Saturday, December 31, 2005


I was going to put up one more review today, but I've changed my mind. It's been a long, strange year, I've reviewed a ton of books as of late, and I think I've ended the year on a high note. Thanks to all of you who stop by and read, and to each of you, I wish a happy and healthy 2006.

See you next week with more new reviews!

Marc Mason
somewhere in Arizona...

Friday, December 30, 2005


The first wave consisted of three books, this one actually being the first.

Written and Drawn by Igort
Published by Fantagraphics

Igort’s entry into the Ignatz series is easily the most ambitious of the lot. Unlike the other two volumes, which focused on “one and done” stories, BAOBAB is a multi-chapter start to what appears will be a longer and more in-depth work.

The story takes place at the same time on two different continents during September, 1910. In the more focused story, we meet a young Japanese boy named Hiroshi and see him perform some of his youthful duties, which include visiting a sad woman who has lost her son and taking care of his grandmother. Across the world in South America, a man named Celestino begins working on his career as a cartoonist under the watchful eye of his depressed sister. There is only a thematic link between the two stories in this first section, but it allows Igort to spread his wings and show off his ability to adapt his art style to his characters.

Hiroshi’s story has a very distinct Japanese look to it, but not in the sense that it looks like manga; instead, it looks more like traditional Japanese art that you’d find in paintings from the late nineteenth century through the time period Igort is depicting. Celestino’s story has a much more European flavor to it with a dash to (the acknowledged on the back cover) Winsor McCay. What intrigues me is whether or not the two characters’ stories will merge somewhere down the road, and what those pages might look like.

Here’s where things get weird for me, though. While technically and artistically superior to the other two Ignatz books I’d read so far, I enjoyed BAOBAB the least. I never got as invested in the characters as I did in the other volumes, and I wasn’t yet compelled by anything in either storyline to see something transcendent somewhere down the road in the story. That’s obviously a function of this being a first chapter from a longer work, but it’s also a risk you take when you pace out your story as an artist and writer.

Now, let’s see where the second wave takes us.


Thursday, December 29, 2005


Another in the line of “Ignatz” books from Fantagraphics. See yesterday’s review for details.

Written and Drawn by Matt Broersma

INSOMNIA brings together two stories; one short story, titled “Four Kings” and a longer story, “Eldorado.” “Four Kings” is an amusing little lark that brings together a few skeletal figures for a poker night. Like most poker nights, money is lost, lies are told, and bad jokes are exchanged. “Eldorado” is a far more serious tale, taking us on the journey of a man named Marco as he smuggles materials across the border into Mexico and attempts to take his own life in response to his life’s debts and doubts.

Broersma has a clean and simple style, though it falters at the moment where Marco makes the choice to try and end it all, because the resolution that the story gives only becomes clear through the text, not the art. Beyond that, this is earthy, atmospheric stuff, and the heavy paper stock absorbs the shading well. Mood is everything in “Eldorado,” and in that, Broersma excels.

However, it is the fantastical “Four Kings” that sells me on the book. While there is no actual need for the poker players to be skeletons from a story perspective, it enhances the dark humor of the tale and makes the jokes play more effectively. It also demonstrates an economy of storytelling, that he can get so much into four pages and leave the reader with a feeling of resolution.

So far, the “Ignatz” books are two for two with me. They have their flaws and problems, but they’re entertaining and ambitious ideas, and comics need more of those.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Today, I’m digging into the “Ignatz” series of books that Fanta launched this Fall. These comics are an interesting meld of European and North American formats; they’re thirty-two pages, saddled stitched, but they’re printed at a larger size, on sturdy, heavy paper stock, and have a secondary cover that acts as a dust jacket.

Written and Drawn by Gipi

Young Andrea is on an outing with his Uncle Gil, heading for the funfair. But a voice from the past contacts Gil; his old friend Valerio is out of prison and would like to get back in touch with his childhood best friend, so there’s a diversion along the way. And during the trip, Andrea will not only learn about a boyhood far more different than his own, but he will get a first lesson in what happens to a man whose life is shattered beyond repair.

THE INNOCENTS is a quiet, subtle, character-based piece that does itself proud. The story here isn’t one of plot; it’s about the journey a man may or may not take as he grows through adolescence. Andrea is faced with two men who had similar paths for the most part; only his uncle, who was a far worse lad, was fortunate enough to avoid the innocent Valerio’s fate. And now, as Gil attempts to determine what exactly responsibility truly means, he must confront a dark and broken mirror before he can move forward.

Gipi’s art changes in style as he shifts into flashbacks, adopting a simplistic style as though drawn by a young child. It’s not as effective as it should be, but I understand the idea. I think he’d have been better off trusting his audience to follow his fine storytelling abilities, because the pages set in the present are simply lovely, and the flashback material sticks out badly.

