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By Marc Mason
March 8, 2005
I’m very tired. Lots of stuff I’m dealing with right now, and not enough sleep. Plus, last week’s monster effort took a lot out of me as well. So this week, I’ve got a shorty for ya. Eight books, not a heavy load of prose for your eyes. Just the quick hit, some helpful facts, and a grade.
We’ll see if I can actually shut up long enough to pull that off.
HUTCH OWEN: UNMARKETABLE
Written and Drawn by Tom Hart
Published by Top Shelf
I haven’t read the first HUTCH book, which came out four years ago, so I came into this one with a fresh eye to the character, a dreamer and philosopher, or what I would call an “ultimate hippie” who has taken his ideals to their limits. Owen is a modern Quixote, raging against the corporate machines and their greed, and those men who drive the machines to ruthlessly exploit the masses.
Owen is also one of the most aggravating characters to ever grace a graphic novel as well.
I’ve always considered myself a liberal centrist, so I’m sympathetic at heart to characters like Owen, and the ideas they espouse. I want a better world, I know that there are large and wealthy forces out there that want to make sure we never get that world, and it pisses me off no end. But I am also aware of my own personal need to work within the system to achieve what changes I can, and what the limits of my power are. People like Owen, in real life, shit in my cereal with their aspersion of others who don’t actively represent their ideals and who consider anyone who isn’t fanatically on their side to be against them. And before anyone out there jumps in my shit: I work at one of the five largest universities in North America and live in the heart of the “collegiate” area of the city. I see and deal with people like Owen every day.
That said, once I got past my distaste for the title character, I found myself enjoying the book, as Hart demonstrates a tremendous craft for storytelling and simple, but effective, art. UNMARKETABLE, when it isn’t going polemically overboard on its character’s moral standing, is a terrific read. And I would be remiss in not mentioning that Hart never says that Owen speaks for him; there are characters in these stories that challenge Hutch and his ideals, and he doesn’t always come out as the victor or superior moral force, which is perfect. Hart gets it. You just have to carefully read through what the story is saying to realize that Hutch is simply another cog in the machine, in denial about his own culpability for the state of the world, no matter how hard he tries not to be. This is a challenging book, for any reader, regardless of their political persuasion. Grade: B+
Nope. Really, there’s nothing here that screams out for any sort of non-comics presentation. That shouldn’t prevent you from reading the source material, though.
AND NOW, AN ART BREAK…
Art by Dave Cooper
Published by Fantagraphics
This is a very odd and somewhat disturbing collection of Cooper’s oil paintings. The book’s subtitle is ADDITIONAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE BEAUTY/UGLINESS OF MOSTLY PILLOWY GIRLS, and that’s a pretty accurate take on the contents. What we have here would seem to be the product of an obsession on Cooper’s part; a dark obsession, not only with women of some curvature, but the sexual power of all women. There is some innocence to be found in these pages, but many of the subjects of Cooper’s fascinations have a hunger about them that springs forth from their eyes or Cooper’s strangely drawn mouths. This is my first exposure to Cooper’s art, and I’m not really quite sure what I think about it; it’s the kind of thing you really need to look at over time and make judgments about. I would add that the package that Fantagraphics has put together for this rivals the quality work that NBM does on these sorts of projects, and looks spectacular. Intriguing stuff. Grade: B+
UNION OF THE SNAKE
Two from Viper Comics:
DEAD @ 17: ROUGH CUT VOL. 2
Written and Drawn by Various
This is the second time that DEAD creator Josh Howard has opened up his sandbox and let others play with his toys, and it’s a very strong effort, much better than the first. Three elements really help this book stand out: one, Howard draws in some terrific creators to work on the project, including Kazu Kibuishi (see below) and Cal Slayton (of the late, lamented SHADES OF BLUE; two, he offers up a section of humor stories starring his characters, which does a nice job of taking some of the edge off of what can be a relentlessly grim series; and three, most importantly, he opens the book with a timeline of the entire DEAD saga, and shows you were every bit of this book fits in. I can’t tell you what a great idea this is, and how much I wish more creators would do it. It can take so much confusion away from the reader, and it demonstrates that the guy in charge of a rapidly sprawling saga actually does have a clue what they’re doing. Grade: B+
Viper has also released the trade paperback collection of Kazu Kibuishi’s DAISY KUTTER: THE LAST TRAIN. I covered each of the four individual issues as they came out (check the archives page), so I won’t go overboard in my discussion here, but making a long story short, DAISY is a terrific piece of entertainment, well-written and uniquely drawn. Kibuishi’s story of a retired lady train robber on a planet of cowboys and robots has a charm about it that just makes you smile your way through it. The trade edition also contains some outstanding extras, from concept sketches to a step-by-step account of how Kibuishi creates the gray-toned paintwork on his pages. The race for the year’s top-ten list is already down to nine. Grade: A
ANGRY DRUNKS? WHAT IS THIS, A FAMILY REUNION?
