Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Books: Nikolai Dante: The Romanov Dynasty

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Nikolai Dante: The Romanov Dynasty
Written by Robbie Morrison
Art by Simon Fraser

2004




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Bojemoi! Welcome to the year 2666 - home to Nikolai Dante (thief, ladies man and general all round scoundrel) and the settings of some of the most rip-roaring, action-packed, swashbuckling space opera around. From the pages 2000AD (the must read for every British teenager) this a comic with no pretensions and no scruples: there's Abraxian Shapeshifters, gene-scans, triune armour, bio-weapons, nanotechnology and lots and lots of fighting. The artwork is very cool - drawn with plenty of lines that gives it a strange digital edge and all the Russian stylings give it a unique feel that you don't much get elsewhere - and as for Dante himself: well - everyone loves a lovable rouge and even if he's not the most three-dimensional character out there - at least he's got plenty of good lines to make up for it: ("I'm too cool to kill." being my particular favourite). If you're curious and want to join the fray this is the book where it all starts - so you don't have any excuses.

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Links: Tearoom of Despair Article: The Adventures of Nikolai Dante.

Further reading: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 03, Just a PilgrimSagaSláine: The Horned God, ProphetThor: The Mighty Avenger.

All comments welcome.

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2011/08

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The next Islington Comic Forum is on:
Tuesday the 30th of August.
6:00pm to 7:30pm.
Upstairs Hall at North Library Manor Gardens N7 6JX
Here is a map.

Meet and talk with other members. Hear recommendations. Tell us what you think. And a selection of over 100 hand-picked titles for you to borrow and take home.

The Book of the Month is:
Death Note Vol 1: Boredom
Written by Tsugumi Ohba. Art by Takeshi Obata.

If you get a chance please read it. You can reserve yourself a copy here. (For those of you that don't get the chance - don't worry - you can still come and join in with the discussions).

You can find us on facebook here.
And join in with the discussions here.
For more information (or if you have any questions) you can email us here .
Come and join us. All welcome.
Hope to see you there.

All comments welcome. 

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Books: Iron Man: Extremis

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Iron Man: Extremis
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Adi Granov

2007




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

"DMT interests me because it gets to a place beyond your memory stores. You know something like sixty percent of people have the same hallucinations on DMT? Terence McKenna, rest his soul, called them "self-transforming machine elves." Yes. This is an Iron Man comic that has Tony Stark go up against 21st Century terrorists every bit as powerful as he is - with car crashing action, fiery fights to the death and lots of cool gadgets and nano-technology stuff and - but because it's written by Warren Ellis you also get trippy dialogue that deals with the relationships between drugs, human potential and the shape of the future - plus an interview conducted by a left-wing journalist called "John Pillinger." All this - plus a retelling of his origin story which it then overwrites - updating and redefining the Iron Man concept in exciting new ways as well as probing into Tony Stark's psyche and showing just what he has to do to be able to look at himself in the mirror. The artwork does have a peculiar computer-generated sheen - that at the start is a little off-putting - but it's a good match for the voltaic story and helps it stand apart from it's superhero contemporaries and helps to place it in new places in your head. The best Iron Man story out there (as consistently voted for by the fans) and the ideal place for new readers to start.

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Links: Comics Bulletin Review, The M0vie Blog Review.

Further reading: Iron Man: The Invincible Iron Man, The Ultimates, Ultimate Comics: Iron Man: Armor Wars, Ultimate Galactus Trilogy.

Profiles: Warren Ellis.

All comments welcome.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Books: Animal Man

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Animal Man
Vol 1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chas Truog, Tom Grummett and Doug Hazlewood







Sorry. This item is currently unavailable from Islington Libraries.

Animal Man
Vol 2: Origin of the Species
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chas Truog, Tom Grummett, Doug Hazlewood, Steve Montano, and Mark McKenna




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Animal Man
Vol 3: Deus Ex Machina
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chas Truog, Tom Grummett, Doug Hazlewood, Steve Montano, and Mark McKenna




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

No offence to Animal Man - but when you first hear the premise - it's pretty goofy. Buddy Baker is an ordinary guy until the day he gets exploded on by an extraterrestrial spaceship - which - duh - grants him the power of animals (Eyes of the Hawk, Ears of the Wolf, Strength of the Bear, Speed of the Puma etc). Obviously he decides to wear a bright orange suit with a blue "A" on his chest and fight crime - because hey - it was the sixties and that's what people do in superhero comics. Unsurprisingly he never managed to reach the popular heights of Batman and Superman and all that lot and instead ended up as member of the "Forgotten Heroes" (who also included such has-beens as: Resurrection Man, Calvin "Cave" Carson and Congo Bill). In case you couldn't tell from that - the original creators weren't exactly aiming for subtly or philosophical deepness - just an excuse for adventures, fights and empty-headed mayhem but that all changed following DCs Crisis on Infinite Earths event (which once you get past it's epic storytelling nonsense was basically just an excuse to clean house and reboot it's titles) - when they decided to give the storytelling reins to the fresh-faced, head-full-of-hair, animal rights champion Grant Morrison. At first given a limited four issue run Morrison decided to try to bring out the human side of Animal Man and show the strange stresses and unremarked upon consequences that can result when someone with magical powers decides to put a mask and fight for what they believe is right and then with an ever-expanding readership and increased run - he started to cut loose and go down some pretty freaky tunnels (as well as the usual "animal rights" angles). The Brian Bolland cover to the second volume sums it up beautifully without the need for words but - well: this is a careful unpicking and unravelling of the underpinnings of the superhero comic - but garnished with enough mysteries and thrills to keep it away from being a dry and dull academic exercise: it's deconstruction with the juicy bits left in. There's also this small moment in the third volume with an empty chair that kind of blew my mind (watch out for it) plus "I can see you."

