torsdag 28 juli 2011


Well, this blog's still on vacation, but the good news are, if you're on a vacation as well, you have the time to watch a Paul Krugman lecture on Keynes and today's situation.

It's Paul Krugman, so it's good.

lördag 16 juli 2011

My t-shirts, part 42: The Punisher

Seriously, is that bullet hole effect cool or what? Brilliant art by Mike Zeck, who got his big breakthrough on Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, IIRC, and who did the art for J M DeMatteis' excellent Kraven's Last Hunt.

onsdag 13 juli 2011

Lewis Trondheim & Joann Sfar: Donjon 1 – Ankhjärta (Dungeon Vol 1: Duck Heart)

Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar are a couple of "big new stars" in the French comics biz... but having made their grand entrance on the comics scene in the nineties, the "new" part doesn't really apply anymore – except that they haven't seen a lot of publishing in English or Swedish until this last decade, so they're a fresh new acquaintance just waiting to be made for a lot of potential new readers. And boy, do they deserve all the readers they can get, because Donjon/Dungeon is quite charming and utterly entertaining.

Basically, the story of this first album in the series is as follows: in an anthropomorphic universe, a dungeon owner keeps his dungeon well stocked with both treasure and monsters in order to lure adventurers to it. Then, when the adventurers are killed by the monsters, he loots their bodies for their possessions, thereby gaining enough loot to keep the dungeon going, and even expanding it (and his treasure). One day, he is threatened by some rather creepy creatures and decides to let a very heroic barbarian in his dungeon investigate them. Unfortunately, his lowly employee Herbert (a duck) manages to get that barbarian killed, and in order to cover up his blunder and avoid punishment, he takes the barbarian's place and is sent out on a mission he is woefully unprepared for.

Believing Herbert to be the barbarian hero, the dungeon master sends him off on his quest (after a very well-written and amusing conversation, which is symptomatic of most of the dialogue in this book – it's frequently witty and entertaining like an old Thin Man movie). But just to be on the safe side, he then sends his top fighter, Marvin the Dragon, after Herbert to aid and support him on his mission. Together, they take on the menace to the dungeon, learning more about each other and even becoming friends in the process. Herbert even does some heroic stuff, which is a bit against his nature, but also necessary if he's ever going to be able to draw the sword he took over from the dead barbarian – the sword is sentient, and adamantly refuses to allow Herbert to draw it until he's proven that he's worthy by performing three heroic deeds without its help.

The story is clever, using a lot of standard fantasy and Dungeon and Dragons clichés in an amusing manner – while simultaneously telling a pretty straight action/adventure and buddy story. Sfar and Trondheim throw in a whole bunch of weird and unpredictable twists and turns in their story, but these are done with supreme storytelling self-confidence, and don't go against the grain of the series' universe, that the reader simply accepts them and happily go along for the ride. The only quibbles I have with this book is that the lettering is a bit more on the "arty" than the "readable" side, and the artwork is a  bit scribbly for my tastes, even if it does tell the story more than adequately.

This is not a Dungeons and Dragons satire or parody; instead, it's a humorous adventure – something the Franco-Belgian comics tradition is so good at – in an untraditional setting. It's not done quite in the elegant manner of the old masters, like Franquin, Peyo or Goscinny; but it is done with a special elegance all its own, managing to be both funny, odd, and engaging in the process.

It's excellent. Recommended.

Here is a review site with lots of pro-Trondheim-and-Dungeon reviews (in Swedish).

tisdag 12 juli 2011

Back from the bookstore, July edition

Half prize on all books, that's great, isn't it? Well, not really, not when it's a going out of business sale. Always sad to see a bookseller go. Still, I'm not too sentimental to not buy some of the books.

I had my eye on a bit more, actually, but there's always the problem with a) money, b) space...

I'm most looking forward to reading up on the Swedish dog breeds.

söndag 10 juli 2011

Horst Schröder: De första serierna (The earliest comic strips")

Horst Schröder is the comics expert who went from critic and theorist to publisher and as such brought a lot of great European and American comics creators to the Swedish comics market. Unfortunately, he seems to have sort of overreached with his publishing venture, and it is now on a much smaller scale, even if it is still alive and kicking.