Still, this is a solidly produced success that leaves me intrigued to see what else we’ll get from this excellent creator.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005


And now, something to savor…

Interviews and Essays by Various

Like the SPECIAL EDITIONS, these over-sized collections are packed so completely full of fascinating material and artwork that they take weeks to read thoroughly and enjoy. Produced at the size of a classic 33rpm record album, they sit on your shelf loud and proud, and this one has an amazing cover to boot.

The editorial hand of the great Tom Spurgeon lies behind this book, which brings together interviews of Burne Hogarth, Russ Manning, Russ Heath, Mark Schultz, and Frank Frazetta, and reproduces an enormous amount of art from these greats. From sketches, to paintings, to panels, to full pages of sequentials, the reader is guided towards a comprehensive look at the career of a giant as they pass through the articles.

But it isn’t only that there’s a ton of gorgeous art to look at; it’s that much of the material goes towards showing the versatility of these men. Hogarth is best known for his work on TARZAN, but we also get to see his adaptability into other styles and on other subjects, giving a more rounded idea of the man’s career. Heath is known for his war comics, but we get a glimpse of his humor material, and his ability to create works of horror.

The interviews are amazing, especially Frazetta and Hogarth’s, as both men engage in lengthy dialogues that peel back the layers of their lives and influences. It’s this kind of material that TCJ does best, and Spurgeon has done a nice job of finding a way to preserve some its best work in this format.

In a medium where the “kewl” factor reigns supreme, it’s nice to take a step back and be reminded of what really makes comics great and why. This one is truly a keeper.


Monday, December 26, 2005


Through the end of the year… some new efforts from Fantagraphics!

Written and Drawn by Thomas Ott

This lush hardcover graphic novel presents an unusual type of horror story: a young, impoverished girl finds her way into a carnival, and the only attraction she can afford is the panoptic cinema. There are five films for her to watch, and each gets progressively more disturbing, until the child succumbs to her own curiosity and places her final coin in the one titled “The Girl.”

There is an element of “The Twilight Zone” and of classic 50s horror comics at play here, but Ott’s subtlety of storytelling and his brilliantly detailed art lend an air of sophistication to the frights he presents. His work has a photo-realistic quality, adding a layer to the story; as a reader, you are placed into the position of watching the cinema yourself and awaiting her fate. When you lock onto this feeling, it provides a serious jolt, and enhances your enjoyment of the book.

Of the films she watches, none grabs you quite like “The Prophet,” which tells the tale of a man who has seen the signs of the coming apocalypse, but is thought to be mad. But madness is never more aptly described as an altered perception of reality by the time his tale plays itself out.

CINEMA PANOPTICUM is an arresting piece of entertainment that engages the mind and artistic interest in multiple ways. It is recommended for the more sophisticated and mature reader.


Sunday, December 25, 2005


I had some high hopes for this one. I should know better.

Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Marvel Comics

KILLRAVEN has long been one of those “holy grail” sci-fi comics, a book pointed to as being an underrated and under-appreciated icon of the 70s. Upon reading this collection, I can officially say “NO” to that.

Yes, the concept was terrific: branching out from H.G. Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS, a second Martian invasion took place in 2001 that left the earth in ruins. As the series begins, it is 2018, and Killraven and his fellow rebels are on the run and making attacks against their evil Martian masters. Okee doke. There are plenty of cool, nasty creatures and mutants to fight, likeable characters in Killraven’s band, and exciting adventures.

But, my God… the writing. The horror. The horror!

KILLRAVEN was blessed to have some of the greatest artists ever work on his stories. P. Craig Russell draws the bulk of this book! Plus, you get efforts from Neal Adams, Gene Colon, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and Howard Chaykin! It is no lie to say that there is some truly brilliant artwork in these pages. But the writing ruins most of it, and you just have to shake your head, disgusted.

“But Marc!” you say. “Whatever could be so awful as to make those men’s work suffer?” And I give you two words: Don McGregor. Don “I never met a panel I couldn’t overcrowd with pointlessly turgid prose” McGregor. That would also be Don “I make Bill Mantlo read like he’s terse” McGregor. Which gets proved here, by the way, because Mantlo does a couple of the issues in this book, and they do read as terse compared to McGregor’s stuff! I’m telling you, it’s horrible. Tons of extraneous text that takes away panel space from the page. Long expository captions that crowd out the action. Dialogue that not only repeats the expository captions, but that also makes George Lucas sound like Mamet. Plus, some of the stories jump around so much that you can’t find the narrative line once it’s been dropped. One character seemingly dies or is injured horrifically during an attack that kills two others, and you don’t find out until two issues later that he survived, and he isn’t even injured at that point. It’s headache inducing.

So as pretty as this might be, there is no conceivable way in the world that I could ever recommend this. Too many flaws, and not enough payoff, makes my Christmas gift to you all the savings of the $17 you might have spent on this book.