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Links: Blog Critics Article: A Fine Pyrrhonism; or, (Put Your) Faith in CrisisFourth Age of Comics Review of Animal Man #5, For The Birds Analysis, Comic Addicts Review of Vol 1 / Comic Addicts Review of Vol 2 / Comic Addicts Review of Vol 3, Fourth Age of Comics Animal Man Retrospective: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3.

Further reading: Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, Promethea, The BoysJustice League: A New Beginning.

Profiles: Grant Morrison.

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Books: American Born Chinese

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American Born Chinese
by Gene Luen Yang

2006





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Finalist in the National Book Awards. Winner of the Michael L. Printz Award. Winner of the Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: New. First graphic novel recognized by the National Book Foundation. This is certainly a comic that has gained a lot of love from a lot of people - and it's easy to see why: The artwork and presentation (lots of white spaces) is bold, clear and easy to get to grips with (kinda reminded me of the Cartoon Network: Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory etc) - but it's simplicity contains a lot of storytelling nuance. Cleverly combining old school Chinese mythology with being the new kid at school tribulations and taking in universal themes of being "different," trying to fit in, being yourself, friendship, racism, romance etc in a lots of unexpected ways and couching lots of painful emotions with lots of nice little jokes that cut deep ("What do you want to be when you grow up?" "A Transformer.") this is a comic that can be enjoyed by the young and old alike with a winning formula for mixing the old with the new: like being told a story by a favourite wise old grandfather who also knows how to beat all your computer game high scores and plenty of top secret Kung Fu moves.

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Links: The Comics Journal Review, Read About Comics Review.

Further reading: Anya's GhostBuddhaLost at Sea, Blankets, Blue Pills, Solanin.

All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Books: Batman: All Star Batman and Robin

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Batman: All Star Batman and Robin
Written by Frank Miller
Art by Jim Lee

2008




Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Ok. First came - in 1986 - The Dark Knight Returns - surpassingly the last Batman story: Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to do battle with his foes one last time, it's amazing, it changes the industry, wins loads of awards etc. Then in 1987 there was Batman: Year One - the first Batman story: how Bruce Wayne became Batman and how it all got started, very moody, artwork by David Mazzucchelli (now famous for Asterios Polyp) one of the supposed inspiration for Christopher Nolan's Batman films, also very good (if a little short). Then: in 2001 we have the Dark Knight Returns sequel - The Dark Knight Strikes Again - which is the last, last Batman story - and introduces for the first time Dick Grayson (who it's fair to say seems to have some issues with Bruce Wayne): it sales well - but lots of people complain and say it's not enough like The Dark Knight Returns (oh well). Which brings us to this: All Star Batman and Robin. The prequel to Dark Knight Returns/Strikes Back and the sequel to Batman: Year One: and the story of how Dick Grayson got started. You don't have to read all of them other books to get into this (and the tone's vary wildly between them): but they do all refer to each other in lots of nice little ways and they're all well worth getting into. But anyway: what I wanted to say: judging from the shrill voices on the internet lots of people hate this book (even more so than The Dark Knight Strikes Again) and a lot of that can be reduced to one line of dialogue: "I'm the Goddamn Batman." (see: knowyourmeme): although the negative response that greeted that one line apparently just inspired Miller to use it in every subsequent issue (God bless him).

I know it's lazy to just cut and paste from other people's reviews but what the hey: "absurdly bad, faux-noir dialogue," "one of the biggest train wrecks in comics history," "a comic series that just spirals deeper and deeper into the abyss of unreadable. I understand Miller's need to re-invent, but this is just badly done and in poor taste... Frank Miller has stripped Batman of all of his dignity, class, and honour. This isn't the Dark Knight; this is Dirty Harry in a cowl. The worst part is that this is exactly what Batman isn't about.. "In one fell swoop, Miller has erased all the good he did for Batman with The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. All of that is just gone." Maybe these people have a point and it sure sounds like they had an awful time reading this book: but I loved it. I thought that Batman was supposed to be Dirty Harry in cowl. I thought part of the fun was watching him doing insane things and laughing his head off. And I thought that everyone already knew that he's ruthless, mean with a malicious fascist-streak running through the inside. (no? oh well). Like Batman: Year One the artwork isn't Frank Miller but instead is handled by superstar artist Jim Lee (one of the founders of Image Comics) and proponent of an art-style that was everywhere in 1990s and I like to think of as "American Manga": it's very in-your-face, arty and stylized and makes an ideal match to Miller's hard boiled and excessive writing style. Also - you should know that this was originally intended to be two volumes long - but - apparently because Jim Lee had problems sticking to the deadline - so it was put on "hiatus" - and well hopefully be concluded under the new name "Dark Knight: Boy Wonder."

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Links: 4th Letter Posts on how "Frank Miller Owns Batman", Comics Alliance Article: The Grand Unified Theory of Frank Miller's Batman: Will, Hope and Tenderness, Jog The Blog Review, Atop The Fourth Wall Review of #1 and #2, Comic Book Resources Review, Sean T Collins Review.

Further reading: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Batman: Year One, Superman: All Star Superman.

Profiles: Frank Miller.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Books: Phonogram

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Phonogram
Volume 1: Rue Britannia
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie

2007



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Phonogram
Volume 2: The Singles Club
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie

2009



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Raised on a diet of broken biscuits: Combining the world of Britpop with the world of Magic or ("phonomancy" as they call it here) Phonogram recreates the feel of a late-night in Camden listening to jangly guitar music, whilst supping on a pint and trying to decide once and for all who was better - Blur or Oasis? Split across two volumes that each can be read in any order - volume 1 (in sulky black and white) dealing with the adventures of David Kohl - trying his best to find out what happened to the Mod-Goddess of Britpop whilst at the same time doing his best deal with his murky past and retain his cool, while volume 2 (in playful colour) views a night called "Never On A Sunday" from multiple angles: from a dancing queen to a fanzine writer. For me it's all a little bit too indie and anoraky and slightly on the wrong side of twee (it makes perfect sense that Eddie Argos is a fan) - but if you've been looking for a comic that captures those first few seconds of your favourite song, along with a few good jokes about Echobelly and "4 Real" written on it's arm (albeit in biro): then this one's for you.

