tisdag 28 juni 2011

My t-shirts, part 40: Penguin Lust

With Opus, Berke Breathed managed to create a character that was both totally pathetic, totally ridiculous, and totally adorable. 

I miss Bloom County.

fredag 24 juni 2011

Happy Midsummer's Eve!

Let's go up on the roof and enjoy nature, Peter Vetsch style!

All pictures from the Wikipedia article.

torsdag 23 juni 2011

I did this!

On sale towards the end of July or in early August, I believe.

onsdag 22 juni 2011

My t-shirts, part 39: Snoopy pajamas

OK, strictly speaking, a pajamas isn't a t-shirt, but it's my Snoopy pajamas and I like it, so there!

söndag 19 juni 2011

Jason: You Can't Get There From Here

Norwegian comics artist John Arne Saeteröy is more known under his pen name Jason... Although I guess he's probably not particularly well known at all, outside a certain subset of comics readers. Anyway, he's got a reputation (among the cognoscenti) for excellent stories in a clean style, stories that frequently aren't entirely easy to interpret – the reader not infrequently doesn't get all the info needed to be certain about exactly what happened.

Me, I'm a fan of elegant art, and Jason's art, with its somewhat stiff figures (due to him making that choice, not lack of drawing skill, as far as I can discern), isn't really elegant IMO... but he tells a good story. In You Can't Get There From Here (or, in Swedish, Du går fel väg) that particular story happens to be the classic story of Frankenstein, albeit in a typically Jasonish manner.

Here, the story is told from the perspective of everyone but Dr. Frankenstein himself. It starts with his hunchbacked assistant – in a lab coat – digging up a corpse and continues with the Monster shoplifting girlie magazines and acting a peeping Tom. Dr. Frankenstein confines him to his teenager room (complete with X-Files posters) and creates a female for him. The Monster first tries a... shall we say, direct approach to wooing her. That fails miserably, so he apologizes with flowers, and a relationship develops.

The unhappy Dr. Frankenstein becomes jealous of the Monster, and creates a new female for him, trying to take the original one for himself. But the monster has developed real feelings for his girlfriend, beats up Dr. Frankenstein, and escapes with her. Dr. Frankenstein then calls in the authorities...

There are two excellent story lines in this book. The first is the Frankenstein-Monster-Female monster love triangle – or rather, just "triangle", because nobody loves Dr. Frankenstein, a tragedy as great as any you'd ever experience – which doesn't end well at all. I won't give away the ending (and I can't, really, anyway, because part of it is so ambiguous that you really have to make your own interpretation of it), but the "monster" couple has to cope with being hunted not only by a hostile society, but also by the jealous Dr. Frankenstein. Eventually, they are separated when Dr. Frankenstein catches up with them, and the odds that they'll be reunited don't seem all that great.

Meanwhile, a second and more unexpected subplot centers on the doctor's hunchbacked assistant, who turns out to be merely one of a large number of colleagues, many of them unfortunately having come to untimely ends... He meets one of those colleagues at a café, and they have a talk about their terrible bosses and their terrible plans, and friends no longer among them, and his own lack of hope of ever finding happiness. It's touching, and a very clever revisionist perspective on the "mad scientist" genre. The assistant is usually the first to die, and he is never depicted in a particularly flattering – or even humanizing – light, so this new angle works very well.

All in all, Jason manages to tell a new story based on the old one – two new stories, in fact; very human ones, and very well told. Recommended.

(Here is a brief interview with Jason.)

lördag 18 juni 2011

John Amato and David Neiwert: Over the Cliff. How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane

Do you have high blood pressure? A propensity to get angry? Do you become easily depressed?

Don't read this book, then. In it Amato and Neiwert detail, not so much how the American Right went insane (although there are actually elements of that, as well, but those elements weren't very high on the sanity scale to begin with), but the venality of a very prominent part of the American Right today, from Glenn Beck to Sarah Palin. As a bonus, we also get glimpses of how the traditional media have failed rather shamefully to expose the outright cancer that the right-wing smear machine has become on American political discourse.

