Friday, March 06, 2009

Comics Round-Up #2

This is another in a series of occasional posts to write quickly about the big stack of comics/graphic novels/manga/call them what you will that I'm reading because I'm a judge for this year's Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. This time I hope to be shorter than I was in my round-up of books for young readers -- we'll see if that's true.

Powr Mastrs, Vol. 2: by CF (PictureBox, December 2008, $18.00)

Either Powr Mastrs really was created by a teenage boy -- it's a complicatedly odd fantasy, set in a limited landscape, with a lot of juvenile sex and violence, populated by a cast of characters that seem more rolled up than fleshed out -- or it's some sort of parody or appropriation of that kind of teenage boy's style for its own purposes. Either way, it's so straight-faced in its grotesque baroque power struggles that it's difficult to talk about coherently.

This is the second volume; it's possible that the first one gave the entire project more sense and foundation. But, here, we start with a list of characters and a crude map of the setting -- very schematic and enclosed, as if drawn by a thirteen-year-old on lined notebook paper -- and then go into a series of stories about those characters. They all have their own plans, which are about as clear and comprehensible as those of Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot (though CF's characters come nowhere near Burden's sense of fun and infectious insanity).

To be blunt: I found it hard to figure out who these people were, how they related to each other, and what they wanted to do. Worse, I didn't care. CF's style is better than it appears to be at first -- it's deliberately crude, but his anatomy and sense of proportion are good. But his story is deliberately crude in the same way, and I wasn't able to see through that to figure out the point of this exercise -- if there is one.

Jayson Goes to Hollywood: by Jeff Krell (Ignite! Entertainment, January 2008, $12.95)

Jayson has been a strip character in various gay-themed publications for twenty-five years; the cover gives you the basic idea. The art aspires to Don DeCarlo, and only just misses most of the time. The writing is sitcom level bland, and it's clear that the setup hasn't budged a bit since the beginning -- Jayson's female roommate, Arena, says early in this book that she recently graduated from college.

There's a medium-sized cast, all stereotypes and all bland: Jayson is sweet and slightly naive; Arena is tougher but mainly defined as "the straight girl;" and from there on everyone else just has one trait apiece, as if creator Krell had to strictly ration personalities. I couldn't help thinking that, if I were gay, I'd probably find the Jayson strips demeaning and reductive -- and, even worse, desexualizing, since Jayson never dates or even looks for a partner at any point in this book. He's gay as a label, not because of anything he does. (In fact, the only sex in the book is the old fashioned hetero kind, to generate a baby for a woman who claims to be a lesbian.)

I'm hideously unread in gay comics, but I have to believe that there's better stuff out there than this. I've seen bits of Alison Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For, which is a slice-of-life strip like Jayson, but done much better. And I've read Howard Cruise's Stuck Rubber Baby, a fine graphic novel about growing up gay. On the other hand, I am straight, so it's possibly that actual real gay men see things in this that passed me by.

Delayed Replays: by Liz Prince (Top Shelf Productions, May 2008, $7.00)

This is a collection of Prince's webcomics, and her second book after Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? The strips are all four-panel horizontal, like the standard newspaper strip, and they're very much in the Kochalka-confessional mode, giving moments of her daily life. She seems to still be a student (probably college) at least in the early strips -- though, as is common for this form, all of the strips are moments taken out of context, so the reader gets to know Prince's personality, but not much of the details of her life.

She's got a nice loose drawing style, making this collection almost feel like a sketchbook. If you're interested in a collection of slice-of-life webcomics, here it is -- I don't know what else there is to say about it.

Abe: Wrong for All the Right Reasons: by Glenn Dakin (Top Shelf Productions, January 2001, $15.00)

I read this several months ago, and expected to do a paired post with another book from Top Shelf, Matt Kindt's 2 Sisters. But the latter is still languishing in the pile of books to be read, and Eisner stuff is going to keep pushing it down for the foreseeable future, so let me get this one off the to-write-about pile, at least.

I bounced hard off of this book; I say that up front. I'm the wrong reader for this, and it's quite possible that nothing I say should be taken as reasonable or worthwhile at all. But, to me, the title should have been Annoying for All the Usual Reasons. Abe -- originally Abraham Rat, denizen of a far-future super-automated, un-"natural" world and the alter ego of Captain Oblivion, and eventually just a blatant stand-in for the author -- is an authenticity grump, ever complaining about growing up and selling out and nattering on about freedom and the glory of the seasons and so on and on.

To be British about it -- and Abe is very British -- he's a whiny git. And I couldn't stand him on at least three-quarters of the pages in this book.

Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody: by Mike Dawson (Bloomsbury USA, May 2008, $19.99)

Dawson has been obsessed with Queen since he was about ten years old (in 1986), living in England but about to move with his family to New Jersey. He loved all of their music from that point on -- not quite unconditionally, since he has favorites -- and still loves their music.

Since then, he went to college (Rutgers), worked in some kind of Web job, and somehow became a cartoonist. The book's not about any of that. It's somewhat about the guy he was in high school, but not much of that either. It's not about how liking Queen turned him into a particular kind of person, or gave him confidence, or made him want to be an artist (though, maybe, it did).

It's just a "and this year I did this, and talked about Queen to these people, and my favorite song from this album is that" book, full of vignettes that don't build or add up to a whole. The vignettes are thoughtful and turned into good comics pages, but they're all separate -- the only throughline to the book is "Mike Dawson really likes Queen." That doesn't build, or ebb, or do anything -- it's just the premise. There's nothing wrong with Freddie & Me, but it doesn't quite come into focus -- a lot of people have a favorite band, and that fact does not make them interesting enough to center a whole book around them.

The Tragic Tale of Turkey Boy: by Andy Fish (Undercover Fish, December 2007, $14.95)

And this is pretty darn weird. It's focused on that little dude on the cover, who is not himself Turkey Boy -- Turkey Boy is a movie star who looks like a turkey, and apparently is a turkey -- but is a huge, huge TB fan. But his aunt, who raised him and is as horrible as only fictional stepmothers and aunts can be, detests TB, and detests our nameless hero, and detests just about everything else that might bring joy and light to anyone's life. She's ugly and overbearing, a screaming harpy whom our hero would love to be rid of.

But it's not that simple -- even when it seems that it might be.

So Turkey Boy is actually the story of one fan's obsession with Turkey Boy, which doesn't end well for anybody. There are also two short stories, both about obsession and death, to fill up the book -- these aren't as successful as Turkey Boy (to the extent that I can call Turkey Boy successful), but are...I dunno. A decent stab at modern Grand Guignol? A cry for help? It's definitely something.

Fish has a very energetic style, and I'd hesitate to describe his artistic predecessors -- maybe I can say that I see something of the lunacy and grotesquerie of Ralph Snart. But this is definitely something else.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I think that your comments about Krell's Jayson book are rather spot on, which is unfortunate as Krell seemed quite enthusiastic about this work the two times I heard him talk about it. Being gay doesn't provide any more dimension to the characters while reading it.

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