Saturday, September 29, 2012

Comic Quickie: Return of Stumptown

Stumptown: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case #1: One of my most very favorite comic reads from last year was a beautiful indie comic from Greg Rucka and Matt Southworth. After crafting a wonderful crime story that seemed to be more of a labor of love than a cash cow, I wasn't totally sure I would ever see more Stumptown, but the old gang is back together.

Mim Bracca, the guitarist from the Portland based rock band Tailhook has just returned home from a long tour.   When she arrives, and the dust settles, she discovers that her prized possession, her favorite guitar, is missing.  Without wasting any time, Mim enlists the aid of P.I. Dex Parios. There's no such thing as a routine case for Dex, because before she knows it, she's getting threatened with a box-cutter, and having guns pointed at her head.

If the first Stumptown story is any indication, The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case is likely to be filled with a healthy dose of backstabs, double crosses, and a sweet plot twist here and there for good measure...  Honestly, when I saw this comic get solicited a few months back, I instantly put it on my pull list.  Stumptown is a no-brainer.  This is money well spent.  You'll get great writing, engaging characters, and a kick ass plot from Rucka, as well as some absolutely fantastic looking art from Matt Southworth.

I've been lucky enough to have seen pages and pages of Southworth's original art from this series at various comic events here in Seattle. The man is a workhorse artist who creates page after beautiful page of painstakingly detailed art that is wonderfully textured and dense, and a sheer pleasure to look at.  The guy is criminally underrated.  Sadly, he's also fairly obscure, which is completely undeserved given the quality of his work.

Stumptown is a comic that achieves perfect harmony between writing and art, a feat that is rare and special. So treat yourself: Buy it. Read it. Thank me later.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: The Underwater Welder

Prior to it's release, Jeff Lemire's The Underwater Welder was probably my most anticipated release of the year.  Shit, I've been talking about it and thinking about it for over a year now.  Then it came out, and I flipped through it, drooled a bit over the art, showed if off to my lady, and proudly displayed it on my shelf next to all my other Jeff Lemire stuff.  When the next opportunity arose for some comic reading I passed it by, and did so again and again for a few weeks.

The reason for the delay was that Lost Dogs had just recently been re-released, and I had jumped at the first opportunity to read that when it came out. With The Underwater Welder coming out hot on it's heels, and Sweet Tooth nearing it's end I thought it would be a good idea to ration out my Jeff Lemire reads as much as possible.

Well, Then this guy went it reviewed it, which I'm not gonna lie, made me all jealous.  That coincided with a time where I just needed to read something guaranteed to be awesome, and lo and behold, there was The Underwater Welder just sitting there on my shelf waiting for me.  Problem solved.

The Underwater Welder follows Jack Joseph, an underwater welder who works on an oil rig just off the coast of Nova Scotia.  Jack and his wife are about to have their first child. The looming birth and the challenges of fatherhood have put Jack into a state of numbed detachment.  Lacking the ability to work through his stress, fears and anxiety, Jack retreats to the ocean depths.  Jack's diving into the depths is analogous to his pulling away from his wife and his unborn son.  However, as Jack dives, he experiences a supernatural occurrence that brings back long-buried memories of his own father, and gives him insight into his own life's path.

I've had the pleasure of reading damn near everything Jeff Lemire has put into print. With the exception of most of his DC comics work, I've read all of his independent, creator-owned comics work.  I've been very impressed with all his stuff so far.  I mean, the guy is easily one of my favorite comic creators.  Sweet Tooth stands out as probably my favorite monthly comic right now.  The guy is high, high on my list. So I was very happy to discover that The Underwater Welder is his very best work to date.


When I chatted with Lemire at the 2011 Emerald City Comicon, he told me that Underwater Welder is the comics work he is most proud of, and after reading this, I can clearly see why.

Never before has Lemire's art looked this good. Sure, it's not for everyone, and I think Niall summed it up well when he referred to Lemire's art as an "acquired taste".  Though I like how Lemire's sometimes rough and sketchy art seems to channel raw emotion, I've talked to people who think he sucks.  Granted, "he sucks" was about the full extent of their argument, but nonetheless, it's an insight.  Anyway, I was impressed.  For my money, this is his best work with the pen and brush.

