Monday, May 16, 2016

ALL STAR RECOMMENDS FOR MAY 17TH


I woke up this morning (Sunday) to give this column a quick edit and send it to Mitch but then I heard that Darwyn Cooke had passed.

I was fortunate enough to spend time with Darwyn over the TCAF weekend of 2014, as I was tapped to moderate a noir night featuring both he and Ed Brubaker. I could go on for hours about the experience. It was…unique…but this is not about me, it’s about Darwyn so instead I’ll just share a little moment that I now think about whenever I see his work.

At the conclusion of a signing session, Darwyn stood, took his lovely wife Marsha by the hand, spun her around and ever so briefly danced with her, right there in the middle of the Toronto Reference Library as Festival goers came and went around them. He didn’t see me. He didn’t see anybody. All he saw was Marsha. This was not a performance. It was not a showy moment designed to grab onlooker attention. It was a private moment that happened to play out publically (I’m not even sure anybody else even noticed) and it was the happiest I had maybe ever seen…anyone. Now, whenever I look at his pages, that’s what I see: this Titan of his chosen field, a man who drew with such style, beauty, perfectionism and incomparable coolness, sweeping his wife off her feet in the middle of a comics convention for nobody’s benefit but their own. 

Darwyn Cooke re-wrote the DC myths of the Silver Age. He brought sass and power back to Catwoman. He gave crime comics a facelift with a potent reminder that the swagger and sharpness of ‘60s neo-noir was unmatchable. His lively figures moved on the page in their fully realised worlds of seedy neon signs or cosmic, intergalactic swirls. He could do it all. Beyond all this, however, I’m happy to report that he was a really lovely, sweet man who truly, deeply loved his wife as much as the worlds he spent most of his time creating. 

Thank you, Darwyn. You were the best of the best. My sincerest, most heartfelt condolences to Marsha and family.

On with our regularly scheduled programming. Forgive me for not polishing it as intended. I’m a bit too sad for that.


***


I was lucky enough to be gifted a promotional edition of the first book in Drawn & Quarterly’s new series of Kitaro translations, The Birth of Kitaro, by the late, great Shigeru Mizuki. Regular readers may recall my fumbling attempt at a eulogy for Mizuki last December and it’s such a wonderful thing to see his most famous creation in English once more from D&Q – complete with part one of an ongoing essay by translator Zack Davisson, a definition of yokai (the ghost/demon/spirit creatures that Kitaro both battles and is relation to), a “yokai knowledge challenge,” puzzles and more supplementing the manga. It’s such a fun, joyful package, strikingly designed and including seven spooky stories created between 1967-68 and I can’t help but imagine that its super sweet, junk food-loving, titan of a creator – one of the most versatile comics creators ever – would be nothing less than thrilled with its existence. Due at the end of the month, fans of classic manga, Scooby Doo-style thrills, Japanese mythology and beautifully crafted comics should put an order in.



COMIC OF THE WEEK : HEAVY METAL #280
By Various
Published By Heavy Metal Media

Well, well. Look who decided to finally show up. You made me look like a fool, Moz Metal, counting down to your arrival, having the actual date pushed further and further back as I burned through your periodical’s classic years at the clip of one issue a week. I had other anthology suitors come a‘knocking, oh yes. Both Island and Cinema Purgatorio vied and still vie for my attention and patronage with their blend of top-flight talent creatively let loose so why, now, should I still care?

Enki Bilal, you say. Massimiliano Frezzato, you say. Ryan Ferrier, you say. Benjamin Marra, you say. Grant Morrison, you say.

Sigh. Moz Metal. I can’t stay mad at you…

Okay. Let’s get this out of the way. This much-anticipated arrival is a mixed bag. A really mixed bag. You would think that with such a high-profile editor in chief in Morrison debuting and subsequent interest at a high not seen for some probable decades, that the slate would be wiped and this would be treated as if not a reboot, at least a restart. 2000AD is excellent at this, so let’s use them as an example.

When 2000AD tells you that a particular issue is a perfect jumping on point for new readers, it is exactly that. All new stories beginning from their beginning, with no stragglers allowed on-board their hyper-violent, super-satirical vessel. This, the 280th issue of Heavy Metal is not that. It comes saddled with two ongoing and pre-existing serials and as a result feels a little sloppy both editorially and creatively. It’s a missed opportunity. Morrison, in his otherwise wonderfully loopy, completely Morrisonian debut editorial, even has the temerity to say, “…don’t expect me to fill you in on what’s been happening. We have the internet now.” Gee, thanks, Grant.

This is a bittersweet complaint, mind you, as one of these features is illustrated by bande dessinee legend and virtual cornerstone of the publication, Enki Bilal with part seven (!) of his “Julia & Roem.” It seems crazy – even to me – to complain about Bilal’s inclusion in anything. If there’s a Mount Rushmore of HM, he’s on it. Yet here we are…part seven.

The other ongoing feature, “49th Key” by Erika Lewis and J.K. Woodward, hits part eight (sigh). Coming in cold, the new reader will likely find this as forgettable and unappealing as I did, in both story and overly posed, overly-photo-referenced (Hi, Don Cheadle!) and frequently ugly painted art.

