Saturday, 30 May 2015

Liam McKenna's Termination Shock: Almost There

Liam McKenna's Termination Shock is a science fiction comic about following the rules so relentlessly that its leads to blindness; the consequences of not questionning your own actions; and the loss of free will that accompanies "blindly" following orders.

Termination Shock tells the story of an officer on board a small freight ship who messes up a shipment by accepting to do an "off the book" favor for a friend. As the small freight ship is loading equipment from a remote unmanned space station, she takes in a load of cargo, but it registers as stolen from the space station and they are shot. They are almost gunned down, but manage to escape. Unfortunately for the officer, the rules and regulations for jeopardizing a mission are clear. The penalty is death and the captain of the ship intends on following the rules. The captain forces the officer to step into a spacesuit and exit the ship to suffocate for her mistake. We follow the aftermath as the remaining crew members realizes the gravity of what happened and the toll this will take on them.

It is unclear what the captain's motivations were for doing what she did. There is no clear sense of who these people are before the incident. All we know is the captain was going to follow the rules, regardless of the objections of her second officer, who warned against so harsh a punishment for such a minor infraction. I was led to believe that she felt it would have jeopardized her authority and her credibility if she had let the mistake slide from her attitude throughout the execution and her discussion with the crew that a life of being a "cold hard captain" got her the rank she desired. Again, this is what I assumed based on the text. If this is really part of the story, or if I simply assumed as much based on the subtextual undertone, I'll let you be the judge of this. In any case, the story struck me as solid, if slightly underdevelopped. I would have preferred to see more of the incident and the aftermath; this is where the drama truly lies, not so much in building up the momentum to it. The story is also constructed in a non-linear manner which I felt removed some of the momentum. 

There are also a few moments where I was unable to tell the tone and story elements based on the visuals. For example, in the third panel on the second page, the doctor is walking nonchalantly towards the captain and they make small talk about beers. He leans casually in the doorway, arms crossed with half a smile. He makes a joke and they laugh. I understood that this was to establish their relationship, but knowing that this takes place after the execution made this sequence feel really odd. On page three, Bird, the officer who was adamantly opposing the captain's decision, is screaming at her that it was all her fault as she made the final call. His fists are raised, but his facial expression is over-emoting and I couldn't tell the tone. I know the character is upset, but it's a bit too over the top, to the point where I thought this comic was going to be a dark comedy. It happens randomly throughout the book where I'm just unsure of what the expressions the characters are trying to convey. 

This being said, apart from these few instances where the images fall short, it's actually well done. The stripped background fit perfectly with the setting of a spaceship. The characters are placed in a grey or dark grey environment, which constantly reinforces the theme (no black or white solutions) of the book. So with all of this said, I can forgive some of the small issues when looking at the comic as a whole. And based on what I've seen from McKenna's Tumblr page, his attention to facial details has improved.

I'll keep an eye on this creator's work. A "P.E.I."....P.E.Eye....He's from Charlottetown...Ok, I'll stop

Sunday, 24 May 2015

ThreeCAF: Three Books from TCAF 2015, Part 2

A new feature I'll run in several parts, short reviews of some comics of note at TCAF 2015

A wonderfully illustrated comic about a group of anthropomorphic punk rock animals who are going to a party that ends up being terrible. The look and style of this book was unbelievable. The watercolour alone was enough to catch my attention, but the amount of details from the gradation of darker to lighter using monochromatic tones was unbelievable. Within a short 32 page comic, Lauren develops her characters incredibly quickly and gives them distinct voices and quirks. 

I knew nothing of Lauren Monger when I got this book and now I want to learn more about her style, and everything else she's done. I understand she's done more stories about her characters, she's even written a Blobby Boys comic on Vice. I'll keep seeking out her work as it's quite impressive.

Ink for Beginners, A Comic Guide to Getting Tattooed, Kate Leth, Retrofit Comics, 2015

A mini comic by Kate Leth which, as it's title indicates, is a guide to getting tattooed. She talks about each step, from wanting a tattoo, to actually getting it done, in a very engaging and honest way. She narrates the comic and addresses the reader directly, making for an interesting approach to delivering information. She's also asked for input from various tattoo artists along the way to provide even more information to the reader. It's a charming and very informative comic.