Lemire uses two distinct styles to tell his story here. There's his familiar ink line and jet-black india ink that dominated his early works such as Essex County and The Nobody.  I thought Lemire's line work when working in this style looked sharp and better than ever. It's impressive how much his skill has developed over the years.


The second style Lemire uses is ink line with ink wash, which allows for a softer look and gives the story a variety of grey tones which Lemire often used to juxtapose the straight black and white art.  Flipping back through the book now as I write this review, it is interesting to see how Lemire transitioned between the two styles.  Sometimes this transition is sneakily smooth, and other times it is jarringly noticeable and geared to make an impact.  Not that he ever seems to have any problems delivering an emotional kick, but by using these two techniques, Lemire was able to create a lot of the emotional impact of the story, simply through the style of ink on the page.

If Jeff Lemire had a superpower, it would be the ability to make people break down and cry by using only pictures and words.  As I've experienced through his other works, Lemire manages to deliver a narrative that is written in such a way that the people, their lives and the events, are incredibly easy to understand and relate to.  Lemire always amazes me with his ability to clearly depict humans working through these basic, raw emotions that we all have, but are often unable to articulate or even comprehend.  It's kinda uncanny, but beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time.

No matter how you look at it, The Underwater Welder is a powerhouse of a graphic novel.  Jeff Lemire is at the top of his game here.  His art has never looked better and his writing, plotting, and scripting is near perfect.  This is an impressive comic, and one that should be read by many.  You wont get punch-ups and tight underpants, but you will get a story about fathers and sons, death and birth, an exploration into the depths of reality.  I loved it, and I think you will too.

Grade: A+

Monday, September 24, 2012

Brandon Graham's WALRUS Beaches Itself on Shelves in 2013

Photo Courtesy Comics Alliance

Winter may be coming but now we have something to look forward to for the coming Spring.  Thanks to the folks at Picture Box Inc.  Walrus is a collection of Brandon Graham's sketchbooks.  From the early reports, we'll be getting a taste of unseen art, and sketch book comics from the past few years.  The whole she-bang is 112 pages of Brandon Graham goodness, so it'll be awesome.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: The Bookman

Welcome to a world where the Royal Family and the nobility of Britannia are Lizard-people, airships stalk the skies, and both literary characters, and literary figures populate a captivating alternate universe.  This one of a kind world is the setting for The Bookman, Lavie Tidhar's first installment in The Bookman Histories trilogy.

The story follows a young poet named Orphan, who, in the early stages of the book, watches as his lady love is killed in a sabotage attack committed by the sinister Bookman.  This heartbreaking, life-altering event sets Orphan on a quest to avenge his lady love.  However, he quickly finds himself in way over his head, as Orphan discovers a series of secrets that change the way he views the world and himself.

The Bookman is more than just a revenge story though.  It's a story with adventure at it's heart.  And I'm not totally convinced that is the best thing for this novel.  It seemed to me that instead of relying on a plot, or realistic results from past events, Tidhar chose instead to just throw Orphan into one crazy event after the other.  This free-wheelin' adventure can make for a really exciting read at times, but it didn't totally work for me here since Orphan isn't much of an adventure hero.  The fact is that he's more of a guy just caught up in the flow of events, and he never really does anything of use the whole story.  I'm not saying I wanted Orphan to be some sort of Indiana Jones type dude, but I didn't want him to be such a milquetoast either.  He wasn't any good in a fight, nor could he really use his brains to figure anything out.

Another thing that bothered me was the fact that Orphan, who got put through the ringer fairly often, never seemed to suffer any kind of lasting effects from the many beatings, falls and other various bumps, bruises and scratches both mental and physical that were inflicted upon him.  If the guy gets his wrist/arm stepped on during a fight, and it is clearly mentioned that he hears bones breaking, then he shouldn't be fine by the next scene.  There seemed to be a lot of that, adventure and action for the sake of it, but no real lasting consequences, going on throughout this book.

I'm not trying to be overly harsh, but this just wasn't the sharpest novel I've read.  I figured out some of the "big reveals" in the very early stages of the book, and by the time I was nearing the end, felt only a slight compulsion to see this one through to the end.

