right now and consider genres, pure science fiction is conspicuously at an all-time low as far as shelf space goes. If you ignore manga, in fact, there’s very little sci-fi at all. FEAR AGENT. The BATTLESTAR GALACTICA adaptations (but even then, those aren’t pure sci-fi). So as THE SURROGATES released its individual issues, they were a breath of fresh air for anyone looking to feed their sci-fi jones.

The setting is the year 2054, and most people have ceased truly interacting with one another. Instead, they go out into the world in a “Surrogate”, an artificial body that allows them to look how they want to look and never have to risk death or injury. But there are forces aligning against the population and its love of non-living, and those forces are about to hit way too close to home for Detective Harvey Greer. Surrogates all over the city are being “murdered” and those killings point towards something far greater on the horizon.

Great science fiction has always involved pointing the mirror at the reader and the society they live in, and THE SURROGATES does that in spades. In an age when so many have already retreated into a sheltered world where games like Warcraft and The Sims consume them, and personal interaction has been replaced by cybersex and instant messaging, Robert Venditti’s story has plenty to tell all of us.

Greer makes for an excellent everyman hero, and the action and mystery elements develop at a pace that is fair and entertaining. I highly praised each issue of the series as they shipped, and I can only tell you that the book reads better as a whole. Plus, there are added bonus features such as character designs, a deleted scene, a step-by-step look at Brett Weldele’s art process, and more. This is an excellent value for your $20, and highly recommended.

Marc Mason 

Written and Drawn by Tony Consiglio

The boy band 110 Percent has its fervent fans; most of them being between nine and sixteen years old. But the band has its older fans, too, and it’s that group that serves as the focus of this interesting and slightly frustrating graphic novel.

Gerty, Sasha, and Cathy each belong to a club called “MOFO 110 Percent.” MOFO stands for “Mature Older Fans Of”, and as you might imagine, the group is full of some very disturbing and sad personalities, including the threesome above. Not only do some of these people desperately need a life, but they are so out of touch with reality, they’re ruining what lives they do have, either through familial neglect, eroding morality, or poor marital choices. Plus, other forces such as group members with alternate agendas are in play as well.

The book opens as the band is ready to release a new album and go on tour, and it is because of those factors that the trio must navigate a minefield of lies and deceit. Cathy, who comes the closest to being a character worth rooting for, suffers most. Her integrity, at work, with her friends, and in private, is under assault, as she faces a number of choices that put her in one horrible position after another. But there’s a least a glimmer of hope for Cathy.

Gerty is a horrible loss of a person, loathsome to read about on every page she appears. Every single thing she does in the book is self-serving beyond reason, and it feels like a mistake for Consiglio to have not made her more rounded. Sasha is married to a horrible man who treats her wretchedly, and you can somewhat imagine what she sees in the band, but it’s still hard to feel anything for her, until the very end when the author comes close to redeeming her.

I liked the story in 100 PERCENT, looking hard at a subculture we don’t see much about in the music world. These types of fans exist and are running around out there. And Consiglio’s characters are put into a situation that interested me. I just wasn’t sold on the characters themselves, and that keeps the book from being a total success in my mind.

Marc Mason

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