lördag 31 augusti 2013

Tim Pilcher and Brad Brooks: The Essential Guide to World Comics

This book is essentially what it (nearly) claims to be, a bare-essentials guide to comics all over the world. It splits the world into ten "comics regions" – the US, Great Britain, Japan, the-rest-of-Asia-except-India, France-Belgium, other-Europe, Latin America, Fennoscandinavia, Australia-New Zeeland, and India-Africa-the Middle East – and gives us brief historical overviews over how the comics scene has evolved in various countries, important creators and comics, and what the comics scene looks like today (or rather, in 2005, when the book was written). And Pilcher nad Brooks do this in 300 pages. As you might surmise, it's a bit of a whirlwind tour.

Still, I think they do a pretty good job of it. It's a bit too much to really take in all of it on the first reading, but it's still interesting to read about how the various comics industries have developed and what their main characteristics are. For example, if you didn't know about comics' history in Sweden – which you likely didn't if you don't live here – you'll learn about our long and storied love affair with Disney ducks and Lee Falk's Phantom, as well as get brief overviews of some Swedish comics creators. The drawback is that it's still bare-bones histories, so if you want more depth you'll have to go elsewhere and read something that concentrates on one country or region, but I'm still kind of impressed that they pull the whole thing off – which they do.

I have a couple of complaints (I wouldn't be me if I didn't), though. First, Britain is treated like it's practically the second-most important country in the world, and I just can't agree with that; it's gotten the second chapter, after the US, and also the second-largest page count of the single countries. I can buy that for the authors being Brits, but I don't agree with it.

Second, I'm not entirely happy with the choices they've made for illustrations – especially when they get to the less-known comics scenes, there's a tendency for a lot of illustrations to move towards stamp size, making it hard to discern the artist's style or even the actual content of the strip depicted. I realize that it's an editorial choice one might make to offer more space to pictures from certain creators/countries and to use full-page illustrations to make the work more visually interesting/an easier read, but I personally think you're wasting quite a bit of space that could instead be used to showcase less well-known creators and comics.

Finally, after a while, the job of writing snappy descriptions of the comics they like becomes a bit too much; as a reader, I can get a bit tired of the "the [insert praising adjective here] [insert comic's name here] by the [insert adjective here] [insert creator's name here]" formula used for a bit too many of the illustrations.


It is a whirlwind tour of the world of comics, and it includes a lot of comics scenes and creators you're not likely to know pretty much anything about. And it's worth your while.

So yes, worth reading. (Eminent comics scholar Paul Gravette agrees; his review of it is here.)

måndag 12 augusti 2013

Maximilien Le Roy & Michel Onfray: Nietzsche

As a rule, I'm not a huge fan of biographies in comics format – they're usually easy to read, which is a plus, but they tend towards the anecdotal, due to space constraints. Thus, they leave out so many aspects of somebody's life and so much context, as well as the commentary and interpretation that you'll usually find in a biography in book format, that you'll usually learn more from reading a good Wikipedia article on the subject instead. It'll be somewhat drier reading, and you won't have the aesthetic component that a good artist can provide, but you'll be better off information-wise.

That said, Nietzsche. Se créer liberté (Swedish title: Nietzsche. Att skapa sig frihet) by Maximilien Le Roy based on a film script by philosopher Michel Onfray isn't bad. It gives you the some brief glimpses of what formed his life and opinions, and some dialogues presenting his views, and as far as I can tell does a decent job of that. While I don't think Le Roy's art is particularly elegant, he tells the story well, and the dialogue is well-written – despite being relatively brief (you'll find far more text in for example a Blake and Mortimer album, even though this one about an important philosopher) it works very well to present (some of) Nietzsche's views, and what could have been rather boring pages of talking heads works pretty decently.

So, important (or at least well-known) episodes of Nietzsche's life are covered, you get a few glimpses of his philosophy and thinking, and Le Roy and Infray come down solidly on the side of those who think his sister falsified the works he edited to make the impression of an anti-semitism that wasn't Nietzsche's own at all. You can't really demand more of a biography in comics format, and this the creators deliver.

Worth reading. (No, I'm not providing much detail about the actual plot of the book. You want that, you can get it and more here.)

Published in Swedish by Agerings Bokförlag.

tisdag 6 augusti 2013

Kurt Busiek, Peter Vale, Jesús Merino, Renato Guedes: Superman – Shadows Linger

OK, I've gushed about Kurt Busiek's Superman before, so I won't do it again.

Seriously, I won't, because this isn't all that good.

Now, I'll wager that's not entirely Busiek's fault, because these are stories from the Superman comic book, issues 671-675 (published in 2008, if I understand things correctly), so he's likely under editorial control and forced to stick with some overall storylines that aren't entirely conducive to great stories. For example, Clark Kent and Lois Lane now have a kid they have to take care of. Not only does this kid have superpowers, which makes for a subplot that needs to be addressed in each issue (or chapter), substantially slowing down the narrative without really contributing anything. Also, having a kid around makes for sentimental breaks in the story when the kid has to be told regularly that Clark and Lois really do care for him and aren't going to send him away for being a nuisance. It's the sort of soap opera-ish subplot that can help keep people returning to a series and also make for interesting stories when it's concluded, but in a collection like this, where it is still far from its resolution, it really doesn't contribute anything positive.

Also, the art, while passable, doesn't add much excitement to the stories, so it's basically up to Busiek to carry the whole burden of making this a worthwhile read, and saddled with not only the limitations mentioned above but also a couple of non-original storylines, he doesn't fully deliver.

First comes a three-issue storyline about an insect creature who's made a deal with Lex Luthor before he went down in flames and Lana Lang had to take over Lexcorp. Since Luthor can't be found, the insect queen's minions kidnap Lana instead, taking her to their secret base on the moon. Superman follows, is initially defeated and imprisoned, and has to escape and defeat the creatures who have already defeated him once – a familiar enough plot, right?

Then comes a two-issue tale about how some reactionary and fanatical priests from Daxam come to Earth to fetch the "heretic" Mon-El for punishment. Naturally, Superman can't hand him over, as he'd die of lead poisoning as soon as he was brought out of the Phantom Zone. Superman tries to explain this to the priests, and also to warn them of the danger they run of lead poisoning here on Earth. In a nice enough portrait of fanatics of all kinds, the Daxamites don't listen to reason. Things are also complicated by the presence of super-villain Paragon, who's trying to kill Superman so he can become ruler of the Earth – until he's insulted by the Daxamite priests and decides that they need to be taught a lesson first. So he shoots them, which leads to lead poisoning, but even then they're too damn stupid, sullen and stubborn to see reason or even accept Superman's help.

Overall, the stories aren't all that bad, but they're not exactly original, so they need to be told with a lot more verve than they are to become exciting. I'll give Busiek props for some nice touches – like Lana Lang not being one bit worried as Superman takes on the insect queen in final battle: "Where've you been, Anders? He's Superman -- of course he's going to win." – but it's not enough to make this collection genuinely interesting.

Not a waste of time as it's still competently done, but ultimately not recommended.