Hi there, romanticals peeps.
What a Valentine’s weekend it’s shaping up to be for lovers of comical books! Sticky Institute’s Festival of the Photocopier runs from Feb 11-14, with the zine fair at Melbourne Town Hall held on Valentine’s day itself. The very day before, Saturday Feb 13, pop into All Star for I Heart Comics featuring the launch of new comics by locals Frank Candiloro, Alisha Jade, Ive Sorocuk, Alex Clark and Fred Atkins. Good line up, that. In hunting down that last date, I also discovered that the All Star Women’s Comic Book Club are going to look at Jaime Hernandez’s all-time-no-question-capital-‘c’-Classic, Maggie The Mechanic on Feb 27. Good grief. The group, from all reports, is beyond friendly and inclusive, so if I were either female-you and had any interest in the work of one of the true masters of the form, I’d mark that in your calendar and get down there. Jaime friends would be the best friends, I imagine.
Ah, comics. Nothing says I love you like the sexy, alchemical mix of pictures and words on paper.
COMIC OF THE WEEK : FREDDY LOMBARD
By Yves Chaland
Published By Humanoids
If nothing else, the collected Freddy Lombard is a beautiful example of just how far artistic perfectionists can push themselves. French creator Yves Chaland, an immensely driven and gifted artist, clearly sets himself an artistic goal from page one of Freddy’s first adventure, “The Will of Godfrey of Bouillon,” and hones his vision over the course of four subsequent Lombard books all created between 1984-1989 until his tragic, untimely death at the age of just thirty.
Just from looking at his work (see last week’s Heavy Metal recap for more on this) it’s clear that as well as being a highly playful artist, Chaland was restless. He had an ability to alter his style so radically, often within the confines of a single page of his more experimental pieces, yet a fondness for the work of Belgian artists like Herge, Tillieux, Franquin and Jije informs the meatiest of his own work, the Freddy Lombard tales collected in their entirety by Humanoids. Here, the ligne claire (or clear line) seen most notably in the work of Herge, is seemingly obsessed over. Over the course of the books, lovely inky swipes are stripped back and refined, characters features sharpen, the world they exist in pulls into greater focus and detail. The artistic and narrative evolution of the series is remarkable.
Freddy, Dina and Sweep are an interesting mix of unlikeable layabout, gypsy and adventurer. Constantly scrambling for money or food or shelter, this trio of shiftless dropouts constantly find trouble, danger and adventure as a result of their desperation and loyalty to one another. Set in the 1950s, the tone of Tintin is immediately apparent, not just in Freddy’s blond quiff and tan trench coat, but in the gang’s globetrotting mysteries finding ancient artefacts, “cutting edge” science, states of intoxication and fisticuffs. Freddy’s final adventure, “F.52,” quite obviously pays homage to Herge’s “Flight 714,” (everyone’s favourite Tintin, right?) with F.52, Chaland’s experimental plane, bound for Melbourne instead of Herge taking Tintin to Sydney aboard his troubled vessel.
It’s not all quite so romantic, however, as the problematic “The Elephant Graveyard” makes abundantly clear. On the hunt for an original photographic plate, Freddy and co. wind up in Africa, where, in keeping with the style that informs the work, Africans are by and large presented in fairly racist caricature (think Tintin in the Congo – the book excised from ongoing publication). On the surface, clearly a terrible aesthetic decision. However, in his afterword, Jean-Luc Fromental writes “The racist caricatures of the old masters are examined here under a harsh, unblinking light.” Is Chaland adding a dollop of poison to his otherwise sentimental appropriation of his heroes’ styles? Perhaps reminding us that for all its cosy warmth, nostalgia also has its dark hidden cracks? Judging by how other characters of colour are treated in the series, it would seem so. At one point, Freddy is manhandled and beaten by a black doorman who takes justifiable offence at an offhand, casually racist comment Freddy makes and in (probably my favourite) story, “The Comet of Carthage,” Freddy falls in love with a beautiful, intelligent and sophisticated Tunisian named Alaia, who is the unfortunate muse of a demented artist. If the idea of such caricature being used at all causes offence, I completely understand and respect your opinion. However, I would ask for some attempt to appreciate context and subtext before declaring your outrage, as many a reviewer has already done from my cursory search online.
