Saturday, March 20, 2010

{{{Pokes head out of hole!}}}

I'm still alive, and I have had plans to re-start this blog for some time. Real life, as folks say, got in the way, and I'm now going through a move and having to find a new job (oh, the life of a contract worker!). Still ...

Part of the reason this blog kind of died, too, was that I ran out of stuff to review. A few people sent me things, and I guess I can still do some of those. On the plus side, Stumptown Comics Fest is coming up next month, and I'm sure to score a bunch of minis there, so I'll have a fresh stack.

Anyhow, if anyone still cares, I am hoping to (a) update this blog soon and more regularly, and (b) start a new blog on a completely different subject/set of subjects ... something to do with how life's changed in the period of my lifetime (the past 43 years) and how some of us might like to see it change.

If you're still reading, thanks!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Note: More to come!

Got a bit behind on my reviews here ... had intended to do at least one per week. But, I landed a contract job this week (which is a good thing, of course ... need to make the money to pay the bills) that's going to suck up a lot of my time through Friday, 7/31.

Definitely have some stuff to review, so I hope to get more out soon. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Review #3: Salvager Kain #1-4


(Click to enlarge images)

I have to admit, I kind of didn't want to like Paul Sloboda's Salvager Kain once I'd had the chance to flip through it a bit.
Here's a bit of irony: The one novel I've completed as an author would likely be classified as "humorous fantasy," yet I've hardly ever found any works in that genre I've enjoyed. In fact, I often view fantasy (and by that term I mean stories with swords, magic, castles, a faux medieval setting, etc.) as full of cliches and, ultimately, irritating.

Of course the cliche-ness of any type of genre text is a bit of a given: the presence of certain "staples" is part of what defines a work as of this or that genre. And what to do about it? Would a humorous fantasy be improved by changing the swords into glue guns? Or the castles into Home Depot stores (Note to self: okay, explore this idea further in own story perhaps)?

No. I think the thing to do is tell a good story with compelling characters, and I think that's what makes Sloboda's Kain work as well as it does (can't give it a final "grade" until I've seen how the story plays out).

One thing I very much liked was that, while it seems clear Sloboda is telling an overarching story, each of the issues I read had its own flavor and arc. Whether intentionally or not, doing this keeps things fresh: One never knows exactly what to expect from issue to issue.

Our story's put into motion with a view of a giant wall, which "spans for endless miles in either direction, encircling a kingdom." A door in the wall soon opens, and a pair of knight types then escort out a bound prisoner:


And, aye, there's the rub (because my quoting Shakespeare for a review ain't cliched in the slightest!): Our hero, who might be someone of consequence within the kingdom, given his statements, soon has his mind wiped. The door closes, and he's left to fend for himself in the outside world, which seems to consist almost entirely of a large, dark forest.

From this point, our man (who chooses the name "Kain" after seeing it spelled out in the forest with some sticks - methinks there will be more about this later in the story) runs into various groups and individuals, who both help and hinder him in his quest to keep living, figure out who he is and why he was cast out, and perhaps get back inside the kingdom's walls one day. Among those he encounters are a tribe of cannibals; a lone hunter type, who trains him a bit in forest survival and philosophy, and then robs him; and a giant snake ("THE Snake," he insists) with invisible arms, a cloak, and a crown.

In fact, it was issue #3 - with The Snake - which was probably my favorite of the batch. The story takes some unexpected turns, and Kain matches wits with a group of warrior women called the "Softwear Pirates" (yes, parts of their outfits consist of lingerie-type clothing). I won't spoil the fun, but it's a fun story with enough twists and a payoff that satisfied this reader.

While Sloboda's art didn't stand out overall for me, his use of blacks and his stylized lettering in some instances were well executed. In much of the work, the art seemed mainly to complement the writing, but then, every so often, there were images I found quite pleasing, like this one from issue #4:


I have no idea what the meaning behind this image is (I think it hasn't been revealed so far in the story), but I sure liked looking at it!

