Tamaki and Valero-O’Connell’s Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is another of these YA graphic novels without any chapters or natural narrative breaks. The first time I came across one, I realized it was going to be a trend and yep, it’s a trend. The difference is last time it didn’t work, this time it works out perfectly. Writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s plotting works for a single sitting read. Tamaki has these narrative frames—the protagonist writing emails to an advice columnist—which provide a nice backdrop and structure. The protagonist not being particularly reliable also helps.

Not reliable like she might be dishonestly reporting to the advice columnist (and thereby the reader) but she’s not reliable. She messes up, just enough to stay actively hopeful she won’t mess something else up. Because at some point it just becomes her predicted behavior.

The protagonist, Freddy (short for Frederica), is dating the titular Laura Dean, a popular girl. Freddy’s got her core group of gay friends, while Laura Dean seems to be popular with everyone. It’s never explained why Laura Dean is popular—other than her mom frequently being out of town and there being booze and beds—but it’s also never explained exactly what Freddy sees in her. Presumably it’s some unquantifiable attraction thing but… Tamaki doesn’t give it enough attention. And Valero-O’Connell’s art doesn’t do implying of that nature. It implies other things; it has to imply a lot of other things, actually, because Freddy is frequently turned away from the panel or somehow obscured. We don’t get to see her reaction shots to how things play out around her.

There’s something non-committal about the book too—it’s aimed at a YA audience and there’s a certain age appropriateness. Or not being willing to not be age appropriate, which is fine but is definitely going to limit some potential.

It’s a solid read. Valero-O’Connell puts a lot into the panel layouts and compositions and it works.

I’m not a hundred percent on the coloring. At least every page something is pink. It’s a drab pink, kind of a mopey one. Or maybe the story’s just sad a lot. But it doesn’t add anything to the work.

Last thing—Tamaki has these talking stuffed animals, which is awesome, and not in it anywhere near enough.

Nowak’s Girl Town

Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak cover art

Girl Town is haunted. Far more than it is haunting. Creator Carolyn Nowak often cuts right before it gets haunting, instead its cast is haunted. Town collects five different stories. At least two of them deal with heartache. Two of them deal with nonspecific ache. One of them is potential literature but in the modern podcast, fandom era.

Nowak has some similar themes and visuals. She’s got this “roofs off” shot she does into houses. Sometimes it’s for establishing shots, sometimes it’s for scene. Usually it’s establishing shots. Theme-wise, things are often in a near future of some sort. The first story has space being colonized and attractive women left behind on Earth instead of getting to go into space. The third story—by far the longest one (sort of the “feature”)—is about a woman getting a sex robot who proves, just like the T-800, to be the only one who measures up (no, not that way). Those two stories, the futuristic realism ones, are the two heartache stories. The first one—the first story in the collection—ends with this really awesome, really weird move from Nowak where she changes things up at the last minute, staying truer to the character than reader expectation.

It helps set the tone for the rest of the book. Like the second story, which has an unexpected finish as well. It’s a little bit more magical realism than futuristic; there are some mundane fantastics in it, but no specific sci-fi tech. The second story is really good too. Town just keeps getting better until the sex robot feature; after it, the intensity of the read changes. The fourth story is that aforementioned potential literature one. It’s all about these two podcasters who get their hands on a copy of a rare vampire TV movie from the early nineties. It’s got a cult following, even though no one has seen it since it first aired. It works out to be a really nice, really assured story. Different from everything else, but a nice show of range.

Then the finale is an encore of the quiet devastation Nowak does earlier. The last story has no futurism, no magic. It’s just about sadness and memory. The characters are so layered—Nowak’s got these aching leads opposite powerful, confident love interests and friends—and the finish to the story just makes the whole book ache. Just like the first story’s ending reverberates through the rest of the read, the last reveal shoots it back to the front. Girl Town is a literal mood.

Hey Kids! Comics! – Howie Chaykin’s History of Comics

Heykids

Howie Chaykin, a writer/artist who’s been on the comic scene since the early seventies, has always been a bit of an outsider. While he’s done his share of the standard and not so standard mainstream hero fare, has generally exemplified his best work among the “anti mainstream” tendencies. After all, a guy’s gotta work, right? But it’s within those oddball, fantasy concepts he reveres and excels in.