Which is kinda crazy because I really wanted to like this one a lot more than I did.

That being said, I also liked this book a lot more than I should have.

The negatives I mentioned above would have been more than enough to tank a lesser novel, but not so here.  Tidhar filled this book up with so many good ideas it is hard to not love this book at least a little bit.  I guess you could say this one would get categorized as a steampunk novel, but that would be selling the book short.    Tidhar mixes in a bit of horror, not to mention a bunch of literary characters and historical figures that help give the book an added layer.

More so than any other aspect of the book, I found myself really enjoying the world that Tidhar created.  It has a nice blend of originality and tried-and-true elements to make it feel comfortable, all while feeling fresh and new.  Even though I wasn't a huge fan of this story, I could definitely see myself reading on in the series, just to see what else Tidhar has in mind for this great world he has created.

Sure, this wasn't the best thing I've read by any measure, but I'm pretty sure Tidhar has what it takes to be one fine author.  He's got fresh ideas, he's capable of creating a world that is a unique setting for his stories, and he can tell and adventurous yarn.  All great things.  So the chops are there, The Bookman was just lacking in execution.  Still, Tidhar is an author I plan to keep an eye on, and an eye out for his future endeavors.

Grade: C-

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Omega The Unknown

I was drawn to Omega the Unknown for the fact that Farel Dalrymple, who has impressed me with his artwork before, handles all the artistic duties for this ten issue story.  The fact is, I've been actively seeking out his work for the past few months, because I think he's a great artist.  Sadly, his published works are hard to come by, and he's one of those artists who works sporadically.

Even though this is a Marvel comic, one look at the cover, or a quick flip through the pages, and it's quite easy see that this ain't your ordinary Marvel story.  The titular hero is pretty much an unknown (just like the title says)...unless you're a follower of obscure 70's heroes who never hit the big time. Well, apparently Jonathan Lethem is, 'cause he wanted to revive one of his favorite heroes from his teen years, and boom, next thing you know, he's writing a ten issue arc.

So what is Omega the Unknown all about?  Well, that's kinda tough to answer.  There's a mute hero, all dressed in blue, who battles robots with the prime directive of killing the guy in blue.  There's also a teenage boy, the recipient of a strange up-bringing, whose life seems mysteriously connected to this blue guy.  There's also a cheesy (and annoying) costumed hero by the name of the Mink, who gets involved in the drama.  Mix in some flesh eating nano-robots, a talking, and singing park statue, and a human-sized hand that was once part of the Mink, and you've got the recipe for what is quite possibly the strangest comic on the shelves.

If I could only use one word to describe this comic, I'd say it is "surreal".

The story is incredibly strange, and though there are elements that play into the comic that are typically elements I enjoy, I didn't find myself nearly as entertained as I had hoped.  The reason being is that there was no way to connect those cool elements, (namely the flesh eating nano-robots) to any kind of story or character that I cared about.  There was absolutely no way for me to relate to any of the primary characters here, and the one character that was normal, a teenage girl named Amandla, didn't have enough of a role in the story for me to latch on to.  By the end I didn't even feel all that compelled to finish the graphic novel.  Which isn't a very good sign.

I'm also a little torn on the art as well.  There's not doubt that Dalrymple is a unique artist, who can instill a certain feel on a comic with his style, but I didn't find myself nearly as impressed with his interior art as I had expected.  It was just too inconsistent for me.  There were times when I thought the panels looked really good, and times when I thought they looked rather pedestrian, and that his layouts needed work.

The biggest detractor, aside from the strange, surreal story, was the color palette that was employed.  There's absolutely no color gradients in any of the panels, so if something that is purple, it is the shame shade of purple no matter how the light is hitting it.  This makes everything feel kinda flat, and after a while, got a bit annoying. I know it seems nit-picky to drag the coloring through the muck, but the fact is that it didn't do justice to Dalrymple's art.  Especially when you compare the interior art to that of the covers which Dalrymple colored himself, and which look waaaaay better.

