Sunday, 29 January 2012

Too Much Sex & Violence #2

This is a shameless plug, not a review.  An objective review of this comic would be more or less impossible for me to write, as it is written by Rol Hirst, who has written many reviews for this blog, and I am one of the many artists – Stephen Prestwood, Neil Cavenham, Dave Metcalfe-Carr, Nigel Lowrey, Mark Renhard, Ryan Taylor, Tony McGee – who contributed to it.  Still, I read it yesterday and, in my heavily biased opinion, I thought it was great.

Too Much Sex & Violence is set in the fictional seaside town of Fathomsby, home to retired superheroes, vampire DJs, four-armed gigolos, and various other oddballs, including Sister Serena, a nun who offers a very unique service which male readers should find particularly distressing.  At first glance, TMS&V seems a lot like the TV series The League of Gentlemen, but now that we are two issues in, it has really started to distinguish itself.  I was particularly intrigued by the description of Fathomsby as a kind of retirement home for individuals with shady reputations ‘who have served their country in such a way as to be granted full immunity ... from all future prosecutions’. 

Rol clearly knows what he is doing here.  He has created some great characters for this series, has cleverly juggled the scenes to allow for a rotating crew of artists (I drew three pages for this issue, drew two pages in the first issue, and am currently drawing two pages for the third issue), and has produced a really, really strong script.  I am a fan of Rol’s writing anyway, but I was honestly surprised by how good this issue is.  It’s much better than the first issue, and that was bloody good.  He may want to consider taking up writing comics for a living.  I think he could go far.

As I said, I am not able to be objective at all regarding this series, so you should probably just check it out yourselves.  Both issues are available to order from Rol for £2.50 each (including postage within the UK).  Alternatively, both Gosh and Orbital in London have the first issue (Orbital definitely still have a few copies left, I’m not sure about Gosh) and if you are an Ace Comics customer, I know that Biff also has the first issue (it may be available elsewhere but you’ll have to ask Rol).  Hopefully, the same establishments will soon have the second issue, too.  

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Whispers #1

Whispers is a new series by Joshua Luna, who is one half of the Luna Brothers, the team behind series such as Ultra, Girls, and The Sword.  Joshua was the writing half of the Luna Brothers, with art duties on the aforementioned titles falling to Jonathan Luna, but it turns out that Joshua is a very good artist, too.  In fact, his art here looks like a lot like his brother’s, but with a touch of Daniel Clowes added for good measure.  It appears to have been shot from the pencils – not inked – which is a look that doesn’t always work for me, especially on colour comics, but here it looks really effective. 

The story is about a young man suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, who finds that he can leave his body in ghost form while he sleeps and visit people he knows.  They can’t see or hear him, but he is able to influence their thoughts to some degree by talking to them.  Joshua Luna’s stories often remind me of the novels of Stephen King, in that the basic idea can sound a bit naff, maybe even unoriginal, but the execution turns them into something special.  They are full of witty dialogue, too, which goes a long way with me.  And unlike most other modern writers, he writes great periodical comics that usually end on a cliff-hanger of some kind and leave me desperate for the next issue.

Compared to Luna’s previous comics, the ending to this comic was quite subdued – naked girls from outer space didn’t beat anyone to death and nobody got their jaw punched off – but it did intrigue me enough to make me want to come back for more.  I really enjoyed Girls and The Sword (I have a copy of Ultra in my reading pile at the moment) and I think I am going to enjoy this series, too.

Cost: I didn’t get this ‘on the ration’ at all.  It has a cover price of $2.99 and that’s what I paid when downloaded it from Comixology.  I probably would have been able to get it cheaper if I’d waited a few weeks, but I was keen to check it out.  If I buy any future issues, I will wait until they fall in price to at least $1.99, but I’ll probably just wait until the first TPB comes out and buy a copy of that instead.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham

Darryl Cunningham drew on his time working in a psychiatric hospital to produce the ‘eleven graphic stories about mental illness’ collected in this book.  Most of the stories focus on, and attempt to demystify, particular mental illnesses (depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia) or aspects of mental illnesses (self-harm, suicide), one focuses on famous people who have suffered from mental illness (Winston Churchill, Spike Milligan), and the final story focuses on the author’s own experiences of mental illness.  I enjoyed the whole book, but as an aspiring cartoonist who has also experienced mental illness, I could really relate to the final story.

