Category Archives: Comics

Graphic Content – Dragon Ball

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
56/501Title: Dragon Ball
Creator: Akira Toriyama
Years: 1984-1995
Country: Japan

It is one of the great weirdnesses of my television watching life that I have never seen even a minute of the Dragon Ball (or Dragon Ball Z) anime series. I mean, other than Pokémon, I struggle to think of an anime/manga that broke into the West as much as this did… and I manage to completely let it pass me by. Thanks to the change in anime list I am going to be rectifying this shortcoming – but not before I’ve given the original material a go.

For the purposes of checking this from the 1001 comics list, I read the first 16 takobon volumes of Dragon Ball – which means I’ve stopped before Dragon Ball becomes Z. I will eventually get around to reading the remaining 26 volumes, but I think I’m going to give it some time first.

Going into Dragon Ball I knew the names of a handful of characters (namely Goku, Krillin and Piccolo) and that there would be a lot of fighting – that’s about it. What I did not realise was actually how long it would take before it became primarily about fighting evil rather than the search for the seven titular dragon balls. I also hadn’t banked on the lead character of Goku being so adorable… and that he has a tail and can ride a magic cloud.

By the time I finished off the 16th volume, Goku was the adult that I’d come to expect from what little prior knowledge I had. In the interim I really got to know and enjoy a HUGE number of primary, secondary and tertiary characters – including a fairly substantial array of villains, which culminated in the battles between Goku and Piccolo.

Reading this, I can see how Dragon Ball could translate exceedingly well to an anime – just like with Attack on TitanThere are enough fight scenes to make for well choreographed television, whilst the humour makes for a good break in the non-fighting moments. Are there a few too many convenient plot twists? Maybe, but this isn’t too serious for that to be a concern. On the whole this has really made my commute to work fun and it does make me sad to be moving on already… oh sod it I’m just going to read to the end.

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Graphic Content – Cheech Wizard

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
55/501Title: Cheech Wizard
Creator: Vaughn Bodē
Years: 1967-1975
Country: USA

Despite being only 55 comics into this list it really feels like I’ve read a disproportionate number of comics that were part of the counter-culture scene or at least part of the underground. Cheech Wizard is very much part of this group with it’s liberal use of drink, sex and drugs.

At the centre is the eponymous Cheech Wizard – some sort of creature who we only see the feet of because of his oversized hat. He’s always looking for booze and women – with a number of the women appearing in various states of undress (not great for train reading).

The comic itself comes in both long and short forms, with the latter being pretty repetitive after a while. The best Cheech Wizards are the longer stories here Bodē actually fleshes out the world beyond semen jokes to create something that’s humorous and interesting. There’s a particularly good one involving the arrest of Cheech Wizard and another that rips on the Space Race. Sadly though, these longer ones are fairly rare.

It’s been a while since I read a longer series for this list, which is something I’ll be rectifying with my next pick. Since switching over the anime list there are a number of new manga for me to start on prior to watching the shows – so I’ll probably be picking one of those. Maybe I’ll finally start getting into Dragon Ball or Berserk – guess I’ll just have to see.

Graphic Content – American Splendor

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
54/501Title: American Splendor
Creator: Harvey Pekar
Years: 1976-2008
Country: USA

A weird piece of time dilation here as I write this post. In reality it has been over a week since I finished off Madame & Eve – but since the weekend was taken up with birthday stuff and a lot of Red Dead Redemption 2  I’ve not really had the opportunity to cross off a number of other things. Then again, this is the reason that it is so nice to have a six month lead in posting – you can take a week off and you still have a nice content barrier to fall on.

So, the main reason that I picked American Splendor was because the Paul Giamatti movie of the same name has been on my watchlist for years. As the comics are autobiographical in nature, the film is weirdly both about the life of creator Harvey Pekar as well as being an adaptation of the comics.

What makes American Splendor interesting is that writer Harvey Pekar doesn’t illustrate his own works. Instead, his stories are brought to life by a number of different artists – including Robert Crumb. This means that, with a single edition of 60 pages, there can be at least five different art styles – which makes each issue feel like a compilation with Pekar’s particular voice giving it a sense of cohesion.

The stories within American Splendor are very much focused on the day-to-day life of Pekar and his friends, with some interesting insights and social commentary along the way. For me, the quality did vary somewhat with some of the longer stories being a bit drawn out. Similarly, given that these started being written over 40 years ago, some of the values in the earlier issues are rather dated.

It’s also interesting to see how Pekar evolved with his comics. In a way, reading these annual collections of comics is like the graphic novel equivalent of a 7 Up film – just with shorter gaps in between. Worth a read, but not really a comic to binge read.

Graphic Content – Madam & Eve

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
53/501Title: Madame & Eve
Creator: Stephen Francis and Rico Schacherl
Years: 1992-present
Country: South Africa

Given that weeklies and dailies are the first main way that comics were disseminated, it’s been an awfully long time since I last read one of these (over six months to be exact). Most of the ones on the list tend to be from either the US or the UK, but today I’m looking at one from South Africa.

