Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Yeah Dude Comics 2014 Subscription #5: Box Brown's New Physics

After reading the previous Yeah Dude Comics (Future Masterpiece) left a bitter taste, I decided to wait a few days before cautiously diving into Box Brown's New Physics. I haven't read Brown's Andre the Giant yet, but I found his newest output from Retrofit Comics (the inprint he runs) to be quite phenomenal. I've thoroughly enjoyed Number 1 and Number 2. I wasn't expecting this pink mini comic to pack such a punch, let alone be one of my favourite comics of the year. Brown shows off his mastery of design, colour and storytelling and manages to create a poignant commentary on social media and it's ultimate consequence in this comics.

New Physics tells the story of Vern, a "desperate hedonist" who turned her life around through social media. She became a sort of social media guru and used it to create "New Physics", a sort of religious cult. Her following grows steadily until a fateful incident that ends the book on a surprisingly grim note. Do not be fooled by the lavish pink colour, this story is dark and disturbing. 

Social media consumption through inhalation
The story is a very interesting commentary on the modern use of social media. Brown imagines a futuristic world where everyone is connected through these see-through helmets that allows them to remain online at all times. Not only do the people of this world use social media constantly, they live and literally breathe it in. Their helmet emits these gases that allows them to be fully immersed in the connection. Imagine a food blog where you can not only see the food, but also inhale it's aromas.

The future setting and the rise of Vern also allows us to wonder if this is the logical end of Twitter and Facebook connections. If we are all connected and are all followers of Person X, reblogging, reposting, discussing Person X's opinions and thoughts, are we not preaching Person X's gospel? Is it that strange a concept to believe that we may see the rise of an organized religion purely through social media? In a striking moment, Vern addresses one of her "High priests" by telling him that he "is truly one of New Physics' Top 10 commenters". A modern religion for a modern age. 

Brown even manages to criticize the mindless consumption of false remedies and promises of salvation promoted by cult-like religions. The idea that, by spending,a bit more money, you'll somehow be more in tune with God is ludicrous. Vern capitalizes on this hawkish behaviour. As a follower, you can even spread the gospel yourself. BUY IT NOW: New Physics Apparel, New Physics Rebalancer. Buy the Concentration Tools of the Godhead. Find redemption through consumption of the New Physics branded products. What would a Torso Reimaginer do anyway?

Colour & Depth
Brown manages to make very efficient use of a very limited palette by using only black, grey, white and pink. The bright pink is used to create depth for the building or numerous vistas we see whether they be exterior or interior. It is also the colour of texts in social media (as in the previous image). It's also used as a stylistic element in clothing and on the New Physics Torso Remimaginer. It is a truly brilliant use of colour.

New Physics managed to become one of my favourite comics of 2014. I'll gladly read it over and spread the New Physics light to all. I'm a New Physics convert.

For further discussion, I've placed some articles on Social Media and Religion below should you wish to delve deeper into the very real possibility of the emergence of a web-based religion.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Roman Muradov: Picnic Ruined: Undeniable Talent, Unbelievable Pretention

Talent and Failure in one convenient package
A fantastic recommendation from the tall fellow at Mission: Comics & Art in San Francisco. Picnic Ruined is my first experience with Roman Muradov's work (he of the Tolstoy Google Doodle from 24/09/2014) and, oh boy, was it a mixed bag. There is clear talent and mastery in the art, but the story it illustrates is so weak, it's painful at times.

Picnic Ruined tells the story of an artist who feels worthless and pathetic. His life is dedicated to art, but his failures are always at the forefront of his mind. Self-loathing seems to be the main motivator for the lead characters. We meet a genuinely annoying man whose sole problem appears to be self-created. He blames everyone and no one for his failure. It all feels terribly banal and full of platitudes. He is smug artist (or someone with artistic inclinations) who thinks he is better than everyone else. He talks constantly about how the world has failed him and how he has failed it. This character`s woes are that he has too much, knows too much and has too much ambition. And yet he suffers because all the doors are open, and he doesn't know which one to take. So desperate from knowing he can accomplish anything, yet he`s not decisive enough to pick. What a trite and dull story.

Fortunately for the reader, there are some redeeming qualities.

The art is superb.

This is a masterpiece in comic-making. Muradov's layout is freeflowing throughout the book. Thoughts are given abstract form. Memories, and the inability to remember somethig properly, are illustrated so well. State of mind becomes visually alive in this book. The use of black and white here is also wonderful. It combines many artistic methods and manipulates them on the same page. The art is expressive and magnificient. Yet as I read Picnic Ruined, one question kept coming to my mind. Is art enough to anchor a comic book? 