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Links: Comics Alliance Interview with Kieron Gillen, The Hooded Utilitarian Article: Phonogram: Journey to the Past.

Further reading: Suburban Glamor, Lost at Sea, Chew, Xombi

All comments welcome.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Books: Solanin

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Solanin
By Inio Asano

2008





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


I've always had a bit of an idealised view of Anime and Manga stuff (or really - to call it more what it actually is: cultural envy). Back when I was still wee - BBC 2 showed Akira at like midnight o'clock (or something) and I swear after it was finished and I was lying in bed trying to fall back asleep I could feel my scalp crackling with electricity and the insides of my brain swimming around with - you know - thoughts of the infinite and stuff like that. And since that point - I dunno: I always thought that Japan was were where things were at - culturally speaking: so while we tend to get rehashes of one good cop going up against a broken system or reluctant heros in the wrong place at the wrong time - on the other side of the world there's generations of people being entertained by widescreen epic space adventures and giant robots being piloted by wise-cracking kids.

Of course now I've grown up (a little) I realise that maybe that's not quite true. I mean - I guess it's like if a Japanese teen saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and assumed that all western films were about the evolution of mankind mixed together with smooth-talking sociopathic computers but still - there were quite a few days when I would go the big HMV on Oxford Street and walk through the Anime section wishing that I could watch it all [1].

But - like with all things - 90% of Manga just aren't - well - that good. Upstairs in the children's library that I'm based at there's a whole wall of pocket-sized manga books: Fruits Basket, Dragon Ball, Beet the Vandel Buster, Bleach and stuff like that [3]. And - ok - out of those the only one I've ever really tried was Fruits Basket (I wanted to read them all and put up an entry on this blog - but I just couldn't deal with it - the art was too simple for me or the humour was sailing over my head or something) but - well - (I'll try not to sound too condescending when I say this) - they're more like stuff for kids (and I realise that it doesn't make any sense (at all) to judge a whole medium just by the stuff that's on the shelf in one children's library in London but it's more like I'm using it as a specific example to stand in for years of disappointment on not being able to find something that manages to touch my insides in the same way as Akira did all those years ago [4]).

But the point I'm trying to get to is this: every time I pick up any type of Manga - my exceptions are always just a little bit higher than where they would be if it was just an American comic book. Like - it's not just enough that it tells me a somekind of story: it's like I'm also expecting something that's going to take me to the edge of the sublime (or something).

And so then: Solanin.

Meiko Inoue ("I'm just not cut out to be a productive member of society.") is a young, despondent, twenty-something living in Tokyo - doing her best to get by - and trying not to think too hard about the expiry date on her freedom (there's a nice touch near the start where she talks how the sky looked when she first arrived in Tokyo and how it looks a year later). Growing up and slowly moving forward with herself and her frazzled boyfriend Taneda while trying to find some sort of sweet spot between "slaving for the man" (and losing your humanity) and - well - having enough money in order to buy enough food to eat - this self-described "creature of a consumer society" spends her days waiting for an epiphany (sorry - "her epiphany") and wishing death on everyone she sees on the morning commute (yep - I know that feeling). Like her friend says: "Wow... You're scary... You're almost 24, but you really have no idea." Which in comics terms I guess puts her halfway between Halo Jones and Ghost World's Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer: that is to say: the whole world (and the rest of her life) is out there waiting for her - the only problem is - she hasn't decided yet what she wants to do with it.

(I don't wanna sound too much (or really - at all) like some kind of clueless cultural tourist who only enjoy something if it's "authentically real" or whatever ("Yeah dude: this is the exactly way that the ancient Aztecs used to jet-ski"): but seeing how I know it's an issue from trying to recommend to someone at the Comic Forum ("You have to read it right to left? Oh man - no thanks!") I feel I have to mention that - yes - you have to start at the "back" of the book and read it in a kinda counter-intuitive back-to-front sort of way. But also: hey - that's how it was written and once you start reading it won't be long until the story draws you in so completely that you'll forget all about it and (damn it) it's nice knowing that you are reading something that's authentically different and I like how i sorta rejigs your brain so that it's reprocessing information in a new way [5]).

Made up from several interwoven vignettes - that float weightlessly between character to character - until they slowly join forces and bloom this is a top-notch book perfectly capturing the strange stumbling transition into the adulthood and the mixed feelings and emotions that can hit you along the way. When it starts there are a few bumps as it seems to flirt around different genres before it decides what it wants to be - is it going to go down the horror route ("There is a demon lurking in Tokyo") or will it opt instead for somesort of board comedy thing (see the toupées literally flying off the top of people's heads)? Don't fret - just relax and let it find it's groove: it knows what it's doing - trust me.

Yes - some of the characters can be a little bit too earnest at points ("This flat, boring, ambiguous world can't inspire any real songs... Just over-produced crap that has no meaning.") but then that's how people tend to speak when they're too young to know any better (to which I'd guess Meiko would respond: "Ugh! Grown-ups are so gross!"). But - whatever - it's all so exquisitely drawn and effortlessly flipping from the abstract (well you know maybe "abstract" is the wrong word - I guess I mean whatever the right word to describe the semi-cartoony faces like the one on the cover above: "not quite real" maybe) to the photorealistic (check out the gorgeously rendered pictures of living rooms, bridges and cityscapes [6]). Light on it's feet and miraculous in it's effects (I like the way that when someone is talking the panels won't feel the need to stick with just their faces but will float around to stare at the ceiling and things like that): basically - it's a must-read for anyone who's ever been unsure about how to decide what shape they wanted their life to take (I mean - come on - every human alive has spent too much time worrying about all the paths they didn't take - right?) or ever believed in - you know - the power of music to reach some small semblance of - well - grace. (Grace is a good word) [8]

I mean - it feels like I'm just spilling out words from a thesaurus here but (damn it) Solanin is potent, fervent and - yeah - magical in how it reaches further inside and cuts deeper than most all of the other books out there (comic or no): building up to a climax that - altho it doesn't manage to level any cities or restart the Universe in the same way as Akira did - is equally as powerful and equally as memorable.

