Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Ok. Let’s do this.
Here it is: Here’s the London Graphic Novel Network Book Club’s 2019 in Review.
(Sound of cheering and applause).
I know right?
For those of you who haven’t played before: Here are the rules:
1. Yep. You can talk about any comic you like
It doesn’t need to have come out this year. You can talk about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four or Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi. Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even have to be something that you liked. If there was a book that you really hated then you can talk about that. Or maybe you felt massively lukewarm about it. The only real requirement is that it’s something that you’ve read in this past year and there’s something you want to say about it. (Also if you want – you’re very welcome to lobby for any particular comic that you feel like the LGNN Book Club should do in the future).
2. Name the comic in bold at the start of what you write
That way if someone is in the middle of reading it / or they want to read it and they don’t wanna get spoiled then they can just skip over it with no harm done. (Also if you can find some images from the comic and include them – then that would be cool too).
3. Please don’t just recount the plot instead: tell us what you think
Instead of just writing a synopsis (yawn snooze) try this – Talk about what you liked (or didn’t like) about the comic. But grabbed you / what left you cold. What it did well / what it could have done better. How it made you feel. What kind of things it made you think about. All that good stuff.
4. If someone else has already mentioned a comic then don’t worry – that’s ok
This isn’t a first come / first served thing. If someone else has mentioned a comic then it’s not off the table – you can still write about it all you want. Ideally we don’t just want lots of solipsistic thoughts floating separately from each other so yeah – if someone mentions a book and you have a differing view please feel free to share (just you know obviously – try your best to play nice).
5. If you want to talk about a comic that the LGNN Book Club has already done then that’s cool too
I’ve often been told that three weeks is never long enough. So if we talked about a book this year (or any other past year) and you felt like there was stuff you wanted to say about it that you didn’t get a chance to say (or maybe you didn’t manage to read it in time or whatever). Maybe you only just realised how amazing Give Me Liberty actually is or there was something you didn’t get around to saying about Batman: The Long Halloween (LOL)? Well – now’s the time to say it… Please feel free to go crazy.
If you’re still a little unsure how it works please feel free to look at how we’ve done it in the past:
So. I think that’s it. Hopefully should be fun and interesting and a cool time for everyone (that’s the idea anyway).
The rest is up to you.
The Book of Forks
By Rob Davis
Ah – fuck. I have no idea how to write actual words about this book. Isn’t it always the way? You can critique and pull apart all the books that don’t quite do it for you and go into all of the reasons why they’re lame and poorly constructed and politically harmful and why reading them is basically like giving your brain cancer (it’s true). And then you finally come across something that simply does all the things you want from a book. It’s not much to ask for really – just something that captures the feeling of being alive, something that twists the entire world into a strange new and scary shape that makes you shout out loud: “yeah! That’s it! That’s what it’s like!” that gives you all of these new metaphors and images and ideas so that reading it makes it feel like your head is being pushed into the future at the exact same time as it slows everything down and makes you realise all of the small details right in front of your face. That’s all I really want.
Yes – it’s the third part of a trilogy that began with the beautiful deadly perfection of The Motherless Oven and then continued with the oh-so-spiky The Can Opener’s Daughter (which yes we’re doing as a book for The Book Club next year so be aware) but you knew that already didn’t you? Point being: most books I read I tend to toss on to burning logs as soon as they’re finished (“I knew we shouldn’t have put a fireplace in the bedroom”) and it’s a rare feeling indeed to finish reading something and then having that feeling that you need to go all the way back to the start and read the whole thing again because it’s all just so good that it doesn’t feel like your brain managed to absorb all of it’s intricate juiciness the first time round. And well yeah – that’s all I really want.
Because yeah I get accused a lot of basically hating everything and thinking that nothing is as good as it used to be to the extent that I kinda believe it myself. I mean: is everything just shit and poorly written and made nowadays or is it just me? And so yeah when I come across something like The Book of Forks it basically feels like a life raft in the middle of a ocean or a glass of water in the middle of the desert (same difference) – point being that yes (thank God): I’m not crazy. Everything is shit and The Book of Forks is one of the very few new things in the world that shows you that it doesn’t have to be that way. There can be a piece of art that’s funny and smart and exciting and interesting and have lots of things to say about lots of things and a comic can make your brain do things that nothing else comes close to.
And yes – that’s all I really want.
Barbican Comic Forum
I’ve devoured many, many books over the last few months so you’ll be delighted to hear that I have much to share. And as Joel foolishly didn’t set any limits, I suggest you all put the kettle on and strap yourselves in; we may be here a while.
