Category Archives: Comics

Graphic Content – Yoko Tsuno

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
63/501Title: Yoko Tsuno
Creator: Roger Leloup
Year: 1970-now
Country: Franco-Belgian

In this list I often get so side-tracked by reading manga or by chipping away at the large amount of American superhero comics that I often forget to check in on Belgium. After all, this is a nation with one of the most impressive history of comics and I haven’t even gotten started on some of the most famous.

So Yoko Tsuno was picked as it was a comic from this neck of the woods that I had never heard off, but had an interesting synopsis. It’s a science-fiction series headed by a Japanese woman who lives in Belgium who gets into a wide range of adventures with her two sidekicks that work in television. Yoko’s adventures are either involving goings on on Earth (with beautiful renderings of locations such as Hong Kong and Germany) or on the far away planet of Vinea.

As of the moment, a minority of the comics have been translated into English. Most of the ones that I read were the Earthbound ones, mainly because the alien ones have only started to be translated fairly recently. This may be why I tend to prefer the Earth ones (including some involving time travel) over the alien ones – but also I love how much research has gone into the settings. In the first one I read, called ‘On The Edge of Life’, Roger Leloup draws a beautiful recreation of the German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

In total I read eight Yoko Tsuno stories and I find it very hard to understand why there has not been some sort of adaptation produced of this, whether it be a film, a TV series or even a manga/anime after Japan got hold of it and fell in love. Stories like ‘Daughter of the Wind’ and ‘The Prey and the Ghost’ would work so well on the big screen…  but I guess the idea of adapting a Belgian comic with a Japanese protagonist has it’s own share of hurdles to overcome before an adaptation is greenlit.

Still though, if you like science-fiction comics with a very human basis –  then Yoko Tsuno feels pretty much essential. Especially as the individual books aren’t too expensive and they’re typically being translated at the pace of one a year. I definitely look forward to seeing more and more of these being made available.

 

Graphic Content – Metro

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
62/501Title: Metro
Creator: Magdy El Shafee
Year: 2008
Country: Egypt

I’m continuing the comic streak with Metro – the first graphic novel in Arabic. Obviously I read an English-language translation for the purposes of the blog, but I really thought it was worth mentioning what an interesting landmark this is for graphic novels as an art form.

Related to this, it is worth noting that it took years before Metro was published in the authors native Egypt. This is due to the work’s anti-Egyptian government stance that served as an interested precursor to the Arab Spring that took place a few years later in 2011. Since then he has found himself harassed and imprisoned because of his political views; something that is worth keeping in mind when reading this graphic novel.

Overall, Metro is not the best graphic novel that I have read. The gimmick of using stations on the Cairo metro to denote the chapters doesn’t exactly work, although it is a nice idea in theory. Similarly, there are areas where more explanation would have been useful as to why the central character is in such a position that he ends up robbing a bank. I think, being that it would have been written for an Egyptian (and maybe even a wider Levantine) audience, a lot of knowledge is assumed, but it might have helped to linger every now and not have an ending that feels like a bit of a cop-out.

Then there is the art style, which feels like they wanted to go full Hotel Dusk in how characters were drawn… but didn’t quite get there. I mean, it’s serviceable but it isn’t the best that I have seen – which would have been a nice way to make up for a bit of a mediocre storyline.

I may not have really gotten on board with Metro but it’s always interesting to read works from other cultures and it is especially interesting when it is a first in any way. I’m going to take a bit of a break for a while in order to read some more Dragon Ballwhich works perfectly with my upcoming post break.

Graphic Content – Stray Bullets

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
61/501Title: Stray Bullets
Creator: David Lapham
Years: 1995-2014
Country: USA

This might well be one of the best things that I’ve read for the comics list. It’s the sort of comic series that made me look forward to the commute to and from work, physically enraged when the train was so packed that I couldn’t continue the story and gave me goosebumps when I finished reading the last panel. It made me sad to finish it off, but that’s why we have spin-off comics.

Here’s the thing, I only chose Stray Bullets for my next post because I am behind on reading crime comics. In fact, if it wasn’t for the apparent impossibility of finding an English version of Lupin III, I might not have picked this up for years. I guess that’s what you call serendipity.

So, what is this comic? Well, Stray Bullets tells the inter-twining stories of a large cast of characters living in 1970s-1980s America who are all connected by affiliation or history with a criminal gang. This makes for a comic full of drugs, sex, bloody violence (including a stomach churning bit where a man’s finger is twisted off), and death. In fact, in a similar way to Game of Thrones – there are no characters that you feel are safe. Some major ones get killed off every now and then, which heightens the tension.

Over the 41 released issues David Lapham was able to tell five distinct, but related, arcs. Only one character survives to star in all of them, the kick-ass troubled teenager Virginia (or Ginny) Applejack. In essence, Stray Bullets becomes her story with the rest showing the backgrounds and endings of the other characters that she interacts with. The series also makes the interesting choice of devoting whole issues to Ginny’s own stories set in the future about a girl called Amy Racecar. These stories goes a long way to explaining, in a more detached way, her traumas and some of the things she has seen through her links to this gang.

This isn’t just tension though. Some issues are done as comedy breaks, whilst others (like the death of Ginny’s dad) are so incredibly sad. I was just devouring this issue after issue and it felt like, until they had to tie things together at the end, you did not get two consecutive issues with identical tones. Similarly, so many characters’ arcs are left with unanswered questions – ergo the spin-off issues… which I will be seeking out and devouring in the near future.