Any yeah - by the end: I didn't even care it was Manga and I didn't care where it came from. I just knew that it was good and I loved it.

You owe it to yourself to give it a try.

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[1] The problem being that back before the internet was really a thing - all I really had to go on was gut instinct and isolated recommendations - which is how I ended up spending - oh my god I think it was twenty quid? - on Casshern (which admittedly did have a really cool cover - although the fact that it praises itself as being "better than both Matrix sequels put together" should have tipped me off a little): which is a film that I took home - invited a whole bunch of my friends around to watch and then the next week tossed in the bin. (Interestingly it says on the wikipedia page that: "The subtitles are almost universally criticized by fans for being enormously incomplete. On several occasions they are lacking entirely; when they do appear they often completely differ from the dialogue or oversimplify it to such a degree that key plot elements and the overall force of the story are diminished." - so maybe it was the subtitle people that were at fault? I dunno - all I know is that I never want to watch it again) [2].

[2] And that thing about the subtitles makes me wonder how accurate the words are in Solanin and just how they managed to sneak in the small (yet delightful) bits of word play here and there ("You gotta say 'Forgive Me'!!" "Give me.")?

[3] Also: Death Note which I'm not including in that list because - erm - actually: Death Note is really good and I would recommend it to just about anyone. So - it doesn't really fit in with the point I'm trying to make. So... Yeah.

[4] Apart from - yeah - all those Studio Ghibli films like: Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away and stuff like that. Also: Neon Genesis Evangelion. Plus (you know) Perfect Blue. Oh: and Steamboy and a few of the shorts in that Animatrix collection. Apart from all of those - nothing.

[5] And yeah - I know that for those of you that have grown up reading Manga since you were little (and there is a reason that there's so many Manga books in the children's library - some kids really seem to have a thirst for it in the same way that - well - they don't have for superhero books...) that I sound hopelessly square making any kind of deal about the way you have to read it ("Did you know that you can get the internet on computers now?"): but what the hey: better to admit it rather than just pretend it's not there? (Although the question is: why didn't I mention this with the other books on the blog that read from right to left?  Hmmmmm. Ok then - so maybe let's just cut things off here...)

[6] I mean I know that pretty much all Manga does this [7] - but still - it does it better than most.

[7] Oh: and can someone please tell me how it is exactly that so many Manga books are able to render backgrounds in such a realistic way? Is it because they're all amazing artists? Or do they just trace them from photographs? Or they have bigger teams of people working on their comics? I mean I know it just says "Inio Asano" on the cover but maybe there's a whole bunch of uncredited artists working behind the scenes like with Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley and people like that? Or maybe "Inio Asano" is the name of a collective and not just one person? Or what? I need to know the reason why particularly every other page I have to stop and utter a sigh at the total coolness of the intricate detail of the artwork....

[8] And it's always a good trick to write a comic (or hell - even a book) about people playing music. As long as you get the pictures right (and I'd say that Solanin beats any other comic book out there (yes - even Scott Pilgrim even) for having the best pictures of people playing music) your head will always rush in to fill the gap and promise you that it's best song you've never heard (will never hear): which is both kinda cool and kinda frustrating - I just want to hear what it sounds like! (Altho - seeing how there's a film based on the comic (trailer here) it would actually be possible to get at least - well - one person's interpretation of what the music in the comic sounds like: but (grrr) for now I'm gonna try and resist the urge to find out...).

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Further reading: Scott Pilgrim, I Kill Giants, A Distant Neighbourhood, 7 Billion NeedlesBuddha, Uzumaki, Joe The Barbarian, Death Note, Black Hole, Anya's GhostAmerican Born ChineseThe Ballad of Halo Jones, Ghost World.

All comments welcome.

Books: The Photographer

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The Photographer
By Emmanuel Guibert

2009





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

With a laudatory quote on the cover from UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie ("A breathtaking journey through the best and worst humanity has to offer in times of war.") and even more praise from dignified luminaries on the back (everyone from Khaled Hosseini to Boing Boing) I was expecting a worthy, boring, stagnant book with nothing much to offer beyond obvious platitudes and trite "circle-of-life" type stuff. I was wrong. Following the journey of Didier Lefevre a naive French photojournalist who joins a group from Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (or the "MSF" as they're referred to in the book) on an eventful trip into Afghanistan - 1986 at the height of the Soviet occupation this is a comic that is inventive, informative (but not in any kind of preachy way) and - especially in the last third - as exciting and heart-pounding as anything else out there. With a unique style that stitches together the hundreds and hundreds of photos that Didier took during his trip with Guibert's clean, simple artwork (that looks like real life posterized) that and - strangely enough recalls the work of Tintin (who gets a shout-out! woo!) - this memoir brings you closer to the reality of the story than any other comic out there. It feels a bit like watching an animation when you have the photos taken in close succession following one after each other: and even better is when the good photos explode in size and fill the page. Like Guibert's previous book Alan's War there's also loads of good advice: from the right way to pee and poo in the desert and what to do if an enemy helicopter spots you (hide those thumbs). For anyone into serious comic books (and even for those that think they aren't) this is a beautiful, powerful book that is totally worth sticking with and guaranteed to reward you back tenfold.