Little Bird Vol. 1: The Fight For Elder’s Hope
By Darcy Van Poelgeest, art by Ian Bertram
“My name is Little Bird and this is the story of my life and my death. A story about my mother, my father and everyone else that’s tried to kill me. About waking up to realise that sometimes it becomes more about fighting than what you’re fighting for. It’s about the people I met along the way and the ones I never really knew at all. But more than anything it’s about the all-consuming nature of fire and the dreams we make of ash.”
OK, let’s start with this. This is weird sci-fi dystopia… do I have your attention Joel? This book came recommended to me as one of the best graphic novels of 2019. My expectations were high, it seems like the kind of hero’s journey I love to read, and yes, I agree it certainly is worth a read but sadly this one’s not rewriting any rulebooks. Yet. I hate to say it but we’ve seen it all before, it’s all a bit cliché really. But you know what? That’s OK. Not everything has to be ground-breaking, that’s very hard to do, and most importantly this doesn’t take itself too seriously. Everything is exaggerated, turned up to 11, and all a bit ludicrous really. It’s just sweet, sweet brain candy.
If you want to get an idea of the style think Dune meets Mad Max meets the Matrix. It even has those cool tentacled hunter drones in it and a refugee utopia in the vein of Zion: allegedly The last place in Earth where you can think for yourself.
The thing that stands out most to me is the novel artwork. It’s almost a schoolboy’s style of drawing: not exactly “good”, but appealing nonetheless. Almost reminiscent of the doodles I’d do on the back of my textbook in secondary school. They are simplified cartoons with a lack of detail or perspective. If you’ve ever watched any of MTV’s cartoons from the 90s or the Big Train Staring Contests, this style of artwork will seem familiar. Visually it’s gripping but not classically well drawn.
My biggest disappointment was that it suffers from the On A Sunbeam problem where things just kind of happen for no particular reason. It’s like a stream of consciousness plot development where the author’s just saying… look at all this cool stuff! And here’s a familiar plot device or two to keep you turning the page but try not to concentrate on that too much because… look at more of this cool stuff! Admittedly the stuff is all very cool though. Think abstract visions of post-apocalyptic dystopia with loads of guts and gore thrown in for good measure.
I’m hooked enough at this stage to want to read volume two and to see where this is going. Let’s see where we are after that.
Wytches, vol. 1
By Scott Snyder, art by Jock
I’ve always been a big fan of horror films. Good horror films are like brain candy to me, but sadly there just aren’t too many of those around these days (notable exception of the Ash vs Evil Dead TV series, which makes me smile so hard it feels like my face will crack… but perhaps that’s really more fantasy than horror). Being the old dinosaur that I am, I have strong opinions on this topic. I grew up in a time when horror films were great. The major problem with modern horror is that it’s become too dependent on CGI, we’ve become greedy and we want to see everything. In the classics the scariest moments were often when the tension built rather than with the actual event. That’s why the original Blair Witch Project (1999) was such a renaissance to the form when it came out (wow, is that really 20 years ago?). It’s something the genre masters of the 80s understood perfectly and something we’ve lost today. But here’s the rub, once you’ve experienced CGI effects it puts a new light on the special effects of bygone times so now we view the 1980s classics in the same way we looked at the Hammer Horror movies back then: a bit kitchy and laughable. They’ve lost their lustre. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) used to terrify me when I was a teenager. Today I can barely contain my laughter when Freddie’s rubber arms extend across the alleyway. The other thing about CGI is that it’s like crack. Once we’ve seen it we just want more: bigger and better and more flamboyant: who can push the envelope further? That’s the problem with modern horror.
But I digress. Back to comics. It is pretty interesting how magick and comics are intertwined. We all know Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are self-professed magicians, and you’ve probably heard the stories of Grant Morrison’s black-magick fuelled wankathon to reinvigorate the sales of a failing Invisibles (apparently it worked). Horror is a really difficult genre to do well in comics. It’s hard to do a jump-scare for instance, drawn gore is less gory than motion picture, you can’t pace the story in the same way, you can’t use sound to build tension and, unless you’ve roped Alex Ross into drawing, it’s just… well… less “real”. There’s less opportunity for suspension of disbelief. Filling something with gore and violence is easy but to make something eerie and unsettling is tough. So, my point is that a horror writer in comics has a tough job if he or she really wants to scare the audience. They need to favour the creepy over the startling. I’ve recently started reading some of the EC Comics anthologies and I also began subscribing to a magazine called The Creeps this year, which is a monthly anthology of short horror stories, much like 2000AD’s Future Shocks but with a Tales From The Crypt style. In most of these horror comics there are some really thought-provoking tales, but when you think about them they’re just really regular stories with a few horror tropes thrown in – a vampire here, a werewolf there – they’re not truly scary fiction. On this level I think Wytches breaks the mould and does a good job of unsettling the audience. It’s one of three horror books I’ve chosen and will talk a little more about.
