Showing posts with label Authors/Artists: P. Craig Russell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Authors/Artists: P. Craig Russell. Show all posts

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Books: Murder Mysteries

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Murder Mysteries
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by P. Craig Russell
2002




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


Going from that title I assumed that this was going to be a some kind of detective story starring a private eye with a dirty tenchcoat and a furrowed brow ("...and just one more thing.") - but no. But least - not in the way that you would think. Because altho the bare bones of the story that sits in the middle of this book is as familiar and old as - well - a murder mystery - except wearing a costume that most people would find a little bit - unlikely.

But - hey - if you wanted to sum up Neil Gaiman's writing style - a lot of the time he deals with pretty well-worn concepts and ideas (dysfunctional families and stuff like that) only twisted up and made new by virtue of being pinned to mythical beings from dusty legends and faraway lands (so - a dysfunctional family - only it turns out that they embody powerful forces or aspects of the universe that have existed since the dawn of time (so - yeah - it's not exactly Shameless [1])).

But yeah Murder Mysteries: a comic based on a short story by Neil Gaiman [2] (and also - according to the credits in the book it's also been transformed into - a radio play (!?) Ooh - along with this and Signal to Noise - it seems that Mr Gaiman has a little sideline building up as a radio-play-maker - would love to be able to hear it - but (alas) - I can't them on youtube [3] and my curiosity (unfortunately) doesn't extend so far as to actually wanting to actually pay money). But - sorry - the comic. Well - once again - it's been adapted by the always lovely P Craig Russell who (along with this and Sandman: The Dream Hunters and Coraline seems to be fighting Neil Gaiman's retirement from comics by adapting every children's book and short story he can get his hands on... hey: more power to him I guess - I'm not gonna be a killjoy and gently suggest that maybe he should let it go and more on to pastures new - when the result is a chance to read more books like this... But whatever).

So - yeah - I haven't actually read the little (I assume little - maybe it's a 100 page monster? I dunno) prose story that this is based on (in fact the only Neil Gaiman short story that I have read is A Study in Emerald which is a pretty cool Sherlock Holmes / Lovecraft type thing that was recommended to me by Jan from the Comic Forum - so - thanks Jan!) - this comic left me satisfied enough that I didn't have the urge: which I'd probably say is the best thing that any adaptation that can do [4]. Typically for a Neil Gaiman story (yeah? Or is it just me?) Murder Mysteries is written in a very personable first person - almost as if he were leaning other your shoulder and reading it to you as you go along (and I guess this is why I'm not really that surprised that Gaiman has gone off to make radio plays - seeing how quite a lot of the stuff that he tends to do is very concerned with the human voice and different types of speech patterns and stuff like that (I would love to give a few examples to back this up - but at the moment they all escape me: still - if you've read the stuff he's wrote - I'm sure you can think of your own [5] - like - nine times out of ten - his stories feel like they belong written down and more like they should be spoken aloud: "Sure. Tell me a story.") - with (as is his wont) lots of little brief digressions (I like it!) and little offhand thoughts thrown in to help you along ("Every seven years each cell in a body dies and is replaced." / "Memory is the great deceiver" /"People named Tinkerbell name their daughters Susan." [6])

The art is excellent - and whether it's shadows cast by overhead freeways or the wavy lines around a person's head as they get a - well - a blowjob (I'm sorry if there's any children reading this - normally I would never be so crude - but didn't quite know how else to phrase it ("oral relief"? God no)) I mean yeah - come on - P. Craig Russell always knows exactly what he's doing... (he has been around forever [7] after all - which I guess is what gives him the freedom to do whatever the hell he wants - I mean hey - yeah - you wanna adapt three different Neil Gaiman things? Go right ahead...).

I will admit that I was a little bit trepidatious when I first started - because - hey - due to the subject matter of - you know - celestial beings and stuff  - I thought that maybe it was a mistake to read something that seemed designed to leave so much to your imagination (there's one point especially where it talks about bodies that seem to glow from the inside that - sorry dude - P. Craig Russell just isn't able (and - well - doesn't really seem to try and capture in the artwork) - that left me thinking how much better it would have been if it was left unseen in say a book (or even a radio play!) but then (and this was good) there was a line about halfway through that spoke about the story having been put in a "form you can understand." and that actually - (this was implied - but what the hell): the whole story was - if you somehow got a chance to deal with it 'direct' somehow beyond actual human comprehension. And - well - I dunno - there's something about ideas which lie beyond our (puny human) ability to understand that always makes me a little bit - erm - tingly (that means I like it basically) - so that's a good: but it also made me feel better that it had almost made an acknowledgement that the artwork of the comic was just a peception of how things happened rather than - the real deal (is this all a little bit too vague and metaphysical for you? Sorry: ex-philosophy student and all that...). So. Yeah.

And also - I guess I should acknowledge that if you wanted (and if you're like me - there'sa small surge of pleasure that comes from this - yeah yeah yeah) you can read the whole thing as a Sandman prequel - not in any direct way - and it doesn't tie in with Dream or any of his brothers and sisters - but there is one character who all Sandman readers will recognise - whose driving motivations are made - a little bit more clear.

