Pride and Prejudice Review

Pride and Prejudice b

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

Pride and Prejudice

Marvel Comics

Written by Nancy Butler with Art by Hugo Petrus and Alejandro Torres

Published: October 2009

Pride and Prejudice #In many ways, it seems like a losing proposition to even try to adapt such a beloved book as Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” into comic form. I have no doubt it can be done, but Marvel’s adaptation doesn’t make a particularly good case for it. It’s far too reliant on preserving Austen’s text—ironically—which results in several pages with walls and walls of text that packs as much of Austen’s winding, complex plot into speech bubbles as it can. It reads like a book morphed into a comic without actually undergoing much of a process of adaptation, at which point one has to wonder, what is the point of telling this particular story in comic book form? What about Austen demands to be made visual?

Maybe if the art wasn’t so painfully ill-suited to the material, it might have stood more of a chance. The Bennet sisters all look like typical Marvel babes, with collagen lips and faces that wrinkle only so much as to suggest a vague emotion, lest they look too ugly. Their facial features are all so similar, so generically ‘pretty’ that they all blend together, and the character designs are dull and forgettable overall. Characters across the board are challenged when it comes to expression: often they look dazed, disinterested, or else there’s some kind of disconnect between the nuance of what’s being said and what shows on their faces. It’s a shame that it’s so stiff and unappealing.

Again, the problem is not that it can’t be done, just that one ought to have some kind of vision to make such a transfer worth the trouble. Marvel’s “Pride and Prejudice” doesn’t seem to have that. It’s largely uninspired, feeling more like a corporate mandate than the product of a creative team with genuine spark or passion for the project. It’s not bad, it’s just not very fun or interesting, and as such it’s difficult to recommend. Read the book, watch the BBC adaptation or the Keira Knightley film, but skip this one.

Heart in a Box #1 Review

HEart in a Box 1 b

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

Heart in a Box

Issue #1

Dark Horse Comics

Written by Kelly Thompson with Art by Meredith McClaren

Published: September 2015

Heart in a Box #1When Emma wishes her broken heart away, she never expects to want it back. After striking an odd bargain with a mysterious man, she finds herself on a journey to reclaim the scattered pieces of her heart.

I like the dialogue in this. It feels natural and has a nice, hip flow to it. The only exception to the solid script is that there’s a really obnoxious over-stating of names and nicknames—Emma, Xan, “Luv”, etc. Characters re-state whomever they’re addressing with a frequency that draws attention to the fact that what we’re reading is a script, which takes away from the otherwise likeable writing. This is a small thing, though, and overall the first issue has near-perfect pacing and set-up. It’s smartly laid out so that it speeds along without feeling rushed, and I feel like I already know the characters and conflict moving forward.

The story itself is also really fun—Emma is heartbroken, and in her grief at a lost love, she draws the attention of a mysterious man who offers to remove it entirely to spare her the pain. After accepting the deal, she quickly realizes that not having a heart makes life pretty empty, and sets out to regain the scattered pieces of her lost heart. It’s irreverent and whimsical without being cloying at all, which you might expect with a premise like this. Instead, it feels hip, with just enough magic realism to give a mundane story of heartbreak some spice.

Art-wise, it’s cartoonish and has some great expressions, although the large eyes occasionally look a little off. Still, Emma has a really cool, atypical design that’s fun to look at, and there’s a neat visual trick that happens after she loses her heart where she appears in tones of grey.

One Hundred Demons

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

One Hundred Demons

Sasquatch Books

Written and created by Lynda Barry

Published: August 2005

100 Demons - dLynda Barry’s “autobiofictionalography” features a series of memoiristic shorts pertaining to Barry’s life growing up, her struggles with being different, her loves and loses, family life, getting lice, her first job, and all sorts of moments in a young girl’s life. Barry is anything but generic, however: her autofictionalography has plenty of twists and turns and quirks, both in the storytelling and the artwork.