With each single issue of Wytches there was a short essay written by Scott Snyder where he describes an alleged encounter with a real wytch when he was a boy and how that inspired him to write Wytches. In the TPB all of these stories are collected at the end. I think (hope) this is just a part of the story added for dramatic effect but he does write it in the first person and as though it were fact. Either way, it’s a great tool. It’s like at the beginning of The Entity (1982) when the opening movie credits roll and there’s a message that says the movie is based on true events in California from 1976 and only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. OK, now this film has got ten times scarier and we haven’t even started!
Wytches isn’t a gore fest by any means but the gore it does show is just enough and of such an unpleasant nature that it sends shivers up the spine. Like the opening scene which shows a girl trapped inside a hollow tree who has had her nose cut off. Not super gory, but a missing nose is a pretty unpleasant thing to see in anyone’s book and immediately puts you on the backfoot.
The artwork has an effect like splattered paint over the top of the page. Visually it makes it look grimy and unnatural. Like looking at something old and unpleasant: a creepy old book you found in the woods perhaps, or something equally nasty.
The wytches in this story are a force of nature, not the pointy hat variety. They’re a primal force of nature with no personality, clicking there teeth like Chatterbox from Hellraiser. These Wytches are the monsters that eat small children. Yuck. And there’s something pretty creepy about that whole nature and magick connection, where there’s something sinister in the woods and we all know that you should stay out of them.
The book ends badly for the characters and leaves a horrible unsettled feeling when you turn the final page. Which is exactly how I want to feel after finishing a good horror narrative.
By Pornsak Pichetshote
“Racism is a cancer that never gets cured. The best you get is remission.”
Horror book number two! If I were to recommend one book for the LGNN to do next year it would be this. It’s hard to talk too much about this book without giving too much away but trust me, it’s good. Anyone interested in identity politics should 100% give it a whirl. On a literal level it’s a story of the occult, demonic possession and haunting. On a sub-textual level it’s a discussion on the horrors of racial prejudice and Islamophobia. In this Graphic Novel Nasty Tribalism and Othering are the true monsters. If you’ve ever seen the film Get Out you’ll probably have an idea of the type of connections it’s making.
The book is a really in-depth thoughtful discussion on identity and discrimination. It doesn’t have all the answers but instead discusses the issues, nuances and conflicts within the topic implying that the truth is there is no right, no wrong. We’re all the same deep down but we all build structural barriers around ourselves, othering those who appear different as a way of reinforcing our own self-identity. It’s just a symptom of the tribalism systemic in all society. Identity politics are a minefield whichever way you look at it, but this book does a great job of tackling the subject.
Infidel is creepy, critical and nuanced. The art is great too. Simply a masterpiece. Hopefully Joel will put this one on the list at some stage as I think there are some interesting discussions to be had around it.
A Walk Through Hell, volume 1
By Garth Ennis, art by Goran Sudžuka
The final act of my horror review trilogy! So, Garth Ennis caused a bit of a stir earlier this year, didn’t he? In light of that I thought it would be a marvellous idea to talk about him some more. Love him or hate him you have to admit that he has a knack of being able to catch the readers’ attention and hold it: probably because his subject matter and characterisations are so edgy and raw. In this regard, I put him in the same camp as creators like Irvine Welsh or Quentin Tarantino; it’s compulsive viewing even though we know it’s bad shit.
At first A Walk Through Hell feels like a political thriller but by page 12 it’s firmly grounded in the horror genre, and boy does it deliver on that. The story manages to convey the sort of eerie undertones I associate with good horror superbly well. Within the first few pages we’re told the story of a mother and baby being shot. Horrific, even though as readers we don’t see the actual death (there’s that telling not showing thing again). There’s another brilliant panel shortly after where eight seasoned SWAT officers ritually execute each other rather than face the devil. On both these occasions we don’t see the climax, only the build-up, but they’re both truly terrifying moments.
Being Garth Ennis we do of course later move into more brutal imagery such as a man (or living suicide) with his head half blown away repeatedly shooting the cavity to no avail; or another man shoving his own arm down his throat in a bid to commit suicide; or a headless child’s torso hanging lifeless in an overcoat. Horrible stuff. I’m not even going to touch on the “arms” in this review, suffice to say that’s some truly messed up shit.
Goran Sudžuka’s art compliments the story really well. The colours are muted and gloomy and the style itself harks back to some other horror books I’ve read like Constantine: All His Engines or Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Collected Best. It’s grim and harrowing. There isn’t as much schoolboy humour as you see in much of Garth Ennis’ other work and I think that’s the right choice. It wouldn’t be able to sustain the atmospheric horror if that was there.