Illustration from the Swedish comics wikipedia, Seriewikin.
Despite its subtitle, "Dagspresserier i USA från sekelskiftet till 30-talet" ("Daily strips in the US from the turn of the century to the thirties") his book doesn't really chart the development of the earliest daily strips; it gives a cursory overview of that, and then it concentrates on a number of important strips and creators. These include Moon Mullins,Gasoline Alley, George Herriman, George McManus, Mutt and Jeff, etc. I don't have a big problem with that; the book is from 1981, and – as Schröder rightly points out – the research on comics wasn't very strong at the time, so this book is part of introducing some basic facts about comics for the interested public and (as is emphasized in the foreword) usually ignorant journalists and debaters.

So how does it work? Rather well, actually. Schröder is a good writer, an expert on his subject and also has analytical skills (and the doctor's degree to prove it). So as a quick introduction to the subject, and especially to the strips and creators he focuses on, it works very well. I think he's still a bit too rooted in the seventies – the book could have done without some of the references to Marxist class theory and Freudian theory – but unlike some more ideological Swedish comics critics (like this guy) he's knowledgeable enough about comics (and enough of a comics fan) to not let the ideology overwhelm and wreck the analysis.

Another problem is that he doesn't seem to have read very much of some of the strips he presents; he doesn't hide that, rather, he points out from the start how hard it is (or rather, was at the time) to find the old comics, especially those who weren't extremely popular. However, it does hamper the analysis when it is – as it seems in a few cases – based on the writings of other comics scholars and the occasional example they may have provided. It makes the book weaker than it might have been, but it doesn't ruin it; it's still worth a read. At 100 pages, it's not a hard slog, either.

So, in conclusion, if you're a Swedish-reader, I'd certainly recommend that you borrow this book at the library and read it – but for a really, really good work on the history of US newspaper strips, I'd recommend Brian Walker's excellent The Comics, which combines the history of the comic strip business, its creators and comic strips, with a look at the changes society underwent concurrently and how they affected the comics. It's huge, eminently readable and very interesting – especially the first part, about the pre-1945 strips. Get it and read it, as soon as possible.

Basically a must-read.

fredag 8 juli 2011

måndag 4 juli 2011

Joe Kubert: How to Draw from Life

Joe Kubert is a living legend in the comics industry – and all the more precious not only since have we lost so many of its legends in recent years, but also because he's still been producing excellent stuff at a very advanced age. His How to Draw from Life from Vanguard is no exception from the general rule that if it's drawn by Kubert, it's excellent.

However, don't buy this for the gorgeously rendered Kubert art you might justifiably expect; this is about life drawing, not rendering, and usually about capturing the essence of a model's pose in a very short period of time, so often it's just sketches. Sketches doing very well what they intend to do, namely capturing the essence of a pose, an attitude or direction, or how the model's weight is distributed, tensions and relaxations of the muscles, etc.

Some pieces that Kubert has spent a bit more time on are really beautiful to behold, though. And as an added bonus, he's working in a variety of styles, with a variety of tools, so you'll see a slightly different side of his drawing talent than the one you usually see in his comics.

Kubert also shares some drawing tips and a bit of his drawing philosophy. Mainly it's about how you need to practice on your live drawing to be able to do what you're supposed to do as a (comics) artist. If all you learn is actually from comics, you'll never understand what underlies the pictures you draw, and your art will suffer from it. For example, if you learn from comics artists that a mouth is drawn as a thin line with a shadow put in slightly below to indicate the lower lip, you can do what Alex Raymond and Hal Foster did, but you won't be able to actually draw mouths.

Similarly, many comics artists, having learned their anatomy from comics, have an unrealistic view of the human body. Their characters' muscles are all flexed, all the time. You need to practice life drawing to learn what the muscles look like when they're not flexed, and to learn how parts of the body may be tensed, muscles flexed, while others are not. Also, through life drawing, you'll learn how light actually plays on the body. Frequently, in order to do fine rendering of all of a character's body and muscles, people will treat it as if all of it is lighted exactly the same and very clearly all over, which isn't usually the case.