The birth of Madame & Eve came about at the end of apartheid. It depicts a white middle-class woman and her black maid negotiating the world of post-apartheid South Africa. Neither side are portrayed as being completely sympathetic or correct – which is probably for the best given the climate that it started in.

As someone not native to South Africa, a lot of the references to brands and politicians did go over my head. Similarly, the basic premise of the white woman and her black maid does feel a little bit of a throwback considering the times we live in. Also, of the jokes that I do get, they don’t always land – which tends to happen with syndicated comics.

Still, it’s interesting to see a comic of this type from the other side of the world.

It’s back to some actual comic books with my next read – not a manga though, but one of the more famous non-superhero American comics. I haven’t seen the film about it, but maybe I will if I enjoy it. Any ideas what I’m talking about? I’d love to see your guesses.

Graphic Content – Frank

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
52/501Title: Frank
Creator: Jim Woodring
Years: 1996-2001
Country: USA

You ever had that moment where you finish reading something and you’re not quite sure what you’ve just read? If not, Frank might be the perfect place to feel this for the very first time.

After the realistic brutality of Frontline Combat I really wanted something different and what I thought that a surreal comic centred around some sort of beaver (who reminds a bit of a Happy Tree Friends character) would be just the ticket. I guess I hadn’t banked on just how surreal it would be.

Having read four collected volumes of Frank, which is strange at the best of times and nightmarish at others, it comes as no surprise that creator Jim Woodring has experienced hallucinations during his life. It’s incredibly trippy whilst also having it’s own bizarre internal logic.

This, in no way, is me trying to take away from this comic. For what it is, Frank is excellent. It’s weirdly beautiful to look at and I cannot deny that I have felt some sort of experience whilst reading it. At times it made me chuckle and at others it managed to make me feel uncomfortable – and it does all this without a single world. Everything is done in pantomime… which just helps to add to the weirdness. I’d definitely recommend it.

Graphic Content – Frontline Combat

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
51/501Title: Frontline Combat
Creator: Harvey Kurtzman
Years: 1951-54
Country: USA

As I said last time, it was about time that I covered a war comic for this list. Since it was my husbands turn to pick, I ended up reading this series from the early 1950s whose cancellation was due to reduced readership following the end of America’s involvement in the Korean War.

In each issue the aim is to tell four ‘real life’ stories from the front lines of war. A lot of these were moreorless contemporary with the bulk being based in the, then current, Korean War and most of the main focuses are American. However, there are times where the comic goes historical with figures such as Julius Caesar and Geronimo getting their own stories.

When reading this you get a sense of a strong sense of patriotism (which sometimes threatens to cross the line into jingosim) on behalf of the writers. One story, involving Japanese-Americans very much came close to making me roll my eyes just a little bit.

It’s also not easy to read some of the stories that start to go into stereotypes of East Asians and Native Americans – although I have to keep reminding myself that this comic is 65 years old.

To be honest, for the first issues of this I did find it to be an interesting, if slightly, heavy read. However,  after the seventh issue, I began to tire a bit of the same narrative tricks. The historical stories helped to extend the shelf-life a bit, but I would not have been able to read more than the 15 episodes of the original run.

Graphic Content – You Are There

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
50/501Title: Ici Même (You Are There)
Creators: Jacques Tardi and Jean-Claude Forest
Years: 1978
Country: France

Given our current easy access to graphic novels it is difficult to imagine that, in our somewhat recent past, there were none being written in Europe. This is where You Are There comes in since it is one of the earliest examples of the European graphic novel. So, with that alone, it’s hard to overstate the level of influence that this will have had on comic writers across the continent.

The setting of You Are There is absurd and yet weirdly imaginable. It’s in Mornemont, a vast walled French estate that also happens to be semi-independent nation. Living on the walls is a dapper and lanky man called Albert There who sees himself as the true owner of the property (which is currently being occupied by various offshoots of his family. By live on the walls I mean, literally, he has a house on the walls and he acts as a passive-aggressive gatekeeper.

To say that Albert is a bit of an oddity would be an understatement. He is very particular and very obsessive over the court case that he hopes will return to him his rights of ownership of the estate. Things aren’t that simple though. Weirdness runs in the family and it doesn’t help that people outside of Mornemont are hoping to exploit Albert’s lawsuit for themselves.

The central premise is weird enough to keep you interested, but the real joy is in Tardi’s illustrations. They really help to bring life to this bizarre world (especially in the final costumed mob scenes) and remind me of a lot of French and Belgian animations that I have seen.

Surprisingly, even though I am 50 comics into the list, there are still genres waiting for me to read. The next one will be a war comic from the 1950s, which will feel like a return to the golden age of comics… although not a manga. It’s been way too long since I last read a manga.

Graphic Content – Zot!