I like where this is going but I haven’t read enough yet to fully understand the concept. Here are two chaps, McGregor and Shaw, whose lives are pretty close to a walk through hell already and then they’re moved into actual hell. Nice juxtaposition and potential for commentary on real world events. I hope it continues to deliver.
Young Terrorists, vol. 1
By Matt Pizzolo, art by Amancay Nahuelpan
Hold onto your balls, this book is one hell of a ride.
We open the novel as you might expect from the title with a man’s execution at the hands of what appears to be a terrorist: shot point blank in full view of the baby he pushes in its pram. Next scene: a suicide bomber. From there, and with the title still playing in the back of your mind, this begins to unfold into what you think might be a far-right nationalist love song (and immediately you begin to regret ever buying the book), but no. No, no, no. The eponymous terrorists turn out to be domestic freedom fighters and Matt Pizzolo draws the readers’ sympathy with them throughout the narrative. As the book goes on the story gets wackier and wackier: first he throws in some conspiracy theory undertones through the TV pundit Christopher Johanssen (who bares a startling resemblance to Alex Jones and who works for a channel called Infowars *cough* I mean Infocide); then he adds a sprinkle of quantum mechanics because, hey, reality bending always helps; then, fuck it, why not start cloning sex slaves grafted onto mushrooms, before we swiftly move into 80s style high octane action scenes awash with jet packs and bazookas (and come on be honest, what story doesn’t improve through the introduction of jet packs and bazookas?); finally we climax with the introduction of big-ass monsters. That’s right, fucking monsters. Deal with it.
Matt Pizzolo creates a fantastical post-apocalyptic world in the vein of Mad Max or Terminator. I thought it was interesting that the protagonist’s name Sera sounds a lot like Sarah (Connor) who she clearly draws inspiration from. In this book rebellion is celebrated. He plays on the heroism/ terrorism dichotomy (which is often situational) in much the same way Alan Moore did with V for Vendetta. There is a continuous comparison drawn between factory farm chickens or animals in a slaughterhouse and humans in modern day society. This is a dangerous kind of wish fulfilment as it’s essentially promoting radicalisation, tapping into our wish to rage against the machine and fight back against systemic injustice. Certainly divisive. No wonder he self-published. I learned that Pizzolo has started a new independent publishing house called Black Mask Studios after noting that “if V for Vendetta were created today there would be no publisher for it.” Most of their publications are divisive and transgressive. I’ve read two so far, this and the book I’ll review next: 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank. I’m totally hooked and plan to work my way through the entire back catalogue in 2020.
Reading the prose articles included in the back of my copy of Young Terrorists it’s clear that Pizzolo has some beef with the US government and this book was written as a reaction to that. I guess if you put your tinfoil balaclava on you could find some deeper meaning in what he says. It’s there I’m sure. Personally I just enjoyed it for a fantastic story that totally melted my brain. I haven’t been this happily confused since reading The Filth. Quite simply one of the best books I’ve read in 2019, and I mean that without any hint of sarcasm.
I’ll end with this quote from the author.
“I love a good revenge story. Usually revenge stories are about hunting down some crime family or street gang. Well this is my revenge story… a revenge story against the interconnected lattice of corporations, government, and white-collar jackals who make this world a more and more difficult place to do the right thing.
Nothing in this book is true. But it’s all true.”
4 Kids Walk Into A Bank
By Matthew Rosenberg, art by Tyler Ross
The second book I’ve read by Black Mask Studios. This is that rare gem of a book which is something that is both unique and brilliant. In my experience it’s very hard for somebody to do those two things together. As you turn the page to the very first chapter you’re hit with a splash page reading “As far back as lunchtime I always wanted to be a gangster” and immediately Tony Bennet starts playing in the back of your head. Bada-bing. This sets the scene perfectly for the story that follows. It’s kind of like Goonies meets Goodfellas.
The story concerns a bunch of familiar nerds. Paige the protagonist, who leads their quest to save her father who’s fallen in with a bad crowd. Paige makes up a classic trinity of leads (logos, ethos, pathos… or Kirk, Spock, McCoy to the uninitiated) with her mates Walter and Berger, plus there’s a dog called Fat Weirdo who tags along for the ride (incidentally, this is now officially the name of my next dog). But although the characters are kids, they’re kids living in a very adult world and this certainly isn’t a book for children. There are drugs, junkies, violence, sexual reference. Oh yeah, and they rob a bank. Did I mention that?
I love it because it’s an 80s nostalgia extravaganza! I guess it’s a symptom of the rising popularity of those kind of stories, like Stranger Things. This is all me, very much my childhood, old dinosaur that I am. There’s arcade machines, D&D, an absence of mobile phones, Casio calculator watches and some A-Team/ MacGyver style weapon building. All those familiar features from a much happier time.