Nothing in this book is new, really. If you've read the liberal blogs since President Obama was elected, you're likely aware of most of this stuff, anyway. Neiwert, among others, has covered a lot of it on Amato's Crooks and Liars blog. However, getting so much of it in one helping in a book is... Well, I thought it was so depressing, I had to stretch reading it out over a couple of days, even if it's a pretty easy read.

Anyway, the 270 pages contain nine chapters detailing:

1."It's the end of the world as they know it."  The world is coming to an end after a black man has been elected president – examples of creepy people freaking out over having a black president, insisting that he's a malignant foreign influence. There's arson, vandalism, hate-related crimes, threats of violence, etc, and racial and ethnic animus expressed on the internet and elsewhere.

2. "Into the abyss." The conservative movement chooses which road to take, and goes for ugly smear tactics instead of reviewing its policies. Accusations of socialism, communism, and fascism fly – a lot of them on Fox News. Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck do their stuff, and their stuff is mainly exploiting and fomenting resentment – with very little allegiance to the concept of "truth".

3. "Reaping the whirlwind." Several loonies act out their violent fantasies, and the militia movement experiences a resurgence.

4. "Bloodying the shirt." Conservative hate-spewers accuse those who point out that they're a) lying, b) spewing irresponsible garbage of trying to silence dissent.

5. "Mad hatters and March hares." The "Tea Party" movement gets going, with a large amount of help – funding from astroturf groups (like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks) and and a near-constant propaganda blitz from Fox News.

6. "Right-wing populism and the politics of resentment." The politics of "iberals, feminists and minorities have ruined my America!".

7. "Fox's war on the White House." The Fox propaganda blitz on the White House hasn't been just near-constant, it has been constant. It has provided endless fodder for The Daily Show, but also for resentful creeps all over the U.S.  See also Media Matters (even if they occasionally take up things that are pretty harmless and over-interpret them).

8. "The brakes fail." The Republican Party has problems controlling the Tea Party movement, and parts of the right-wing media machine is getting out of hand even according to some conservative pundits.

9. "The only thing we have to fear." Here, the authors try to tie it all together – or maybe not, either way, it doesn't really work as a tying-together chapter IMO – and then put forth a glimmer of hope: there is a liberal/progressive movement on the internet fighting back at right-wing propaganda and lies. Their solution is for the Democratic Party and liberals to empower their own progressive populist power base, to strengthen their own grassroots, and to stand up against the bullying tactics of the Right.

Me, I look at the way the Republicans blame President Obama for all the ills of today, regardless of most of them having originated during the Bush presidency and how they obstruct all efforts to actually better the situation for ordinary American citizens, and I'm amazed not only at their brazenness but also that they keep getting away with it.


Part of that is IMO that American media generally aren't doing their job. Another important part is that the current administration and the Democratic Party are simply too wussy and not a) condemning the right-wing's appalling behavior strongly enough, b) not putting forth strong enough policies to improve the American economy and the lot of poor and ordinary Americans. Those liberal populists had better get their act together soon – and so does the Obama administration – or a bad situation's bound to get even worse.

Recommended. Amato and Neiwert occasionally overstate their case, IMO, but all in all, they do yeoman work, and the situation they depict is genuinely scary.

torsdag 16 juni 2011

D Lindholm & D Nicoll: The Scandinavian Baltic Crusades 1100–1500

Well, this was a somewhat boring book. No, that's not an insult. The book is supposed to be boring, as it is made with the express intent of – among other things – teaching you about the weapons and armor used in the Scandinavian crusades in the Baltic states. Detailing those utensils of war, and the changes they underwent during that period, can only be kinda dull, especially since you just don't have very many examples of them remaining in nice condition.

Anyway, the book starts with a brief history of the Baltic crusades and continues with the arms-and-armor part – which is interesting if you're inordinately interested in medieval weaponry, but I'm not; I kept wishing for more pictures and less text in this section. Notably, there are pictures, but the format of the book (only 48 pages) leaves little space for the amount of illustrations that would be needed to keep my interest up.

