Monday, December 5, 2016

ALL STAR RECOMMENDS FOR DECEMBER 6TH


December 10th and 11th sees the Women in Comics Festival hit the store, headlined by several hours of Hope Larson signing as well as a female creator's market, a Q&A with some top flight talent, and local fave Jess Parker teaching a kid's drawing class. 

I really can't write a better intro that that, can I? 

So it's an all female creator week here at the Recs and if you're wisely thinking about popping along, you might also want to check in and see if the crew can get you a copy of The Complete Wimmen's Comix, published at the top of the year by Fantagraphics. Collecting more than 20 years worth of the long out of print Underground Comix classic over two beautifully designed and slipcased hardcover volumes, The Complete Wimmen's Comix is a real publishing highlight from the year - arguably the most historically significant project of 2016 and, no, I have not forgotten it's the year that the rights to Moebius' work were finally untangled. 


Featuring work by Trina Robbins, Phoebe Gloeckner, Alison Bechdel, Melinda Gebbie, Carol Tyler, Mary Fleener, Lynda Barry, Lee Marrs, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and many, many more, the 17 issues (plus extras) of The Complete Wimmen's Comix collected within still feel fresh and subversive, dated only by certain colloquialisms but even they have their charm in the context of historical feminist documents. 
It's the most punk rock book of the year and the earliest material dates back to 1970. There's something a little strange about that and I hope that as we celebrate the female voices of our medium, we can look back as well as forward and keep pushing creatively into, as with Wimmen's Comix, sometimes challenging places. Judging by this week's webcomics, I'm pretty confident that many artful and angry women are sharpening pencils and preparing to let their comics speak. And loudly at that. 

(Artwork above by Carole, from "Breaking Out" found in The Complete Wimmen's Comix)



COMIC OF THE WEEK : WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON
By Jill Thompson
Published By DC Comics

What a tremendous year Wonder Woman has had. From Greg Rucka returning to her main title along with Nicola Scott and Liam Shape handling the art, to the trailer to her long-overdue debut solo film looking, easily, like the best DC Comics translation to the big screen so far. However, capping 2016 off as a highpoint in the character's history is Wonder Woman: The True Amazon by Jill Thompson, a seven-time Eisner award-winner, who writes and paints (*swoon*) an original graphic novel chronicling the early years of Princess Diana of Themyscira. 

We all may be suffering a bit of origin overkill thanks to the proliferation of comic book movies, retcons, reboots, parallel timelines and alternate worlds, and the idea of once again revisiting Diana's birth, as well as Amazonian history prior to it, may immediately cause some justifiably burned out readers to stifle a yawn. But the draw here is Jill Thompson who, through her watercolours alone, brings a completely fresh aesthetic to the character and packs the storytelling skill to make even the most bored origin reader forgive the project's tired premise and willingly tumble into her beautiful pages.

Thompson holds to the version of Wonder Woman's origin that has her created from clay by her mother Hippolyta. The pages detailing Diana's creation are some of the book's loveliest as Hippolyta's lullaby to the unmoving sand sculpture of her ideal child reaches the heavens of Mount Olympus and stirs the emotions of the assembled gods to such an extent that tears filled with divine power rain down and bring the sculpture to life. From Poseidon depicted as almost a gargantuan and luminous fighting fish, to ocean waves frozen in time as they crest similarly to those of a classic Japanese print, to tears of gold, copper and silver cascading down, this is the Wonder Woman birth scene to immortalise -- it's as epic and richly symbolic as Martha Wayne’s free-falling pearls.

From here, we look on as Diana grows quickly and disappointingly into Wonder Brat, coddled and spoiled by her status as the island's princess and all that comes with it - wealth, finery, servants who enable rather than correct. It reads rather wonderfully like an expanded take on one of those children's books about learning to share or ceasing to say "no" all the time and, as in those books, Diana's brattishness is tempered by Thompson visually imbuing the character with such expressive life that she's difficult to truly dislike even as she torments her tutors and humiliates her servants. 