The kids are adorable and there’s some really sweet moments, like Paige and her father ranting at each other in the front of a car only to remember the foreign exchange student who’s been sitting on the back seat the whole time: “can he understand us?”, she asks bashfully. Or Paige’s plea to her estranged posse to go on one last big adventure with her “If the world is going to end anyway will you help me fuck up some bad guys?”.
Overall it’s a nicely constructed narrative featuring some classic archetypes and with a rewarding payout. Something for writers to nerd out over. There’s some lovely plot devices where parts of the story are told through the characters these children play in their D&D role play or in video games which I thought was great.
Strongly recommend this book to anyone. It’s great.
Abandon The Old in Tokyo
By Yoshihiro Tatsumi
OK, who likes manga? I do! Well, apparently this isn’t it. The internet tells me that this is actually something called gekiga, which is a pretty cool word. If I understand it correctly then gekiga is allegorical manga intended for an adult audience and with mature themes. After learning just this one fact about the nomenclature of manga I’m already won over. I dig words. Apparently Tatsumi himself coined this term but drew much of his own personal inspiration from Osamu Tezuka, the Godfather of manga. Many years ago I read Tezuka’s Ode to Kirihito, which I would definitely class as gekiga now that I’ve learned the term.
This collected edition is made up of eight terrific short stories. It’s interesting to note that they weren’t originally intended to be published together and that they should each stand completely independent of one another. The similarities in the characters portrayed within is intentional, even though they aren’t intended to be the same person, as the protagonist typically represents Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s point of view.
Each tale has a shocking dark tone and they clearly are not intended for mainstream audiences. They all seem to have an existentialist take on society warning of dangers but posing no solutions. It’s a pretty misanthropic world view.
Let’s look at the first story: Occupied. Our introduction is a beautiful full-page splash of a man taking a massive shit. Nice. This guy is sick, he doesn’t know why. He comes across as adrift from society, which reminded me a little of Meursault in The Outsider. The message starts to become clear a few pages in. We find out he’s a manga artist getting sacked because his books aren’t selling. His agent tells him his problem is that he tries too hard to please society and has lost his voice. He finally starts to find his feet amusingly in a graffiti covered public toilet. He seems more at home amongst these depraved images, we can only presume this represents the voice he’s lost. He later wrestles with his conscience about writing bad art that society approves of, or good art that’s depraved.
When he’s later offered a job writing for an adult magazine he feels liberated, alive: “it was invigorating… as if I’d come out of a living coma”, he says. His immediate reaction is to return to the toilet where he was so inspired before so he can get to work (!), unfortunately he is immediately caught drawing dirty pictures on the wall and branded a pervert by society. So ends the lesson.
The second story is the titular tale. It tells the story of Kenichi Nakamura, a young man trying to make his way in the world but who is held back by his crippled elderly mother. Kenichi feels duty bound to care for his mother even though this prevents him moving on and having a happy life with his fiancée. There are clever parallels drawn between this situation and the aging buildings being knocked down in Tokyo to make way for new condos. Eventually Kenichi decides to commit matricide by taking his mother to a new apartment and leaving her there to die. After a change of heart he comes back to save her only to find she’s committed suicide. And here’s the clever bit: he carries the dead body on his back through Tokyo only to arrive at a place where they’ve decided to ban cars (read technological advancement) for the day so that pedestrians can claim back the streets and return to the ‘old ways’. A journalist reporting the events stops him and says “Pedestrians are here to take back the streets. As a dutiful son, would you care to comment on this?”. So ends lesson number two.
The rest of the stories were all expertly crafted but these first two stood out to me as the most enjoyable. As I mentioned before they aren’t intended for mainstream audiences and are definitely not for the faint of heart. There is a truly unedifying scene in Unpaid where a man stripped of all dignity by the brutal world he lives in finds consolation wrestling naked with a toothless dog to a climactic conclusion. Think about it.
Keen to read more of Tatsumi’s work after this baptism by fire. Despite (and perhaps because of) it’s extreme content these are some of the most thought-provoking stories I’ve read in a long time.
By Alexandre Szolnoky
Well, this was a first for me. Reading a book by an actual human being I’ve argued with online. Alex’s book is genuinely very good. I recommend it to all of you. I won’t give too much away but it’s kind of like an autobiographical voyage of self-discovery for the protagonist (Alexandre himself) charting his mission to leave a monastery in Taiwan. There are some clever call backs to his family’s history during WWII which put into context his current mindset. He’s had a pretty incredible life.
The art stands out to me as one of the best things about the book, in particular his drawings of wildlife and landscapes which are a class act. In general it feels and looks a bit like Joe Sacco, but as if drawn with charcoal – quite natural and not computer generated. There’s a great scene towards the end of the book where he’s meditating in a monastery which starts with the line “everything dissolved in the darkness”. The way he draws darkness on the following page is pretty magical. It has a fluid quality that washes over the characters and looks very cool.
