Sunday, February 09, 2014

Remarks on recent comics (2014.02.07)

That's recently read, not recently published.

Time for one of those semi-regular attempts to get back to writing here...

Some things I've read lately a variety pack of comics from the last few decades:

PREACHER by Steve Dillon, Garth Ennis and others
OMAHA by Reed Waller & Kate Worley with James Vance
GODZILLA: THE HALF-CENTURY WAR by James Stokoe
YOU'RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK by Tom Gauld

PREACHER (Steve Dillon, Garth Ennis and others)
I began reading PREACHER a few years ago, but didn't get that far. I figured it was a good time to change that with the recent movement on the possibility of a TV series (and it seems the business background of the deal are far more interesting than I thought. It would be fascinating to have some more digging into that. Did DC keep the publishing rights to the book while giving up the media rights?). I read all nine books (collecting 75 comics published between 1995 and 2000) over about a month.

For those unfamiliar, the series is about a preacher named Jesse Custer who finds himself bonded with the offspring of an angel and demon, giving him powers to rival God, leading him to various adventures with his girlfriend Tulip and vampire friend Cassidy. And, by the way, I do love that Ennis goes out of his way never to use the word "vampire" to describe Cassidy, and then DC liberally used the word on the backcovers and other supplemental material.

Overall, I'd say that parts of the book are really good, mostly in the first half, but the whole thing doesn't hang together. There was maybe 25 issues worth of story, and the rest was padding and sidetracks that didn't serve the story (I'm not sure we needed even one full issue of Jesse's father's Vietnam adventures, we definitely didn't need two). All of that stuff really watered down the main story...

And ultimately, that main story doesn't even end well. Maybe it would have been more effectively without the meandering path, but I'm not really sure. I don't know if Ennis has ever talked about it, but I'd be fascinated to know if the ending changed a lot from the original conception, since that did not feel like an ending that fit with the first dozen issues of the book (it might have felt differently to people who read it over 5+ years as opposed to 5+ weeks). A lot of times it felt like Ennis fell too much in love with his main characters and spared them a more brutal fate.

In the end, glad enough I read it for the good parts (including Dillon's artwork, which looks so natural that it's easy to underestimate, but was top-notch throughout), really glad I read it from the library, since I doubt I'll want to read it again any time soon (I figure I'd have made it about a third to halfway in before giving up if I was buying them). First book is worth getting (the current version collects the first dozen issues, which are a nice solid run and close to a complete story before most of the drifting begins).

By the way (and more spoilery stuff here), was it just me, or was it kind of odd that they never got around to acknowledging what seemed like the blindingly obvious hinting that Billy Bob and Lorie were part of the bloodline of Christ, perhaps one that the Grail had forgotten about? Am I way off base, or was that just something left for the reader to pick up in an uncharacteristically subtle move by Ennis?

OMAHA (Reed Waller & Kate Worley with James Vance)
Maybe more on this when I get a chance to re-read the whole thing, but I did want to note the recent publication of the long awaited eighth and final volume of the long running erotic underground comic OMAHA THE CAT DANCER, collecting material serialized from 2005-2012. It wasn't quite the wait for me as it was for some (I read a few issues of the book when it was being published in the 1990s, but only read the whole thing a few years back when I got the first seven books), but I'll say it was a very satisfactory wrap-up of the major plot-lines and character arcs, not in any way clean or final (since life isn't). Vance's writing fits pretty seamlessly with Worley's (he scripted the story based on her notes from before her death in 2004). Waller captures most of the old look in the artwork, especially after the first few chapters. The main difference there is that the greytones are now done digitally, which took some getting used to, and was really jarring when some more complicated textures were used. That's a minor quibble, though. The publisher has a set of all eight books for a ridiculously cheap price, and they're also well priced for digital versions.

GODZILLA: THE HALF-CENTURY WAR (James Stokoe)
Though it's probably been over thirty years since I've seen any Godzilla movie other than the 1954 original, I do have a lingering affection for the big guy, and while I didn't get too far into James Stokoe's comic ORC STAIN, he seemed to be a great choice to draw a comic featuring Godzilla and all the associated Toho monsters.

And indeed he was.  Nothing too profound in here, of course, but it's a comic that does what it sets out to do, tell a story about a Japanese soldier who was on-hand for the first attack of Godzilla in 1954 and continues to encounter Godzilla and other monsters in an ever-escalating world-wide conflict over the next fifty years, all as an excuse for some lovingly rendered artwork of the various creatures. Stokoe's art is a nice sort of intersection between underground comics and Japanese comics, not like anything I've seen before, and suiting the subject matter. If I had one quibble, I think the colouring was at times too deep and detailed, obscuring some of the linework. Anyway, makes me want to revisit some of those old multiple monster mid-period Godzilla classics.



YOU'RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK (Tom Gauld)
This is a collection of single page gag cartoons done by Gauld for the Guardian newspaper. Some of them also appear on his website if you want a sample. The comics are a typically irreverent and sometimes absurdist takes on literature, culture and history. I generally liked it, although it was the rare one that I actually laughed at (one of them was "Henry David Thoreau and Friends"). The reaction I was mostly likely to get was "oh, that's clever". More than occasionally it was "I don't get it", maybe more often than I should admit, because it likely means I didn't get the literary reference.  So maybe not in line to be an all-time favourite of mine, but clever and sometimes challenging is a nice diversion. I probably should have read it in smaller chunks than I did. I read it in two sittings over two days, and I think if I'd have read five or ten at a time over a few weeks the good ones would stand out more.

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