After that, we get a brief look at the tactics and strategies used in the decidedly inhospitable environment that the Baltic states were. There was little chance of living off the land, not a lot of roads, often terrible ground conditions, especially in the spring and fall (at least in the winter, you could move across the frozen lakes and swamps, which was a lot harder in spring...).

Now, tactics and strategy, that I like to read about, so this is my favorite chapter. Basically, it seems the strategy for conquering the Baltics was based on the fewer-in-numbers crusaders taking and building strongholds while gradually pacifying the area surrounding them and raiding into neighboring territory. Then conquer a bit more land, and repeat the process all over again. You couldn't take too much territory at a time, because you had to be able to support the stronghold you established against the attempts to take that territory back.

Eventually, Sweden would establish control over Finland (and eventually lose it in  Gustav IV Adolf's idiotic war against Russia) and establish a power base in the Baltic states that served us well in our brief period as an expanding great power.

Well, even if I'm not sufficiently interested in the minutiae of medieval weapons to make this a book for me, I'll recommend it anyway, as it is an Osprey book and you can reasonably trust them to give you good info. Me, however, I need more and better pictures, or more of a narrative, to sustain my interest.

BTW, if you can read Swedish, here's a page on medieval armor and weapons.

onsdag 15 juni 2011

Doug Wright: Nipper 1963-1964

If you want wholesome, family-oriented fun, then Nipper 1963-1964 is certainly for you. Created by Canadian comics artist Doug Wright, it ran from 1949 to 1980. Reading it, I am reminded of Bil Keane's The Family Circus, which featured the same sort of easily recognizable family situations for readers to chuckle at – even though Keane's artistic skill was more of the "clear depiction" variety and Wright's was of the "beautiful, exact rendering" type, and there is a bit less sentimentality in Wright's strip (as rightly pointed out by Seth in the link at bottom). However, just like Keane's creation, Nipper is also a window into our recent past, into the roles and looks of yesteryear – something I rather enjoy, especially as it is minus the ideological trappings and/or nostalgia that often accompany such looks back when they're written today.

The 100+ pages of Nipper in this collection, two full years of the weekly strip, detail the life of a middle-class family in a Canadian suburb, featuring a harried husband and a housewife, and their two rambunctious boys. The strips are mainly about the antics of the boys and the futile attempts of their parents to control them, with the power struggle between the two lads as another common theme.

I feel somewhat the same about this strip as I do about The Family Circus; it is very well crafted entertainment, but in the long run, it can't quite keep my interest up. The gags in it are actually just a little bit too recognizable after having seen them in so many comic strips and TV shows. However, it's still worth reading the whole book to savor Wright's art; his ink line isn't all that elegant in itself, but the overall design and draftsmanship is so good that the completed panel still looks rather elegant and snappy. There is good drawing skill on display on every page (and Wright needed it, too, as his was a silent strip, making his drawings all he had to tell his stories with).

Even though this book isn't really for me – I doubt that I'll be paying seventeen dollars for another of these collections – if these samples tickle your fancy, by all means, drop by Drawn and Quarterly and order the book. Any effort to preserve the work of the great cartoonists of yesteryear for prosperity is worth encouraging.

So, I can't really recommend it, unless your taste in comics runs a little differently than mine, but kudos D&Q for doing their bit for comics history anyway.

Here is cartoonist Seth's appreciation of Wright.

måndag 13 juni 2011

David Kunzle: Father of the Comic Strip. Rodolphe Töpffer

The most amusing part of this book about the Swiss creator of comic albums – or "graphic novels" as they are now rather pompously called in many circles – was the idea that he created comics because he was a pretty good writer and a pretty good artist, but not able to make a full career out of either, because that is what Charles Schulz said about his own tremendous success with "Peanuts". Unfortunately, that's about as amusing as it gets, because while Kunzle is undoubtably knowledgeable on his subject, he's chosen to structure the book in a way that makes it less accessible, and his writing would have been well served by being less convoluted and having fewer speculations on this and that inserted here and there.

