Category Archives: Comics

Graphic Content – Doraemon

List Item: Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
102/501Title: Doraemon
Creator(s):
Fujiko Fujio
Year: 1969-1996
Country: Japan

So I have been looking forward to reading some Doraemon for a good while. Back when I was in the office, I had my own pair of Doraemon chopsticks which I still have been unable to go in and retrieve (similar story for my Pugsheen plush and a bunch of other toys). I only had these chopsticks because I thought Doraemon himself was incredibly cute, but I had never read any of the manga or seen any of the many anime adaptations. When I go back to Japan I will probably end up getting myself a little plush of him – this is how cute I find him.

Imagine my joy, therefore, when I started reading Doraemon and I was actually enjoying it. A bit of a relief after Lupin III I must say. This isn’t the most complex of idea as it’s a kids comic, but there is still a lot of joy to be farmed out of it as long as you don’t binge it like I did – this is definitely one of those things that works better when read it spaced out like the original publishing.

The story is simple – Doraemon is a robot from the future whose inventor sent them back to change the fortune of a wimpy ancestor. This is the classic wimpy Japanese manga protagonist: bad at school, bad at sports, pushed around by the neighbourhood kids… you get the picture. What makes this a fun read, however, are all the stupid future gadgets that Doraemon brings along to solve a problem e.g. a lipstick that when applied makes you compliment people and a robot genie who gets things done in as unmagical way as possible.

I think that I will probably find the anime for this now as I can only imagine just how much fun this would be in moving colour. Hopefully I’ll also be getting those chopsticks back soon… once they have been heavily disinfected after over a year of not being used.

Graphic Content – Lupin III

List Item: Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
101/501Title: Lupin III
Creator(s):
Monkey Punch
Year: 1967-1969
Country: Japan

Lupin III is one of those manga series I have been semi-looking forward to reading as part of this specific comic book challenge. I have seen Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro and will be watching the anime series as part of my other list. From the film, I got a certain impression of Lupin as being this slightly goofy and gawky anti-hero that also happened to be a world-class thief that was always on the run from some sort of law enforcement. Now that I have read some of the source material… I can see how much of a liberty Miyazaki took with the character.

To be fair, when reading Lupin III there isn’t a whole lot that is easily available in English translation. Also, we are talking specifically about the version of the comic from the late 1960s, so there is going to be a bunch of problems around content. Like, there is section where there is a needless attempted rape scene – not by Lupin – and just a lot of female nudity because, according to the comic, it’s what you would expect from the author.

You also had a real issue where it would tell and not show. Like Lupin is meant to be this genius thief – fine – but so often he would just get out of a scrape with no explanation other than a deus ex machina or we would have a long explanation of how he did it where a visual of it would have been a lot more satisfying. I also did have the problem of the artwork being so scratchy that it was hard to work out who was who despite being named in an earlier panel.

So, in the end, you had a comic with a not that likeable protagonist, with very outdated attitudes, poor art and not great storytelling. The idea of Lupin himself is really interesting and I can see how just the idea of this anti-hero thief based on the original French books would bubble around until he found a new lease of life in later manga and anime forms. On the whole though this was a massive disappointment. 

Graphic Content – Blacksad

List Item: Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
100/501Title: Blacksad
Creator(s):
Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido
Year: 2000-now
Country: Spain

Continuing a run of some rather different comics in the 1001 list, I have ended up with Blacksad – a French-language Spanish neo-noir comic series set in America where the characters are all humanized animals. Think Zootopia but even human-like to the point where there are scenes where I am so glad that I was not reading it on a train as there is some nudity which very much would feed into furrydom.

The five volumes I read, there are more but these aren’t currently available in English, are great. The fifth story, ‘Amarillo’, was probably the weakest of the bunch, but that is more a comparison issue than something particularly bad about the issue itself. All volumes follow John Blacksad, a private investigator, as he undertakes various contracts – except in ‘Amarillo’ where he is embroiled in a murder investigation after someone steals his car and it is found with a body dumped in it.