In Barry’s world, cruelty can be casual, whether it’s coming from hollering mothers or lousy boyfriends or con-artist employers. Still, Barry’s deftness with direct, cutting language renders it honest without being mired down in pathos or melodrama, and there’s a healthy dose of humour of Barry’s retrospection that makes for a quick, smooth read overall. The stories are relatable and funny, insightful and off-handed, heavy but delivered with such lightness and neat pacing that it lingers without weighing down. It’s a smart and funny look down an old nostalgic road, neither overly sentimental nor unbearably cynical, which allows it to strike quite a likeable tone.

Art-wise, Barry’s style isn’t particularly going for pretty, but rather a cartoonish zeal that adopts a certain arts-and-crafts look. It’s really unique, and while I can see it being a your-mileage-may-vary type thing, it’s thematically perfect to have the construction of the page so emphasized in a memoiristic book of this nature. Barry even takes us through her ink-work at the end, which gives the book an intimate feeling, as though she’s drawing and writing just for you. It’s quite wonderful.

I really enjoyed Barry’s One Hundred Demons, and found it aesthetically interesting, as well as strongly written. If you like the sound of “autobiofictionalography,” then I think nothing should keep you from enjoying what Barry has to offer.

The Graphic Canon Vol. 2 – From Kubla Khan to the Bronte Sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

The Graphic Canon: From Kubla Khan to the Bronte Sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray

Volume 2

Seven Stories Press

Edited by Russ Kick

Published: October 2012

Graphic Cannon - dRuss Kick’s second volume of “The Graphic Canon” features a huge number of short comics that adapt famous scenes from classic works of literature. From Wuthering Heights to Jekyll and Hyde to Alice in Wonderland, there’s a wealth of genres and stylistic approaches to flip through that should keep most book-lovers happy. Featuring works by Kim Deitch, Gris Grimly, Maxon Crumb, Molly Keily and over 50 other contributors, the second volume of “The Graphic Canon” really does go above and beyond to please.

I’m reviewing this a bit out of order, as I haven’t read the first volume (yet), but this isn’t the kind of anthology series where chronology matters. I picked it up specifically for John Coulthart’s unique approach to Dorian Gray, which features a series of neat collages that uses illustrations and advertisement aesthetics. While this one is a highlight for me, there’s also a satisfyingly classic-looking version of Wuthering Heights by Tim Fish, a stunningly rich and colourful look at Coleridge by Alice Duke, a version of Poe’s “The Raven” by Yien Yip that does some wild things with shadows, and an entire gallery dedicated to letting various artists draw their favourite scenes from Alice in Wonderland. Quite simply, there’s a lot to look at here, enough that it will likely take you days and days to read the whole thing. Certainly, you get your money’s worth.

As is only natural in an anthology of this size, not every entry is memorable or even particularly engaging on an artistic level. Still, there’s enough here that most people with even a passing interest in either literature or comic book art should find something to enjoy. It’s a generous anthology that way, one that doesn’t hold back or impose limits on itself, and it’s well worth a read.

The Portable Frank – Review

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

The Portable Frank

Written and created by Jim Woodring

Published: March 2013

The Portable Frank - dJim Woodring’s Frank character is fairly iconic, and if you’re looking at anthologies, you likely already have some idea of whether or not you’re going to like it. Frank himself is an anthropomorphic creature of dubious distinction who lives in an ambiguous landscape called the Unifactor. The Portable Frank collects a number of Frank stories that feature characters like Manhog, Pupshaw, and a number of amorphous, blob-like creatures, all of whom factor into Frank’s wanderings.

Woodring’s world is hallucinogenic and philosophical, rarely stopping to hold your hand or explain what’s going on, or why. The entire anthology is mostly voiceless, relying on visual splendor and sensation, the subtle shift of emotion between different moments of melancholy, wonder, curiosity, and frustration. One particular standout for me was “Truth of Plenitude,” which cycles through so many emotions and ends with a mysterious moment of creation. Frank isn’t afraid to be ambiguous (the main character’s design is testament to that), and in doing so it asks a lot of the reader.

Visually, it’s a wild ride, reminiscent of Krazy Kat’s desert, only with a more fantastic edge. Whilst Krazy Kat’s desert is constantly changing, though, Frank’s universe has a certain level of consistency to it. It’s wild, but there’s a logic to it, a certain structure that keeps it from being easily dismissed as a world of dream logic.