Omega the Unknown is easily one of the weirdest things I've ever read.  And when I say weird, it's not weird in a good way, like China Mieville's stuff, it's just flat out weird.  The kind of weird that leaves you feeling a bit unsettled, and mentally befuddled.  Weird..

Overall, this isn't something I can really recommend.  Sure, Dalrymple's art is cool, and way different from the kind of stuff that is normally attached to anything baring the Marvel logo.  For my money however, this isn't his best work, or work that allows him to flourish.  I'd love to see him get more steady work in comics as I think he's a great artist, but I feel like this is not the best example of the kind of quality I associate with Dalrymple.  I don't say this often, but this one was didn't do it for me, and likely wont thrill too many others either.

Grade: D+

Sunday, September 16, 2012

JH Williams III has got The Sword Covered

The Sword, a band that I've been enjoying for a few years, just got a whole lot cooler by choosing one of my favorite comic artists to handle all the design and album artwork for their new album, Apocryphon.  That's right, JH Williams III, of Batwoman fame did all the art for the band's fourth studio album, which hits stores October 22nd.

In the past, The Sword has featured songs like Winters Wolves, and To Take the Black which are inspired by GRRM and his A Song of Ice and Fire series. They also have a sci-fi space odyssey concept album, so the guys are clearly into nerd culture.  Now they go and get JH Williams III to design all the art for their new album.  Yeah, I think I could hang out with these guys.

Williams' art is beautiful, so check it out.

Back Cover

Inner Cover

CD Package Art

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes

I did something dangerous.  I read Leviathan Wakes.  Ok, maybe that doesn't sound all that dangerous, but often when books get a whole grip of great reviews, and ride a wave of hype that would make Johnny Utah and Bodhi think twice, it is hard for said book to make much of an impression on me.  Often these well-loved, ultra-hyped books wind up being reads that disappoint me the most...all because of the book's failure to meet these high expectations I build up in my head.

So, yeah, dangerous.

Every now and then though, a book will survive the hype. Leviathan Wakes did more than just survive; it managed to rock my socks off.

I think I've always been a bit intimidated by space operas, due in large part to the  massive scale these types of are set on.  Leviathan Wakes is a space opera that's set in the somewhat distant future where humanity has started to colonize the solar system, but hasn't figured out how to reach other stars.  For now the Moon, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt all sport human life, but the desire to branch out further is a strong one.

Though the events of Leviathan Wakes are spread out across our solar system, a fairly grand scale in my book, but not so much compared to other space operas, I never felt like I was struggling with figuring things out.  The fact that the setting is a familiar is handy, but Corey also does a great job of containing the story to a few select locales, and then bringing these locales to vivid life through a great deal of crafty writing.  All this served to make Leviathan Wakes an accessible novel for a novice space opera reader like myself.

In addition to great world building, or should I say solar system building, Leviathan Wakes has many other strong suits.  Not the least of which being the fact that it maintains a sharp focus throughout, and hones in on a select group of characters, and features two distinct point of view characters who begin the novel on far different trajectories, but whose paths begin to converge as the story progresses. This not only gave the story a nice consistent pace, but allowed the reader to gain two very different perspectives or angles on the events that the narrative is centered around.

My favorite of the two point of view characters was Jim Holden, the Executive Officer on an ice mining ship that makes runs from the rings of Saturn, back to the mining stations on the Asteroid Belt.  While returning from one such mission, he and his crew stumble on a wrecked and stranded ship.  Upon searching the wreck for survivors or clues to their demise, they instead find themselves unwittingly and unwillingly a part of events that might just start a terrible war.  With war brewing faster than your morning pot of coffee, Holden and his crew discover that they just might be the key to putting a stop to things before things get crazy.

The opposing point of view character is the curmudgeony Detective Miller, who has been handed a missing persons case.  Not the easiest kind of case given that there's billions upon billions of people in the solar system, but the parents are rich, and contrary to popular belief, money, not the sun's gravitational pull,  makes the solar system go round.  When Miller's search leads him to the same wrecked ship that Holden and his crew discovered, Miller beings to realize the missing girl may be the key to everything, including peace in the solar system.