Early on at DC, working on the Burrough’s revival Weird World series, the wonderful Sword of Sorcery adaptions from Fritz Lieber; the related creator owned Cody Starbuck from Gary Frederich’s Star Reach label; culminating here on his most successful creation (in my own humble opinion), American Flagg for First comics. About this time he matured, decided to push the envelope on “acceptable” comics, and went off on a series of outlaw concepts for the mature readers Vertigo line, did the nasty x rated Black Kiss series at Vortex, and stayed away from the big two, only dipping his feet in the water for the steady paying work. During a recent reentry into semi mainstream, he collaborated with writer Matt Fraction on the wonderful (but also not fer kids) Satellite Sam series at Image.

While all this time having both steady income and critical praise, he still kept that outsider, trend bucking cynic that picked scabs frequently off those with gentler tastes. Whether brought on by personal experiences or sympathetic attitudes towards his fellow creators, this history in comics has brought him to create Hey Kids! Comics!, a five issue history of comic books and the creators that brought them to life and suffered greatly for the experience.

Chronically depicting the lives of three comic books creators that spent their lives working within our favorite hobby, he covers lots of ground by splitting chapters by decades, showing the aging and growth of our protagonists and the world they inhabit, warts and all. It’s a good way to keep all the misery from overcoming us, done in several page chapters, each issue repeating the format while continuing the main story, as well as some of the more scandalous and heartbreaking tales from its history.

Chaykin spares no expense here in the lives of these creators, as they struggle to continue to earn a living, meanwhile watching the business grow and evolve around them, swallowing decency and mutual friends along the way. The comics business is shown by its soft underbelly, the stuff you didn’t want to know, but knew it existed. The many lives destroyed in its endless conquest for fame and the almighty dollar.

While a decent understanding of comics actual history will provide dividends to those who study such things, the synonyms of those depicted will entertain and horrify any reader. The industry whose products we loved for a lifetime had their origins in stories not far removed from EC horror comics of the fifties. Both sides of the coin are represented and contrasted, the wealthy publishers, the insane editors, and the mercilessly taken advantage of creators, adding up as entertainment for mainstream comic readers that probably didn’t even know they existed for the most part.

Chaykin is in his element here, ceaselessly parading it all for us, never withholding the sordid truths, the monetization of sex, the racism and ever present class warfare, all adding to our precious comic memories, unshielding our eyes from it’s mean and devastating truths.

Aesthetically, one can say Chaykin here has some of his ticks that some readers may find off putting; his slight visual repetitions from one character to another and an expanding list of characters can make you work a bit to keep it all straight. I read each issue a couple of times, then blew through all five for a much more coherent and continuous read. The sheer cynicism on display here could turn off some readers, but its the subject matter here thats off putting, Chaykin’s talents only serve too well the stuff he’s depicting. For me, these ticks can be forgiven. After all, Howie is in his seventies, and he’s producing here an incredible tale- a sympathetic story thats incredibly sad mostly because it is real and the casualties are those we grew to love and admire in our desire for four colored fairy tales.

Chaykin only works with A-list talent, so kudos also to Wil Quintana’s rich, lively colors, and the never ending varieties of Ken Bruzenak’s lettering. Also assisting in his line up are several guest stars, helping him create the detailing that helps give the book life and it’s authentic touch, as well as back matter thats essential.

Despite whether you can stomach the details and the story, the utter lack of ethics or morals portrayed by those in charge that benefitted the most from them, there can be no doubt that (paraphrasing from the book) comic books are truly the ATMs of the media development industry these days.

Howie, you’re a tough read. But somebody’s got to do it, and while I’m sorry its you, you are the best fitted for it. Thank you.

Biddi-biddi-boo, Or: The Eltingville Prescience

EcThe Eltingville Club; Dark Horse Comics; 2016 (originally published 1994-2015); $19.99; 144 pgs.