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Links: New York Times Review, Boing Boing Review.

Further reading: Alan's War, Palestine, Maus, Tintin: Seven Crystal Balls / Prisoners of the Sun, Logicomix.

All comments welcome

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Books: Ultimate Comics: Avengers

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Ultimate Comics: Avengers
Vol 1: The Next Generation
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Carlos Pacheco

2010



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Ultimate Comics: Avengers
Vol 2: Crime and Punishment
Written by Mark Miller
Art by Leinil Francis Yu

2011



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Ultimate Comics: Avengers
Vol 3: Blade Versus the Avengers
Written by Mark Miller
Art by Steve Dillon

2011



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


Cue: awesome squealing guitar solo.

Mark Millar's sequel to his Ultimates series: this is more of the same only louder and more intense. By now you really should have decided whether of not his in-no-way subtle blend of machismo and bravado is your cup of tea (full disclosure - I've gotta admit that this is a fun fun read) because the action movie formula of fights, explosions and quipping is all still exactly the same.

Vol 1 (my favourite) sees Captain America takes on a new, re-booted 21st Century version of the Red Skull, while Vol 2 brings The Punisher, Ghost Rider into the fold and introduces The First Hulk (who it turns out - is from Hackney). Defying death at every turn - and coming up smelling of roses and victory just before the final page: it's Michael Bay with a bigger budget and more imagination / Team America: World Police with no qualms and no mercy. Even tho Vol 2 does start to flag a bit - it's still pretty much the best mindless superhero comic out there. And then there's Vol 3 with artwork by Preacher artist Steve Dillon: that pushes the concept even further and feels so far adrift from typical Marvel shenanigans (whilst still having the look and personalities of most of it's main characters) that - thrilling for once in a superhero comic - you feel like anything could happen: and it pretty much does. Rock on.

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Links: The M0vie Blog ReviewPage 45 Review of Vol 1 / Vol 2 / Vol 3, Comic Book Resources Review of Vol 1 #1 / #2 / #3, Comic Book Resources Review of Vol 2 #1 / #2 / #3 / #4 / #6, Too Busy Thinking About My Comics Review of Vol 3, The Coreburner Review of Vol 3 #1, Mark Millar Newsarama Interview, Newsarama The "Ultimate" Mark Millar Interview Part 1 / Part 2, Comic Book Resources Review of Vol 3 #1 / #2 / #5 / #6, Sean T Collins Review of Ultimate Comics Avengers #1.

Preceded by: The UltimatesThe Ultimates 2.

Followed by: Ultimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-ManUltimate Comics: The Ultimates.

Further reading: The Ultimates, Ultimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-Man, The Avengers: The Avengers (2011 - 2012)Ultimate Comics: Iron Man: Armor Wars, Ultimate Comics: Spider-ManSuperiorNemesis, Preacher.

Profiles: Mark Millar.

All comments welcome.

Books: Years of The Elephant

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Years Of The Elephant
By Willy Linthout

2010





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A comic written by a father attempting to deal with the what happens after his son commits suicide. With an emotional charge comparable to touching an exposed heart Years of The Elephant is one of the saddest books I have ever read. Drawn with pencil artwork which gives everything a grey, fuzzy, washed-out look this is a surreal and strange comic with a deceptively light surface hiding an undertow that will pull you under and churn you into pieces. With a narrative that brings you fully inside a mind full of slowly rubbed raw by the effects of grief - it's no fun but powerful and gut wrenching nonetheless.

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Further reading: Breakdowns, Fun Home, Blue Pills.

All comments welcome.

Books: The Sword

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The Sword
Vol 1: Fire
Written by Joshua Luna
Art by Jonathan Luna

2008



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The Sword
Vol 2: Water
Written by Joshua Luna
Art by Jonathan Luna

2009



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The Sword
Vol 3: Earth
Written by Joshua Luna
Art by Jonathan Luna

2009



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The Sword
Vol 4: Air
Written by Joshua Luna
Art by Jonathan Luna

2010



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Do you like airport bestseller fantasy thriller cliff-hanger stuff? Or rather: is there anyone out there who doesn't? Sometimes all you ever want is some fast-moving frantic adventure that has nothing more on it's mind that keeping you hooked on reading to the next staggering revelation/impossible situation/cool climax. The Sword (written and drawn by The Luna Brothers - Joshua and Jonathan) is a comic that knows exactly how to fasten itself into your inside of your head and what sort of things to pump in there in order to keep you coming back for more. Breezy, light-footed and with snazzy fight scenes that would make even Neo go "whoa" it doesn't stop pulsing forward until the very last page. Yeah - A week after you've finished reading it you probably won't be able to remember a thing: the characters are two-dimensional, the dialogue perfunctory and it's as cheesy as several tons of gorgonzola but the artwork is precise and clean-cut and all it wants to do is show you sometime exciting and fun with lots of epic passion and bloodthirsty action.
 
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Links: Comic Book Resources Article.

Further reading: Echo, Ultra, Y: The Last Man, Preacher.

All comments welcome.

Books: Blackgas

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Blackgas
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Max Fiumara

2007




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So first off let's just get it out of the way and all just admit that "Blackgas" sounds like the sort of name that you'd give to a particular noxious strain of fart. Ok? Yes? Fine? Good (and don't pretend I was the only one thinking it).

As you should be able to tell from the front cover of the people surrounded by grey-skinned ghouls (and the girl with the bloody baseball bat) Blackgas is Warren Ellis having a little zombie adventure. And - well - doing pretty much exactly all the things that you would expect: I mean - the zombie killing baseball bat is such a trusty genre staple that Shaun of the Dead could subvert it with a cricket bat all the way back in 2004 [1] and the action inside never really manages to reach the gonzo heights of his better and more well-known books [2] (and - well yeah: maybe this is just my ignorance talking but I had no idea that this book existed until I saw it listed on the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" bit on amazon and I was all like: Warren Ellis wrote a zombie book?! Why did I not know about this? Of course now I know that the reason I hadn't heard about it is because - well: it's all just a bit slight).