I understand it’s being released in Brazil this month. I recommend people buy it and read it. It’s really very good.
The books I’d lobby for inclusion in LGNN next year would be Infidel and Abandon the Old in Tokyo. I enjoyed all the books above, but I think with those two in particular you could build some interesting discussions.
I hope you enjoyed my magnum opus review. Thanks for reading those who made it to the end.
And Happy Holy Bat-Christmas one and all!
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
A Walk Through Hell
By Garth Ennis and Goran Sudžuka
I work in a Children’s Library. A few years ago we were getting official T-Shirts printed and we were looking for a cool, good wholesome book-related quote to get printed on the back. The one we ended up going with was the completely lame “Reading is an Adventure That Never Ends.” I was particularly disappointed because after going through hundreds of book-related quotes I managed to find something that I thought was perfect in that it made books sound cool, exemplified the attitude that I think all good Children’s Libraries should have and also managed to contain a little bit of healthy life advice at the same time – but my manager vetoed it saying it was “inappropriate” and “not really suitable for a Children’s Library” (eyeroll.emoji). Whatever. If you’re interested it’s a John Waters line that goes like this: “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!”
Anyway – I think it’s that quote which kinda inspired me to start buying more books and getting IKEA bookshelves (I’m only half-joking here). Having worked in a libraries for the majority of my adult life if there’s something that I’ve wanted to read I can literally just pick it up from work so what’s the point of buying it you know? Up until recently most of the books I’ve owned have been Christmas and birthday presents and Scott Pilgrim. And the thing of actually buying a book is something that I still struggle with – I mean what’s the point of buying a book you’ve already read / is it a good idea to buy something that you haven’t?
Which brings us to A Walk Through Hell I guess? I own both volumes and were pretty much brought on the strength of Garth Ennis’ name because well – the guy makes good comics and it’s interesting watching him grow and evolve and change. I was one of those spotty teenagers that read Preacher when it first came out (“That fella’s got a face like an arse” lol) and it’s been quite a trip watching him mellow out and get more serious and deep as he’s gone along you know? It’s like if Blink 182 started making classical music or something.
Well ok A Walk Through Hell isn’t exactly classical music – but there’s definitely an air of… something about it. I mean yeah – it’s very much a horror book and it’s very much about doing crazy fucked up stuff but there’s a lot more on it’s mind than that. Like Owen said at the start it feels like a political thriller but then it kinda twists and becomes something that seems like it’s a lot more about monsters and fucked up images to haunt your sleep but what’s interesting is how as things get further along it draws these two strands closer and closer together until you’re not sure where one ends and the other begins – but that’s just life in 2019 right?
Without wanting to give too much away – it’s funny but in a sense it’s kinda the closest book of his to Preacher that I’ve read since Preacher. Not in terms of the messed up gross out humour – but very much in the Making Statements About Religion and getting into things like God and Jesus and the Devil in a way that almost made it feel like a throwback. And it’s very cool how it keeps bobbing around in all sorts of ways that you don’t expect: not least of which mostly involves the idea that 21st Century human beings wouldn’t be able to accept that they were in Hell because the idea is so crazy and how Hell would actually use that against you – hope is a dangerous idea after all.
It’s also interesting to compare it to Crossed (which we did for the Book Club all the way back in 2015) as it’s basically the polar opposite in terms of approach to horror. With Crossed it’s all about the crazy and brutal things that humans can do to other humans and the graphic ways that stuff manifests itself (I’m never going to forget that first splash page). But A Walk Through Hell is more about the crazy and brutal things that we do to ourselves although wait no – that’s not quite right. It’s more I guess – the crazy and brutal things that get done to our minds rather than our bodies. It’s less about the way that we get messed up by lone agents and more how we get messed up by society and each other. It’s an unforgiving world after all and forgiveness may be our only escape.
Instagram / budaboyhq
First of all, thank you Owen for including my comic on your list- it’s a great honor and I was stoked while reading your comments. Thank you forever.
As for the news, well, I’ll have to move to Brazil for real this year, which means that I’ll contribute with LGNN from here from now on, and I feel sorry that I couldn’t meet everyone in person. I like to be part of this group, and I hope to keep reading such great articles, and contributing in the way I can. I’ll be in London from the 20th to the 24th to pack and dispatch all my things (mostly comics), and I would be more than happy to have a gathering in a pub and such.
Well, as for my readings, I loads of comics this year, and it would take hours to write about them- so I’ll focus on the ones that left a greater impression in my puny brain. And I read mostly manga…. so here it goes:
By Kentaru Miura
This is by far one of the greatest things I’ve ever had the chills (I wouldn’t call it a pleasure) to read in my life. I read the whole thing online (it’s the only comic I’ve ever downloaded), pretty much because it was impossible to find it anywhere at the time- now they have those huge leather bound editions that OH MY are so beautiful. They are pricey but I would gladly buy them all.