Moving from Italy to Hungary, “Holiday in Budapest” sees Freddy and Sweep laying about in Venice while Dina tutors a young lad in Latin and then sees the gang caught up at the heart of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Heavy stuff for a Tintin homage. The selfishness of Freddy and Sweep is brilliantly highlighted by young Lazlo, Dina’s student, who just wants to return home to Budapest to help overthrow the Stalinist Hungarian People’s Republic. Lazlo, political and driven even as a child, can’t countenance the “lazy bourgeois” existence he and his mother have in Venice while his home still suffers. Lazlo runs away and Freddy and Sweep, very quickly and sensing much financial reward in the journey, begin driving Lazlo across Europe. Dina’s character is rounded out nicely here as well. While always strong in her own right, she’s frequently a hanger-on, lovelorn over Freddy not reciprocating her romantic feelings. In “Holiday In Budapest,” she’s given extra warmth and bravery, becoming the first truly sympathetic character of the group in the process.
Narratively the most complex of the Lombard adventures, “Holiday in Budapest” reads like an epic with Chaland somehow still peppering in a gag here and there even as the city becomes a warzone, still somehow beautiful in Chaland’s slick, precise lines.
Style atome (atom, or atomic, style) informs the design of Chaland’sexperimental F.52 plane. Painted in red and white, which may give you flashbacks to the rocket from Tintin’s Destination Moon, the science fiction sensibilities of Chaland’s artistic heroes are resurrected here in sleek retro-futuristic curves. Classism, espionage, sexual harassment and terrible parenting collide in this final Lombard tale, in which Chaland’s art has arguably never looked so lovely, climaxing with a car driving off the loading dock of the plane, plummeting down into the ocean in what Fromental remarks was “a terrible premonition” of the accident that would cruelly take Chaland’s life at such a young age.
The weight of this knowledge will hang over a reading the collected Freddy Lombard. You’ll shake your head over the mastery of the composition of any given page, the beauty of the waves Chaland has drawn, or the war-torn Budapest, or the sunny beauty of Naples, or…anything really and remember that this is a man who obsessively pursued a goal with passion and talent and died well before he could have possibly been satisfied even if his readers well and truly were.
Freddy Lombard is more than just a comics collection. It’s an artistic journey, a re-creation of a style of art that, for many years, became unfashionable. It’s beautiful and confronting and complex. Self-aware but never smug. I encourage you to read it from start to finish and follow, as I did, Chaland’s remarkable refinement of his aesthetic goal. As young as he left us, at least we have this sizeable, stylish testament to the breadth of his talent and his love of the form to return to again and again.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : A VALENTINE FROM DRACULA
By Lee Gatlin
Four great panels from Lee Gatlin this week, as Dracula gives his valentine a card, and totally blows looking cool in the process. Try and be a bit smoother with your loved one, eh?
COUNTDOWN TO MOZ METAL: HEAVY METAL MARCH 1979
Before we begin, I’d like to quickly mention this blog post by the team at Heavy Metal on what it considers to be the pretty dire state of 2015 best of comics lists. Look, I hate a bunch of stuff too, we all do, but I’m not going to get mad at critics, or readers, for liking it. A publisher commenting in this manner does not come off as punk rock. At best, it comes off as sour grapes. At worst, it makes HM as an entity quite unlikeable. What’s most irritating about this blog post however, and I do encourage you to read it, is the cherry picking from the periodical’s long history to beef up its own reputation, critical taste and publishing pedigree.
The post mentions having published the indisputable greats, then namedrops them (Moebius, Druillet, Kirchner and others), and this is what constitutes their frame of reference for what is “good.” No mention is made, however, about the dire, and I mean *dire*, selection of material the periodical has frequently run in the, oh I don’t know, thirty-plus years since those legends were first published—I am thrilled I won’t be writing this part of the column long enough to cover the ‘90s-‘00s. Adding to the insult, the current owners of the company were in no way shape or form responsible for publishing those incredible creators in the first place. The Metal Hurlant team in France and National Lampoon team in the U.S. were. It’s bullshit like this that hurts comics. You want to make a top ten list, guys? Raise your overall standards. I don’t call this thing “Countdown to Moz Metal” for nothing.
Anyway, it’s March 1979 and the author of that blog post was likely in diapers. We open the cover and there’s Ted Nugent in pink flares and a headband. “In Ted Nugent’s hands, a guitar becomes a deadly weapon,” reads the copy for this ad flogging Nugent’s “Weekend Warriors” LP. Ted fires multiple projectiles from his double-barrelled guitar, gurning like a psycho off his meds, assassinating his very own audience (one assumes – they or their bullet-ridden corpses are not pictured). Considering the madness of his hunting show, in which Nugent once gleefully killed 496 pigs in 48 hrs, it’s both a fitting image and sign of things to come, if a rather odd way to market an album.