So far I've done a pretty good job of not expressly giving away what the story is about and so - to try and stay in that area and not tell you too much for those who haven't had a chance to read it yet - I will stay vague by just saying that I also enjoyed the way that the language hadn't quite developed: "There has been a... wrong thing." / "The inner fluid." / "So that's green is it?" and (I don't know why - but I really got a kick out of the description of their duties ("Advising, correcting, suggesting, forbidding.") and - last but not least - it's very hard not to fall in love (just a tiny bit) with a story where a character points at the Universe and asks "what's it for?"

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[1] And just in case there's one person out there that doesn't know what I'm referring to - it's called The Sandman - and you should totally be reading it already.

[2] If you wanna: the original story (with no pictures) can be found in Gaiman's collection Smoke and Mirrors and in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin's, 1993)

[3] Oops - actually tell a lie: here they are! (Narrated by Michael Emerson?! (Better known as - Mr Ben Linus from Lost) Squeeeeeeee! Gonna need to make time to listen to this all methinks: and if you're very lucky - I will report back later to let you know how it went).

[4] Check out my tribulations with The Dark Tower comics for my own little case study for when comic book adaptations go wrong (and there's a great title for a TV show right there if anyone's interested).

[5] Here we go: Matthew the Raven - if you can read The Sandman and not hear his voice in your head when you read it (I guess it's somewhere in-between Joe Pesci and Martin Freeman (and how's that for a hellish mash-up?) then I just don't know what's wrong with you.

[6] Which sometimes have a habit of not actually been so disconnected from the story after all.

[7] Well - ok - 1972.

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Links: Biting Dog Press Neil Gaiman Interview, The 52 Review Review.

Further reading: The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, Coraline, The Sandman, Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book Stories, Lucifer, Violent Cases, Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days, StardustSignal to Noise.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Books: Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book Stories

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Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book Stories
Written by Rudyard Kipling and P. Craig Russell
Art by P. Craig Russell
2003




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


Look for... the bare necessities. The simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife! I mean the bare necessities - Old Mother Nature's recipes -  that brings the bare necessities of life. Wherever I wander, wherever I roam, I couldn't be fonder of my big home: The bees are buzzin' in the tree to make some honey just for me - when you look under the rocks and plants and take a glance at the fancy ants (Then maybe try a few!) The bare necessities of life will come to you (They'll come to you!) Look for the bare necessities - the simple bare necessities - forget about your worries and your strife! I mean the bare necessities - that's why a bear can rest at ease -with just the bare necessities of life. Now when you pick a pawpaw - or a prickly pear - and you prick a raw paw: next time beware! Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw - when you pick a pear - try to use the claw - but you don't need to use the claw when you pick a pear of the big pawpaw. Have I given you a clue ? The bare necessities of life will come to you. (They'll come to you!) So just try and relax, yeah cool it - fall apart in my backyard 'cause let me tell you something little britches: if you act like that bee acts, uh uh you're working too hard: and don't spend your time lookin' around for something you want that can't be found: when you find out you can live without it and go along not thinkin' about it I'll tell you something true: The bare necessities of life will come to you.

Ok. So. Now we're got that out of the way - know this - this book is nothing like Disney's Jungle Book. Ok? Ok.

For those of you that didn't know - this may come something as a shock - but before it was a popular children's cartoon The Jungle Book was a slightly forbidding seeming book (at least to my eyes) written by the heavy-weight British imperialist Rudyard Kipling (basically the grandfather of Britpop). A loose collection of moral folk tales which lay on the life lessons with a heavy and stern hand in that way the Victorians seem to dig so very much The Jungle Book features names you'll probably recognize like Baloo, Kaa and - obviously - Mowgli the boy cub.

P. Craig Russell - a comic book legend who began way back in 1972 - is most recently best known (at least to me) for his Neil Gaiman adaptations Sandman: The Dream Hunters and Coraline - is the man responsible for this lavish and magnificent interpretation of these three stories from The Jungle Book (altho if you want to be clever about it - they're actually from The Second Jungle Book a sequel first published in 1895 - so yeah). No - it doesn't matter if you haven't read the book or seen the film because all the necessary information is included - and really The Jungle Book isn't really about a long over-arching narrative - but rather more a succession of small stories that can each be enjoyed individually - like apples picked from a tree.

For me - it was nice to experience Kipling's language at first-hand and get a sense of how - yeah - dude could really write (and compared to popular modern authors - sorry guys and girls - it's funny how much more weighty people back in the day could make their words seem - maybe there was a problem with Earth's gravity or something?) and it's nice to luxuriate in it's solemn tones. But - hell - the man draw is P. Craig Russell's classical seeming artwork which manages to feel somehow stately and grand - yet is still spry enough to capture fleeting moments like the shape of the tips of a foot as it breaks out of the water - disturbing the reflection of the moon: a panel so nice that I was tempted to cut it out and stick it on my wall (not that I would - because - hey - it's a library book).

At points I've often complained that the art in American comics (and let's face it - it is mostly the American comic) seems sloppy and rushed and half-done. Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book Stories is a really good example to hold up in order to say: yes. This is how it's done. Here's how to tell a story and make things look real real nice at the same time.