Now, were I to write a book analyzing a comics creator's oeuvre, I'd probably do it the traditional and somewhat boring way: start by describing the works to be analyzed; then analyze its protagonists and themes that pop up in it, etc; and then perhaps look at some IMO interesting details. It's the safe, if somewhat boring, way to do it.

Instead, Kunzle jumps right into enumerating the themes he's found in Töpffer's work, before dealing with the stories themselves. For somebody who hasn't already read them, that sort of leaves you hanging a bit. (Having compiled, translated and annotated an edition of Töpffer's comics, perhaps Kunzle was just too intimately knowledgeable of them to distance himself sufficiently from his text to give due consideration to the fact that not all of his readers would share his knowledge of the stories.) Also, Töpffer's biography is given sort of "as the criticism rolls along", not in a chapter of its own, which I think would have made more sense.

Another problem is his language. I don't know how many learned books about comics I've read that have lost part of their value to me because of unnecessarily meandering language. You want to learn how to write legibly about comics without the text losing any of its analytical/informational value? Read Brian Walker's excellent The Comics, or just about anything by Frederik Schodt; their writing is crisp and clear, and that detracts nothing from the quality of their thinking. Kunzle, OTOH, obscures his own reasoning with unnecessarily complicated language and sometimes not particularly relevant speculations – and, in one case, a dig against the Bush administration. (I certainly think that particular dig was well-deserved – in fact, I could think of quite a number of other digs that the Bush administration would deserve – but it's so completely out of place in a critical analysis of Rodolphe Töpffer's comics that it just stopped me in my tracks for a moment, thus detracting from what the book is supposed to be doing; namely, educating the reader about Töpffer and his comics.) 

Anyway, I'll give an example of both the language and the speculation, so that you can judge for yourself:
"The scenario by which the blameless petty bourgeois is 'exposed' (accused of a crime, found naked, in itself an offense) plays on the shame and confusion surrounding the ethics of getting on – in business, in the world, where all is appearance anyway. Trictrac is Töpffer's comedy (or farce) par excellence of  mistaken identities, his classic vis comica, involving abrupt and often involuntary switches of costume. These are symptoms of the flux of social roles in the real world, of temptations and pitfalls, of the need to appear as something other than what one is, or was, and the tendency to be taken for what one is not.
The petty-bourgeois fascination with the criminal, who stalks tall through the nineteenth-century popular novel, the man from the margins capable of great acts of power, like the Count of Monte Cristo, is a fantasy of those excluded from power, or given paltry symbols of it, like the grocer-national guardsman. To imagine oneself arrested as a  petty criminal is thus a deterrent against, or advance punishment for, harboring criminal fantasies."
Apart from the somewhat dubious psychological theories, I think most of those sentences could be improved by removing 10-15% of them (and I say that as someone who is constantly struggling to not overload my own sentences with words and clauses). 

OK, so that's what I don't like about the book. What do I like?

Well, it does give you a lot of info the man, his work and the world he lived in, even if it doesn't do it in as structured way as I would prefer. His father was an accomplished artist, and he himself was no slouch, if not good enough to make a living from it – partly from bad eyesight. He worked as a schoolmaster and professor of literature, and would write criticism and fiction, and published his comics stories on the side. His stories found their way to Goethe, who found them very amusing, and somewhat later, he started publishing them for a larger public to buy. (Exactly why he finally chose to publish his stories isn't quite clear to me from Kunzle's text, and with the biographical data spread out over more or less the whole book, it's hard to go back and check particular facts without re-reading the whole book.) 

Anyway, the albums were quite successful, and Töpffer sold them himself instead of via a publisher, and apparently made good profits off them. They became rather well-known, and inspired both plagiarists and original works by other artists. He developed his own sort of theory about how to create graphic novels, about the interplay between words and pictures, about the need for clarity and the need to let go of realism to get pictures full of movement and action.

