Monday, 29 October 2007

Recent Reads

Once again, I’m going to use a subject suggested by Tom Spurgeon’s Five on Friday feature as an excuse to throw together a random mix of observations, each too inconsequential for a post in its own right. Plum pudding or mess of potage? You decide.

I’m going to expand the theme of “the last five comics you read, good or bad” to the last ten.

10. Posy Simmonds True Love
Eddie Campbell blogged about this book and wrote, “In a better world, you'd read my affectionate recollection and immediately go out and buy a copy.”

I’d like to think I’m making the world a little better.

9. Jules Feiffer Jules Feiffer’s America: From Eisenhower to Reagan
I have long underestimated Feiffer as a draughtsman. Based on my memories of reading his Village Voice strips (published over here by The Observer), I had categorised him alongside Thurber as a writer who also drew a bit, rather than as a cartoonist. But there is some very fine drawing and cartooning here, with solid and effective composition and a particular understanding of the uses of repetition. Feiffer gets a remarkable amount of weight out of his nervous lines, particularly in his gnarled caricatures.

8. Andi Watson Glister Issue 2: “House Hunting”
Somehow, when I reviewed the first issue of Watson’s charming children’s fantasy, I failed to notice how reminiscent his drawings were of the work of the classic children’s illustrator Edward Ardizzone, especially in the quality of line. So I’ll mention that here instead.

7. Ilya (ed) The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga Volume 2
Sadly, I am coming to the conclusion that I don’t really like the most obvious elements of manga – the pacing, the melodramatic “acting” of the characters, the graphic devices used to convey emotion, and, above all, the ubiquity of pointy-faced goggle-eyed androgynes. There are manga that I do enjoy a lot (Lone Wolf and Cub, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Ranma 1/2), but that is probably despite their common stylistic ticks, rather than because of them. Volume 2 in Constable & Robinson’s series is, on the whole, more faithful to the surface elements of clichéd manga style than Volume 1, and I found less to enjoy in it. It is probably no coincidence that by far my favourite comic strip here is Laura Howell’s The Bizarre Adventures of Gilbert & Sullivan, which may render its characters in a style somewhere pitched between chibi and Rumiko Takahashi, but which does so on top of a structure that is pure Leo Baxendale.

6. Rick Veitch Army@Love Volume 1 The Hot Zone Club
There are some good satirical side-swipes here, and a solid handling of narrative. But just as a million and one books, films and comics about the Vietnam war pay no attention to the Vietnamese, Army@Love treats America’s wars in the Middle East as being entirely about Americans. The natives of the fictional country of Afbaghistan appear only as targets and set decoration, except for a small family whose supporting role is to disrupt the marriage between two more important (because American) characters. There’s a huge flaw in the central conceit of the comic: the army is using a hedonistic lifestyle as a recruitment tool, but it is also trying to keep it secret. How do you use a secret in your recruitment ads? But look at this panel which addresses the desire for secrecy.

The implied belief – which may be the character’s, but which may also be Veitch’s own – is that what was shocking about Abu Ghraib was the embarrassment caused by the lack of self-control among Americans, not the torture and humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners. There’s a difference, and its an important one.

5. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Severin, Jim Steranko and others Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD Volume 1

4. John Aggs Robot Girl

3. The Beano Issue 3404
Something of a relaunch, with a higher price, all of 99p, a Dennis the Menace strip that ends on a cliffhanger, and two new series: London B4 12 (is that a pun on the lost Lon Chaney silent horror movie London After Midnight, and if so, how many 11-year olds will get it?) and Tales of Johnny Bean from Happy Bunny Green, which uses twee stylings, including the return of the libretto, recounting the whole story in narrative captions, to tell a tale of juvenile delinquency. The art is by the versatile Laura Howell, looking quite different here from her manga. She also provides inks to Hunt Emerson’s pencils for Ratz.

The inside front page provides quite a break from publisher DC Thomson’s tradition of leaving the comics’ creators in anonymity: it lists “top stories” (six out of fifteen this issue) and actually credits the artists. That leaves nine strips uncredited, and the writers’ names are still nowhere to be seen, but at least it’s a step out of the nineteenth century.

2. Scott Adams Dilbert
The first book I ever read about cartooning was The Cartoon Connection by William Hewison, then art editor of Punch. He came up with several categories of cartoon humour, one of which was “Recognition Humour: Recognition Humour at its most humble is straightforward reportage heightened very slightly by a dash of theatricality; here the cartoonist plucks at our sleeve and points to an ordinary everyday event, and as we are looking he flashes a beam of torchlight at it. The edges become sharper, the shadows darker, the action a little more exaggerated – we see that this very familiar thing is suddenly more significant.” Most days, Dilbert shines that torch with precision. (On the other days, it goes to Elbonia.)

1. Andy Riley Roasted

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