Friday, 17 December 2010

Slow Storm

Although Danica Novgorodoff's Slow Storm is a good 170+ pages in length the sparsity of the written narrative makes this book a short one sitting read. It's sort of a character piece about a Mexican illegal immigrant, Rafi, and Ursa, a somewhat unloved female firefighter who spends most of her working hours fighting a sometimes vindictive sibling rivalry with her brother and fending off the unwanted advances of another of her workmates. Their brief connection occurs at a time of emotional crisis when Ursa is at breaking point and Rafi is caught in the fallout. It sort of works with some quite poignant scenes though the best thing about the book is the quality of the artwork. The character linework can look a bit too simplistic but taken as a whole it does succeed in both telling the story and painting the emotional landscape. The literal landscapes of Kentucky and its sky and weather painted in startling watercolour washes are superb. Combining storms and weather with mental turmoil is a much used device but the art is good enough to break through any possible triteness. Although on the surface very little is happening there is a lot going on below the surface. Relationships, family, religion, homesickness, dreams, resentment, guilt, wonder, love, hope, freedom - the list goes on. Well worth a look.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

American Vampire

Remember when vampires were still scary? Perhaps you don't. I should break out my copy of Salem's Lot to remind myself that these bloodsuckers used to be more than just pale possible boyfriends in the latest teen/vamp/rom. Stephen King is one half of the writing talent on duty for this tale of mostly very bad vampires in the wild west of the late 1800s and the movie making era of the 1920s. King's introduction to the book has a lot more to say about the current state of vampire fiction and he doesn't mince words. This is also the first time King has written for comics. I know many of his stories have have been adapted for the genre but always by usually established comic book writers. This time he does it himself, which means basically writing the dialogue (no problem there) and, in place of the narrative, describing the contents and layout of the panels so the artist knows what to draw. He does a pretty good job barring a little muddiness in the way the supporting cast find their places in the opening part of the story. This book holds the origin story of our hero Skinner Sweet as told by King. Maybe I shouldn't have used the word hero as this guy was a very bad man even before he became the first American vampire. Sweet is a good creation, a vampire who revels in his new powers, whose love interest doesn't get beyond a craving for blood and candy. He's brash, violent, cunning and relentless. Alongside King's story in each issue is a later story set in Los Angeles about an aspiring young actress doing extras work for silent movies, who runs afoul of a nest of old European vampires who have an unstable truce with the powerful new vamp on the block, Skinner Sweet. This story is ably written by series creator Scott Snyder. Rafael Albuquerque does the artistic honours brilliantly in both arcs which helps the stories stand together. Under both stories is a suggestion of a subtext about America and its emerging place amongst the old world order. The book features the first 5 issues and also includes an afterword by Scott Snyder, variant covers by various artists, samples of script instructions by King and Snyder and early concept art. Altogether a nice piece of work.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Nobody

Canadian writer/artist Jeff Lemire brings H.G. Wells' classic psychological sci-fi tale The Invisible Man forward in time a hundred years to 1994 in three acts. Lemire's spare narrative and simple black and white artwork (sorry black, white & icy blue tint) are well suited to the subtle storytelling of The Nobody. The original novella put forward several philosophical theories about what would happen to a man freed of the moral constraints of society by the escape route of invisibility. J.R.R. Tolkien was also fascinated by such ideas and used them in his stories about a magical ring that could make the wearer invisible. Lemire's take on the story is somewhat more subtle, drawing on small town paranoia, as did Wells, of the mysterious stranger and the irony of an invisible man who is quite the largest and most visible event to visit the place, but adding little alternative perspectives with protagonist and satellite characters , most notably Vickie, vying for their visibility in society. The way familiarity makes people or things fade from our attention is another of the clever observations subtly suggested, usually with hardly any scripted direction beyond the panels of artwork. There's plenty of space in the telling of the story for the reader to expand their own thought on the subject. Just goes to show that you don't need to fill the page with words to tell an intelligent and subtly poignant tale.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Dunnocks on the Run

If in a hundred years in the deep of winter there are still robins & dunnocks still in England, I'm sure there will be somebody looking into their gardens and feeling sorry for the poor harried dunnock, bravely scurrying about on the hard ground and the frozen twig from that most autocratic garden bird - the robin.