The story is about this dude called Guts- yeah I know. He is super strong and has a biiiig sword. He’s the ultimate unstoppable warrior. He doesn’t sleep or eat or change his clothes or anything. He was born to fight and etc.
Needless to say that when I first started reading it I wasn’t really engaged. Miura’s artwork in the beginning of the series is forceful, and it takes a while to get used to. And them comes the beauty of a good manga- it gets better. And it embarks on themes that are rarely seen in such compelling way in a manga: trauma, sexual abuse, the nature of evil, the role religion in corrupting people, and furthermore, magic. When things click, this masterpiece gets fast, brutal and so scary that I felt goosebumps. It’s not for everyone, mostly because of the battles: if you’re not into that don’t even try.
The artworks improves so drastically that it’s hard to conceive that someone actually drew everything. Sometimes we are reading a comic and we are presented with double spreads that blow us away, but here we have whole sequences of double spreads with thousands of characters per page. The monsters are creative, disgusting and unsettling. When the comic gets dark, it’s in a way you feel hell is opening up leaking is rottenness into our realm. And it’s really, really good.
Just look at this:
As you may have noticed , I’m not really talking about the plot. Guts somehow resembles Batman (sorry), obstinate and with great grit, and you sometimes don’t expect him to be really deep. Both characters suffered traumas and are dealing with it. What sets the characters apart is that Guts is practically homeless, he has so little in terms of safety that you are always feeling that the author is pushing him too much, almost destroying him in body and soul. The same happens to the other characters, mainly Caska, who is Guts’s greatest love in a borderline tortured relationship. Everything in Berserk is hard.
So, consider this a teaser. Get your 44 pounds and buy the leather bound edition, or just download everything- it’s worth it. Bear in mind that in manga things are way larger and it may take sometime for the story to kick- but I urge you to give it a shot.
This panel summarizes everything (read from right to left)
Happy New Year
OH DEAR GOD WHY Presentations
Twitter / Barbican Comic Forum
Just to quickly say up top – totally agree with Little Bird, plotting itself not so great, but man oh man the art on it was such a bold blast to enjoy. 4 Kids is grand too. Really want to read Young Terrorists now.
Also, Alexandre, Buddha Boy has such a cool cover! Where can I read it?
I’ll admit I revisited this one as I’ve been looking for cool prints to hang in my new room. I’d forgotten how perfectly and precisely formed this book is. Even stripping away the text, it sings. Like Mazzuchelli’s body of work, from his time collborating with Frank Miller to his time collaborating with Paul Auster, it’s always been something you gaze at. His perfect, simple linework, sense of space, composition and colour deserves to take Lichensteins’ spot in modern art galleries. And it’s such clever writing – taking a debate about art and design and transplanting it into a thoughtful character piece that easily holds court with the likes of Persepolis and Fun Home.
Scary Go Round
An old web comic favourite i’ve been revisiting in. As surrealist as it is homely, its these loosy goosy, ridiculous Scooby Doo adventures with a group of English high schoolers in some small little town in the middle of somewhere. The dialogue is outrageously funny and John Allison proves he has a unique sense of funny comic dialogue timing that no one could dare replicate – cut to his brilliantly expressive artwork, and it’s a sweet, funny series that more people should read.
One Giant Hand
A new web comic find I’ve found through the glorious Instagram one page absurdist comic scene. One Giant Hand is violently, aggressively ridiculous – it’s every strip feels like a mugging on a cultural fallacy we haven’t quite plucked up the courage to call out. I feel like this series offers a manic chronicling of our trying times, like telling everyone the Emperor Has No Clothes with a megaphone and a flamethrower. Much fun. Very good.
Chester Brown – I Never Liked You
A reminiscence of the author’s tragic coming of age and his struggles with emotional repression – I don’t think anything has quite gut punched me in the comics world like this did in 2019.
The Follies of Richard Wandsworth – Nick Mandaag
A wry, deadpan masterclass of a tragicomedy. Mandaag perfectly understands the comedic joy of a brilliant idiot hoisting themselves by their own petard and uses the controlled timing that only the structure of comic book panels can provide to achieve it. A great read.