For the most part, the series likes to choose the animals based on certain stereotypes. Like it makes sense that a private detective would be a black cat with enough lives to get out of scrapes. You have dogs and other cats as cops, figures in power tend to be larger animals like lions and tigers and the scientists in one issue were various types of owl. 

The drawing style of these animals are stunning – especially in the owls, which is a bias thing because I love owls but they brought so much human emotion to them that I found it especially impressive. Then again, all the animals are incredibly well done to the point that I really think an animated film from the company that did Ernest et Celestine would be potentially brilliant.

Aside from the animal artwork, the thing I loved about Blacksad was how much they delved into difficult topics. In one volume set in the Arctic Circle, the whole story is a race parable with the rich white animals like Siberian tigers, wolves and polar bears are part of an animal KKK movement and are being investigated after the kidnapping of a black ungulate (cannot remember the species right now) child.

Was I reading this and constantly thinking of it as a film or animated series? Absolutely and I think it is ridiculous that it hasn’t happened yet. I guess I’ll just have to look forward to when Volumes 6 and 7 receive their English translations.

Graphic Content – The Adventures of Luther Arkwright

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
99/501Title: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright
Creator(s):
Bryan Talbot
Year: 1978-1989
Country: UK

You know those works where, for a long time, you are just going through the motions by engaging with it and then, suddenly, it just gets good. I think I have had a lot of them doing the various parts of these blog challenges and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright is just the latest one. As this was a nine-part miniseries, there was no way I wasn’t going to make it to the end – but wow until everything flips on its head in issue six, it was pretty rough going for me.

Taking place over multiple parallel universes, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, tells the story of an agent, the titular Luther Arkwright, who traverses universes in order to find some sort of tech that is adversely affecting everything in the multiverse. He is unique in that he can control his own phasing between universes and we mostly see him in one particular universe – an alternate London where the royal family never took back the throne and the Civil War never ended.

I enjoy alternate universe fiction, especially when it is so far extrapolated from events that I know about i.e. The English Civil War. One of the things that I probably liked the most in this publication were the sporadic updates about the disasters being wrought in other dimensions – such as it suddenly raining frogs or that Mexico was under control of the Prussian Empire.

The thing that kinda got me was just how dense it was in places in order to make all the exposition. I get that, with this being a predominantly one man operation, there is a desire to keep the issues down – but so much small text world-building happens regularly that so often I was taken out of the story and the visuals in order for it to be an suddenly be more flavour text than something of real consequence. 

By the ending, I really had gotten into the story and everything was just accelerating towards some sort of ridiculous fever pitch and I was starting to really groove along with the character design. I just wish it hadn’t taken me to song to get there that, as soon as I was enjoying it, it was basically over. Still though, it’s nice to get another of these miniseries crossed off.

Graphic Content – Destiny

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
98/501Title: Destiny
Creator(s):
Otto Nückel
Year: 1926
Country: Germany

Something quite different in the world of the comics list. Going by what has come before it on the list, Destiny is one of the earliest instances of a ‘graphic novel’ that I am likely to see – and a 95 year old one at that. Granted, I know that this is not going to be anywhere near the earliest ‘wordless novel’ ever created, but it is still so interesting to see that this is an artform we were doing a century ago. 

Given the processes of mass producing illustrations, versus printed type, I can see why a full book made just of images may not have too common, but it is hard to deny the beauty of this particular work. Unlike the reprinting of ink illustrations that I have mostly seen so far in these early comics, Destiny is all done via prints – in this instance lead block printing, which is similar to woodblock printing. I guess that by doing it in lead, you are more able to use the blocks before they begin to get warped? I assume, I literally have no idea about printing processes.