The Portable Frank has many virtues, but I think its ambiguity will unavoidably alienate some. Despite recognizing Frank’s many virtues, I found it overall difficult to connect with. I often felt adrift at sea whilst reading Frank, and I wasn’t always drawn in enough by the art or the world to want to spend much time contemplating the meaning behind it all. I didn’t find it particularly funny or pretty, though it was never boring. It’s certainly a good anthology to check out if you want to leap on board the Frank train, but it’s also not for everyone, and I have to admit that I don’t quite think it’s for me.

Buzz – Review

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

Buzz

Issue #0

Oni Press

Written by Ananth Panagariya with Art by Tessa Stone

Published: December 2013

Buzz -dFrom the combined efforts of Ananth Panagariya (writing) and Tessa Stone (art) comes Buzz!, a quirky comic about a world of back-alley spelling bees and high-stakes spellathons that could mean life or death for those with the vocabularies strong enough to compete.

Story-wise, Buzz! is pretty quirky, and a lot of the humour comes from puns and various plays on words. Naturally enough, given the spelling-based premise, a lot of the fun comes in the language, though it rockets along at such a madcap pace that it’s hard not to get caught up in the infectious energy it offers. The story, about a young speller named Webster who gets roped into competing in the ‘bees, is surprisingly heartfelt, and alongside a thoughtful and funny exploration of mythology-building, it’s also a nice coming of age story. Panagariya’s blend of action comic parody and linguistic humour really works here, and that along with engaging characters

Tessa Stone, of Hanna is Not A Boy’s Name fame, is in top form here. The yellow/black/white colour scheme (recalling a bee) is weird and engrossing, and her rendering of motion and cartoonish outbursts of expression are really wonderful to behold. Stone is an artist of rare talent, one whose sense of style is backed up with creative layouts and page constructions, and it’s hard to imagine something she can’t do with a comic page and still knock it out of the park. Buzz! looks gorgeous, and more importantly, like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Buzz! is such a wonderful comic that I’m sad there’s only one volume, but what we do have works just fine as a standalone, and comes highly recommended on all counts. A fun, clever little romp with gorgeous art as a great bonus.

Eartha Kitt: Femme Fatale #1 – Review

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

Eartha Kitt: Femme Fatale

Issue #1

Bluewater Productions

Written by Marc Shapiro with Art by Felipe Montezinos and Ricardo Ayala

Published: February 2013

Eartha KittacEartha Kitt is may be one of the coolest ladies who ever lived. Seriously, just google her and you’ll find a plethora of fascinating anecdotes from her long and storied career. Her life was full of adventure, and so it makes a strange kind of sense for her to headline her own comic series, especially considering her iconic turn as Catwoman on the 1960s Adam West Batman show. Lest you worry about exploitation, which was admittedly my first thought upon seeing the cover, the comic assures us it has the full blessing of Kitt’s estate.

Despite the name, Eartha Kitt: Femme Fatale is really only about Eartha-Kitt-as-Catwoman, which was a bit of a disappointment to me until I remembered just how great she was in that role, blending camp with coquettish charm. It’s just so hard not to like that characterization, as it’s so calculated to be fun and outrageous. Plot-wise, it mimics the campy style of 60s TV with a fair amount of charm and charisma. It’s just so silly that it’s hard not to like it. Eartha Kitt: Femme Fatale is also a spin-off of similar titles featuring Adam West and Julie Newmar, so the choice makes sense when you consider they all exist within the same universe.

Art-wise, the comic is bright and colourful, with clean lines and smooth poses. While Eartha herself looks so stylized that you might be remiss to know it was her without all the necessary context cues, it’s nonetheless a cute style that makes for an attractive page overall. It’s just nice to look at—not busy, smooth, and colourful. Again, the emphasis here is on fun.

I enjoyed Eartha Kitt: Femme Fatale for the campy nostalgia trip that it was. It’s ultimately nothing more than frothy, forgettable fun, but it’s so much fun that I finished the book grinning, and am infinitely glad I picked it up.

