Thoughts of the Graphic Sort

A place where I can discuss my addiction to graphic novels.

Chew Vol. 1 by John Layman & Rob Guillory

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Chew is cool.  The concept, the execution, the humor, the everything.

Some background: Tony Chu is a cibopath which means he gets psychic vibes from whatever he eats.  Fruits and vegetables take him on a sensory trip from when they were seeds until Tony buys them from the grocery store.  One bite and he knows what tree it grew on, what kind of pesticide was used, when it was picked.  Everything.  So you can imagine what it is like for him when he eats meat (which he only does for work-related purposes).  Tony is a special detective and his job is to wrangle those illegally selling chicken, which was banned after a worldwide bout of bird flu.

Imagine a world without chicken.  There is no hope.  The people are either depressed or buying their chicken on the black market.  Food-related crimes are on the rise and there’s only one person with the taste buds to stop them.  Tony Chu and his partner, John Colby, are tasked with stopping the chicken black market and this leads them to an international conspiracy that puts the whole ban on chicken into question.

In Taster’s Choice, Volume 1 of the series, Tony begins work for the FDA (the most powerful law enforcement anywhere) and learns there’s more to the chicken ban than the government is letting on but the knowledge comes from an unlikely source.  He has to use his cibopathic skill to the extreme — go beyond nibbling on plants and animals for clues, if you get my drift and if you don’t then read the book  — in order to uncover the truth.  In the meanwhile, he gets a new partner, a new girlfriend, and we meet his brother, an ex-TV chef who has an on-air meltdown when he is forced to cook using a chicken substitute.

Chew doesn’t disappoint.  It’s got Grade A USDA Choice originality and freshness combined with 100% organic characters and humor.

Written by JP Weezey

June 18, 2012 at 4:19 pm

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Strangers in Paradise Vol. 1 by Terry Moore

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So, I came across this series through the comments on Amazon.com for some other graphic novel.  I can’t remember what the other one was, but it’s not important anyway.  Okay.  Moving on.

I had never heard about Strangers in Paradise until a few months ago.  It was described as a story about relationships and love between a group of friends with some mysteries, murders, intrigue, and nefarious organizations thrown in.  I was definitely interested, especially since it focused on two women who weren’t exploitations or stereotypes.

Volume 1 is a rapid-fire introduction to the characters and hints at some of the larger issues the series covers.  We meet Katchoo, a little fireball with a mysterious past who hates men, is in love with her best female friend, and confused about her feelings for David, her male best friend.  Then there’s Francine, the love of Katchoo’s life who is scared of men because they always turn out to be jerks, deals with weight issues, and is conflicted about her feelings for Katchoo — she loves her but she just can’t be with her, at least not in the way Katchoo wants.  And rounding out the trio is David, a man with a past as mysterious as Katchoo’s, who loves Katchoo but who also is involved with the people who are out to get her.

The series debuted in 1993 and although some things date the comic, like the clothes they wear, their hair, the lack of technology, Moore keeps pop culture references to a minimum which is great because it keeps the story from being pegged into any real time period.  As I read Volume 1, I sorely wished I had come across this comic when I was a teen growing up in the 1990s.    Back then, I had no idea comics like this even existed.  I assumed they were superheroes (which were for boys) or Archie-like comics (which were for girls).   Comics about women who fall in love, get angry, fall apart, and rely on each other to get back up?  Comics about two friends with real needs and issues?  Comics about love and friendship?  That would have blown my tiny teenage mind.  And my adult mind is going crazy wondering what’s going to happen to these friends next.

What I love about Strangers in Paradise is even when things go batshit crazy and people are pitted against each other, double and triple agents turn on their bosses, and someone does something foolish to protect someone else, it’s still about the relationship between Francine and Katchoo.  Will their friendship weather this storm and the next?  Will Francine ever love Katchoo the way Katchoo wants, or will Katchoo ever make peace with the fact that Francine will always only be a friend?  Will everyone just leave them alone so they can be happy?

I don’t know how the characters ends up – I’m only on Volume 4 – but I am super happy I found SiP in the Amazon.com comments.  Missing out on this gem and never getting to meet Katchoo, Francine, and David would have been a regret I didn’t even know I had, but it would have affected me nonetheless because I would never have known how great and compelling comics featuring characters with real emotions, needs, and desires could be.

Written by JP Weezey

May 11, 2012 at 10:16 am

Tale of Sand by Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, & Ramon K. Perez

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I’ve heard great things about Jim Henson’s lost story, Tale of Sand.  I read a few rave reviews and couldn’t wait to check it out for myself.