I will seek out Muradov's other book cautiously. Perhaps his other efforts at a story won't be as misguided as in this book. I'll come around to reading (In a Sense) Lost & Found in the future. At the very least, it will be pretty to look at.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Moon Knight: Cynicism, Rebranding and Colour

The Look of Cynicism

A little while ago, I felt like reading superhero comics. There is always a ton of options out there, but since I'm not a misogynist creep who likes to see dismembered body parts all the time, I figure I'd better stick to Marvel. I decided to look at the Marvel Now (Or All-New Marvel NOW!) and I actually adopted some monthly series that way, Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk have proven to be good enough to hold my interest for awhile.

I also tried Moon Knight. I like Warren Ellis's stories enough and thought I should check out this new series. I thought it was ok, but something just didn't quite agree with me. I couldn't place it until Ellis announced that he was going to leave the title. In an interview on Robot 6, he mentioned that :"The job has been, simply, reactivating Moon Knight as a productive property for the Marvel IP library". He also mentioned that he wanted to challenge himself at writing stand-alone stories. Knowing that even the creative team were just seeing  this project not as a writing gig, but as an Intellectual Property to be packaged and sold, how does this affect your reading of the book? Let's take a look

Paperwork gone wrong

So what is an intellectual property and what does it have to do with our Moon Knight? Well, an Intellectual Property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names and images used in commerce. So the character is the property of Marvel Comics and it has not been very profitable them. They hired a creative to reinvigorate the property. What they wanted was to convince you to buy the book. It must be a "productive property" (a.k.a: a brand that sells). How did they achieve their goal? Tell the potential readership that this is a bold move, that they are bringing an awesome character back to life in exciting new ways. It will never be the same...It all begins now... Get excited people! That writer you like will be teaming up with hip new artists for a new take on that intellectual property we want to sell you. And according to Ellis, it's mission accomplished, or at least "a job reasonably well done".

I think more than anything, the blatant cynicism is what gets me. The mission is to revitalize a brand. Telling a good story and creating meaningful art comes second to the goal of making money. At least I can appreciate Ellis` honesty.

So how does this cynicism bleed into the fabric of the book? It creates a story that is more focused on "cool" and "awesome" moments than anything else. If anything, the story is almost inconsequential. The writer wanted the paycheck. The least he can do is let the artists take over and do a great job. Shalvey and Bellaire`s work shine through page after page in Moon Knight. The art works in perfect conjunction with the colours. The white of Moon Knight is not coloured, which creates a great contrast between the character and his environment. Colours then become the most important aspect of the character. His lack of colour also serves a story purpose as well, since he feels alone and isolated and unable to connect with the outside world. If anything, it's beautiful to look at. 

In the end, I'm glad that there is no pretention with Moon Knight. It is created purely for a marketing and branding purpose. It doesn't hide its most mercantile aspect. I had originally been duped into thinking it was a piece of art. Now I know it's just a piece of corporate garbage.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Book Club Report: A Discussion with Pascal Girard on Petty Theft

The Comic book book club we belong to is an interesting group. We all like reading, but for each member, reading the same book brings a multitude of different interpretations, especially with regards to the subtlety imbued by the particular language of the book. We’re located in Ottawa, Canada’s national capital, and live in a bilingual environment. Almost 40% of the city’s inhabitants are bilingual. English isn’t even my first language, it’s French. Most of us are working, living and reading in both languages.

The book club met to discuss Petty Theft, as we normally do every month. There usually is a sense of fun and anticipation before the meetings. We’ve had a month with our book, we`ve each read it and have had an appropriate amount of time to think about it. This month our discussions proved to be especially significant as it was a special event for the Ottawa Comic Book Book Club: we had the pleasure of welcoming Pascal Girard to discuss his newest graphic novel Petty Theft. He gracefully accepted to join us for an evening to talk about his book, his characters, his process, language, family and construction work.

Pascal is a French-Canadian cartoonist. His Tumblr bio informs us that he was born in Jonquière, in Saguenay (the town with one of the weirdest mayors in Canada, Jean Tremblay). He loves drawing and running and he's in love. This biography relates to the themes of his newest English book Petty Theft. Pascal has written more books in French such as Conventum, Jimmy et le bigfoot, Paresse, as well as some other collaboration work and children's books. Three of his French books have been published in English through Drawn & Quarterly.