Ok yeah: to give it some credit: It does manage to implement a few small tweaks and updates to the old zombie archetype here and there (well ok - so maybe tweaks and updates undersells it slightly: but whatever) - and there's some nifty dialogue scattered about the place (the first few pages in particular are a mini-masterclass in how to handle exposition: I mean I realise that some people might find it a little cheesy - but in terms of laying out just who your characters are in a few short lines ("A total bitch who thinks Nature is something that comes as a side dish?") I'd say it's actually all quite nicely done)  - but - sorry Warren - reading it after Crossed [3] and The Walking Dead (not to mention having seen pretty much every major zombie movie out there [6]) it kinda a little bit safe - a little bit I'm sorry but I've kinda seen-this-all-before. The artwork is functional but doesn't really convey in the horror in any way that would actually scare you or leave you scared to sleep [7]: seeing someone having their face ripped apart by teeth should leave me feeling - well - something you know? Here it just feels like getting a blank monotone description ("And then the man got his face chewed by the zombie people") but then I guess that's the artist's bad rather than the writers (and man: I wonder what effect Blackgas would have in the hands of an artist who had the proper artistic chops to do it justice? Like Chris Weston say or even - dare I say it? - Crossed's Jacen Burrows [8]: someone who made it feel like you were watching humans rather than just lines on a page: but oh well - that's not how it turned out). I mean - I won't lie: there are some small residual effects that creep up on you (and it's canny in how it handles it's escalation and the way it unfurls from one stage to the next): but it's like the creepy horror film that keeps you gripped while it's on and then dissipates as soon as it ends: yeah?

It does have a few cool moves that you might not have seen before (and is that what I think it is in Tyler's father's mouth?) - but compared to the idea of Warren Ellis doing zombies it just has a taste of the cookie-cutter instead of - you know: the actual cookie (yum: cookies) [9].

Yeah: sure - maybe my hopes were a little too high... but hell: unless you're going to wow me then I guess I'd rather just stay at home and - sadly Blacksad mostly feels more like a movie pitch more than it feels like it's own beautiful thing (and I guess I wanted a beautiful thing: more fool me).

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[1] 2004? Damnit - for some reason I thought Shaun of the Dead was older than that - oh well.

[2] To just pick an example from the top of my head: try reading this next to Supergod: and it doesn't even feel like it's from the same author. Or rather - (to be a little bit more precise): it's the difference between someone going for a walk and someone driving a car (if that makes sense?): you know - speed, power, actually getting somewhere etc.

[3] Interestingly (well - interesting to me at least): the first issue of Crossed didn't come out until August 2008 while Blackgas came out in 2006 and 2007: and yet (and maybe this is just the order I read them in or whatever): Blackgas kinda feels like it's the cheap copy - which is totally unfair (I know): like saying that The Beatles sound like a pale imitation of Oasis (or whatever other blah and blah you wanna use): but there you go [4].

[4] Although - actually - thinking about it just a little more: that Beatles/Oasis distinction doesn't feel quite right (as most of the world can surely agree that the Beatles managed a lot more than just writing uplifting beery-singalongs). A better - more accurate - analogy would be The New York Dolls and The Sex Pistols / The Thing From Another World and The Thing / Penny-farthing and bicycles (things where we can all pretty much agree that the second thing is better than the first) or something: where the one that came first (Blackgas) is the one that kinda paved the way for the next one [5] but isn't as fully realized while the second (Crossed) builds upon what's gone before and makes it all bigger and better and more exciting... The little brother that does it better.

[5] And yeah - of course this all relies upon the idea that Blackgas actually did influence Crossed in some way: but I'm guessing that Ellis and Ennis must travel in the same circles right? (Even if it's just the same-first-letter-and-last-two-letters-of-their-surname club). According to this tho Ennis got his idea for Crossed from a nightmare: "The dream I had involved me staying at a friend's place, which was surrounded by what appeared to be zombies. On closer examination, we realised they weren't, they were just people... who were smiling at us with the most evil intent. It was one of those dreams where one minute you're part of the action, the next you're watching it from afar, like on a movie screen. I woke up before anything unpleasant happened." But whatever.

[6] If you think that's an exaggeration then I suggest you check out the post I wrote on The Walking Dead and then get back to me...

[7] And ok yeah - I should stop going on about Crossed (I know): but I gave it to my flatmate to read over a year ago and he's still having nightmares.

[8] Who does get an "additional art" credit - but I think that's just because he did a few of the covers.

[9] Of course then I read the Comic Book Resources interview with Warren Ellis (link below) and well: then it all made sense: "Ellis said that "Blackgas" got its start from a request by Avatar's Editor-In-Chief William Christiansen. "William has a thing about zombies," said Ellis. "He's been after me for years to write him a zombie book. A ways back, I broke down and devised 'Blackgas,' specifically for him. It's basically me writing a book for my friend to read. Because my friend is sick in the head, it has disgusting violence and gutbusting horror in it. That's the whole deal, really. Sometimes it's just as simple as that."" - and - well - that explains that then.

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Links: Fatally Yours Review, PopMatters Review, The Hot-Doll Pages Review, Comic Book Resources Interview with Warren Ellis.

Further reading: Crossed, The Walking DeadZomnibusAlan Moore's The CourtyardSupergod, Stephen King's N, Irredeemable, Cradlegrave, The StandTransmetropolitan.