Megahex – Simon Hanselmann
Another re-read, I wound up bursting through volumes 1 to 3 of Simon Hanselmann’s dark sitcom ode to depression, substance abuse and bad relationships during the summer heatwave spent across the start of the bakerloo to the end of central. A comedy about this much dire filth, trauma, depression and chaos at every imaginable level should not be this funny – but it so is. It’s a series that began it’s cultural footprint being traded around 4chan image boards before graduating to Vice and outliving the cultural relevance of both. The stories are designed to build and play out like 90s sitcoms, Friends, Frasier or Seinfeld, but the situations are so dire, so helpless and regularly plumb new lows in the human spirit that I didn’t need to know existed. These are the devastating, depressing misadventures of a witch, her shitty cat boyfriend, their abused, submissive room mate owl. I know I shouldn’t, for the characters sakes and mine, but I can’t wait to see what they shouldn’t do next.
I visited Brussels this year while I was interrailing and I feel like the city itself counts as one of my comic highlights of the year. Comics are everywhere, there’s an inner city hunt for buildings that have been painted into panels from classics from Tin Tin to Lucky Luke, comic museums and a prevalence of comics shops. Everywhere else, comics feel like a b-list exception, an odd off the high street shop or two. Here – it’s openly and actively celebrated. Wandering into 2nd hand book shops and flicking through their graphic novels, the range of tone and genre that they had in comics was insane to me. From political thrillers to cat detectives to erotica (I wonder if Tom Hooper went into the same bookshop as me…), it was an interesting contrast to the mainstream Atlantic publishing, which if not Marvel/DC, is often still very big, heightened and pulpy – from Saga to Sandman or even Dredd. The small press scene there too, feels radically different from ours. Zines aren’t quite as much of a pricey investment, here often mandating close to a tenner for what often feels like a xeroxed series of photocopies with vague autobiographical text passages and an art style that more often than not feels like an absent minded pastiche of Cartoon Network facial expressions. It just felt like there, outside of the Atlantic scene, that seems to be built around projects that could go to 13 episode Netflix seasons, there’s a world of variance we pay no heed to.
Although I fully admit Belgium comes with quiet pubs with 9% beers that go down like caramel so read into that what you will…
Batman: Last Knight On Earth
This was outrageously fun. It was a long awaited return to the form that made this pair define the decade in Batman comics. Where stories like The Court of Owls or the joker story of the decade, Death of The Family, worked in part because they brought so many new ideas to the lore, their later volumes seemed to oscillate between wearying exercises in over detailed world building (see their 12 issue Year Zero run, the Michael Bay to Miller’s Lumet of an origin story in Year One) or just a fireworks display of melodramatic character twists. All Star, sans Capullo, went back towards those new ideas – but it wasn’t quite the same.
So this apparent, final, hurrah for the pair is a happy return to form. It’s Batman waking up to find the apolcalypse happened a while ago and all his friends have had to fight and lose a terrible war in the interim – pushing him to face *drumroll* his final case *drumroll ends*.The apocalypse feels like an excuse for a litany of weird new ideas for familiar characters and a showcase to end all showcases for Capullo’s art. It’s surprising, thrilling and it avoids the later Snyder trick of 200 difficult to read text boxes a page that outline the minute history of an obscure paperclip in a pacey way for the sake of avoiding character and plot developments. It’s a sugar rush of surprising character twists that feel brilliantly true to the lore that created them. It’s arguable this end game doesn’t have as much to comment on the world of Batman as Court of Owls or Death of The Family did – but it’s damned close, and it manages to match the dark rollercoaster thrills of those stories in a way nothing in the Snyder/Capullo Batman saga had quiet managed to do since.
The Gap between Panels
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter / The Hot-Doll Pages
Couple of quick ones from me.
By Enki Bilal
This is a massive (and expensive) hardcover collection of one of the big works from one of the big Francophone creators. Save your £££ and borrow it from the Barbican Library – it’s well worth your time. It’s a allusive, hallucinatory cyberpunk tale shot through with a sense of absurdist humour. The plot is a bit convoluted and probably doesn’t hang together brilliantly (for many of these types of comics it is an escuse for the artist to get to the next thing they want to draw). It probably doesn’t help that the three parts were produced with massive gaps between them. But anyway there are some interesting reflections on the nature of art, the author’s Serbian background and what looks like an endorsement of humanist progressive values in the face of religions and nationalisms that seek to divide the world. And the artwork really is amazing.
By Masamune Shirow
Those who have read Ghost in the Shell will know what they’re getting themselves into with Shirow. Orion is marginally better, due perhaps to being one complete story rather than a set of largely discreet chapters, meaning that Shirow’s zany, mile-a-minute storytelling just keeps building and building on itself. As with Ghost in the Shell there is copious backmatter from the author explaining in madcap style the intricacies of the world he has created, which probably makes sense only to him. It struck me as an overcomplicated riff on the need for balance between good and evil, or renunciation (purgation) and humanity’s baser instincts. But Shirow’s far flung future science fantasy artwork is a sight to behold, and he does know his way around a fight scene between god-like beings. Lots of fun if you don’t take Shirow too seriously.