I think what impressed me most about Leviathan Wakes is how well crafted and honed this novel is.  There seemed to be a deliberate effort to make the book not only accessible to a wide range of readers, but to also bestow the book with a steady pace where the plot is always moving forward in interesting directions.  There is barely a single moment where this books feels like it is lagging, or losing momentum.  I think it is pretty fair to say that this book had me engaged from the very first page, til the very last. The kicker here though is the story  itself which has, for my money, the near perfect blend of some wonderful elements: drama, action, intrigue, politics, a bit of horror, (with a dash of gore), and even a few moments that wouldn't be all that out of place in a fantasy novel.  I was a happy reader.

My one an only complaint here is that sometimes, the secondary characters didn't feel like they had too much substance to them.  Some of Holden's crew members tended to blur together into one unidentifiable clump, better defined by their jobs on the ship rather than their unique personalities.  This didn't have much impact on the quality of the book though as there was so much other great stuff going on for it.  Still, it was an area that was noticeably thin.

In the end, Leviathan Wakes stands out not only as one of the best science fiction books I've read this year, but it stands out as one of the best books I've read this year period.  This one managed to hit quite a few of my buttons, all while being something way different from what I normally enjoy. So kudos to Daniel Abraham, and Ty Franck for writing such a kick ass book.  If you haven't had the chance to read this one, it is pretty much a must read.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Comic Quickies: The Rocketeer Flies Again

Rocketeer Cargo of Doom:  It's no secret around here that I'm a liker of the Rocketeer.  So, a new Rocketeer mini series is pretty much an instant buy and instant read for me.  IDW apparently also shares my love for the Rocketeer as well, since they have been responsible for producing all this great Rocketeer material of the past couple years.

The creative team behind The Cargo of Doom is a couple of industry heavy hitters, Mark Waid, and Chris Samnee.  Recently, Waid has been winning Eisners and Harvey's thanks to his work on Daredevil and Samnee has been earning lots of recognition cred for his high quality art, on a variety of projects.  As far as creative teams go, I think IDW really picked a couple of winners.  Waid has a knack for writing gripping, action-packed, and fun stories that don't go off the deep end with too much darkness or grittiness.  On the art side, Samnee has this great dynamic art style with lots of thick and juicy black inks that is a really great fit not only for the Rocketeer's high-flying action, but also a great fit for the time period the story is set in.

This first issue works pretty well as an opening issue.  We get to know all the primary characters, get a taste for their personalities, get some Rocketeer action, and get just enough of a taste of the "cargo" that is so doomy.  Oh, there's also some love drama in Cliff's life that could add an interesting element.  I can already tell that this is gonna be one of my favorite comics for the next few months.

The Sixth Gun #24:  Yikes!  I can't believe it's been nearly a year since I last wrote about The Sixth Gun.  I've been reading this comic in the monthly format since the first issue came out for free comic book day a couple years ago.  Ever since then, this has been one of my favorite titles, and it has only gotten better as time passes on.  Bunn and Hurtt have created a wonderful fantasy western world to set their story in and I truly enjoy falling into that world on a monthly basis.

This 24th issue is the start of a new story arc titled Winter Wolves and looks to be the start of more wonderful stuff.  General Hume, who has been out of commission since the 6th issue, makes a brief and creepy appearance, and Drake and Becky run  into some trouble with a giant white wolf.  It also looks like we might see more of Gord Cantrell, one of my favorite side characters, in this arc.  Gord's got some voodoo-dark magic tricks up his sleeves, so I'd love to see more of what he's capable of.

Brian Hurtt is one of the most unsung artists in comics, and this is one of his very best issues of The Sixth Gun yet.  This is an artist working at the top of his game on one of the finest comics on the shelves.  If you haven't had the pleasure of checking this comic out, throw all reservations aside.  The Sixth Gun is a winner.

Fables Vol. 5 The Mean Seasons:  Yup, I'm still reading and loving Fables.  Hands down some of the very best stuff I've read in comics.  The fifth trade collection, The Mean Seasons, is one hell of a whirlwind read.  Lots, and I mean lots of things go down in this volume.