So, this book shows a consummate master of his craft constantly working to expand his mastery – and not only that, he'll give you some drawing tips as well. Of course it's recommended.

lördag 2 juli 2011

Chris Eliopolous & Ig Guara: Avengers vs. the Pet Avengers

The Pet Avengers consists of Lockjaw of the Inhumans, Lockheed of X-Men, the Falcon's falcon Redwing, frog-Thor Throg, Ka-Zar's Zabu, and a cat and a dog. Here, they're out to protect the Earth from Fin Fang Foom and his band of dragons – or are they?

This is a collection of a four-issue miniseries, written by Eliopolous and with art by Ig Guara, with a bonus story by Eliopolous about Thor having been turned into a frog and getting help from Spider-Man, inspired by Walter Simonson having briefly turned Thor into a frog in the eighties.

Anyway, the main story starts out by showing Fin Fang Foom and a whole bunch of dragons arriving from space ages ago, first being revered almost as gods, and then being hunted into almost-extinction by the humans. After being given an elixir, Fin (or Foom, if you prefer) fell asleep and would sleep for centuries. That brings us to contemporary times and the Pet Avengers stopping a robber. Then, Throg receives a telepathic message from Thor that the original Avengers are in trouble, and the group uses Lockjaw's teleportation powers to transport themselves to help them out. Turns out the Avengers are in a battle with Foom (or Fin, if you prefer) and are in bad trouble – not least because Thor, Iron Man and Captain America have been turned into frogs.

The Pet Avengers join the fray – but Lockheed suddenly decides to take a stand with his fellow dragons, and after a somewhat lengthy discussion persuades his friends to help him and the dragons hold off the Avengers while Fin Fang Foom goes into the ground to retrieve something... (That'll have to do for a plot summary; I don't want to give away too much of the story.)

I really expected to like this comic. I mean, the Pet Avengers? How could that not be good?

Turns out it could, by a) not having adequate art, b) not having adequate writing. The cover of issue #4 illustrating this post is also the cover of the collection, and is symptomatic of the art problem. If you look at it, you wouldn't know that there is a problem, but the colors of paperback cover is significantly darker, killing a lot of Guara's line art. The same problem is prevalent inside the book; murky coloring makes it difficult to make out what's happening in many instances, and even when it's not, you're still robbed of the experience of Guara's line art. So a big Fail for the coloring and/or production of this book, then.

Also, the writing suffers from trying to be both a traditional Marvel action/adventure story and funny, I believe, and Eliopolous doesn't manage to pull that off. The big fight between the dragons and the Avengers is too drawn-out and to erratically paced, shifting between action and debate (though in fairness, some of my problem with that may be due to the dark, murky colors pretty much killing the action sequences). Even more problematically, having Thor, Cap and Iron Man turned into frogs seems just tacked on to the story; it doesn't contribute anything at all and isn't used to make any special points about heroism, either. Instead, it comes off as if Eliopolous just thought, "hey, wouldn't it be neat to have Thor, Cap and Iron Man turned into frogs?". But it's not neat enough that it can stand on its own; you have to actually do something with it as well. Instead, they're frogs, remain frogs for an issue or so, and are then returned to human form. That's it, and it's not enough.

So the main part of this book doesn't work, and you can't even buy it to just enjoy the artwork.

The last story, however, is drawn by Eliopolous himself in his own cartoony style, and it works better. It's a single-issue story from Spider-Man Family depicting how Loki gets Thor turned into a frog, and how Thor is then captured by the guy who delivers frogs to the local high school for dissection, and who happens to get him as his subject if not Peter Parker? Thor must somehow convey to Peter that he isn't just any old frog, and then find Loki and defeat him (with the help of the Amazing Spider-Man, of course).

This piece worked better because it was less pretentious and simply told its story in a straight fashion, and Eliopolous' art worked very nicely for it (it helped that it wasn't killed by insensitive coloring). But I can't recommend a book because one-fifth of it works, so I won't. Try Chris Giarrusso's Mini Marvels Ultimate Collection instead, which is both funnier, more readable, and better at characterization.