According to a postscript in issue #4, and to his website, Sloboda decided to continue this comic as a webcomic in order to reach a wider audience and to add color to the art (less expensive to do on the web). You can find the continuation of Salvager Kain, along with recaps of the first four issues and Sloboda's future plans for the publishing of the series, on his website. I am not sure whether the book will become a favorite of mine, but I'll definitely be following the story to see where it leads.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Review #2: Shuteye #3: Night and Day


(Click to enlarge images)

According to creator Sarah Becan's Shortpants Press website, Shuteye is a series "about disorientation and the nature of dreams." I certainly got the disorientation part through reading this issue, #3, sub(super?)titled "Night and Day," though I didn't know it had anything to do with dreams. It evoked for me the feel of a classic fairytale (and by "classic" I don't mean in the Disney style), in which characters are taken from their mundane reality and plunged into a strange setting where they are tested.

In Becan's story, Ari and Theo are a recently engaged couple together on a hiking trip in Wisconsin, far from their home in Austin. While grudgingly waking up one morning (Ari explains that she's not a "morning person" like Theo is), Ari reflects on their reasons for taking the trip (it would be "a break from the heat," mainly). However, through the pair's conversation, we learn the truth: no one else in their lives - not her family or his roommates - approves of Ari and Theo as a couple. His background is ivy league, she muses, while hers in working class and "salt of the earth."

Theo seems the more positive of the duo: the camping trip was his idea (Ari went along "because I love the guy"), and he keeps them moving along. He also seems to take many of Ari's more negative thoughts in stride, spouting lines about "choices" (he is, after all, a philosophy major).

After a bit of walking and talking, Ari thinks she spots a house through the trees. Theo assures her that there's no house on the map, and Ari can no longer make it out, so it's momentarily forgotten. The two roughhouse, which leads to them literally falling over a cliff. They survive without apparent injury, but the house Ari saw is now right in front of them.


Now it's Ari who becomes the active agent: while Theo is hesitant, Ari suggests they explore the house, go inside (when no one seems to be home), and even stay the night. Theo's reluctant, but, after noting it's suddenly become evening outside, and upon finding himself quite sleepy, he agrees. While he passes out on the couch, Ari explores the grounds outside the house, thinking about the state of their relationship, and feeling that "it's easier out here."

Dawn comes quickly, and Ari finds herself back at the house and extremely sleepy. Theo, the morning person, is awake. "Did you stay our all night?" he asks. "I lost track of time," she responds, and now she's the one who needs to sleep. Theo tucks her in and goes off exploring himself.

Thus begins a strange cycle, with time whooshing by, Theo awake during the days and Ari throughout the nights. They share time only when one is returning, falling asleep, and the other is rising to go outside. "Sit with me awhile," each says to the other, before one trundles off to snooze and the other walks the yard.

Both soon realize something's odd about this situation. For one thing, each finds strange markings on his or her body when heading to sleep. When Ari sees the markings on the sleeping Theo, she wonders, "What did I do to you?" The markings always seem to be gone when each person awakens the next time. Theo also notices that he cannot hike very far from the house: no matter how he tries, he finds himself having circled back to it. He says the edge of the woods appears to be getting closer to the house each day. Somehow, Ari seems more positive about their predicament:


And so it goes, the story ending without any real explanation or resolution. Yet that somehow works. We're left to wonder what it all means.

So what does it mean? My initial thought was that Ari and Theo died when they fell off that cliff, and were trapped in some kind of afterlife in the house. But, after further reading, I came up with a different theory: I believe the world they find themselves in is a manifestation of Ari's fear that she's not good enough for Theo, that he's "slumming" by being with her, and perhaps that she's somehow tricked him into their engagement to be married. In some ways, the house and its powers allow her to keep him in a place where they are away from judgmental folk - whose opinions seem to matter more to her than to him anyhow. Here in the outside-of-time world in the forest, she at least has some control over things, even while giving up some things most people might want or need in a relationship (for example, having both be awake at the same time, or freedom to move about the world).

I think this theory is bolstered by the way the comic's start and end mirror each other: the first page shows Ari sleeping in a world in which Theo is more in charge, while the final image is Theo falling asleep in the house, where Ari seems stronger. Whether I'm correct or not, this reading was quite powerful for me. The best stories are ones that stay with you long after you've finished reading them, lingering in your mind with questions and ideas churning.