All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Books: Daytripper

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Daytripper
Written by Fábio Moon
Art by Gabriel Bá

2011




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Life is full of possibilities. This is a comic that dives into how those possibilities can play out over the course of the lifetime of one man: obituary writer Bras de Oliva Domingos. And if his occupation didn't tip you off already: it's also very much concerned with what happens when life - inevitably - comes to an end. From the Brazilan twins Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (nope - I don't know why they have the same surname) Daytripper is an unhurried ambling comic - content to take things at it's own pace - taking in all the small details and quiet moments that slowly come to combine and build a human being. The artwork effortlessly conjures up the sensations, heat and inter-mingling of cultures that makes up Brazilian life and while the narration sometimes maybe is a little bit too ponderous for it's own good - it's does touch upon many different tender spots of love, loss and heartbreak.

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Links: Comics Journal Review, Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader Review.

Further reading: Demo, The Umbrella Academy, Blankets.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Books: Hewligan's Haircut

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Hewligan's Haircut
Art by Peter Milligan
Written by Jamie Hewlett

1991




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What noise is an explosion supposed to make? How exactly can you tell if you've gone insane? And - most importantly of all - can a haircut destroy the world?

According to one of our regular members Steve (hi Steve!): he was in a pub with Peter Milligan when he first came up with the idea for this book (and in fact according to Steve - it was all pretty much his idea seeing how he was the one planning on getting the haircut - altho I guess "Steve's Haircut" doesn't have quite the same ring to it - but whatever:). The idea that this book first came together in a pub makes good sense in that the whole narrative (such as it is) lumbers from place to place just like a drunk person trying to explain an alien abduction (or something).  

From the pages of 2000AD and drawn in a free-wheeling go-for-broke style by Jamie Hewlett (co-creator of Gorillaz - but you knew that already right?) Hewligan's [1] Haircut is a madcap anarchic comic full of cheap gags and zany happenings. Infused with that uniquely British sensibility mined from everyone from The Goon Show to Vic and Bob: whose main aim is to produce giggles and head-scratching. There's a threadbare story just about holding it together - but really it's just an excuse for surrealist japery and jokes about London transport. For ages 3 and up. (Also contains a bonus Judge Dredd story tucked away at the end).

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[1] It's actually pronounced "hooligan." I think. (note to everyone: I am totally totally totally rubbish when it comes to saying words out aloud that I have only ever seen written down.

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Links: Multiversity Comics Review.

Further reading: SeaguyTank Girl: Tank Girl One, Green Lantern: Willworld, ChewVimanarama.

All comments welcome.

Books: The Sandman: Death: The Time of Your Life

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The Sandman: Death: The Time of Your Life
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Chris Bachalo and Mark Buckingham

1996




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The prettiest, friendliest version of Death you could ever hope to meet returns in her second solo book. Starring Foxglove - a musician dealing with lots of issues - first introduced in The Sandman: A Game of You (and who also enjoyed a brief cameo in the High Cost of Living) this is a comic that nimbly touches on all sorts of big time issues like: love, fame, sex, responsibility and - of course - life and death. With consistently bold and clear-cut art full of lovely curvy lines and knows just when to pull back and zoom in ("there's nobody special") this is a rewarding and tender read that page by page will convince you just why Neil Gaiman is one of the world's favourite storytellers. Nobody is creepy on the inside.

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Further reading: The Sandman, The Sandman: Death: The High Cost of Living, Lost at Sea, The Unwritten.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome.

Books: Doom Patrol

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Doom Patrol
Vol 1: Crawling From The Wreckage
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Richard Case and Doug Braithwaite

2009



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Doom Patrol
Vol 2: The Painting That Ate Paris
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Richard Case and John Nyberg

2009



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Doom Patrol
Vol 3: Down Paradise Way
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Richard Case, Kim DeMulder and Kelley Jones

2009



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Doom Patrol
Vol 4: Musclebound
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Steve Yeowell, Jamie Hewlett and Mark Badger

2009



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Doom Patrol
Vol 5: Magic Bus
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Richard Case, Stan Woch, Ken Steacy, Philip Bond and Mark McKenna

2009



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Doom Patrol
Vol 6: Planet Love
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Richard Case, Stan Woch

2009



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The thing you need to understand about the Doom Patrol is that they are not like any other superhero team out there - not in the way they look, not the way they act and not in the way that they will make you feel. Unfortunately for them (fortunately for you) they don't get to foil bank robberies or go up against everyday criminal masterminds: instead they battle with their own self-loathing, surrealistic horrors and everything else that's left at the point when the world stops making sense. Volume 1's spot-on introduction by Tom Peyer sums up most of the things that I could want to say: unlike Superman or the Flash nobody would ever want to be a member of the Doom Patrol but their plights can be much more uncomfortably similar to how damaged the world can sometimes leave you. Originally published in the late 1980s and seemingly written by a brain gripped in the sweaty hands of a fever it's combination of old children's stories with alien cultures, schools of art with multiple personality disorder, mimetic theory with existential terror will fizz and pop in ways you won't expect - stealing moves from such writers as Borges, Burroughs and DeQuincey. On the bad side - the artwork - in the style of the time - isn't always that well-done and sometimes comes across as more of a first attempt rather than a finished product (shame it couldn't be more like Brian Bolland's wonderful covers).: but the writing is what will stay with you: worming it's way into your subconscious with it's crazy leaps of imagination and lots of nice little jokes. It's not a book for everyone - and I found Volume 3 to be particular hard-going - and please be assured that it's not just randomness for the sake of it (although that might be the impression you get if you try and dip into it mid-stream - best to start from the start) - there's never since been another book that's come close to matching it's toxicating and hallucinogenic appeal so for that at least - it's a must read - even if your head might not be in the same shape after you've done.

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Links: Comics You Should Own Review, Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader Why Doom Patrol Is Still Better Than Watchmen Article.

Further reading: Flex MentalloAnimal Man, The Invisibles, B.P.R.D.Stray Toasters, SupergodsJustice League: A New Beginning, The Umbrella AcademyThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Profiles: Grant Morrison.

