Oh...hello...don't mind me...there's just...um...something in my eye.
I just finished The Gods Lie by Kaori Ozaki, published complete in a single volume earlier this year by Vertical. If you’re feeling a little sappy this week, you might want to think about picking it up too. Don’t be fooled by the bulging, oversized shoujo comics eyes of Ozaki’s young characters because The Gods Lie is classic, serious bildungsroman. Brought to vivid life by Ozaki’s deft cartooning, it’s the story of Natsuru Nanao, a young boy struggling with the loss of his father, and his budding relationship with Rio Suzumura, a tall, striking yet socially ostracised girl, who lives in her ramshackle family home with her younger brother, Yuuta. Rio's parents are mysteriously absent, money is scant and there’s a strange smell emanating from somewhere in the backyard...
I probably bog this column down with too much manga (sorry!) so I’ll just say that Rio is obviously hiding a dark and tragic secret and much drama arises amongst the budding romance and teenage handholding. It’s melancholy stuff, unfolding over Ozaki's expertly laid out pages, with the grown-ups (particularly a soccer coach) occasionally resembling the work of Master Keaton’s Naoki Urasawa. It’s also a great example of just how much can be done in comics, and cinematically at that, with a pair of really well-defined characters, a cluster of supporting cast and little else. I liked it a lot – even the occasional bits that drip with syrupy Japanese sentimentality.
The Gods Lie feels like it would be a box office smash in Japan if it were filmed, like Nobody Knows (another Japanese film, based on a true story, about four children living in similar circumstances to Rio) kind of mashed together with elements of My Girl and Stand by Me. A mix sure to have many reaching for their hankies.
In short: Kaori Ozaki. She’s one to watch.
COMIC OF THE WEEK : DARK CORRIDOR
By Rich Tommaso
Published By Image Comics
Judging by writer/artist Rich Tommaso’s tweet a few weeks back about how low the orders for the collection of his Dark Corridor were, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest this might just be one of the most overlooked North American comics released this year.
If you’re not familiar with the name, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Tommaso was one of the new breed of indie cartoonists making small but striking waves in the comics world. You’d be wrong about that, however. Tommaso has been creating comics for decades – my first encounter with his work was the Fantagraphics release of his wonderful Clover Honey twenty-one years ago (!). To see him over at Image where, hopefully, a brighter spotlight will shine on his cleverly constructed, attractively illustrated genre comics is exciting, another reminder that Image is not merely a home for A-List mainstream creators to play with their own colourful toys, but a place where "true" indie creators can continue to ply their offbeat trade.
Dark Corridor is set in the city of Red Circle, a more colourful, upbeat, neo-noir Sin City where there may be less grimacing than in Frank Miller's world and the stark black shadows are replaced with pastel-coloured buildings, but the violent crime is equally pervasive. If Sin City is Mickey Spillane and U.S.film noir on a diet of super-vigilante comics, growth hormone and bath salts, Dark Corridor is Jean-Patrick Manchette by way of Herge, Dan Clowes and John Boorman’s 1967 film Point Blank. Red Circle is a far more Euro comics crime city than Frank Miller’s American grotesquery, but the mob wars still rage and assassins, girl gangs, killer dogs, corrupt cops and unrepentant ex-cons all make themselves equally at home.
Powered by two storylines, "The Red Circle" and "7 Deadly Daughters," Tommaso cleverly intertwines his parallel tales. He introducing a large cast of characters in the process and unfolds a complex yet coherent plot that moves back and forth in time, shifting multiple perspectives along the way, that ties together beautifully in a manner not unlike that admittedly tired, but very relevant cinematic reference point, Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.
A freelance hitman named Pete finds an injured dog that leads him back to his assumed owner's home, the scene of a violent double murder. Pete calls in some crooked friends, a thief and a corrupt cop fresh from a jail stint, and together they loot the joint. Meanwhile, a gang of female vigilantes is slowly bumping off Red Circle's organised crime figures. It's not long before these plot threads come together amidst a flurry of fights, car chases, gun fights and murders, all stylishly, impeccably drawn by Tommaso. His characters, in all their broken-nosed, chunky-thighed, turtleneck wearing glory, grimace their way through their retro, slightly kitsch, neon-lit city. Tommaso's set pieces are another highlight - from mid-century mansions, to seedy strip clubs, winding coastal roads and log cabin retreats, Tommaso makes Red Circle a very real piece of geography for its inhabitants, right down to the choice of his restaurant carpeting. His excellent, vibrant colouring also deserves a mention and will likely rate as example in future columns of just how to keep colours flat and unobtrusive yet still pop off the page. Aspiring colourists take serious note.
Dark Corridor occupies an interesting place in the crime comics landscape. Sin City is noir and hardboiled by way of over the top, ridiculous, but awesome superheroics. The work of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is the stark noir of David Goodis with a post-modern self-awareness. Darwyn Cooke's classic adaptations of Donald Westlake's Parker novels are highly stylised neo-noir capers gorgeously fetishizing early '60s sleek coolness. Where then does Tommaso's work slot in?
Well, like a classic Gold Medal paperback, Dark Corridor revels in its pulpiness, in its caricature of crime character cliché. It loves of the warmth of the city lights as much as the darkness of its alleys but it's soaked through with American indie comics and Franco-Belgian BD influences. It's as distinct and singular a creation as any of the works mentioned in the previous paragraph (all of which, by the way, feature either hand lettering or fonts based on the artists' own handwriting) yet copies none of them. If all that doesn't do it for you, well, Dark Corridor is simply super fun and super, suuupppperrr cool.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : AGENT 73 – PART TWO
By Sarah Horrocks & Katie Skelly
Sadly not running until the end of time is Sarah Horrocks’ and Katie Skelly’s Agent 73, discussed here in this space just a fortnight back and unfortunately ending this very week. Still, at least we all managed to live long enough to read this concluding chapter to the creators’ colour-saturated espionage/romance/revenge comic, so perhaps let’s just look on the bright side for once. Things do get saucy here in this conclusion, so consider this your official NSFW warning about various exposed lady parts doing sexy things with other exposed lady parts.
Storming toward its inevitable end, Agent 73 remains a beautifully weird and really clever comic, blending campy ‘60s spy genre fare with the dreamy oddness of high-end Euro comics art-smut. Vengeance! Tragedy! Amazing costuming! Crepax inspired layouts! Lady Parts! Agent 73, you had it all. Horrocks and Skelly, by the way, run their own podcast, The Trash Twins, so fans of transgressive art, comics and film might want to climb on board that particular audio tribute to all things art-sleaze. I just listened to the most recent episode, focussing on Frank Miller’s Sin City, and it’s given me reason to re-evaluate those comics after years of personal fatigue with that project and its representation of what I like to call Super-Noir (where the noir meets the super, not the other way around as in, say, Sleeper or Incognito, if that makes any sense). Interesting stuff. Anyway...Trash Twins yay!
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : RICH TOMMASO: DRAW ME PARIS
Dark Corridor's Rich Tommaso first visited Paris in 2011 and here he is, near giddy at the sight of beret-wearing women and old architecture. Armed with a pad and a fine liner pen, Tommaso sits down on a cold winter's day and draws. His love of French comics is discussed as he sketches away, pigeons flying past, his breath exhaling in clouds. It's just as charming as it sounds, with the resulting drawing something I'd personally love to hang, even if Tommaso's hands were just too cold to finish it to his complete satisfaction.
See you next week. Love your comics.