Either Evan Dorkin’s got the Eltingville TV rights back or whoever has them is a complete numbskull because the book’s so relevant you could subtitle it “An Incel Fable” and it’d be totally appropriate, narratively speaking.

But it’d be somewhat intellectually dishonest, as Dorkin started The Eltingville Club long before the incels had a self-identity or community. Dorkin’s actually way too optimistic… or maybe anti-pessimistic in his predications for fandom.

This edition collects every Eltingville story, published over twenty-one years from 1994 to 2015. The last two stories are the two-issue closer Dorkin did, which I had read when they were published; I hadn’t read any of the shorter strips. I did watch the TV pilot, which is “included” in the trade in the pilot was an adaptation of one of the stories.

I actually won this book in a giveaway promotion Dorkin ran. It’s one of the few things I’ve won online. Awesome prize.

I had planned on reading through the collection (does anyone else want to call hardcover collections trades but then can’t because they aren’t?), but an Eltingville-read friend told me it might be better with some breaks. And, wow, is he right. Eltingville is exhausting.

Although Dorkin published the book over twenty-one years, besides the final “flash forward,” no one ages. The Club is frighteningly eternal, its four members not growing any older or any wiser over their adventures. Their adventures always involve some major pop culture—or, at least at the time, comic book culture details, which do change to reflect current events. So it’s a comic strip where the characters don’t age but react to current events.

I didn’t realize how long the two final issues ran and I expected to read the book in three sittings; first two sittings the shorter stories, last sitting the two-parter. But it turns out there actually isn’t a lot of shorter stuff, it’s sixty percent of the material sure, but it’s nine strips adding up to sixty percent.

It’s fine—it makes the first issue of the two-parter even more impressive to see how artfully Dorkin is able to scale to a longer narrative—but it did leave me focused on the finale more than the first twenty years of material.

Most of the stories involve the Club getting into either a fight or significant trouble (or illness) because leader Bill is a complete dick. Bill is the comics guy. Josh is the sci-fi guy. Pete is the horror guy. Jerry is the RPG guy. Bill’s the leader and finds himself constantly arguing with Josh, because—as it turns out as the series progresses—they’re alter egos. Sort of. Enough. Pete and Jerry are mostly just there, though Pete gets enough material over the stories it’s too bad when he becomes such a significant creep in the flash forward.

Dorkin doesn’t have any sympathy for the Club and doesn’t ask for any from the reader. They’re assholes. To each other, to their parents, to everyone. It’s incredible. And incredibly funny. Dorkin gets some crying laughing laughs into these stories. Sometimes you don’t even need to get the pop culture reference.

Reading the original, mid-nineties stories, Dorkin’s prescient about where fandom and the Internet is going. Eltingville never feels dated, even when they’re talking about Batman Forever. Dorkin was really good about anticipating burgeoning fandoms too. The older stories are also relevant as a documenting of the evolving fandom awfulness.

Dorkin’s epilogue is somewhat hopeful (realistically hopeful?) for things, though it’s from 2015 and 2015 was a time where measured hopefulness was still a thing.

Would Eltingville be as good if the world weren’t such a shit show? Yes, but there’d be different adjectives to use about Dorkin. The comic is just the right combination of hilarious and terrifying. Excellent art from Dorkin—it’s really cool to see how he’s developed, cartooning-wise, with the last two issues. Eltingville is a must.

Insert Meow Joke Here: Jonesy or, Alien vs. Cat Requiem

jonesyJonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo; Titan Books; October 2018; $14.95, 80 pgs.

I’ve had various problems with the first Alien movie over the years, but it wasn’t until I read Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo did I realize the film has some major problems regarding the cat. Like, it’s not enough of a cat. Of all the times I’ve seen Alien, I think I’ve only seen it once since becoming a cat-person.

Creator Rory Lucey does a great job doing the film—sort of—through the cat’s perspective. The cat’s only in Alien so much, so there are only so many scenes from the film adapted. A lot of the book is the cat finding somewhere comfortable to sleep or scratching on something or going after the alien’s tail.

Lucey doesn’t adapt all those scenes. While completely believable, there’s not a scene where the cat lovable messes up the crew’s breakfast. Jonesy seems like a lot more of a dick in the movie and far less affectionate with the crew but he’s sweet and adorable in the book.