Language was at the forefront of our minds when we met with Pascal. We were all very eager to discuss how Pascal's writing may be influenced by language. He mentioned that while he didn't think it affected his first translated book, as he hadn't even considered it, it certainly had while writing this book. It may not have been a conscious consideration, but more as a result of integration and internalizing the idea of a second language and a wider audience for his books.

The title is also quite surprising as Petty Theft is actually called La collectioneuse in French. We noticed it did affect our reading of the book. The English title immediately frames the girl as a thief. It leaves little doubt to interpret her actions. She steals, and therefore is a thief. However, the French title leaves room for more ambiguity. She is a collector. Her actions, although criminal, are somewhat more justifiable as she is not framed as a thief from the get go. Pascal did explain that there was a long process with Drawn & Quarterly to determine the best translation for the title. Choosing to translate word for word "collector" wasn't as close to "collectioneuse" and therefore wasn't as meaningful. In the end, Petty Theft was selected and only those few who know the two titles can determine how this affects them.
Pascal & Kids
Fatherhood is also an underlying theme in this book, not by showing exactly what it meant for the protagonist, but by providing clues into his thoughts. The main protagonist panics and is uncomfortable in the presence of children. Although this doesn't reflect the values of the author, it does affect how we can interpret his character. We have a man who, underneath the pretense of finding his way and true love, doesn't really see a relationship evolving to the stage of parenthood. Now this could be a choice, but when we add the facts that he aims to right the wrongs of the thief, it reveal a very selfish character.

Mental VS Physical labour

The book begins when the main character falls and gets injured while he is out for a run. Forbidden from running, down on his luck and with a broken heart (his girlfriend and him having just broken up), he ends up also reinventing his career. He stops drawing and goes back to construction work. This created an interesting parallel between the physical labour of construction and the mental (and creative) labour typically associated with art. The protagonist`s body having changed, so must his psyche. This created yet another layer in a seemingly easy-to-classify character.

By the end of our meeting, we gained perspective on a multitude of topics: language, fatherhood, characterization, etc. Pascal Girard helped us gain some perspective on Petty Theft and unlock elements which revealed further interpretations and depth to the story. There was so much more to discuss and some of my fellow book club members may wish to add to this in the comments, but we all felt tremendously satisfied reading this book. We'd highly recommend it. 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Yeah Dude Comics 2014 Subscription #4 Josh Burggraf & Victor Kerlow's Future Masterpiece: Wasted Potential

Wasted opportunities
The worst I can say about the Yeah Dude Comics 2014 Subscription is that it's inconsistent. Some titles were fantastic (Find Me, Look for Me, New Physics), some were not so fantastic (Stoner Alien) and some were starting to show greatness (Iron Skull). This new release is unfortunately in the bottom tier. It's a real shame that it coincides with the release of Box Brown's New Physics (the 5th Yeah Dude Comics this year). New Physics is so vastly superior, it doesn't even seem to play in the same league. Let's take a look at Josh Burggraf & Victor Kerlow's Future Masterpiece

Where do I even begin with the story? The 15 year-old girl from The Jetsons is dating Bullwinkle. She is pregnant and they have a baby together. It turns out that the baby is none other than Stoner Alien and this is supposed to act as an origin story of sorts. He basically comes out of the womb and starts smoking cosmic pot. Oh, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shows up to say `Cowabunga`. That's pretty much it. 

I guess it is the second part of a Stoner Alien Saga. It unfortunately exploits the same joke as the previous installment with diminishing returns. Using the joke "Wait...what?" to represent the alien's marijuana-filled baby`s brain unable to comprehend what is happening was fun when used in the previous issue, but here it is used so clumsily, it is embarrassing. I wonder what the goal of this exercise was. It feels like a lot of effort for what seems like a joke a couple of drunken (or stoned) guys made one night. 

The art is raw, even rough in places. The artists are trying to emulate the classic Hanna-Barbera style (flat characters, thick outlines). They are unfortunately having a really hard time maintaining consistency. Mainly, the horns of Bullwinkle and how they are connected to his head changes in almost every panel. 

As I said when I talked about Stoner Alien, maybe the Stoner Alien concept has a deeper meaning for those involved, but as a reader, I felt excluded from the jokes. The story is too thin, it feels like a writer's ego trip and the only jokes are references (and they only reference themselves). Better luck next time.