First off, we get our first taste of Cinderella in this one, and I gotta say, she is one of the most interesting fables yet.  Her first story is brilliant.  That's just the opening salvo of this volume which covers more ground than a football field.  We also get a war story starring Bigby Wolf from back in his war fightin' days, the birth of some new little fables, the sundering of a relationship, and the election of a new Fabletown governor.

It's a lot of diverse stuff going on for one collected edition, but it didn't take away from my enjoyment one bit.  Sure, this volume didn't do a ton to move the major story line along too much, but it did move many different character arcs forward and put some pieces in place to make the story going forward much more interesting.  The Mean Seasons left me craving more from Fables which is why I followed this read up immediately with this next one....

Fables Vol. 6 Homelands:  This one starts out catching everyone up with what Jack has been up to since he ditched Fabletown. The story is pretty good, as Jack is one of those characters I love to hate, but I gotta say I was not a fan of the guest artist for this story.  David Hahn had the guest artist duties here, and he just wasn't up to snuff compared to the other guest artist that have been featured in this series.  Weak art can definitely take away from a good story, and that was the case here, as I don't think I enjoyed Jack Be Nimble nearly as much as I could have.

So, the start of this volume was a let down, but the rest of the trade more than made up for the false start.  The bulk of the remainder of this volume is given over to Boy Blue and his epic adventures across a series of fable-realms.  With the Witching Cloak and the Vorpal Blade, two of the most powerful fable artifacts, at his disposal, Blue goes on a deadly rampage through the Adversary's realms in an attempt to take out that evil fucker.  Not only is this an incredibly exciting adventure to read, but there's some really BIG reveals in this one that are quite important to the story.

With six volumes of Fables under my belt, I have no plans to slow down my pacing.  Well, maybe a bit, as I have to read Underwater Welder soon, but I plan to dive even deeper into this series over the next few weeks.  It is really fantastic and if you haven't already done so: read and enjoy.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Wonton Soup & Wonton Soup 2

I have let it be known around these parts before, that I am a huge fan of the comics work of James Stokoe.  The man is a flippin' genius.  In my ongoing effort to own every piece of comics work the man has ever created, I recently exchanged some of my hard-earned cash in return for two of his early comics works: Wonton Soup, and Wonton Soup 2: Hyper Wonton Soup 2 Two Ton Soup: The Quickening 2.  That's one hell of a mouthful for a title, but naming aside for now, lets focus on the magic that is Wonton Soup.

Wonton Soup focuses on the exploits of Johnny Boyo, a space trucker who, thanks to an attack on his spacecraft by some space ninjas, finds himself back on the planet of Plaxos.  Not exactly the place he wants to be since Plaxos is the home of his former culinary school, where he rose to the ranks of star-pupil before suddenly dropping out.  His lady lives there too, and within a few hours of his return, he finds himself back in the good graces of his chick, and challenged to a cook-off by the school's current top-chef twins.  Along the way there's plenty of crazy-ass shit that goes on, not to mention some nutty recipes and some crazy cooking exploits.

At the very moment when I finished reading Wonton Soup this graphic novel went down as the most out-there and crazy thing I've read in the world of comics. That lasted a grand total of about 24 hours...which is when is when I finished reading Wonton Soup 2: Hyper Wonton Soup 2 Two Ton Soup: The Quickening 2.  Take everything that was crazy, fucked up, strange and out-there about Wonton Soup and multiply that by about a thousand you got yourself the content of the second Wonton Soup graphic novel.

Johnny Boyo and his partner Deacon are still truckin' around space when they get high as fuck, trip balls for a few days, and wake up on a mostly deserted planet.  While they set out towards the only sign of civilization, we are given the wondrous back-story of Deacon, Johnny's pervy compadre.  The entire back-story is a hilarious trip, but it is primarily memorable for the fact that during said back-story, Stokoe saw fit to give the world "Sex-Bear".  For that, I am eternally grateful.  And eternally scarred.

I gotta say that these Wonton Soup comics lack the cohesion and sharpness of Stokoe's work on Orc Stain, but these comics sure do display his ability to write stories that are absolutely hilarious and filled with incredibly creative and fantastic ideas.  Both of these graphic novels are packed with one crazy/amazing idea after the other.  Stokoe has an amazing ability to tap into a vein of creativity that brings out some of the most inventive shit to ever hit the printed page.  Wonton Soup and Wonton Soup 2 are pure madcap genius.