One would also hope their cat—even if it’s a communal cat—might bat an eye when a space monster is killing them. Lucey’s Jonesy doesn’t. The deaths take place off panel in one way or another. Brett gets it in silhouette, for example.

Lucey removes the horror from the story and instead does a cute cat story. It works. For a cat-person (owner or not), the book will be fun. Jonesy acts like a real cat in the book (as opposed to the movie); he’s a real pain in the ass. Ripley’s got to lock him out of rooms, he’s trying to get the human food, he messes with Dallas’s hat. All very cat.

Not very Alien though. It’s kind of impossible to imagine how they’d be able to do the whole run a spaceship thing with this troublesome cat around. During one sequence, Jonesy goes around to break all the precariously placed set decorations—the helmet on the bridge, the tippy toy. He also misses a lot of the action (he sleeps until it’s time for Ridley to put him in the carrier, through Parker and Lambert and Ash’s finales). It’s kind of weird given how much Lacey inserts him in the rest.

Jonesy’s pretty cute. It’s got some good giggles if you’re an Alien fan or a cat-person. Lucey’s discipline is impressive with the dialogue-free, single-sitting comic. The pace is always good, the art is always good. It’s conditionally worth a read.

Got to like cats. Got to know Alien pretty well to get the jokes.

Wait, I don’t get the title: Colleen Coover’s Small Favors

Small Favors HCSmall Favors: The Definitive Girly Porno Collection; Oni Press, Limerence Press (originally Eros Comix, Fantagraphics); 2017 (originally 2000-03); $29.99, 256 pgs; also available digitally.

I have no idea how I’m going to talk about Small Favors; it’s my first “erotic” comic. Possibly ever. (The first edition of Lost Girls is sitting on my shelf, still unread).

The collection’s subtitle is “The Definitive Girly Porno Collection.” I’m just worried what kind of SEO I’m going to get from frequent usages of the phrase “Girly Porno.”

So. We’ll see how this post goes.

The collection—three years of short stories, plus sketches, plus at least one new story—starts with compulsive masturbator Annie (set off by her fetching neighbor) getting in trouble for her lack of conscience. So she gets assigned on in the form of Nibbil. Nibbil’s probably the size of an action figure. And Annie seduces her before they even get back to the real world from the magical sexy land. Sexy but no sex. Annie’s got too much of the sex is the whole point.

After the setup, each strip is basically Annie and Nibbil being adorable and then having sex. Eventually they make a girl friend—every character in Small Favors is a woman, which becomes apparent after Nibbil reveals to Annie she can grow to human-size (instantaneously, which writer and artist Colleen Coover uses imaginatively)—and have adventures with her. Though their adventures tend to all go the same way. Adorable setup at the beginning of the strip, then sex.

There’s some tension involving a bean counter out to confirm Nibbil’s doing her job in keeping Annie’s sex addiction under control and another subplot involving the girl friend trying to find love. But mostly it’s just explicit and very positively portrayed sex.

Coover’s Good Girl art is fantastic. All but one of the strips are in black and white, with Coover occasionally trying a little bit different of a style. The color entry is fantastic; color adds a whole new dimension to Favors. Not the sexy time, but the narrative stuff. Well, probably the sexy time stuff too but the big surprise is how lush the Coover intends the world. The strip’s positivity doesn’t start and end with its constant hay-rolling.

I’m now getting into euphemism territory so it’s time to wrap up; Small Favors is precious and quite exquisitely executed.

A Cyndi Lauper reference seems inapt: Venable and Crenshaw’s Eighth Kiss

kissno8

Kiss Number 8 is a really long read. Just around 300 pages, without any natural or artificial breaks. I kept waiting for a good point to put it down, after this development or that development, but writer Colleen AF Venable doesn’t ever slow down. Not even when protagonist Amanda will have an incredibly stressful evening and fall asleep, it’s not like there’s a pause before the next day. Venable and artist Ellen T. Crenshaw work up a great momentum.