And capping the week, five books from Angry Drunk Graphics and artist Steven Vincent:
DEVILBOY IN THE LAND OF LOVE
This is the primary effort by ADG, their first trade paperback. Vincent has written a number of warped and bizarre poems and illustrated them in what he admits is his “not very good” artwork. Still, putting the artwork aside, the poems are amusing, with some showing some real, twisted, ingenuity. DEVILBOY is perfect for the kids in your class who listened to a lot of Joy Division growing up and who now have kids of their own to traumatize. Simple looking, but pleasantly diverting. Not for those without a sense of humor. Grade: B.
FUN WAYS TO KILL YOUR CHILDREN
Definitely not for the humorless, or even for those who don’t like gallows humor. Vincent apparently used to put these single-panel cartoons up on his webpage as a lure to bring people in regularly, and they’re exactly what they sound like. For instance, one panel shows a kid riddled with bullet holes with a caption that reads “Let Them Piss Off A Cop.” It’s funnier to see it, trust me; and you can imagine in your head the “Let The Marry O.J. Simpson” one. Some of the gags fall flat, and you wonder just how good they’d be if Vincent’s art was better, but still, it’s fun. Grade: B.
THE SNOW PRINCE
This is Vincent’s best work, by far. Remember the “Fractured Fairy Tales” we used to get while watching Underdog and Bulwinkle cartoons? This book would fit right in with them. The Snow Fairy visits the Prince and his brothers every year, and one of the five youngsters is granted a wish. However, last year’s grantee realizes that his wish was stupid and wants a do-over; his wish now is to become a real, live boy. Unfortunately, he has to wait four more years… unless he decides to eliminate his brothers. Of course, such wrongdoing is never rewarded in the way anyone hopes. Vincent really scores with this simple and moralistic tale, and using the amorphous snow creatures takes his artistic problems out of the picture. Recommended for young and old alike. Grade: A-
SPAZTIC COLON #1-2
Vincent bills issue one as “a substandard comic for substandard people,” and unfortunately, that comes close to being accurate. COLON exists as sort of an anthology clearinghouse for Vincent’s myriad of ideas and characters, and while come are entertaining, some just lie there and die horrible on-page deaths. Jade, a homeless teenage girl provides some good material, but the second story in issue one, “Billy and Cow” is a stinker of mammoth proportions. Devilboy pops up into jade’s world in issue two, and that’s fun stuff, but a brief story with Jade and her friend Billy digressing about Princess Diana tributes comes off as overwrought and over-simplified. Vincent is a guy who has some clever ideas, and I think as he goes, his comics will continue to improve, but these are misses. Grade: C-
I’ll be back with more stuff in seven days.
Review materials may be sent to: Marc Mason, P.O. Box 26732, Tempe, AZ 85285. You can also find me at Happy Nonsense and The Comics Waiting Room
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