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
49/501Title: Zot!
Creator: Scott McCloud
Years: 1984-90
Country: USA

Picture this, it’s the early 1980s and superhero comics are going through a bit of a grungy phase. In zooms Zot! with bright colours, 1960s-style futurism and a happy attitude. It’s little wonder that this would become a multi-award nominated comic seeing how much it stood out from the crowd. Especially as it was a very early example of a Western comic that took inspiration from manga.

At the centre is Zot and Jenny – two teenagers who live on Earth, but in different dimensions. Jenny, a typical schoolgirl, comes from our dimension; Zot is a hero from an Earth that feels like if Futurama had been created in the 1950s. There is a host of supporting characters including Jenny’s sister Butch (who gets turned into a monkey by devolution fanatics), a robot butler and a host of really cool villains.

Now, to talk about Zot! really feels like talking about three comics within the same universe. For the first third there’s a serialized ‘save the universe’ storyline that reminded me a bit of The Incal– this is also the only section of the comic that is in colour. You’d think that the switch to black-and-white would hurt a comic that relies on retro-futuristic visuals, but this also occurred with a real ramping up in the writing. It is in this section that we meet all the main characters from the other dimension (including 9-Jack-9, an expert assassin who travels around using electrical currents and machines).

The second section starts to introduce more of Jenny’s regular life including her school friends, but we still visit Zot’s dimension – such as a cool arc where he has to race to the bottom of a 99-floor building. Then there’s the final third, which takes place entirely in our world as Zot finds himself unable to return to his own.

It’s interesting to read through Zot! in quick succession as you can really watch how the creator is completely deconstructing the idea of a boy wonder superhero. In the beginning he is this immature and seemingly invincible guy who saves the universe and gets the girl. By the end, he is living a normal life on his own heroic terms and, through this group, we see different types of heroics (including blowing the whistle on homophobic bullies) play out within his peer group.

For me, I enjoyed the final third the most. The idea of bringing a character like Astro Boy and having him become a normal teenager (whilst keeping the powers and personality that makes him special) is an interesting one. This is especially so as, in the beginning Zot looks invincible, but by the end he is incredibly vulnerable. Bit of an interesting metaphor going on there.

There really is a lot more to this comic that meets the eye and it makes me interested to see some of his other works – especially Understanding Comics (which is non-fiction and very meta) and The Sculptor (whose key concept feels rather unique).

Graphic Content – Captain America

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
48/501Title: Captain America
Creators: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Years: 1940-50 (first run)
Country: USA

It’s a question that comes up with any long running series – without consuming the whole thing, how do I get a good overview. Well, in the case of Captain America I opted to read a portion of the original run (whose first issue famously depicted Captain America punching Hitler) as well as some of Captain America’s run in the 1960s (where he becomes the lost in time superhero that we all know).

Given the volume of Marvel superhero movies that have been out in the last ten years, Captain America is a good place to start. I mean, this was one of (if not the) first major Marvel superhero comic to come out. With Superman and Batman making their debuts some 2 years earlier, I can see how (in 1940) the idea of an All-American superhero doing battles against Germans would have been appealing.

It’s interesting to read Captain America from two different decades, where the enemies shift from Nazis to Communists. Nazis still appear in later issues thanks to the evil Red Skull and Captain America’s own flashbacks – but, on the whole, the enemies do move with the times.

Having read this series from two different eras, I have to say that I am more of a fan of the silver/bronze age Captain America. In the original run it became a bit samey to have him as the army man in a clear good versus evil battle. Instead, in the later runs, there is more interesting psychology as he reacts to being a man out of his time period (due to being cryogenically frozen), his survivor’s guilt and how he deals with everyone he knew no longer being around.

I also liked this period better because, at least for a while, Captain America stories were paired with Iron Man stories – although the two didn’t always meet. It’s also in this later period that we see him interact with other Avengers like Hawkeye, Wasp and Scarlet Witch. Reading these make me think that I’ll enjoy reading the Avengers comics, but that may need to wait a while.

 

Graphic Content – Kampung Boy

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
47/501Title: Kampung Boy
Creator: Lat
Year: 1979
Country: Malaysia

The variation within the 1001 comics list really is something to behold. This week I’ve read an adaptation of Chinese erotica, a Franco-Belgian humour comic about a long tailed animal and now we have have a touching (and humorous) autobiography about a boy growing up in rural Malaysia.

It’s a short graphic novel where we follow the first 10-11 years of Mat’s life in a rural village (called a ‘kampung’ in Malay). We watch as he makes friends, learns to read and goes through the many rites of passage associated with being a young Muslim in Malaysia.

Everything is done seamlessly through the eyes of a child, down to the asides about his father scratching his back. It was such a joy to read that, I couldn’t help but feel that Kampung Boy ended as soon as it had begun. I guess that this means I’ll have to pick up a copy of Town Boy at some point to continue following Mat’s story as he gets us to life in a major town after growing up in the countryside.

Right, it’s time to go for something a bit more sizeable and typical of comics – that’s right it’s my first proper superhero comic and I’m going to be reading Captain America. It was a close run thing between this and X-Men, but this won out because I’ve never really gotten to know Captain America. This is exciting.