Kate Leth uses her style to reminisce on her own experiences and provide guidance to the audience. I'm not a target audience, as I don't care much for tattoos, but I certainly found it entertaining and informative. The double-sided page where she explains the different levels of pain depending on where you get your tattoo was particularly well done. You start with the front of the body, then turn the page to see the pain threshold on the back of a body; it's very clever.

I don't know if it was intentional or not, but the final page is left blank. Perfect for asking Kate or your tattoo artist to draw your first tattoo in it.

The dark nothing, Jordan Crane, What Things Do, 2015

The dark nothing is our mind. When confronted with the vast unknown of the universe, how can we ever hope to understand what we will discover? Will we ever become so complacent as to believe we can understand it all? 

In this new comic by Jordan Crane, a group of space miners discover an odd formation of asteroids with a bizarre gravity center and they try to relocate it for mining purposes. As you can gather from the cover above, things goes horribly wrong with disastrous consequences for the miners. 

This is a beautifully risographed comic with shades of pink and purple, resulting in an incredibly attractive product. They are not colours I would normally associate with deep space exploration, but it lends a very eerie vibe to the story that unfolds. It's a very good comic, it's just a shame so few copies exist. Hopefully it will be reprinted somehow and reach a wider audience.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

ThreeCAF: Three books from TCAF 2015, Part 1

This is the first of a new feature I'll run in several parts: short reviews of some comics of note at TCAF 2015.

Lydian, Sam Alden, Space Face Books, 2015

A fantastic new comic by Sam Alden. I had seen some bits and pieces online on his tumblr page in the past, but never saw the whole thing. It is now published with a wonderfully bright cover design. The back cover is also particularly nice. Lydian tells the fantasy adventure story of a young man who fights Clyde (an evil sentient resort - yes really, a resort) and his minions alongside the team he created. It's done in a sort of old school video game 8-bit color style. Although at first glance you may think this comic is purely a stylistic exercise, but it is a surprising look at the psyche of a teenager with confidence and personal issues, who`s trapped in a weird and dangerous world.

This book, particularly in printed form, adds a second layer of meaning that I didn't anticipate going in. The 8-bit color era is for the most part gone, which makes a nice parallel with the paper format of books. I can imagine that some people much younger than me will be reading this on their tablet and not once wonder about the reason for a book made out of paper in the first place, or why this computer art looks so pixelated now that we have access to such sleak computerized images. The existence of both of these forms of art being relegated to the past makes this feel like an artifact and a fresh new take on comics at the same time.

There's no bath in this bathroom, Joe Decie, 2015

A free giveaway from Joe Decie at TCAF that I would have gladly paid for. In There's no bath in this bathroom, Joe Decie tells us about his visit to Toronto when he attended TCAF 2014. Decie describes his experience and moves effortlessly from the mundanity of travel to the small surreal moments that happen to all of us when we are in unfamiliar territories. Whether it be the Francophone girls at the train station, the bathroom in the pizzeria with the lights turned off, or even the cook eerily walking outside, those small events provide a good look at how one person internalizes the experiences of travelling.

Sorry i can't come in on monday i'm really really sick, Jane Mai, Koyama Press, 2014

Koyama Press published this mini-comic from Jane Mai. It's a collection of random thoughts from a depressed woman sitting at home in her underwear. It packs a surprising punch for such a small comic. The thoughts we read range from dark humor to deep revelation about humanity and oneself. The image of a centipede running throughout reminds the reader of the difficulty in truly pinpointing depression. Sometime we are able to see it clearly, most other times it is hidden, but it is around us, lurking in the shadows of bad days and small losses that the people around experience. In spite of the bright pink cover and it's size, this comic will make you think and perhaps even reflect on your own mental state.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Bitch Planet: A Multimedia Project

1,2,3 Fuck Patriarchy

I've been thoroughly enjoying the Bitch Planet project. I'm saying "project" and not comic for various reasons. Bitch Planet is the comic of course, but it's also about fandom, feminism, social media feed, the American penal system, the Non-Compliancy logo, Twitter, the essays and fanmail. It is just starting to gear up to comment on sports culture. It's about reappropriating 70's prison exploitation imagery and using it towards a new feminism ideal. It's about the medium of comic books themselves and the superhero genre, so prevalent in American Corporate comics, with it's ideas of what justice looks like. Mainly white males punching people and dispensing justice the only way they can, by crass vigilantism with no oversight, beholden to no one but themselves. In Bitch Planet, the super villain is not a person, but a social construct. Patriarchy taken to an extreme level. 

