Thursday, 24 July 2008

Underwhelming First Graphic Novel Reviews: Superman Infinite Crisis & Charleys War 17 October 1916 - 21

This was the first comics review i got published( along with a feature on Garth Ennis ) from Verbal Issue 2. It's safe to say i have in fact improved since this point, which baffles and delights me in equal measure. In hindsight I have done both these books a diservice, as the latter is an awesome piece of old school British comics gold. The former is a piece of shit. Man, that Infinite Crisis. It was great.

Graphic novels
Entertaining but at times maddeningly
confusing, Superman: Infinite Crisis (Marv
Wolfman, Joe Kelly, Jeff Loeb) deals with one
of the comic world’s most perplexing mysteries:
how is it that Superman has been around for
over seventy years, yet he is still only in his mid
to late twenties?
Not for beginners, this book features more
than 20 different Supermen, at least three
Superboys, and tries to condense 75 years
of character work into just over one hundred
pages. One for continuity buffs only.
Charley’s War: 17 October 1916 - 21
February 1917 is the third collection of Pat Mills’
and Joe Colquhoun’s spectacular World War I
epic. Originally printed in the UK war anthology
Battle, this is the continuing story of private
Charlie Bourne, who, having lied about his age to
enlist, comes to know the true horror of war.
Stunningly illustrated, meticulously
researched, and overtly anti-war, it’s hard to
believe that this was ever printed in a comic
intended for under-twelves.
Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

First " Proper" Review

This is what I consider to be the first "real review" that I ever did. If only because the earlier ones were so short and shite. When i get round to posting them you'll see what i mean. Published in Verbal Issue 7.

Harvey Pekar is the champion of the mundane but Ciaran Flanagan wouldn't call him a curmudgeon.

Misery Memoirs

American Splendor: Another Day - Volume 1 (Paperback)

by Harvey Pekar (Titan Books Ltd)

The Quitter by Harvey Pekar, Dean Haspiel (Titan Books Ltd)

For those not ‘in the know’ Harvey Pekar is the creator, writer and subject matter of American Splendor, his (initially) self published autobiographical comic book, now Oscar nominated film. American Splendor details his life as an obsessive compulsive, file clerk. A fat, balding, grumpy, self obsessed old get, it’s very difficult to imagine a more unlikely comic book hero. And if his comic stardom is unlikely then his subsequent transformation into a movie character is even more unlikely.

The new American Splendor anthology Another Day is illustrated by a galaxy of talented artists and looks at the changes in Pekars life since his movie success. Foremost amongst these changes is that as a media figure He has become something akin to the comics worlds best loved curmudgeon: a charge that he clearly has issue with. So much so that he spends a great portion of this volume complaining about such charges. In fact the majority of the book consists of him complaining; with the rest of the stories concern themselves with needless worrying about minor inconveniences. And while this is not necessarily a bad thing (its all highly entertaining) it certainly sounds like the work of a curmudgeon to me.

In contrast, The Quitter, is an account of Pekars early (pre comic), life. We meet a highly intelligent man from an immigrant family, who has a problem with structured education, living in the rust belt of the American mid west. Giving up at anything he tried his hand at rather than allowing himself the opportunity to fail (or as it turns out succeed) sports, lessons, relationships, jobs, Harvey left them all. A bitter and in many cases violent Pekar found himself more and more isolated and paranoid, leading to a near nervous break down at a very young age. Pekar is quite frank in laying himself and his failures of character bare, drawing a portrait of a deeply messed up but likeable character.

Dean Haspiels art creates a strangely surreal atmosphere helping to emphasise the tension and frustration of Pekars world. This is by no means light hearted fare, but it does allow a more in depth look at Pekar than one would get after 25 years worth of his normal comic work. Another Day, and The Quitter are essential canon for those wanting a piece of Pekar, caustic comic anti hero, quitter, or curmudgeon

Why the fuck would anyone do such a thing?

This one baffled me. Just baffled me. Who likes Queen enough to do This. Its like telling your life story through a poem about Top Cat. Good enough read though. I like this one because its a review thaths starting to sound like the way I want to review it, as opposed to writing for an audiance who knows fuck all about comics.This was also unpublished from Verbal issue 15. See if you can spot why.

Ciaran Flanagan reckons this one will most definitely 'rock you'…

Don't Stop Me Now

Freddie & Me by Mike Dawson (Jonathan Cape)

Even at the best of times autobiographical comics are a funny wee beastie. It might just be me but there’s something quite disturbing about an anthropomorphic version of a real life person, pouring their heart and soul out onto the page for the benefit of the fan boys (who can then enjoy the vicarious thrills of having a social life or perhaps a girlfriend!). But to tell ones life story in comics form using the career arc of prog rock/opera super-group Queen as inspiration and reference point, takes a special kind of bravery or mania. Mike Dawson is one such courageous madman.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with slavish fan boy devotion to either music or comics (given that I have a Rolling Stones tattoo and review graphic novels), but it seemed to me that it would be bit of a stretch to match up the events of ones life with the carreer of a band like Queen - especially given that their front man snuffed it in 1991. Not so. From his humble beginnings as a child in Leighton Buzzard all the way to his later life as a struggling artist in New York, Dawson is able to use Freddie Mercury and the boys (and also, curiously, Wham of all people) as a point of reference; a point of discussion and, most interestingly, a point of view (literally in some cases). Although there’s a little childhood trauma and teen angst, in the main its all either pleasant nonsense or George Michael based flights of fancy. The art is nice enough. Nothing flashy, just good solid work. What makes it stand out however is his use of partial frames, extreme close ups and darkness to create a sense of suspense around what is essentially quite mundane.