Working in autolitography, a technique that allowed him to simply draw his stories instead of going through the tedious woodcut or engraving procedures, Töpffer created lively, farcical works that attracted the attention of many. Kunzle offers a chapter on the influence Töpffer had on those who came after him, and how the sort of picture story he pioneered fared in the following decades. He also offers a look at what might bee seen as the precursor of Töpffer's own comics albums, his illustrated diaries of the Alp-hiking summer trips he took with the boys of his boarding school.

All in all, this could have been a great book if it had only had a more reader-friendly structure. As it is, it's not a waste of time, but it's unnecessarily hard work for the info and insights to be gained. My favorite part is actually the appendix where Kunzle has translated a critique from 1846 by a Professor Fr. Vischer, capturing IMO the essence of good comics creation:

"While Gavarni captures as it were in flight single moments with epigrammatic intensity, while the piquant glimpses we are allowed through the keyhole give us a synthetic view of society today in compilations arranged loosely around various themes and going from point to point, Töpffer by contrast is quite continuous, he never lets go of his topic in order to switch to another. Rather he develops the same topic, lets one scene grow organically out of another, and does not stop until he has spun it out fully, exhausted all the motifs he has seeded there and brought to fruition; he narrates, he draws novels. (...)
A comic character thus constitutes a plot pivot in each of the albums, This character is inescapably prisoner to some inexorable caprice, passion, or weakness. No experience, no obstacle, no humiliation can teach him better."

I would submit that such perspicacious comics criticism is still not particularly common today, despite all the talk about how far we've come. Too much of it is aimed at either establishing the critic's learned status, or at scoring points against stuff he/she doesn't like, or at satisfying his/her childhood nostalgia. (Of these problems, the last one is the least problematic, however. Because the nostalgic isn't moved by ulterior motives, his/her research into a comic's or creator's history, motivations, etc, will likely be perhaps a bit too uncritical, but it will be thorough and extensive, which will make it an excellent source for other comics researchers to draw upon as well.)

Anyway, I can't really recommend this unless you're specifically interested in Töpffer and his contributions to creating the medium of comics. At the very least, I'd recommend that you start out by reading Kunzle's edition of Töpffer's collected works, which is in itself an excellent contribution to our understanding comics history and worthy of respect and praise.


fredag 10 juni 2011

MAD About the Oscars. 38 Best Picture WInners (And Losers!)

MAD Magazine is an institution, and while I haven't been as amused by it in recent years, it's still an institution that commands respect. And since a lot of that respect was built upon the wonderful Mort Drucker-drawn movie parodies, naturally I consider this collection of those parodies a gem and a must-have.

Let's start with the good stuff: the overwhelming majority of parodies in this collection are drawn by Drucker. Legend has it that when the Brooklyn native Drucker came up to visit the MAD offices looking for work, William Gaines was listening to a baseball match with the Brooklyn Dodgers on the radio. He told the young artist that if the Dodgers won, he'd be hired. The Dodgers won, and Drucker was hired.

If it's a true or merely great story, I don't know, but whatever the reason Drucker was hired, it was a stroke of genius as he would go on to become one of the great caricaturists of the century, and possibly the greates artist in the quite impressive MAD lineup.

Also, you have to give the MAD writers credit. They don't really do all that much satire in their movie parodies IMO; "parody" is a better description, but they also do an excellent job of pointing out plot flaws, ridiculous premises, etc. You'd really be hard pressed to find a better review of a film than the MAD version of it – when I was a kid, I hardly ever went to the movies, but I knew all about the big films anyway, because I'd read about them in MAD. In fact, I think you could put together a very decent education as a movie writer and/or director basing the curriculum entirely on reading MAD movie parodies – they are that good at the basics of storytelling, plot structure, and pacing.