All comments welcome.

Books: Human Target: Chance Meetings

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Human Target: Chance Meetings
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Edvin Biuković and Javier Pulido

2010




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Christopher Chance is the Human Target. A one man throw-back to the pulp adventure television that most of us remember from our childhoods (The A-Team, The Man From UNCLE, The Saint, Mission: Impossible etc) he's suave, sophisticated, high skilled in all manner of combat training and prone to ending up in high stakes games of danger and daring. First appearing in Action Comics #419 in 1972 and then showing up in a few Batman stories before making the jump into his own television series (twice - once in 1991 and then again in 2009): he's a master of disguise who (according to himself): "doesn't just pretend, doesn't just impersonate - but in a very real and profound sense - becomes another person." In this Vertigo title Peter Milligan spins a head-twisting tale of mistaken identity and fractured minds: with a cliff-hanger on every page and Edvin Biuković (in the first story) creating all sorts of awesome with his dexterous artwork cutting time across his careful placed panels. Martini and Chilled Jazz soundtrack optional.

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Further reading: Sleeper, Button Man, 100 Bullets.

All comments welcome.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Books: The Nightly News

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The Nightly News
By Jonathan Hickman

2007





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Compared to what else is out there - comics is still a pretty young medium and one that people have only really started to take seriously since the 1980s or so: which means that for any brave pioneers who fancy themselves up to the challenge there's still a lot of new places to go. Enter: The Nightly News. Jonathan Hickman attempt to stretch around and mess with a few of the ways to tell a story and dispense all sorts of information: with works intermingled with the pictures in a strange new way that I don't quite have the vocabulary for: it feels a little bit touch-screen and a little bit art nouveau. With a story that can sympathise with anyone who's ever felt sick with the way the news media works with a few factoids about the state of the world and a Noam Chomsky quote thrown in for good measure - leavened slightly by a dry sense of humour and a sense of it's own righteous that doesn't mind you skipping over the boring/preachy parts. There's a quote on the back that compares it to Network and Fight Club - and I reckon that pretty much sums it up. Worth trying out if you fancy a bit of something different in your graphic novel reading diet.

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Links: Comic Book Resources Jonathan Hickman Interview.

Further reading: The Manhattan ProjectsS.H.I.E.L.D.Doktor SleeplessMeanwhile, Transhuman.

All comments welcome.

Authors: Neil Gaiman

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Neil Gaiman
Born: 10 November 1960
Portchester, Hampshire, England









Neil "Scary Trousers" Gaiman is a writer who likes to mix up epic myths, legendary gods and old folklores with the everyday preoccupations of glum teens and frazzled outcasts: resulting in a blend that is distinctive and compulsively readable. He's best known in comic circles for his epic Sandman series which stretched over eight years and 75 issues (not counting all the various spin-offs) and raised the bar considerably for the quality, depth and reach that comics could aspire to (without having to go down the "grim+gritty" route). He's also done some cool stuff with Dave McKean (including Violent Cases and The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch), took Marvel superheroes back to the Elizabethan era (Marvel 1602) and penned the last ever Batman story (Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?). Of course since then he's branched out into the wider world with novels, children's books, screenplays, journalism and writing Doctor Who - but there's a corner in the heart of every Sandman fan who that will always belong to him.

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Links: Official website.

Selected works: Violent Cases, The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch, Signal to NoiseThe Sandman, The Sandman: Death: The High Cost of Living, The Sandman: Death: The Time of Your Life, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, Stardust, The Sandman: Endless Nights, Murder Mysteries, Neil Gaiman's Midnight DaysNeil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Coraline, Marvel 1602, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?.

All comments welcome.

Books: Hellblazer: Pandemonium

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Hellblazer: Pandemonium
Written by Jamie Delano
Art by Jock

2011




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Or as I like to think of: "John Constantine Goes To Iraq." Written to celebrate the 25 years since his first appearance in the pages of Swamp Thing and bringing back the writer who penned his first solo mis-adventures - Pandemonium is a grown-up, war-damaged, bitter-tasting book that takes everyone's favourite piss-taker magician to the few places left that he hasn't been before... With scrumptious brutalism artwork by 2000AD favourite Jock (who's probably best known now for his work on mediocre-written The Losers) this is a comic draped over in a cynical smoggy haze and burning hatred for everyone complicit in the industry of human misery. Although Delano is best described as a writer who never met a thesaurus he didn't like (and yes: his prose can be just a little purple in parts: "Just a dense compaction of eternal dread swelling up from below, an anxious recognition in my blood. An instinctive forensic hunger." etc) his plotting is taut like barbed wire wrapped around your neck: which makes a welcome change to the sloppy versions of Constantine served up recently... Anyone looking for something a little more serious - I'd happily recommend you giving this a read.

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Further reading: Swamp Thing, Hellblazer: The Fear Machine, Hellblazer: City of Demons.

All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Books: Blue Pills

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Blue Pills
By Frederik Peeters

2008





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Blue Pills (subtitled: "a positive love story") is an entrancing, poetic and heartfelt graphic memoir with an enjoyable European flavour. A exploration of the relationship between two residents of Geneva that takes bite-sized chucks of everything from love to sex to children to death: with a narrator who's unafraid to get naked and intimate. At points poetically written with a free-associating and slightly rambling narrator - I was not at all surprised to learn that this is a comic that got a stellar reception in France (for best results - I think you should read this with some coffee and croissants lying in a bundle of blankets and assorted bedclothes). The black and white artwork hums with a nervous energy that buzzes along from one nicely picked panel to the next - it looks like it'd be a light read but it packs quite a punch.

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Links: Guardian Interview with Frederik Peeters.

Further reading: A Taste of Chlorine, Blankets, The Rabbi's Cat, Swallow Me Whole, Persepolis, Lost at Sea, American Born Chinese.

All comments welcome.