From here, Diana grows into an arrogant but adventurous teen, still unaware of her hubris and determined to conquer Themyscira's plentiful mysteries. More mythic energy can be found in this section as Diana completes an almost Amazonian version of the Herculean Labours, slaying monsters, reclaiming treasures and all the while remaining thoroughly cocky and oblivious to the impending tragedy that's about to unfold even as she falls for the one person who refuses to fawn over her - Alethea, the Queen's stable girl.


This all might sound kind of like a female version of the original Marvel Thor Odinson who, let's not forget, was banished to Earth for his arrogance on Asgard and tied to form of a physically challenged mortal until he earned his karmic comeuppance. However, Thompson's ironic twist is cruel, dark and so shockingly unsentimental that it makes Spider-Man failing to stop the criminal who subsequently murders his Uncle Ben look like a My Little Pony story. Diana's actions are so unforgivable in fact that readers may even have a difficult time moving past them - I certainly did -- but this inevitable humbling is powerful in execution and fitting given how self-obsessed and blind to her actions this incarnation of the character is.

Visually Wonder Woman: The True Amazon is flawless. Thompson's character designs, from her Amazons to her gods to her monsters, are perfect and her painted artwork is warm and rich and never less than striking -- there are simply too many excellent visual moments to spotlight. The action sequences are fluid and thrilling and its quieter narrative moments are touching. My one problem is that, perhaps inevitably, it does feel very much like prologue (perhaps it is) and as such it lacks a truly compelling conclusion. This quibble aside, however, Wonder Woman: The True Amazon is a terrific book, possibly as perfect an introduction to the character as we will get. Readers dissatisfied with Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette's 2015 Wonder Woman: Earth One should take particular note as they would almost certainly, and enthusiastically, gravitate to Thompson's far more mythically and chronologically classic work. Side by side, however, both books showcase Wonder Woman's striking flexibility as a fictional character.

Finally, it's heartening to see DC showcase Thompson's work in such a premiere way and kudos to them for continuing to stick with the original hardcover graphic novel format (something Marvel appears to have all but abandoned, sadly). Hopefully their support endures for subsequent volumes of Jill Thompson's lushly, lovingly illustrated take on comics flagship female character, for as much as I gripe about this feeling like all prologue, I would certainly come back for Act One.


WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : RESIST!
By Various

Although submissions have closed for all you aspiring artistic revolutionaries, Resist! seeks to help mend hearts, minds and souls broken by the recent U.S election through the wonder of comics and I think we can all get behind that. I'm not going to pick a single comic from the "Daily Image" section of what will eventually be a tabloid-sized comics newspaper to be distributed on The Orange Goblin's Inauguration Day in January, but the creators are overwhelmingly identified as female and have quite a lot to say, sometimes with very minimal visual language. There's some great stuff here and I can't think of a better way to showcase the diversity of female talents currently hacking away at their comics-making stations. Have a scroll here:





COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : CHANTAL MONTELLIER, LA PART D'ENFANCE

I say it all the time - we are spoiled. This is arguably the greatest period of English-language comics availability ever. From the manga we can read, to the rights to Moebius' work being untangled, to the arrival of Guido Crepax in gorgeously oversized hardcovers, to Hugo Pratt's canonical Corto Maltese stories being presented as they truly should be read, this really is a period embarrassing in its funnybook riches.

However. 


How. Ever.


2016 has almost ended. Announcements for 2017 are rolling out and there is still not a sniff of freshly translated Chantal Montellier comics on the publishing winds. The last time, to my knowledge, her classic work appeared in English was the 1980s in Heavy Metal (feel free to peruse old instalments of this column for my recaps of her work there). The last time we saw new work by her in English was her 2008 adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Trial. It's fast becoming one of the great mysteries of comics - why and how is the work of this woman, evergreen in its relevance and stylishness, continuing to be ignored by American publishers? It's baffling.

Here is Montellier still at work and speaking in French without subtitles, which is embarrassingly fitting given the untranslated status of the bulk of her work. For over 40 years she's been at it, blending pop art with dystopian SF with a searing social conscience. We should ask HER about her feminist agenda. I imagine we'd get quite the response.



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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