It's not perfect, however. These stories are from the 1960s and onwards, and the zeitgeist has changed as regards many things – most notably, IMO, the views on gender roles and homosexuality. Too often, these movies reflect a view of gender roles that can seem not just old-fashioned but even insulting today, and that can be reflected in the parodies as well. Also, homosexuality was okay as the basis for tasteless and pretty crude "jokes" in those days that we're less likely to accept, or find particularly funny, today. Mincing gays is a stereotype that has outlived itself, IMO. Similarly, throwaway lines about Arabs smelling badly isn't, fortunately, considered OK in polite society anymore, either.

Plus, more than a few of the movies that were considered great in their day haven't aged all that gracefully. This doesn't really affect the quality of the parodies, of course, but it does make some choices seem less important than others. Fortunately, most of the movies in this collection do belong to a "you really should have seen this movie at least once" canon. You'll find movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Patton, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest here – and I wonder if that last one doesn't somehow represent an artistic peak for Drucker; his portraits of Jack Nicholson in it are just marvelous.

…And then I go back to the book and check the other stories and realize that dammit, he's been so great for so long that it's practically impossible to name an artistic "peak"; it's a very, very long plateau at a very, very high level.

The rest of the artists in this volume range from the great (Hermann Mejia doing "Lord of the Rings"), over the very good (Angelo Torres and Jack Davis) to the "meh" (Tom Richards and Sam Viviano). Fortunately, most of it is indeed great, and most of the movie parodies are good to very good efforts from the writers.

Recommended. And hey, it is a classic.

måndag 6 juni 2011

My t-shirts, part 38: Oral Bill

This is another Bloom County t-shirt, and Bill the Cat is of course perfect for the role of the sleazy, greedy fundamentalist "Christian" preacher.

This is one of my favorite tees.

Chris Giarrusso: Mini Marvels Ultimate Collection

How would the Marvel superheroes and -villains behave if they were kids? What would their lives look like? Peter Parker, for example, couldn't be a photographer for the Daily Bugle if he was just a kid. He could, however, deliver papers for them. However, naturally Venom would compete with him for the paper route, and even if he would be able to keep it, delivering the paper to the Osborns' house would entail the Green Goblin trying to kill him every morning.

How do I know this? Because it's all in Chris Giarrusso's excellent Mini Marvels, of course.

There's plenty to parody in the Marvel Universe. You can do it in a short strip, having, for example, Harry Osborn complaining that his father wants to spend quality time with him – which is hardly surprising as it turns out that that means him being dragged along after the Green Goblin's flier. Giarrusso did a bunch of strips like that, spoofing events and characters of the Marvel Universe, and they were published as "Bullpen Bits" in the back of standard Marvel comics. The feature eventually expanded to one-shot issues which were then collected into paperbacks, and Mini Marvels Ultimate Collection collects those and what is apparently a previously unpublished story in 216 (mostly) hilarious pages. You can see how Giarrusso evolved as an artist by comparing the earliest strips and stories with his most recent story, "Hawkeye and the Crimson Crown" (which, if I understand things correctly, hasn't been previously published). BTW, Giarrusso writes the best-damn-Hawkeye I've seen in any Marvel comic, bar none. The character has never been better than it is here – with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but with quite a bit of justification considering the patronizing, belittling attitude he's getting from his fellow Avengers and other superheroes.

Anyway, here is an example of Giarrusso's early drawing style, a shot of the Fantastic Four – not bad, but a tad, well, maybe we could call it "naivist". It works – especially as it's finishing up a sequence where a cured Ben Grimm has suddenly and inexplicably turned back into the Thing – but it lacks some of the dynamism and confidence of his later work.

Apart from the obvious humor to be mined from the relationships between the characters, Giarrusso is also a skilled humorist in his own right. Not only is he good at coming up with silly situations and fun story lines, he's good at milking situations for their comedic value. One of the techniques he uses is to have a character fixating on something and persevering with a phrase or theme, simply refusing to let it go, thus creating an ever more absurd situation for any character unfortunate enough to have to interact with him. The funniest example of this is when poor Thor has been given an armor by Iron Man (who plans to make a bundle from selling armors to the general public, with extra PR from having the other superheroes using them), and Odin apparently thinks it's all part of Thor having been corrupted by Earth's pop/rap/vulgar culture...