Graphic Content – The Steel Claw

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
60/501Title: The Steel Claw
Creator: Ken Bulmer and Jesús Blasco
Years: 1962-
Country: UK

Like a lot of other comics, The Steel Claw was a series that started in another publication and later got published by itself. I’ve already seen this with Captain America and will see with a ton of other comics in the future. What I have yet to see, however, is a comic where the titular character takes such a sharp left turn.

In the first issues The Steel Claw is actually the villain and we are reading along as he evades capture and has his plots of world domination be foiled. Later on, he switches sides and he becomes a hero who uses his gained powers in order to save humanity from different forms of calamity. I’ve seen this happen with supporting characters, like in Dragon Ballbut never with a comic’s namesake.

The comic itself is therefore one that begins as a sci-fi/crime and ends up being almost a superhero story. I mean this is a man who can turn invisible when an electric current is passed through him, plus he has a steel claw that, as the story progresses, gains more and more abilities.

On the whole it’s a fun read and it’s cool to see how the writers find a way to navigate the pitfalls of permanently aligning a main character’s moral compass. It kinda demonstrates how, with more and more superhero comics being made, The Steel Claw decided to adapt to the times. It was a bit more fun when he was villainous, but the heroics aren’t too bad either.

Since I’ve gotten myself a new tablet, I really want to keep on breaking it in with even more comics. I’m (sadly) without manga at the moment, so I’ll be sticking with Western comics for a while. In slightly related stuff, if anyone knows where I can get a copy of Lupin III, please let me know as I really would love to give that a go before starting on the series.

Graphic Content – King

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
59/501Title: King
Creator: Ho Che Anderson
Years: 1992
Country: Canada

It’s no small feat to be able to great a graphic biography, let alone one based on the life of such an important figure in recent history. It’s even more daring to do this whilst depicting them as an actual warts and all human being. This is what King tries to do with the life of Martin Luther King Jr, where we start with some episodes during his college days and end with his assassination.

Off the bat, the way that King deals with the assassination was perfect. Most people reading this will know how he died, but the way that it’s portrayed in this work still catches you off-guard. There’s no grand set up or really much foreshadowing at all, they just allow this event to interrupt his everyday life and then abruptly end the biography. What can I say, it’s incredibly effective.

I also really enjoyed the variation in art styles that Ho Che Anderson uses throughout the book. At times they’re very angular, others quite lifelike and a lot of places in between. Not only does the variation in style really help to keep things visually interesting, but it also helps to underscore the mood or the level of historical significance of certain scenes.

The side-effect of these different art styles, however, is that it also means that the looks of key people in the story keep changing. With a cast as large as those involved in the Civil Rights movement, it’s hard enough remembering all the names even if they looked the same throughout – which means that there were times that I got a bit lost.

Also, there were times where the number of speech bubbles became so dense that it became a little bit difficult to gauge the order to read within certain panels. Similarly, there were sections where there was just so much text being crammed into a double-page spread that it started to be a bit unweildy. Still, King makes for an interesting read and it’s worth a look if you want to learn more about him.

It’s going to be back to Shakespeare now with the next play in my collection. I really enjoyed doing Troilus and Cressida last month and am feeling super keen at the idea of making up for lost time with this particular list.

Graphic Content – Fun Home

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
58/501Title: Fun Home
Editor: Alison Bechdel
Years: 2006
Country: USA

A little bit of backtracking here for me. You see, I actually read this a few months ago and hadn’t thought of checking whether Alison Bechdel’s amazing graphical autobiography was on the list. This will be far from the last time that I forget to check something off, but at least it’s a ‘free’ post in the bank.

I was inspired to read Fun Home after watching the off-West End production of the Tony Award-winning musical adaptation (since it had sadly stopped its run when we recently went to New York). Thinking back on reading Fun Home is difficult as it gets so tied up with the heightened emotions from the show, which knocked both myself and my husband for a six and led to some really in-depth conversations on the way home.

Ostensibly, Fun Home is just another of those coming-of-age autobiographies that became more popular after the success of Persepolis. This would be to sell it short as this is incredibly nuanced and original work. As a member of the LGBT who has also had a somewhat unconventional relationship with their father, Fun Home is hits so close to home on a number of occasions. Granted, my father wasn’t in the closet – but there’s a certain subset of emotions that ring true.

I also really love Bechedel’s art-style, it really matches with the wry sense of humour that permeates her work.  Similarly, I really enjoy the fact that this is very much her story so she tells it on her own terms. Means that there may be a tinge of melodrama here and a splash of literate boasting there, but it just makes the whole work feel that much more personal. This is definitely one of those books that is makes for an easy recommendation of the graphic novel as a genre.

Graphic Content – MAD

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
57/501Title: MAD
Editor: Harvey Kurtzman
Years: 1952-1955
Country: USA

I learned something new with this comic – that the long running MAD Magazine actually started life as a comic series that is a lot like Shock SuspenStories and Frontline CombatIn the three stories within each issue they go between genres like horror, war and science-fiction – pretty standard for this era. However, as the series progresses the depiction of the genres start to become more and more infused with parody.

It’s a gradual process that starts with a wink it its eye and then ends up with full blown take downs of contemporary cultural references and other more famous characters like Superman, Alice in Wonderland and Tarzan. I mean, a frequent character is a take on Sherlock Holmes as being both wildly intelligent, so this kinda speaks for what the comic ends up becoming.

As it starts off MAD isn’t exactly a stand-out comic because I’ve read a lot of these before. As the comic goes on the ratio of hit-to-miss gets better (with the best moments being when the stories start to go a bit surreal), but it’s still not the best comic I’ve read so far. In fact, it’s downright average. Still, it’s interesting to see how this world famous magazine got its start.

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.

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.