Amanda is narrating the story, which is about the circumstances of her eighth kiss (presumably kissing partner; it’s heavily implied she never had second kisses with her previous kissers). 8 is set in what seems like Ohio, but only if people in Ohio talk shit about people in Pennsylvania for being a nothing state? But it’s definitely set in 2004, which occasionally seems anachronistic. Amanda finds some really, really sincerely woke people in its not-at-all-big-city locations. Or maybe the guy was shit talking Pennsylvania and it takes place in Pennsylvania (because there’s a real Meadville, Pennsylvania). Does it matter? A bit. The time period setting feels a little pointless, like it almost makes the bigot characters more acceptable? But not exactly, because dealing with the repercussions of bigots’ actions are one of the places 8 goes but doesn’t want to investigate.

Venable’s got a very set path she’s taking the protagonist on. No stepping off to explore, no taking a break, just forward on the path.

See, Amanda’s got a very big half year or however long the present action takes. She finds out a family secret, which boils down to obscene amounts of mental cruelty and abuse (not on Amanda, but on another family member), and sets her on a path of self-discovery, which has some major consequences too, but only because the comic starts out being about Amanda and her friends living in this development—which never gets visually explored, which is weird until you think about how close Venable’s keeping the narrative distance. Crenshaw’s art is always good, but she never explores anything. It’s a little too accessible.

Of course, it’s targeting teen readers, which might be why the story stops when it does, just as things seem like they’re going to start getting really interesting for Amanda in terms of actual character development. The problem with her self-discovery arc is Venable keeps too much self-perception a mystery; it doesn’t seem right Amanda’s narration would skip over her most important decisions. It’s weird.

It’s one of those “it’s heart is in the right place” but its ambitions are truncated.

Maybe it’s just one of the genre specific pitfalls—YA graphic novels are, more than anything before, real “graphic novels.” Kiss Number 8 is all right, but given how front-loaded it ends up being… it seems even if YA graphic novels are their own medium, they’re still enough comics to desperately need the right editor.

Even in the future of the future of law enforcement there is room for improvement

Frank Miller's Robocop #1

Frank Miller's Robocop; Avatar Press; issues 1-9 (of 9); 2003-06; $3.50 to $3.99, 36 pgs ea.; collection (2007), $29.99.

Like most media with a Frank Miller credit on it, Frank Miller’s Robocop does not aged well. More accurately, as far as Robocop goes anyway, it doesn’t improve with age or maturity. It was always as bad as it is now, every reading another bloody stab at nostalgia. Frank Miller’s Robocop is an adaptation of Miller’s original Robocop 2 script. It’s a pseudo-infamous script—Miller, hot off Dark Knight loves Robocop and writes the sequel. There’s a writer’s strike in there somewhere. When the sequel finally does get made, Miller’s script has been rewritten by Walon Green (who wrote some of The Wild Bunch script). The sequel doesn’t get a good reaction, everyone starts thinking it’s because Miller’s script got rewritten. But then Miller’s back for Robocop 3, which should seem weird but actually makes perfect sense because they’re really just using his Robocop 2 script ideas.

So Frank Miller’s Robocop initially comes off more like a Robocop 3 adaptation than a Robocop 2. The first three issues are just Robocop 3, then with 2 elements, but still with a bunch of 3 going on. If only adapter Steven Grant could unravel all these threads….

And he doesn’t. He leaves Robocop entirely jumbled, with Juan Jose Ryp’s highly detailed, precisely messy, very busy art not doing anything to save the comic. Ryp’s art never really hurts it—whoever gives him too many pages for action scenes, for example, is the one who hurts it. Ryp does well with fast paced action. He doesn’t do well slowing down to go through a throw-by-throw. Especially not with the comic’s version of “Robocop 2,” the big villain (sort of) in the finale. It usually feels like Grant’s never seen Ryp’s art, otherwise no one would plot out the scene the way Grant does.

Editing matters. Though with Frank Miller’s Robocop you probably don’t get to tell Frank Miller how his ideas are so bad, even a franchise-desperate movie studio could improve on them.