“A Mass For The Dead” by Jean-Claude Pertuze deserves special mention from this issue, as it’s a beautiful little story with the ring of folklore about it. Drawn in a fittingly “etchy” style reminiscent of old bookplate illustrations, the story features an old widow, awoken at night by tolling church bells. Fearing she’s missed mass, she hurries to the church only to find it full of a congregation of spirits listening to a sermon by an equally ghostly priest. As the offering plate is passed around, the poor widow realises she has no coin to give and drops her wedding ring in its place. The ghosts then fade, and morning comes. The widow is found dead, summoned as it was her time. Pertuze’s sound effect lettering is lovely, organic and shapely – I’m curious to see the original French version with his lettering all through the piece, no offense to John Workman who provides a typically great look to the translation. I miss hand-lettering quite a bit. It’s becoming a lost art in comics, particularly mainstream comics, and “Mass for The Dead,” with its scrolling “Dong Ding Dong” of the tolling bell and sharp “Ping” of the widow’s ring hitting the collection plate are perfect examples of how comics are becoming sadly less organic as the process becomes ever more computerised. There are notable exceptions, of course, to my gross generalisation – Dustin Harbin, Michel Fiffe and even Russ Wooten, who seems particularly determined to make each of his projects as artfully distinct as possible (I love the Deadly Class lettering, for example).
Part Two of “Star Crown” is also here and the clumsy prose by John Pocsik got a pass from me last issue, but its terrible fan-fic stench can no longer be ignored no matter how hard accompanying illustrations by the legendary Gil Kane attempt to waft it away. Clumsy, awkward, utterly forgettable stuff. And I’m trying to be nice.
“Exterminator 17” spins into near theology for its conclusion, as the very nature of androids themselves is debated:
“Help me liberate the androids,” Exterminator 17 pleads to his captor.
“Impossible! They are absolutely the worst,” comes the reply, “Matter born of matter.”
“You are wrong…they are born of the spirit of man, which is good.”
Huh. It’s a compelling argument, Exterminator 17, but given your name, we’d have to think about that one for a bit. Anyway, Bilal’s art is stunning as always and Dionnet works overtime on his dialogue and pacing, bringing this baby in for an unfortunately rushed landing, which seems to be the curse of many an HM classic.
It’s fascinating to see Chantal Montellier show some real sympathy to a male character in “1996” as she presents us with a truly dystopic ending for her “1996.” Montellier gives her readers a government operating on men, civilising them in the “Center for Ideological Re-education” that turns humans into virtually identical lobotomised clones. It’s pretty Clockwork Orange, really, and an intriguing end for a series that once featured such loaded material as men shooting women in the streets as sport.
“Rastaskoy” by Malskoy keeps the A Clockwork Orange vibes continuing, as a gang of well-groomed street thugs, one of whom resembles this particular era’s David Bowie actually, with their own far out Natsat-esque slang (“Well, old buddies, at last the time has come for us to skag the ganglions of these bastards!”) prepare to launch a weaponised assault on a religious group of “rags.” Malskoy’s scratchy, realistic pencils recall old Warren zines or Marvel horror mags, and “Rastaskoy” is a nice little slice of strangeness, even if its influences are a little too obviously perched on its sleeve.
Alfred Bester’s 1957 classic, “The Stars My Destination ” begins its comics adaptation here as well, with none other than Howard Chaykin handling the art chores. Chaykin seems hell-bent on ridding these frequently lifeless prose adaptations of any stillness, providing not just sumptuously coloured art, but also incredibly striking layouts, breaking up the monotony of typed text-illustration-repeat that we find so often in these attempts at cross-medium transplantation. For once the art takes centre stage over blocks of typed text, with Chaykin making the text work around his illustrations and design, not vice versa. This is a striking, clever treatment of the source material that set the bar pretty high for any subsequent attempts. Awesome work.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : 50 DEGRES NORD – EXPO YVES CHALAND: EMISSION DU 20/09/10
Walk with me, will you, around this cute little gallery and let’s stare at the art of Yves Chaland together. Who’s that woman speaking French? I have no idea either. Let’s just ignore her and focus on all this lovely drawing…
See you next week. Love your comics.