As stories go, Destiny is a bleak one – but so was life in many parts of Germany in 1926. We follow the story of a woman from birth to death – as she goes through any number of hardships that, in a regular novel, would have likely made me want to stop reading it unless it was exceptionally well-written. She has a drunk for a father, ends up in prison for an illegal abortion and eventually dies at the hands of the police after she is caught for the murder of her psychologically abusive husband.

Many of the prints themselves are individual works of art that you could imagine being framed and hanging in someone’s hallway – which makes sense as author Otto Nückel was primarily an artist. It’s a shame he didn’t delve into the wordless novel genre again as there was a talent here. I could see him coming up with something similar to The Arrival albeit less fantastical but still rooted in the idea of what it is like to be a stranger in a new land. A quick read, but definitely a good one.

Graphic Content – Scalped

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
97/501Title: Scalped
Creator(s):
Jason Aaron, R. M. Guéra
Year: 2007-2012
Country: USA

All the time I was ready Scalped I was wondering how it was that FX had not optioned this comic book as a TV series. It would have made for an excellent counterpoint to Justified with it’s bleak setting, but from the very different setting of a Native American reservation instead of the Appalachians. Then I saw that another channel, one I had never heard of, did just that but dropped it after seeing the pilot. What a shame.

Scalped is one of those comics that I know I want to get back to. Reading 20 issues in very quick succession is a bit much. This isn’t a comic that is easy to digest in long sittings. The setting is bleak, being set in a reservation that has major issues with drugs and alcoholism where the chief is opening up a casino and running a corrupt police force. Like, there is very little hope to cling to – which is the point of the series to be fair.

We start out with the return of Dash Bad Horse who, unbeknownst to everyone on the reservation, is an undercover FBI agent who has been strong-armed into finding those who shot down two FBI agents some 15 years earlier. Many of the comics fall into a ‘crime of the batch’ style storytelling with some character development happening in the background.

What makes this different to a number of comics I have read so far is that Native American element and how much Dash struggles with his own sense of identity. This is a man who is 100% Ogala Lakota, but has chosen most of his life to reject his heritage and is now in a position where he is having to face what that means to him through the murder of his mother, the rekindling of an old flame and just general osmosis.

It makes for an interesting read that is permeated with other characters who bring the more traditional side in through folk stories and ritual that have had to adapt to being surrounded by the white man. Like I said, I read too much of it in too little time so am now a little bit burned out – but I am interested to see how everything progresses.

Graphic Content – Happy Hooligan

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
96/501Title: Happy Hooligan
Creator(s):
Frederick Burr Opper
Year: 1900-1932
Country: USA

Happy Hooligan is one of those major influential comics from the early days of comic strip syndication. I had never read one before covering it for the list, but I had somehow heard of it through sheer cultural osmosis. For the purposes of this, I found a collection that someone had grouped together online so am not entirely sure if it was perfectly representative of the strip as a whole – however having read a few descriptions I think I got the jist.

Pretty much every strip I read sees out main character as a happy-go-lucky homeless person that tries to help someone only for it to go hideously wrong and end up being arrested. That’s it. Sometimes there is a bit of variation on the theme, like he gets away or he is punished for something he had no part of, but that’s it. After reading 30-40 of these strips where it is near the same every time, just with a change of situation, things get a bit tired.

That’s also not to mention the casual racism that would occur in every 5-6 strips with exaggerated depictions of African-Americans or, rarely, people of Chinese descent. The first strip I read featured the big-lipped caricature and it really gave me that sick feeling deep down that this would be par for the course. I wish I could say it was an outlier – but this was the early 20th century… so not at all really.

At least this was a quick crossing off, meaning I can finish the work week with a bit more Hellboy before selecting the next comic. Please let it be nothing with racism. Please.

Graphic Content – Jeremiah

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
95/501Title:Jeremiah
Creator(s):
Hermann Huppen
Year: 1979-now
Country: Belgium

There is an old meme online that so many of these dystopian works of fiction take place after something terrible happened in America and the rest of the world just carries on as normal and leaves them to it. In Jeremiah that is just such the case – another civil war completely ravaged the country leaving the population scattered as they continue to fight and survive.