The patriarchy
I have found it incredibly difficult to detach the comic itself from the rest of the elements surrounding it. Some are having an easier time than I, but I strongly believe the Bitch Planet experience is not complete without those elements. It is an ambitious project and one that is quite needed. We are in an era of renewed antifeminism, men's right movements and gamergate is still raging. This reminds us that struggles of women and the challenges of gender equality are not over. It is here, we're in the thick of it. There are still huge gaps in pay and income disparity both in the U.S and Canada.

The Patriarchy reminds you to do as you're told and everything will be fine
Bitch Planet follows a group of women, non-compliant within the fascistic patriarchal order of the world, who are sent to a penal colony on Mars. They are mistreated and abused, not only in prison, but back home, where women are constantly under surveillance by a society that`s run by the "Council of Fathers". So far only three issues are out, but quickly a pattern has been established. Each issue has a standalone narrative that also serves to advance the main plot. In #1, the basics of the world are established and we see the story of a man who got rid of his wife for a more compliant (and younger) woman. In #2, one of the protagonists, now in solitary confinement, gets asked to lead a sports team and we see the story of a man working for the patriarchal order, where we witness it`s inner workings and constant power structure. Issue #3 is the story of another protagonist with flashbacks to her younger days and her experiences of systematic abuse from society. Bitch Planet relies on both its premise and its short form structure (each issue).

The art is quite distinctive too. The colors are remniscent of silver age comics, with it's dot patterns atop the colors. It's quite clever, the comics take inspiration from the 70's "women in prison" films and have integrated the comic colouring style of the time by using the dot pattern. There is also very clear attention paid to the story told both at the forefront (what drives the action) and what is in the background. We learn a lot about the world the story takes place in by just looking at the pages. We absorb the details and are rewarded with a better comprehension of the story. It works on a macro and micro level. It's refreshing to see. As silly as it may sound, a lot of comics have a hard time conveying their stories visually with any amount of subtlety. The macro level takes all the focus and the other visual aspects are only stock elements that don't add anything. But here, Valentine De Landro and Cris Peter really knock it out of the park. The first page of the 2nd issue is a really good example of this. The action moves in three sections of 4 panels with the red-haired woman walking towards the end of the room. The final panel of each row (panels 4, 8 & 12) all show a man either telling the woman what to do, or taking advantage of her. It is significant as it is the last thing we see on the page as a reader, bu it also emphasizes the story elements: the men are in control; to go and do your job, you must be subservient to a man. We understand from the setting that they are in a kitchen and about to walk out to a fancy event, as evidenced by the kitchen setting, the fancy cocktail dresses of the women and the champagne flutes they carry around. The text is part of the speech given in the other room and it contributes to the world-building elements. 

What I believe really distinguishes this comic are the final pages. They contain a short letter from the writer, Kelly Sue Deconnick, as well a essays on feminism by a panoply of authors and some fanmail. Kelly Sue Deconnick's essays are fantastic. They are shifting the focus away from the fictional setting of the book to add a layer of reflexion to our modern world. This project isn't just about comics; it's about a larger conversation on women's right. It does what all good science fiction work must do: encourage us to reflect on our world. By encouraging interaction and dialog with the fans and followers, they are encouraging a broader discussion on the topics they are engaging in. Not only are we reading a sci fi book about women in prison, we are learning about society in the process. And knowledge is key in moving the discussion forward and educating ourselves and the people around us.

I'd recommend Bitch Planet in a heartbeat. For one it's a good comic. It's technically well done, well-written and pretty. You could read only the comic and not get involved in the other aspects of it. But for any of you who may be unsure what the answer may be to the ongoing vitriol pouring in from seemingly everywhere directed at women, this is part of the solution. The status quo requires you to be compliant. Read the essays, learn, and question the way the world works; be non-compliant.