Oh, this stuff is absolutely gorgeous to look at too.  Stokoe is easily one of my favorite artists in the business.  There are times when I look at one of his pages and totally lose myself because there is so much minute detail, and stuff going on.  I've wondered many times how long a particular page took him to draw, because some pages are so jammed with amazing detail, it is mind blowing.  This is the kind of art that really engenders itself to the reader. Just by looking at Stokoe's work I can instantly tell that hours and hours of painstaking work were lovingly put into each page, and when the creator of a work cares that much about the quality, I find that it translates to high quality work.

Yes, Wonton Soup and Wonton Soup 2 might be two of the weirdest things I've ever read, but they are an absolute blast to read.  You don't so much get a story as you do an experience.  You gotta trust me, just do yourself a favor and go find something by James Stokoe and enjoy being entertained.  You know what, I'll do some of the leg work for you.  Here you go:

You're welcome.

Seriously, check out his website, which has comics stuff for you to enjoy.  Dude also has a tumblr, which is cool too.  All good stuff.  Once you are gorged on the stuff you can see for free, check out the other James Stokoe related mega-awesomenes I've reviewed or discussed here at the blog.

Wonton Soup Grade: A-

Wonton Soup 2 Grade: A

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review: Embassytown

Embassytown marks China Mieville's first foray into the science fiction genre.  For the most part, I've been a big fan of his fantasy works, but I'm not nearly as much a fan of SF as I am Fantasy, so I was definitely feeling a little bit of trepidation going into this read.

Mieville's tenth published work is set in the far future. Humans have colonized a distant planet populated by the Ariekei, an alien race famed for their language that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.  Avice, one of the human colonists, has the dubious distinction of being a part of the Ariekei language.  As a child, she became a living simile, and is literally a figure of speech.  Avice has returned to Embassytown after years of deep space travel, and finds herself caught in the middle of some political turmoil as a new ambassador arrives in Arieka and upsets the delicate balance between the humans and the aliens.  With total catastrophe looming Avice  must thread the currents between the political system she no longer trusts, the humans she cares about, and the alien race which has made her an indelible part of their language.

The opening pages of Embassytown can be a confusing bunch as Mieville throws the reader in at the deep end.  You have this far future universe-scape that needs to be understood; kids are raised by shift-parents who take turns caring for the children. Time is measured in kilo-hours instead of years, and to top things off, Mieville jumps back and forth from past events to present as well.  Sure, understanding a strange and different world is all part of reading SF/F but Mieville doesn't do any hand holding or add any exposition to help ease the reader into the novel.  I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but it did make me have to work a bit harder than usual to get into this book.

I found myself torn over Embassytown.  On the one hand, it is an incredibly ambitious novel.  It is a book about language, and how different cultures communicate and understand each other. As far as concepts go, that is a pretty bold choice.  Intellectually, it provides some interesting food for thought, and explores some topics, like how language is created and built upon, which I never thought I'd read about in a SF/F novel.  However, the story that surrounds the concept is not one that I found to be all that interesting or engaging.

As usual, Mieville's world building is top notch.  Arieka is a planet where technology and biology seem intertwined, with little distinction between the two.  The Ariekei are an interesting bunch too, and Mieville does a solid job of showing the reader how their relationship with the human colonists is a strange and strained thing at best.  I've always reveled in Mieville's created worlds, as they are the perfect blend of weird, scary and fascinating, it's a treat I don't often get from any other writer.  It was nice to see that this trait made it's way over to his SF writing as well.

Though Mieville is responsible for some of the most memorable characters I've ever come across, Avice, and the other folks, both human and alien, fall pretty damn flat in Embassytown.  Sadly, I can't say that any of them stood out, or had qualities I could relate to.  This may have been deliberate, as Mieville might have wanted his far future world to seem completely strange and foreign to his readers, thus making his ideas about language and the culture clash of communication that plays a pivotal role in the novel have more impact.  I can see that working to his advantage from a conceptual standpoint, but for the kind of reader that I am, one who needs characters to connect with, or to loathe, it led to further dissatisfaction with the novel.