I have suffered from depression and low self-esteem on and off since I was a teenager (I’m now 42), and like the author, I spent years producing comic strips that I was too insecure to promote, partly because I disliked being the centre of attention.  On more than one occasion, I have given up writing and drawing entirely, for several years at a time, and I have also experienced years of unemployment.  I have never been that outgoing, but in the late-1990s, I started to become extremely agoraphobic, and until very recently, I couldn’t even walk a short distance from my home on my own without having a panic attack.  I am more or less over that now, but only because I spent more than two years in counselling, receiving cognitive behavioural therapy, and finally started to take anti-depressants, after resisting them for years because I was worried that they would make me feel worse (I still only took half the dose my doctor recommended, but since reading the chapter on depression in this book, I have increased to the recommended dose). 

Not only do I now go out more or less normally (although I do still struggle with my natural tendency to stay at home), I am also much less afraid of pushing myself forward.  As recently as two years ago, I wouldn’t have even considered blogging (I used to get paranoid if I just posted a message on someone else’s blog, or even on Facebook) but now I have three blogs on the go, have started drawing again, and am enjoying it more than I ever did in the past.  That I could enjoy going out, writing on a public forum, or even publishing my comics online without experiencing anxiety, was inconceivable to me for many years... which all seems a bit odd to me now.   

Using simple artwork, frequently interspersed with distorted photographs, Cunningham effectively conveys the inner turmoil experienced by people with mental illnesses, an inner turmoil that can be made much worse by public misconceptions about mental illness and a general lack of sympathy.  As one character in the book says, ‘If I’d had cancer, people would have rallied around, but because I had schizophrenia, few people wanted to know’.  I found parts of the book quite upsetting, particularly the section on self-harm, but ultimately this is an uplifting book with a very positive message: no matter how hopeless things may seem when you are suffering from a mental illness, no matter how unlikely it seems that you will enjoy life again, things can get better, a mental illness is not necessarily a life sentence, your experiences can make you a stronger person and you can enjoy life (and comics) again.  I whole-heartedly agree.

‘Psychiatric Tales’ deserves to be widely read and it would make a great addition to any library.  If I weren’t broke and living my life ‘on the ration’, I would buy multiple copies to give to friends, family and passing strangers.  But just because I’m not going to do that, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.  Buy several!   

Cost: This has a cover price of $15.00 (I have managed to end up with a copy of the US edition of this book) but I got my copy from the Book Depository, last May, and paid just £6.96 (including postage).  It’s gone up a bit since then but it would be well worth buying even at the full cover price.  (Note: I put off reading this for so long because Paul had already read and reviewed it on this blog, so I thought I should let a bit of time pass before I reviewed it again, but I now wish I’d read it sooner.)

Friday, 13 January 2012

Scalped Vol.8: You Gotta Sin To Get Saved TPB

‘You Gotta Sin To Get Saved’ collects Scalped issues 43 to 49 by writer Jason Aaron, artist R.M. Guéra and guest artists Jason LaTour and Davide Furnò, and it’s another great volume.  It took me a couple of issues to get back into the series, partly because a good few months have passed since I read the last volume and my memory ain’t so good – which is one reason I usually can’t be bothered to collect periodical comics – and partly because the first two issues reprinted in this volume told relatively self-contained stories about relatively minor, unlikable characters, but once the ‘You Gotta Sin To Get Saved’ storyline that made up the rest of the book got going, I was hooked. 

In this volume, the complex characters that Jason Aaron has created become even more sympathetic, particularly, and most surprisingly, the supposed villain of the piece: chief of the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation / crime boss Lincoln Red Crow.  Meanwhile, our hero, undercover FBI agent Dashiell Bad Horse, is involved in a bloody shoot-out with the man who killed his mother at the end of the first volume, and still doesn’t realise that this is the man who killed his mother. 

I literally found myself perched on the edge of my seat as I got nearer the end of this book, as the atmosphere got more and more tense – particularly during the build-up to the shoot-out in the final issue reprinted here – and I really didn’t want it to end.  Frustratingly, when it did end, nothing was really resolved, but as this series is set to end at #60 – just one or (more likely) two more volumes to go now – most characters had taken at least a few more steps towards their places in the grand finale. 