At the centre of the fray is Jeremiah who, in the first installation, watches as his settlement is destroyed and ends up roaming the destroyed America and having weird adventures with his compatriot Kurdy. Well, not always with Kurdy. There was one issue in the omnibus where we saw them split up because Kurdy went ridiculously dark and kidnap a girl for no real reason.

I do delight in a dark dystopian setting – I mean see how much I loved Akira – and there were some stories that were truly brilliant. For example, there was a case involving people being kidnapped and used in order to produce youth serums for the old and the rich.

However, there was a weird thing that got to me – at times it felt like I was missing pages. Now I know there are times where I might skim a few pages, but sometimes it felt like there were these story leaps that I couldn’t quite see how they occured. Possible issue of this being a translated comic, but I have read a lot of translations by now and this isn’t exactly a common occurrence. Hey ho, for the issues I read there was still a fair degree of enjoyment that I got out of them.

In the future, maybe when I am further along the 1001 TV Shows list, I will end up finding the very loose adaptation of Jeremiah and seeing how it translates to the big screen and see if it was worthy of the early cancellation. Until then, there are plenty more comics to read and I’d like to find one of the truly old ones next.

Graphic Content – We3

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
94/501Title: We3
Creator(s):
Grant Morrison
Year: 2004
Country: USA

Just when you think you have the comics list sussed out, along comes We3 among the newspaper strips and the long-running superhero comics to throw a real curveball. Like, a science-fiction three issue miniseries with a super-fast action style where the protagonists are three animals that have been scientifically abused into killing machines that are released by their heart-broken carer after she was ordered to destroy them? I mean these stories are a dime a dozen.

I think I have seen one other instance of the ‘experimental animals that can speak and are accidentally released’ trope in one other series – the equally disturbing black comedy series I Am Not An Animal. Both are an uncomfortable mirror up to the world about what we as a society are willing to turn a blind eye to when it comes to vivisection. Both are bloody at times and both really do make you think about how far we would be willing to go.

The titular ‘We3’ are a dog, cat and rabbit who were former pets (the cover art showing their wanted posters, indicating they had been kidnapped from their loving owners) that have been cybernetically modified and turned into killing machines, each also being given a very basic grasp of English. The dog is especially heartbreaking with them, despite all things, still wanting to be seen as a “good boy”.

To see that a series like this came from the creator of Zenithtook me aback a bit – then I saw that in between he had worked on X-Men and that helped make more sense. In all these, there is a political streak, it is just that I needed X-Men to fill in the gap for me.

Also, to see on the Wikipedia page that this was even considered for an adaptation is… ridiculous. Given the gore and animal cruelty angle of this, We3 feels like something that would be borderline unadaptable – since things have gone quiet on that front, I am not the only person who thinks that. It should just be left as is – a weird and brilliant three issues with minimal dialogue and a lot of viscera.

Graphic Content – The K Chronicles

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
93/501Title: The K Chronicles
Creator(s):
Keith Knight
Year: 1993-now
Country: USA

Like Life in Hell, The K Chronicles is a (now) weekly comic where you are able to find broad swathes of it online – although, in this instance, you can find it on an official site rather than someone collecting scans on a Tumblr. They also both feature the creator’s own take on current events.

This is where the similarities end, although the political slant of both (at least from what I have read of both) is on the more liberal side. The strips themselves are, on average, more political – with them being written through the lens of Knight’s own experience as an African-American. Most of the ones that I ended up reading were more recent, so references to Trump’s America, Black Lives Matter were abound. Considering I recently joined a diversity group within my work department, it felt like a remarkable piece of timing that I picked these up.

This won’t be the last I hear of Keith Knight, The K Chronicles and his life have inspired a series on Hulu that will be going onto our watchlist – alongside pretty much everything else in the world, or at least that’s how it sometimes feels. It’ll be good to see Sasheer Zamata in something again… eventually.