At times the Queen-love becomes a little nauseating (especially when referring to the Ben Elton penned musical ‘sensation’ We Will Rock You), and ultimately you might have to learn to live with it. But fuck me , you can't ever say you love Queen as much as this cunt does.

If you’re a fan of the hard rocking, apartheid cultural-embargo breaking, Wayne’s World inspiring, hair/teeth pop combo, you will LOVE this. If you are indifferent to them (as I am) you will still enjoy this.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Mister Amperduke by Bob Byrne

From Verbal issue 15 .Review of a class graphic novel by Bob Byrne. I suggest every single one of you buy a copy straight away. I fucking loved this.

It can be bought here

Innovative and exciting - now this is what Graphic Novels are about, says Ciaran Flanagan.

Life in Lego

Mister Amperduke by Bob Byrne (Clamnuts Comics)

Since the introduction of the first Graphic Novel (The Death of Captain Marvel for those who are keeping score), there has been much promised and little delivered in terms of innovation and new scope in the relatively young medium. Sure we’ve had Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns, and American Splendour, and all that good stuff, but those are essentially just reprints of comics. Alan Moore has made a few rumblings (in particular his recent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier showed much flair), but what else has there been? For sure there have been great stories told (Fax From Sarajevo), and sure there are real world lessons to be expounded on (Maus), but when was the last time some played with the format? Where is the comic’s version of Catch 22 or Ulysses?

Bob Byrne is a Dublin based writer and artist who started out with his own self published books Mbleh and The Shiznit. He has recently gained more mainstream attention with his twisted tales in 2000ad, and with his latest self published work Mister Amperduke, he has done something very special.

Mister Amperduke is the simple tale of a sort of dog/man and his struggle assisting a Robocop style hero in protecting his tiny, sentient Lego utopia from being destroyed by an out of control Cloverfield style monster. Nothing unusual there. What is however unusual is the fact that not one single word of dialogue is used throughout the book. 2000 panels over 150 odd pages. And this is where the strength of Mr Amperduke lies. The (admittedly bizarre) plot is conveyed through the artwork alone and it’s done mostly through facial expression. Please bear in mind how extraordinary a feat this is, given that were not talking about super realistic . We're talking about black and white pictures of a dog and the living Lego men he keeps in his basement. But these characters are real. They live and breathe. You care about what happens to them. And they’re expressive. So expressive, that it’s as if the story is being acted out by an army of 2d John Belushi’s.

If you could imagine a silent movie that was part Truman Show, part Godzilla, part philosophical quandary and part morality play, then you might begin to see the sort of thing I’m talking about.

Bob Byrne is carving quite a reputation for himself in the small press and independent comic’s field, and in Mister Amperduke he has delivered something really special. It’s impressive to see an Irish artist (especially one so young) pushing the envelope in such a fashion. Good luck following this one Bob.

Unpublished Reviews : The Complete Judge Dredd Case Files Volume 2 . Spent and Fairweather by Joe Matt

These are reviews submitted for the may issue of Verbal Magazine to help promote the 2d Festival. They were cut due to " lack of space" . Bastards.

To whet your appetite for June's 2d Festival, Ciaran Flanagan brings us a retrospective look at some highly recommended Graphic Novels.

2d or Not 2d…

Judge Dredd: the Complete Files Vol. 2 by John Wagner and Pat Mills (Rebellion)

The last time we checked in on Judge Dredd (Verbal issue 10) things were not going too well for him. My verdict on Vol. 1 of the series was that it was childish, poorly drawn and the characters were underdeveloped. Oh dear! Fortunately for any Dredd heads out there, volume 2 of the ongoing collection shows some moves in the right direction.

Of all the things that Vol. 2 has going for it the fact that the majority of the artwork is by Brian Bolland is top of the list. With his crisp lines and insanely detailed (sometimes MASSIVE) panels he is for my money the quintessential Dredd artist. Also on hand is David Gibbons of Watchmen fame.

This period of Dredd history featured the first of the 'Mega Epics' - huge story lines which could take up to a year to play out (no mean feat for a weekly comic). The Cursed Earth sees Dredd travel through the heartland of America. Of course, this being the future, the heartland of America is now a radioactive wasteland filled with mutants, dinosaur cults and alien slave traders. So, no real changes to speak of. Writers Pat Mills and John Wagner are obviously having a blast exposing the foibles of American culture through this madness. Although sadly, the chapter involving a thinly disguised southern fried chicken supremo and his genetic experimentations is excised for what could best be described as 'Copyright issues' and at worst as 'imminent threats of legal action'. Still, there’s plenty of satirical fun to be had, and it’s all aged very well.

So there you have it. Judge Dredd Complete Case Files Vol: 2. - showing signs of improvement. Keep up the good work.

Spent by Joe Matt (Drawn and Quarterly)

Fair Weather by Joe Matt (Drawn and Quarterly)

While he is no Harvey Pekar (American Splendour) Joe Matt is fast amassing an

impressive pedigree as far as autobiographical comics go. After his excellent first collection The Poor Bastard, Matt has followed up with these two starkly contrasting works. The comics collected in Fair Weather have been described as being 'Philip Roth for the younger set', but I think 'The Wonder Years with a spoiled bastard as the main character', would be more like it. Matt looks back on a week of his childhood through what could best be described as a set of defective, rose-tinted glasses. No real revelations or shocking life stories, just your typical nostalgia piece, but with slightly more nudity than average.

Spent on the other hand, reveals more about young Joe Matt than you would possibly ever care to know. Far more, in fact, than I could discuss in a literary magazine at any length without getting myself into serious difficulty. So I'll just say that he really likes playing with himself and leave it at that.

Both highly recommended.