Giarrusso does use this technique several times, but it works so well that it doesn't get old. Like, for example, when the Hulk's talent for speaking in excellent haikus is not just explored, but beaten into the ground – in a most amusing manner.

So this is a gem of a book – funny and charming, and while it caters extra to the sort of person who knows his or her Marvel history just a little bit too well, it's still funny even if your knowledge of Marvel lore is somewhat less-than-obsessive. Marvel would do well to let Giarruso create more of these wonderful stories; he's clearly a talent worth more exposure. I'm getting his G-Man collections from Image, now. They won't give me the extra amusement that comes from from spoofing my favorite superheroes, but they do feature his comedic talent, and based on Mini Marvels Ultimate Collection, that talent should be enough to carry those collections as well.

...And just because I love Peanuts, a bonus sample of the brand of humor in the early strips:

Giarrusso is at his best with the longer stories, where he has time to work more on the relations and interactions between the characters as well as their various hang-ups, but the strips are usually good for a laugh. The only slow part of the book is not-quite-a-dozen page-long jokes about Red Hulk - Blue Hulk. Other than that, it moves between the poles of "funny" and "brilliant".

Warmly recommended!

lördag 4 juni 2011

Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown

If you turn a comic strip into an animated movie, and then the animated movie into a "graphic novel", what the heck will you end up with?

OK, so animated movie versions of comic strips aren't always so hot. They frequently suffer from timing and pacing issues, and perhaps the characters don't sound quite the way they do in your head when you read the strip, etc, etc. In short, there are problems with turning a comic strip into film, and the Peanuts films of yesteryear certainly weren't perfect – although it was Peanuts, so of course I watched them if I had the opportunity.

Anyway, if you turn a comic strip into an animated movie, and then the animated movie into a "graphic novel", what the heck will you end up with? Answer: a surprisingly enjoyable read. Kudos to Stephan Pastis and Craig Schulz, who did the adaptation, and Vicki Scott, Bob Scott and Ron Zorman, who did the art. (Oh, and the colors by Brian Miller work well, too.)

Now, keep in mind that this isn't exactly original material. The film is based on Peanuts strips, and being a fan since the age of about five I've read basically all of them (and the majority of them more than a few times each...), so with each page of this "graphic novel" consisting of one or two jokes from the strips or Sunday pages, there wasn't much to surprise me... but the jokes were so strong to begin with that they survive the transition (at least for me, who still have the impact of the original strips very much alive in my memory).

The story is basically about how Linus needs to kick his blanket habit, because first of all, his blanket-hating grandma is coming to visit, and, second and more importantly, it irks Lucy. Various attempts to curb the blanket habit are made, all of them failing. Interspersed with this are scenes from a) Lucy's unsuccessful attempts to get Schroeder to reciprocate her love for him, b) Schroeder only caring about his music and Beethoven, c) Snoopy and his food issues, d) Sally's unrequited love for Linus, e) Charlie Brown's insecurity and inability to fly a kite, f) Pig-Pen's inability to achieve anything even resembling cleanliness.

Finally, after another of Snoopy's many attempts to steal Linus' blanket ends in calamity for everybody, the gang confronts Linus and lets him know that they're not at all happy about his addiction to that blanket. Linus responds with a quite stirring speech about how yes, he is dependent on his blanket, but don't they all have various hangups, and who are they to tell him the he has to give up his?

This speech is basically the only thing I don't remember having already read in the strip, and if that was added by scriptwriters Pastis and Schulz, then they should be commended for tying what is really a rather disparate collection of anecdotes into what becomes a story that actually works, thanks to that speech – and the surprising revelation of one member of the Peanuts crew who isn't a neurotic. Can you guess who? (Well, you're going to have to, because I don't want to give it away. The writers did a good job on this dénouement, so they deserve getting readers coming into it with open minds uncontaminated by spoilers in reviews.)