I came to the story expecting something akin to Jim Henson classics like Dark Crystal or Labyrinth, but for an adult audience.  Well, was I in for a surprise.

I’m not even sure where to begin.  For one, the story is actually a collaboration between Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl.  It’s based off of a script they wrote years before Sesame Street and The Muppet Show made Jim Henson a household name.  It seems they had difficulty getting funding to turn the script into a film and so it was put aside so that Jim and Jerry could concentrate on other projects.

Fast-forward about forty years to when an archivist unearthed three drafts of the script for Tale of Sand.  Knowing they had a potential goldmine on their hands, Henson’s people decided to turn the script into a graphic novel.  Enter Ramon Perez, the artist selected to helm the project.

So, it’s a bit misleading to call the book Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand (as shown in the full title on the cover and spine).  But Jerry and Ramon are placed prominently on the cover, so I guess it’s alright.

Okay, now on to the story.  But… that’s where I got stuck.  It wasn’t until I was about four pages into the novel that I realized the story had begun.  I thought I was just looking at some conceptual art or a montage of images.  So I went back a few pages and actually paid attention to what was on each page and was still a bit clueless about what was going on.  I kept going anyway and by the time the first bit of dialogue appeared, I kinda figured out what happened.  Kinda.  Like, really, just kinda.

You see, this tale is shiftless as piles of sand.  There is nothing concrete, nothing that makes sense, except that you’ll never know what is going to happen next.  In fact, you’ll never know why any of it is happening at all.  The main character, Mac, is on a mad dash through the desert with reasons unknown to him and the reader.  In this desert, anyone can be anything.  One moment a blonde bombshell is lounging by the pool, the next she is a top earner in an Old West brothel.  A mysterious villain appears and he stays mysterious throughout the rest of the story.  His motives are never stated, and the only motive we have for Mac is that someone told him to run so he did.

But what I like about the story is that the stuff that does make sense really has an absurd logic to it.  Mac pulls out a stop sign in the middle of the desert and a car pulls up and stops right in front of him.  When he plays a record of sound effects, he is suddenly surrounded by exploding bombs and the cavalry comes rushing in.

The scene that really let me know what the story was about was when Mac meets a batty drunkard who says one thing and then always does the opposite.  He is unpredictable and untrustworthy, playing both sides for kicks, and having a good time while doing it.  I think that’s what this story is aiming for: just having fun with the unexpected and going wherever it takes you.

I can’t imagine this story ever making it onto film.  I think Henson’s people made the right choice by turning it into a graphic novel and Perez did an excellent job bringing this wacky tale to life.  In the hands of a lesser skilled artist, this tale would have floundered and could have been an unintelligible mess.  Dialogue is very minimal–half a dozen pages or more can go by at a time before a single word is spoken–so the narrative heavily relies Perez’s vivid and fluid artwork to do the bulk of the work.  Perez molds the zaniness into one rollicking ride that never stops for a breath and made me glad I held on.  I still don’t know what half of it’s about and you know, I don’t need to.  Because this story isn’t about understanding every nuance, it’s about the experience.

The only thing that could have made this book better would be the inclusion of the final script used to make the novel.  There are shots of it here and there, usually as the background of certain scenes and framing the forward and afterward.  You can see handwritten notes and corrections on the script (I don’t know if those are by Jerry or Jim or perhaps both), so it would have been nice to read the entire script and see what they were planning in their own words.

Written by JP Weezey

April 12, 2012 at 10:29 pm

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Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan & Nico Henrichon

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Oh, Brian Vaughan, I just can’t get enough of you!  After reading Y: The Last Man (posts on that series coming soon), I needed to read everything else his hands have touched.  I came across Pride of Baghdad before I read Y, but it sat on the shelf for a few years.  After I finished Y, I remembered I had it and couldn’t wait to read it.

Pride of Baghdad was inspired by the true story of four lions who escaped from a zoo during an American bombing in Iraq.  Vaughan tells the story from the lions’ point of view as they navigate the war torn streets and try to find freedom.

Not only is Vaughan’s storytelling in top form with this novel, but Henrichon’s artwork absolutely dazzles.   Vaughan and Henrichon pull no punches–the devastation of war is right in your face, through the text and the artwork, which makes the plight of the animals even more intense and gripping.

This is one of those stories where my only complaint is that it is too short.  I wanted more time with the lions, to see more of the world through their eyes, but it is fitting I was denied this request since war has the tendency to butt in where it’s not wanted.