Okay – Phew, I got that out of the way. On to why you really should actually read this thing. The unlikely pairing of Morrison and Benjamin Marra kick the issue off with “Beachhead,” a story of slug-like alien would-be conquerors that actually seems like an updating of Philippe Druillet’s most irreverent material for the magazine way, way back in the day. Morrison may not take advantage of Marra’s gift of crystallising 1980s sleaze into an actual, legit aesthetic, but it’s a fun, loose way to kick things off.

Anna Laurine Kornum’s “A Mind Bomb” reads like horror legend Richard Matheson via indie comics hero Ted McKeever and it’s a perfectly creepy little self-contained short that I was not expecting to appreciate quite as much as I did. However, Ryan Ferrier and artist Hugo Petris may well steal the show with “Goddess,” a story too good to spoil set during the Dark Ages in an Irish village populated by people who are anything but kind to their animals and wildlife. Petrus’ art may look a little stiff and his poses forced on a quick flip through, but upon reading you’ll just fall into his cleverly laid out and open pages, rich in both detail and expression. I really loved this.

The aforementioned Bilal’s “Julia & Roem” is, reasonable complaints about its ongoing status aside, typically beautiful work by its creator. Bilal’s pages are both murky yet lovely in their gloaming greyness. The tragedy here is that you and I, new reader, do not get to sample this story from the start. I’ve long promised a look at Bilal’s The Nikopol Trilogy (re-released in English by Titan last year) in this column and “Julia & Roem” is firm reminder that I need to get to that…

A profile of pop-surrealist artist Mimi Scholtz is next, filling the next few pages with weird, dreamy images of redheaded women with lemurs and cyclopean lambs as well as dense eye-popping collages and a brief but informative interview with the artist whose work is eminently suited to inclusion in this mag. Her black and white art is the stuff I gravitated the most to, however, exuding a Coop-esque cool and an alt-manga sensibility. There’s plenty to feast your eyes on here.

Frezzato’s short “The Key” is a smart inclusion, given the legacy this fantasy artist has with the many, many readers fond of the lively animated characters that populate his opulently designed “The Keepers of The Maser” series of graphic albums which send fans of this artist’s artist into frothing revelry. Unfolding with surreal, dreamy logic, “The Key” sees a young woman and a man firing arrows at each other from across the divide of their miniscule, individual mountain peak homes. Perhaps the closest we get to old-school HM this issue, I loved this for its oddness and its lush, gorgeous illustration – which is what HM is all about at its best: comics for your brain to tumble into, sober or otherwise.

A look at Century Guild’s Art Nouveau and Symbolist collection is also included, featuring some jaw-droppingly grim and beautiful work from the early 1900s as well as a glimpse at some pieces by Gail Potocki from earlier this century, included as part of her upcoming exhibition. Excellent. Mark the museum on your things to do in California list.

There’s much more here, but Mozchops’ “Salsa Invertebraxa” rounds out my own personal highlights from the issue. Part one of this strange six-part tale sees the battle in nature between insects and arachnids. Portrayed realistically, Mozchops (real name Paul Phippen) is fond of the worm’s-eye shot, lending his creatures a titanic, kaiju-esque quality. His spiders are monstrous and hairy things, his grub-grabbing dragonflies beasts of the air, and all of this warfare plays out as a strange but cheeky rhyming narration is laid over the top of the action. We personally may “sing the joys of spring” but there’s a horrorshow playing out beneath our feet and surrounding us in our plants as we welcome the end of winter. A unique and intriguing end to an issue that has its problems but is well worth the price of admission and, hopefully, the first step in an incremental process that returns Heavy Metal to can’t-miss status.



WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : SHIELD
By Zoe Coughlin

Be warned: harrowing stuff this week from Zoe Coughlin, whose Shield (created in 2013) packs a lot of emotional weight behind its climactic gut-punch. A tale of bullying, harassment, lies and fractured friendship, this is mightily accomplished stuff from Coughlin, who depicts the torment her young protagonist goes through expertly as it manifests itself outwards from her psyche. Disarmingly cartoonish at first, Shield begins as a teen drama but morphs into an almost Junji Ito-esque nightmare of body horror and psychological destruction by its end. Absolutely terrific.







COMIC VIDEO OF THE WEEK : BLACK PANTHER: A NATION UNDER OUR FEET

Smart stuff by Marvel here, as they debut what’s reported to be an ongoing series of monthly videos featuring writer Ta-Nehisi Coates breaking down his new and already highly successful run on Black Panther.

Coates, a writer for The Atlantic among other venues, is the perfect choice to relaunch Black Panther – a series where his ongoing pieces on the intersection of politics, social issues and African-Americans can be filtered and explored through the bright afro-futurism of King T’Challa’s country of Wakanda. Coates is a fan, and a long-term one at that, and brings a great deal of care and respect to a character he grew up reading. It’s the perfect time for Panther to return to its political roots as a title (I’m planning a column on the classic Don McGregor-scripted run of Jungle Action soon for further exploration of this) and Coates and illustrator Brian Stelfreeze seem poised to do just that. Stirring stuff from the writer here, exhibiting a solid grip on his protagonist and a strong desire to portray a powerful, unique and prideful nation of Wakanda.



See you next week. Love your comics.



Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you’ll likely never read. He’s the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory (www.thecrimefactory.com). You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.

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