For $20, you get 80 well-drawn pages that work surprisingly well, drawn in a 60's Schulz style (I imagine it's easier to create fluidity of motion in that style than in Schulz' later art style), with some 80 or so Peanuts jokes, plus a good conclusion. It was worth it for me, because I'm a Peanuts fanatic and the dollar price is currently rather low relative to the Swedish Krona. If you think it's worth it for you too, you'll get a bonus of a half-dozen pages of character sheets and other background material done for the movie.

Well, I'm recommending it, anyway. Schulz was one of the truly great comics artists, and it's nice to see his legacy kept alive in a manner that is faithful to the spirit of his work.

fredag 3 juni 2011

Back from the comics store, June edition

Well, you know the drill by now. Here it is:

I'm especially looking forward to Joe Kubert's "Jew Gangster", because, well, it's Joe Kubert – I don't think I'll ever tire of that line of his, with its sorta sketchy elegance... He's a consummate draughtsman, and I think he's only gotten better every year he's been in the business.

Bunch of other stuff as well; summer's coming up and hopefully my workload will ease off in a couple of weeks so I'll have time to read some more.

onsdag 1 juni 2011

Morvan, Bessadi & Trannoy: Zorn & Dirna #3

Zorn and Dirna are two kids who live in a world where Death has been imprisoned and nobody fully dies – if they're killed by decapitation, however, their soul goes into the person who killed them. This has created all sorts of havoc in the world, and to get rid of what is essentially moving, rotting corpses, a "death factory" has been created where such decapitations are done on an industrial scale, by unfortunate people who have to do this sort of slaying until they just can't take it anymore – and they're slain themselves, their souls going into their killer.

Now, Zorn and Dirna have been born into this world with a very valuable talent: together, they can kill somebody properly, releasing their soul from this world. This makes them very valuable, of course, and a lot of players are out to get ahold of them, but as the third album begins, they are together with their father Seldnör – who became a vicious bounty hunter in his grief when he lost his family (before Zorn and Dirna were born) – and the soul of their mother Splata – in the body of the hugely muscular person who decapitated her in the "death factory". Meanwhile, they are being hunted by the evil Crown Prince's army, full of vicious sadists... (My review of #s 1 & 2 is here.)

So, the family is reunited at last, and Zorn and Dirnas mother's soul has become dominant in the body of the man who decapitated her – the shock of seeing her children catapulted her consciousness to the top. Seldnör's love for his wife is reignited, but she is  alas a man now, and this creates some awkward situations. (There are also some sentimental scenes that actually approach "sugary-sweet", which doesn't really fit with the harsh bleakness of the rest of the album.) The kids learn how to use their power for good purposes, like freeing the soul of a tortured, dying animal, but they have other problems than the soldier horde stalking them to deal with: The other souls inhabiting the same body as Splata are getting annoyed with her hogging the body and calling all the shots, and the kindly old lady offering the family shelter from a mountain winter storm isn't all she seems to be. Well, she's an old lady, but she's not exactly kindly.

There is good and bad in the Zorn & Dirna series. The art is good, if occasionally overwhelmed by the coloring, and the world that writer Morvan has created together with Le Gall, Bessadi and and Trannoy is impressive and works very well as a setting – a little bit too well, even, as the full measure of its viciousness is shown to the reader, with the cruelty and gruesomeness shown in explicit detail. It's very unpleasant, and it detracts from my reading experience as I feel it to be more exploitative than honest – especially in conjunction with the sugary sentimentality and melodrama of some other scenes. The subplots hinted at in the third paragraph above are resolved well, however, and overall I consider this a good read worth your while. I just wish they'd toned down the melodramatic parts, both the violence/gore ones and the sentimental ones. There are still ample possibilities to show that a world is horrible without getting quite so gory.

So: Recommended, if not as wholeheartedly as I'd like to – and not for young kids.