I’ve read this series something like three times now. Maybe four. Definitely three. I’ve read it as published (often delayed), I’ve read it slowly, I’ve binged it. It never gets any better. There’s never enough story for the issues or even the series. The first three have something like an arc, which suggests Grant might do something similar with the back six, but he doesn’t. Once the big action set pieces start, the comic rushes to get out of there way so Ryp can have too many pages to do boring action.

In the end, all Frank Miller’s Robocop does is raise questions not particularly worth having answered—did Miller write any of these characters any better, did he really have such bad plotting or was Grant trying to make it fit the nine issues (it feels like there’s one missing, though who’d want to read another one).

Robocop 2, the movie, is far from great shakes, but seeing notes on Miller’s script from the studio execs? Seeing those might be interesting, if only because there’s so much to “fix.”

(It’s also strange how few of the “regular” cast show up in the script. Makes you wonder what Miller liked about the first movie).

Ruining movies: In which I make a link share all about me

Funny story (I mean, relatively). As a big fan of the film The Year of the Comet, I got the Twilight Time Blu-ray (which I still haven’t watched). On opening the box, I read the back of the Blu-ray, curious about the critics’ quotes for such an undeservedly ignored light, competent comedy. There was one quote about Tim Daly, which I appreciated and agreed with, then realized it was from my post on Stop Button.

Glad I agreed with myself.

But when I saw Lara Witt had written about Captain Marvel, I was a little torn about reading the post. I love Witt’s work, but… I really liked Captain Marvel, was her post going to make me think differently about the film. Especially since I’ve had friends say hearing/reading me talk about movies ruins the movie for them.

Which I always take to mean I’m right.

But what was Witt going to say about Captain Marvel, especially since I’m a forty year-old cishet white male and she’s… not.

So… basically we have the same take. Stuff I didn’t talk about in my post at length because I wouldn’t do it justice. Witt does it justice.

Captain Marvel serves as reminder that emotional, compassionate, angry, resilient, brave, loud girls and women are dangerous to oppressive structures.

 

Peloponnesian Cliffs

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Hercules: Wrath of the Heavens (Hercule); Titan Comics (Soleil); issues 1-5 (of 5); 2017-18; $3.99, most issues 32 pgs ea., first issue 56 pgs; collection (2018), $19.99.

En France… whoops, sorry. In France, Hercules came out in three forty-eight pages volumes. The first came out in 2012, the second in 2013, the third in 2017. It appears each volume is going to be one of Hercules’s twelve labors. Are they called labors? I spent about fifteen minutes trying to dig up original publication information because French comics information doesn't get readily translated. The Wikipedia page for Hercules author JD Morvan is atrocious.

The reason I was trying to dig up that original publication information is because Wrath of the Heavens is five issues and gets through the first three labors. I was even reading up on Hercules’s Wiki to try to figure out if the story was done or if the gigantic cliffhanger was indeed a cliffhanger.

I'm not familiar with the mythological Hercules, which (thanks Wikipedia) doesn't matter too much with Morvan’s hard sci-fi take on him. It's the far flung future, humanity lives in some kind of servitude to intergalactic beings (the gods). There's a bit about a revolution of the humans being bad because it would tank the economy. Morvan does a really good job updating the mythology and adding to it. Same goes for Looky, who realizes it all without ever getting goofy with the design. The gods look like gods, but in the context of being this special race of alien overlords.

There are some too obvious moves—humanity is called sklaves or slkaves or something similar. It's slaves, get it. But it usually doesn't matter because the story's moving so well, which is another reason the strangely abrupt ending seems wrong. Morvan is very deliberate in his plotting. The finish is perfunctory at best.

The comic’s got some inventive and loose adapting as far as the mythological source material goes, which is weird at first then improves. Awesome art start to finish. Some of the characters resonate, even though Hercules is a bit underdeveloped. His actions are interesting to Morvan, not his reactions.

It's a good comic. I only hope it doesn't take another five years to get the next installment.

Though Titan, who translates and reprints, seem to have waited until the third volume was done for this series and it'll be ages for labors four through six get done. There's not even a four in France yet.

CROSSPOSTED FROM COMICS FONDLE

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