Becan's art here is simple and stylized (somewhat reminiscent of John Porcellino's, I felt), and I think that works well for this story. Somehow, I think it felt more real done in this style than it would have in a more "realistic" one anyway. I am certainly looking forward to checking out more of Becan's work - other issues of Shuteye in particular (there are at least four out) - soon.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review #1: Kingwood Himself


(Click to enlarge images)

Reynold Kissling's Kingwood Himself is one of the gemmy-ist gems I picked up at this year's Stumptown Comics Fest in Portland, OR.

It is the fantasy story of a young girl named Emily, who's grounded for getting in trouble at school after calling another girl names. As the tale unfolds, we learn that this is more than a one-time instance of Emily "just being a kid": other children "shun" her, so she's often lonely. She doesn't relate well to others.

As she sits stewing in her back yard, she spies a kite in the distance (she doesn't yet know what it is - just that it's piqued her interest). She decides to leave the confines of her fenced-in world and investigate through the mysterious, thick woods beyond her gate.


Past these trees, she finds a cul-de-sac that's cut off from the outside world (its one street ends at the edge of the forest). She also finds the kite and carries it with her as she explores. While this little neighborhood appears normal at first, Emily soon finds out that it's populated by weird beings, including a talking squid named Guudo, who lives in a water-filled room (the water mysteriously stays inside the room, even though its door is wide open), and a man whose head looks like it came from a statue of Ganesh (an elephant-headed Hindu deity - and the man says his name is Eleman, lending some weight to the theory).

These creatures seem unable to answer Emily's questions about this place or the kite she found, but Eleman does point her towards the most impressive of the residents: Kingwood Himself, who, Eleman explains, "kinda runs things around here." Emily does as she's bade, and goes to the end of the street and puts the flag up on Kingwood Himself's mailbox.

Kingwood Himself immediately appears, towering over Emily, and proceeds to answer her questions and discuss her life's problems with her. He explains the nature of the strange little neighborhood to her, and tells her she has a mission.


This leads to the story's conclusion, which I won't spoil, but I felt the narrative wasn't really the prime focus of this minicomic anyway. What Kissling does so well here is capture the feeling of a child's very real fantasy world. I remember well traipsing off into the woods as a kid and having hours of adventures. What was real and what was imaginary didn't really matter: it was fun and it was exciting. And it was my world. The ability to interact with the fantastic in healthy - even helpful - ways is something most of us lose to some degree as we grow older. Kissling does a great job of reminding us how it feels and how it can work.

Kingwood Himself appears to be a one-shot deal, but I'd certainly love to see more of this world of Emily's, should Kissling venture there again. You can check out this comic and other artwork at Kissling's site here. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for more of his work in the future.

UPDATE: I hadn't realized it when I wrote this review, but Kingwood Himself is available as a free preview online at Top Shelf's Top Shelf 2.0! site here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Welcome!

Wow, what a day ... Farrah and Michael both gone ... an icon of the 70s and one of the 80s. I was never a huge fan of either, but still ... wow.

Anyhow, the idea with this blog is that I want to review some things - mostly minicomics - but also sometimes movies, TV, and music. There are no rules I'm imposing on myself to begin with, but I want to try to post at least a couple times per week.

My goals are to get some writing practice (I am a former professional journalist, so it's not like I don't know how to lay down some wordage, but it's good to keep sharp) and to promote some creations I really believe in.

If I said the word "minicomics" to 98% percent of the people I know, they would have no idea to what I was referring. I don't expect to change that anytime soon, but I'd like to do what I can to link willing reader with what I think is some Good Stuff. I know I appreciate being "turned on" to good work by other bloggers, so I figured I could at least try to "pay it forward" a bit.

I'm just figuring out this blogger platform ... I've used LiveJournal before, but this is new to me. I'm planning to get things set up, do about 5 reviews of comics I own to start things off, and then try to solicit (and buy when I've gotta) some other work to review. At some point, I'll post my contact info.

Thanks to anyone who engages in reading and/or commenting here. Love ya!

EDIT: To add, if you have any minicomics you'd like reviewed, please e-mail me at natwcook@yahoo.com for my address.