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Further reading: The Sandman: The Dream HuntersBuddhaCoraline, Don Quixote, City of GlassThe Hobbit.

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Books: Coraline

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Coraline
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by P. Craig Russell

2008




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

Ooooooh. A horror story for children. Excellent!

Originally written as a children's book by Neil Gaiman in 2002 (featuring illustrations by Dave McKean! whoop!) Coraline comes from a long line of English fantasies about kids discovering portals to other worlds and the dangers that lurk within - with the added bonus of some Lovecraftian-style nameless nasties bolted on to the underneath. I've never read the book or the famous 2009 stop-motion film (although now I've read the comic I'm tempted to try both): so I don't know how you'll respond to this book if you're coming from the opposite direction - but speaking just for me - I had a great time. Adapted by P. Craig Russell (who seems to be making a habit of adapting Neil Gaiman prose tales into comic format - see: The Sandman: The Dream Hunters) the illustrations have just the sort of slightly-dreamy fairy-tale feeling necessary to make the story hit home and there's so many beautiful little grace notes that - as much as it kinda pains me to say something so cheesy - makes it all feel somehow timeless.

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Links: Newsarama Article.

Further reading: Anya's Ghost, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, Neil Gaiman's NeverwhereRudyard Kipling's Jungle Book Stories, StardustLocke & Key.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Books: The Sandman: The Dream Hunters

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The Sandman: The Dream Hunters
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Yoshitaka Amano

1999




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

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters
Written by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell
Art by P. Craig Russell

2009




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


I'm just gonna be honest with you. For whatever unknown reasons [1] so far at least this here is the most popular post on this blog (by a factor of a lot): so - while in terms of the posts on here that I want to try and make a little more pretty and bit more filled out it kinda ranks kinda low I realise that as it's acting as a sorta unofficial entry on to the rest of this site I should at least sweep the floors and change the bedding and yeah - I dunno - maybe a fresh coat of paint wouldn't hurt: (just let me go grab a brush...)

Ok: where's the best place to start? Well: as you no doubt already know: Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series ran from January 1989 all the way until March 1996. If you've read it then you already know how - well - damn magical it is (and that's not a word I use lightly). A heady, dreamy mixture of classical myths with contemporary characters sprinkled with it's own unique cosmology for lots of folks out there The Sandman was a high water mark in the same way as your first kiss: if you read it at the right age then it's not something that will ever leave you and reaches a place inside you that no other book will ever come close to (I realise that sounds a little bit precious - but damnit - if you read it during your teenage years like I did - then you'll know that I'm not even coming close to exaggerating). At the time he promised that he was done with the world of Morpheus and all his brothers and sisters and other associated acts: but like the cheeky little chappie he is he has returned a few times since then to the scene of what some would describe (myself included I guess) as his greatest artistic triumph [2] most notably in 1999 with - The Dream Hunters.

With a few exceptions every post on here is about comic books but the 1999 version of The Dream Hunters (I'll get to the 2008 version below - don't worry) isn't really a graphic-novel-kinda-thing. I guess you could call it a novella with pictures but that doesn't quite capture it. The thing it must resembles is sorta children's story book: the basic pattern is words on one page and a picture on the other page facing it - only there's a lot more words than what you'd normally get in a children's book these days and the pictures (from Yoshitaka Amano [3]) are a lot more delicately and artfully composed than what young eyes would be used to: there's a lot of gold and a lot of blacks and a lot of empty spaces.

A folk tale that follows the fortune of a solitary monk and a mischievous fox and badger. The Sandman himself - Dream - sits on the periphery and doesn't do that much - so you don't have to worry if you haven't read the main series. The tone is very gentle and light - with plently of exquisite turns of fortune and fate cribbed from old fashioned fairy tales, myths and legends: the kind of story that you'd want your grandparents to read you when you were a kid: tucked up in bed. In 2008 P. Craig Russell adapted the story into a comic book: it retains all the same elements and is beautifully drawn with his distinctive swirly style. If you haven't read the Yoshitaka Amano version then you will be entranced and bewitched by it's comic counterpart - but if you want to know which one I preferred then I'd go for the former - the images it conjured up in my head just felt darker and stranger and more beguiling than any mere comic book could offer (and you know: that's coming from a confirmed comic book geek - so you know I don't say it lightly).

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[1] My best guess is that - looking around - there just aren't that many people on the internet talking about this book and it's much easier to stand out in a crowd of what? - five people? - than it is to make yourself heard in the chorus of a thousand geeks each chucking in their two-pence worth about that Grant Morrison book.

[2] But yeah ok: that episode of Doctor Who he wrote was pretty cool too. (According to this it was orginally going to be called "Bigger on the Inside" before they realised that it might give the game away a little which is why they changed it).

[3] Who bizarrely is also responsible for the title logo designs for the Final Fantasy video games. So if you think you recognise his art from somewhere - it's probably there.

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Futher reading: The Sandman, StardustThe Sandman: Death: The High Cost of LivingBuddhaCoraline, Murder Mysteries, Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book Stories.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome.