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Entries in MoCCA (2)

Friday
Apr152011

Highlights of MoCCA Fest 2011 (Part 2)

Forthwith a few more books that I picked up at MoCCA Fest 2011. (For part 1, go to the main page and scroll down a couple of posts).

I'll start with three that debuted at the festival:

Eric Skillman and Jhomar Soriano's Liar's Kiss is an engaging, film noire-ish thriller told in black and white, with thin, jagged lines and lots of black shadow. The story's about Nick Archer, a private detective who gets involved with the wife of a client, and the mayhem that ensues when the client shows up dead.

I couldn't help thinking of Darwyn Cooke and Richard Starke's Parker books when reading Liar's Kiss, and I expect people who liked Parker will like Liar's Kiss. That said, the artwork is a bit uneven in the latter -- Nick's face tends to shift around -- and more problematically the ending is something of a cop-out. I won't spoil anything by going into detail. All I'll say is that the final twist left me feeling cheated.

Dan Clowes's Mister Wonderful is indeed a wonderful graphic novella, beautifully drawn and told, at turns hilarious and touching and always honest, with a light touch. I missed the series when it was first printed in the New York Times Magazine (I almost never read anything in the Times's magazine section) so this was new material to me.  It's also beautifully printed in glowing colors from Pantheon.

If I have any quibble it's with the format, wide enough to make it cumbersome to read comfortably anywhere other than on a large, flat surface. I expect it's this way because if it were made taller it would also have to be made correspondingly thinner, and might have appeared too insubstantial to fit between robust hardcovers. And it does stand out on the shelf. But it's not entirely a successful tradeoff. Still, a very small point.

The Anthology Project's second volume also debuted at MoCCA Fest this year. These are anthologies of short works by some very talented artists, many of whom work professionally in video games, TV and animation. Since I was unfamiliar with either, I picked up both to take a look. First, the good. These are the most sumptuously printed books I've seen in a long time, as eye-catching as anything by Chris Ware and arguably moreso. They're glossy and heavy with thick, embossed, gold printed covers. The pages are glossy (perhaps not such a good idea), and very well printed. The artwork in both volumes is professional, I'm almost tempted to say 'slick' although that has a negative connotation that is not always warranted. Nevertheless it looks good on the page, and I admit was enough to get me to see if the stories read as good as they looked.

I came at them with expectations way too high.

Unfortunately, they are a depressingly thin brew; the stories are by turns aimless and boring. With each new story I'd look at the artwork and expect narrative of the same high standards. My expectations were not met. That said, it's possible I was so worn down by the clunkers that I overlooked a gem, and it's possible that some of the stories would have read better in more humble surroundings.

These are the only books I was sorry I'd picked up.

Now for some older books:

MoCCA Fest 2011 included a contingent of northern European comics artists, and one that stood out was Anders Brønserud and his deep black comic Otto. I don't mean that it's very depressing. It's printed in saturated blacks with the protagonist a roly-poly white globe. So you can't really see the book's dimensions well on this background.

Otto Obscura is a large format collection of several short comics, all wordless which makes for painless translation from the Danish. They're a delightful bunch, some humorous, some darker, all told with a light touch. It's a series that would appeal universally, and worth a look.

Nicolas De Crécy's Glacial Period is a difficult book to approach. It's beautifully drawn in De Crécy's fine, scratch-like line with luminous washes of color. The first part of the story makes it seem as though this is going to be a post-apocalyptic SF novel. We're presented with a snowball Earth, and a group that almost seem like the last people alive (though in fact they're not), investigators out with their genetically engineered, talking pig-dogs. Not that this sort of thing hasn't been done before, but to me it's a promising start.

Then the problem. Midway through, the book lurches from post-apocalyptic SF into a murky mess of fantasy all premised around works in the (snowbound) Louvre. Pages in the latter half are splashed with drawings and color photographs of famous objets d'art. The narrative no longer works, and the overall effect is to make the work seem almost like a marketing document for the museum. Since the book was partly funded by the Louvre, was it intended for the gift shop?

I also wish the printing were in a larger format. The images are beautiful enough that they cry out for more space. I don't know how large it is in the original, but in this printing by NBM/ComicsLit the panels end up feeling claustrophobic in a way they shouldn't. Nevertheless this is one to pick up more for the artwork. Read the first half and put it down feeling you've left them in a good place.

Finally, Drawn & Quarterly came out last year with a reprint of the 1956 manga thriller Black Blizzard by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. It's also a noirish premise of two convicts who escape from a wrecked train and try to remain free. It's exciting and clearly told, the sort of thing one can devour at a sitting and enjoy for what it is: good, escapist adventure, with an ending that feels just right.

I only wish it weren't on newsprint. Though cheap material may be true to its roots, it seems a serious mistake for D&Q to print what they call a "legendary thriller" on such shoddy, fugitive paper.

Wednesday
Apr132011

Highlights of MoCCA Fest 2011

Here are a few books that I picked up and enjoyed at MoCCA Fest 2011, my first. The show was crowded both days, particularly on Saturday, with lots of twenty-somethings, lots of great artwork and lots of twenty-somethings doing great artwork. It was particularly worthwhile to be able to meet the artists of these and other works, all so amazingly talented.

I haven't quite dug through to the bottom of the pile yet so there will probably be another installment in a few days.

First, a couple of books that debuted at the festival:

Joseph Lambert's highly anticipated first book, I Will Bite You, doesn't disappoint. Beautifully drawn and told, dreamlike stories of childhood fantasy, but intended for adults. Grim and deep, their virtual wordlessness gives them, if anything, even more primal impact. I remember reading that one of them, "Turtle Keep it Steady", was a school assignment to retell the story of the tortoise and the hare. It's brilliantly crazy.

John Martz's Heaven All Day is another beautifully drawn story, quietly wordless, of an inventor living in a future world surrounded by sentient robots. The simple black-and-white outline style and atmospheric blue washes remind me a bit of Daniel Clowes's style, though more pared down and cartoony. Martz has a real ability to tell a story clearly.

Heaven All Day was the only SF graphic novel (really a graphic short-story) that intrigued me at the event, though I tried to keep my eye out for more. As it happens, I missed one that I'll mention below.

The rest of the books were not 2011 debuts, but nevertheless based on their interest and the fact that the authors were at the event, I picked them up and enjoyed them.

Pascal Girard's Bigfoot tells a more conventional teenage narrative of conflicted and thwarted loves, all with the background of social networking sites and the embarrassment they can cause. The bigfoot of the title is a photo that the protagonist's uncle took with his cellphone and uploaded onto the web.

Again, the story is well told and the drawings clear and well done, the colors bright and the printing impeccable from Drawn & Quarterly press. But for all its 48 page length it feels more like a short story, an interesting nibble more than a full meal.

I picked up Karl Steven's The Lodger due to the artist's technical gifts. He's an amazing draftsman, with technique that reminds me of Andrew Wyeth or Alex Ross: hyper-realistic and detailed interiors, more photographic than comic or cartoony. The volume also includes several portraits and landscapes that intersperse with the narrative. There are only a few slipups -- his drawings of squirrels at the window do not convince, for instance.

Unfortunately the story is not up to the same standards as the drawing. It's an autobiographical year-in-the-life of the young artist, but it's without any narrative center or drive. It feels like he took it upon himself to draw scenes as they happened, then put them all together into a book. That's to say, it needs further editing, and perhaps better material. I think if Stevens can get a more compelling narrative to work with, he'll do great.

Paul Hornschemeier's Let Us Be Perfectly Clear is an odd grab-bag of short stories in varying styles that remind me of Clowes and more particularly of Chris Ware. Gorgeously drawn with meticulous printing by Fantagraphics Books, the thing looks stunning. The stories themselves, though, are less successful. They lack the emotional and narrative punch of Ware or Clowes at their best. It's as though the author thought of them as light and humorous but was conflicted about whether or not to introduce actual humor. The result tends to be stories that are neither funny nor sad, and that feel more confusing and allusive than fully worked out.

The artwork, however, stands on its own. For that, the book's worth a read.

Ken Dahl's Monsters is a hurricane of a book, blisteringly honest and direct about (what I have to assume are) the author's own experiences with a sexually transmitted disease. It sounds like a singularly unpromising premise for a book, and frankly I had doubts on seeing the cover. But just to flip it open is to see Dahl's narrative and artistic gifts. The book is fascinating from its first page, and it doesn't flag. The drawings are a study in clarity and honesty, showing in all its raw detail the social and emotional life of the unfortunate, imperfect protagonist.

This is a monster of a book. I hope that, subject matter notwithstanding, this gets the profile it deserves. My worry is that it'll get pigeonholed as something only for STD sufferers or the like. Don't believe it. This is a universal story.

And one that got away:

 

I have to thank Timothy Callahan and his recent blog post for alerting me to one book (pamphlet?) I overlooked: Ian Bertram's 1001. Readers of my site will know I'm particularly interested in SF, and there was little SF at MoCCA Fest that really convinced. A glance at Bertram's style and a read of Callahan's take makes me very intrigued. I hope to get a copy of 1001 soon, and to be able to give it a look.

(Callahan also lauds Eric Skillman and Jhomar Soriano's Liar's Kiss. I have a copy and hope to mention it, and a few others, in a future post).