The kicker here is that I found it hard to relate the world building, the conflict, the characters, and the concept to one another.  I never felt like they all meshed or worked in symphony.  While I was reading I kept getting the feeling that the story, characters and world were nothing more than add-ons to this one thing, (language), Mieville really wanted to write about.  The result is a book that I never was able to sink into, or fully enjoy.  To say the least, this lack of cohesion is a departure from what I've come to expect from Mieville.

From the past few paragraphs, it must sound like I am totally poo-pooing this novel...which is kinda true I guess, because I had a hard time being a fan of this book.  That being said, it wasn't all bad.  I was very interested in the concept of the book.  Embassytown provides a very interesting look at language.  It is a book that made me think, and a book that challenged some ideas of my own. So, the book isn't a total let down. Still, it didn't really work for me as a piece of fiction.  I've come to expect great things from Mieville, and this was a disappointment.  Though it is an impressive achievement in terms of exploring an interesting concept, it is a rather dry book and not up to the standards story-wise I expect from such a great writer.  The result is that I can only recommend Embassytown on the merits of it's concept, otherwise, it is not worth the read.

Grade: C-

Monday, September 3, 2012

Behold the Shelves

So as you may well know, I recently moved.  Not only did I move, but I moved into a smaller living space with my lovely lady. In order to co-exist happily and not have our one bedroom apartment taken over with my stuff, I needed to pare down my book collection considerably.  This resulted in roughly 200 books, graphic novels and comics getting sold to the local used bookstore.  In the words of Lonestar: I kept only what I need to survive.

One of the first things I did upon moving in was set up the shelves.  In the past, I've just had books placed haphazardly on the shelves roughly organized by author and/or series, but after reading a few of Mieneke's Blogger Query posts, I decided I should be a big boy and alphabetize things. Now that everything is organized, I thought I'd share how fly everything is lookin' now.  So, here ya go:

This is my best looking shelf by far, and as is the right of one's best bookshelf,  it has all the best book shelf flair.  The most prominent being the sweet wood-carved duck decoy that my late Grandfather made back in his duck hunting and woodworking days.  There's other sweet flair to be seen, which will show up better when I show you each individual shelf....

The little clay figure was made for me by one of my preschool students.  It's me and him holding hands, and it's a pretty accurate rendition of what we both look like too.  It's been placed next to the Joe Abercrombie books to offset some of the brutalness of those books with it's tenderness and innocence.

This shelf has that sweet little painted-rock car, which another preschool student of mine made for me a few years back.  

This one is pretty much the Stephen King shelf.  My lady gave me that sweet bicycle you see there in the corner.  It was hand crafted in her home country of Zambia.  I like bikes almost as much as books and comics.  

This is sorta the heavy hitter shelf.  It's got Martin, Mieville, and Priest.  That's a whole lot of talent for one shelf.

I like to think of this as my secret shelf.  One of these books is not what it appears to be, and has a secret compartment....

Next up we got my comics shelf.  Uh, it also has the tail end of my book collection, but aside from my Roger Zelazny books, and a few others, this is the comics shelf.  My floppy issues are in drawer boxes in the closet, in case you were wondering.

The stuff between the hippo book-ends is the bloggin' queue.  So I guess you are getting a little sneak peek at the future of the blog here.  On the left is a sketch by Moritat, the artist on All Star Western.  On the right is a bunch of stuff I got from my Comics Club homies.

So, I sorta threw out the whole ABC order thing with the comics shelves.  Instead I just shelved stuff by coolness.  So here you have a bunch of cool mainstream and indie comics.

Here you get the rest of the mainstream and indie comics.  The Africa art piece separates the mainstream and indie comics from my arty stuff.

The final shelf.  More arty stuff, with my Scott Pilgrim books mixed in.  The stuff lying down are the unread floppy issues I haven't gotten around to reading yet.

So there you go, that's what my bookshelves look like...not to mention a sneak peek at how I operate things around here at Battle Hymns.  Pretty modest, but maybe one of these days I'll fully settle down and I'll have more space to really fill a room with books.  Until then, I'll be looking to max out what remaining space I have on these shelves.