Written by JP Weezey

March 28, 2012 at 8:00 am

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly & JM Ken Niimura

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I was excited about reading I Kill Giants–the title itself was enough to get my attention.  And then I read the description and was even more intrigued.  Barbara is a loner, an odd kid, who escapes into a fantasy world to avoid dealing with real life.  As the fantasy world starts bleeding into reality, Barbara becomes more and more convinced that something big is coming and it’s her duty to stop it.

Barbara is just enough of a smartass to make you feel sorry for her.  A kid who backtalks like her must be dealing with some major issues, right?  And she really is, but it’s not until much later in the book that you realize what exactly is going on.  Things and situations are hinted at, but it’s never really clear what is wrong until the final confrontation.  And what a confrontation it is: Barbara’s fantasies culminate in one big doozy of a battle that threatens herself and those around her.

The fantasy becoming reality is the most interesting, and also the best, part of the story.  As other people become affected by Barbara’s fantasies, the story perfectly blends reality and fantasy while keeping it all believable.

I was impressed with the final villain, from his true purpose in the story to his overall appearance.  Niimura did an excellent job portraying a monster that brings an important message along with tons of doom and gloom.

Barbara is definitely a character you want to root for and hug at the same time.

Written by JP Weezey

March 26, 2012 at 12:52 pm

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The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert

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Graphic novelist Emmanuel Guibert used reporter Didier Lefevre’s photographs from his 1986 trip to war-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders to create The Photographer.  Guibert intersperses his drawings with Lefevre’s photographs to create an account of the selfless doctors who risk everything to care for those who need it most.

The Photographer is a tome of a graphic novel.  At almost 300 pages and the size of a coffee table book, it is a bit daunting, actually.  But Guibert skillfully arranges each page with a mixture of text, drawings, and photographs to keep the story alive and moving along.

The photographs were what really made the novel magic for me.  Seeing the real people, the images that Lefevre actually saw on his trip, made me pause and really appreciate what an undertaking this journey was for him.  From paying off clan leaders for safe passage, to being unable to save the smallest children caught in the crossfires, to climbing mountains in the dark to evade trigger-happy soldiers, Lefevre’s time in Afghanistan is an eye-opening experience.

But it is his dealings with everyday people and tasks, such as when he tries to intervene in their guides’ mistreatment of their pack mules or when the locals make fun of him for not being able to grow a beard, are the moments that truly stand out for me.  I was fascinated by how even the mundane tasks were so different and made things difficult for the doctors and Lefevre.

The Photographer is a clear, unflinching account of what war does to those who can’t fight back.

Written by JP Weezey

March 23, 2012 at 8:00 am

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Salem Brownstone by John Hattis Dunning & Nikhil Singh

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Surprised doesn’t really describe how I felt when Salem Brownstone arrived in the mail.  Shocked and awed may be more apt.  The book is HUGE, and I don’t mean page length.  It’s a really big book.  At 12×9 inches, it pretty much dwarfs everything else on my shelves.

The cover is actually fabric with labels affixed to the front and back listing the title and so forth.  And the artwork inside is equally as impressive as the cover.  It reminds me of Edward Gorey, and since the story is a gothic fantasy, it’s an apt comparison.

Salem inherits his estranged father’s house and learns that his father was in the midst of a battle with otherwordly creatures from Midnight City over a scrying ball.  As the new owner, it is up to Salem to protect the ball and he achieves it with the help of his familiar and members of Dr. Kinoshita’s Circus of Unearthly Sights, which happens to be camped right next door.  Dr. Kinoshita’s Circus of Unearthly Sights is pretty much the coolest name for a circus I’ve ever heard.

Although marketed to middle-schoolers, I got a bit lost in the narrative at times but not enough that a few re-reads of certain pages didn’t help clear things up.  Once I literally had to say, “screw it,” and keep reading even though I didn’t understand the implications of what someone said because the story just keeps moving forward, whether you’re with it or not.  But it doesn’t matter if you re-read or move forward, just checking out the book is completely worth it with illustrations as grotesque and provocative as these:

The lush artwork creates a moody vibe that's perfect for this gothic tale of circus freaks and secret meetings under a full moon.

Dunning and Singh are completely in sync in Salem Brownstone. Singh’s visuals perfectly complement Dunning’s story and I hope to see more collaborations from them in the future.

Written by JP Weezey

March 21, 2012 at 8:00 am

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