Although R.M. Guéra is clearly a very good artist, I found his style far too murky when I first started following this series, but it’s a style that’s really grown on me and he produces some great work in this volume, from raindrops on a spider’s web to one creepy-looking horse (a bad horse?).  And there's some great work from the guest artists, too!  I still think that Davide Furnò's art looks like some old John Buscema drawings inked over with a marker pen, but it's a look that I am very fond of and I'd really like to see more of his work.

Personally, I can’t wait to see how this series ends and can’t wait until I can read the whole thing in one go.  Bring on the final volume(s)!

Cost: This has a (Titan Books) cover price of £14.99 but you can get it online at the moment for under £9.00.  My copy was a Christmas present, so it didn’t cost me a penny.  Hooray!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes HC

‘Lost in the Andes’ is the first in a series of volumes reprinting comics by legendary Disney cartoonist Carl Barks.  I had never read any of the material in this book before – I wasn’t even born when these stories were first printed, between 1942 and 1966, and most of the reprint volumes I’ve seen in the past have been rather expensive – but I had certainly heard about it, have always wanted to check some of it out, and was very keen to get a copy of this book.  It is certainly a great-looking book – I love that cover! – and it’s obvious even just flicking through it why Barks is held in such high regard, but I’m slightly embarrassed to report that I didn’t particularly enjoy reading it (embarrassed because it’s obviously quality material and everyone else seems to love this stuff).

This reprints four longish stores (about 20 pages each), nine shorter stories (about 10 pages each), and a handful of one-pagers.  The first of the longish stories, ‘Lost in the Andes’, is the best one.  In it, Donald Duck and his three nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, get lost in the Andes while searching for the source of some square eggs that Donald discovered while working as ‘fourth assistant janitor’ at the Museum of Natural Sciences, and eventually they stumble upon the lost city of Plain Awful, where nearly everything is square and everyone talks in an outrageous Southern US accent (because the only other person to discover the city was an American professor) and eats nothing but (square) eggs.  The art here is fantastic – as it is throughout the book – particularly on the panel in which Donald and his nephews stumble upon Plain Awful, while the story is mildly amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny.  Of the remaining longish stories, ‘Race to the South Seas’ and ‘Voodoo Hoodoo’ are okay but I got a bit bored with both of them long before they ended, while ‘The Golden Christmas Tree’, in which Huey, Dewey and Louie, seeking a golden Christmas tree, are lured up a mountain by a witch, is juvenile nonsense.

I actually preferred the shorter stories to the longer adventures – they were funnier and Donald seemed to have more personality in these strips, while in the longer strips he was quite bland and more or less any character could have played his role – and I particularly liked the one in which Donald and his nephews competed against each other on a rigged TV quiz.  The ending of this strip, in which Donald managed to answer a seemingly impossible question, but in doing so fried his brain and ended up choosing a tricycle as his prize, rather than a barrel full of money, was quite brilliant.  Overall, though, I found this book a bit disappointing and was quite pleased to reach the end.  I guess the main problem is the fact that I am 42 years old.  I am too old to really enjoy (most) comics written for young children, but too young to have read these stories the first time around, and therefore I have no emotional attachment to them.  I also have no real emotional attachment to the Disney characters – if this was a collection of Daffy Duck strips, I may have felt differently – and while Huey, Dewey and Louie were cute enough, it was hard to get too attached to Donald based on his personality – or lack thereof – in this book.  I probably enjoyed reading the introduction to this book more than I enjoyed reading the book itself, but then I always enjoy reading about the lives of great cartoonists.  Having said all that, I may still buy the next volume in this series, a collection of comics about Donald’s stingy uncle Scrooge McDuck – Barks’ own creation – as based on his few appearances in this book, he seems like a much more amusing character. 

Cost: This has a recommended retail price of £17.99 / $24.99.  I bought my copy from Amazon, where it was priced at £13.65, but I had a £5.00 Amazon voucher I got for answering online surveys for the Radio Times, which reduced the price to just £8.65.  At that price, I’m glad I bought it.