Captain Canuck #0 – Review

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

Captain Canuck

Issue #0

Chapter House Comics

Written and Drawn by Ed Brisson, George Freeman and Kalman Andrasofsky

Published: May 2015

Captain KanuckcCaptain Canuck #0, designed as the launching point for a reboot of the 1975 character of the same name, comes in two parts. The first is a short introduction to the characters in a massive action scene that’s practically exploding off the page. The second is a summary of the character’s origin and adventures in an effort to get all readers on the same page.

This is being billed as a “ground-up” reboot Captain Canuck for a contemporary audience. Even so, it leaps right into the action, sparing little time for set-up and exposition in a move that mostly works to the comic’s benefit. You’re thrown right into explosions and pseudo-philosophical theme-setting, which makes for an attention-grabbing opening that’s both exciting and engaging. The characters are introduced fast, but the art and dialogue characterizes them quickly, which manages to get me interested in them from only a few panels and lines. It’s quick, clever work that knows how to hook readers quickly. My only complaint is that, while the secondary characters are interesting right off the bat, Captain Canuck himself is a bit more typical in terms of personality, and a bit harder to pin down.

The second half of the comic is a little less effective. It’s likely unavoidable, but it reads like a cheat sheet for everyone to get caught up, and as such it feels rushed. After such a strong opening, seeing the story laid out (even if it’s to catch readers up) is a bit underwhelming. Still, it’s functional, and it does well to accomplish its main goal of getting all exposition and backstory out on the table.

I was surprised by how intrigued I was by Captain Canuck’s issue #0, and will definitely check out more in the series.

War of The Woods #1 Review

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

War of the Woods

Issue #1

Written and Drawn by Matthew Petz

Published: October 2010

INTW 01War of the Woods, as the name might suggest, takes a unique approach to the typical War-of-the-Worlds-esque alien invasion story. Rather than focus on the humans at the centre of the invasion efforts, War of the Woods tells the story of an extraterrestrial invasion from the perspective of the woodland critters who happen to see a clutch of flying saucers passing over their forest. The result is a well-worn story given a new pair of eyes—or several, as the case may be.

It’s an interesting twist in theory. The alien invasion narrative has always been intensely invested in human peril, and removing the human element entirely is an intriguing approach to an old story. When humans are subjugated and pursued in alien invasion stories, aren’t they experiencing first-hand a kind of animal terror, wherein they become prey for perhaps the first time in their lives? It’s a cool reversal, and full of potential.

However, the problem with War of the Woods—besides the fact that it’s awfully short for a first issue and does little but establish the premise—is that the animals aren’t animals, not really. They’re humans wearing animal skins. They have technology, live like humans, interact with one another based on human social systems, and are otherwise anthropomorphized to such a degree that I have to wonder what the point is in using animals in the first place. It’s interesting in theory, like I said, but the first issue doesn’t really offer up any convincing reason why animals are being used to tell this story.

The art is attractive, though a little drab in the colour department. It’s all dull, washed-out tones, practically black and white in places, which gives it a dark, foreboding look. This works, more or less, with the atmosphere that the issue sets up, although it does have the effect of rendering many of the panels very similarly. The art is evocative, though, and strikes a decent note between realism and cuteness.

It’s not a bad first issue, but I’m not sure the premise really works. Time will tell, but for now, I think the gimmicks are stronger than the actual execution with this one—at least, thus far.

The Chronicles of Dr. Herbert West #1 Review

by Lindsay Young, CMRO Contributing Writer

The Chronicles of Dr. Herbert West

Issue #1

Zenescope Entertainment

Written by Ralph Tedesco and Joe Brusha with Art by Jason Craig, Thomas Mason, Tom Mason and Garry Henderson

Published: September 2008

CDZ 01In this modern update of the H.P. Lovecraft story, Doctor Herbert West is a certified genius, but his efforts to re-animate the dead are nonetheless met with nothing but scorn from his peers at university. Forced to continue his research in secret, Herbert’s obsession with death and the grotesque threatens to destroy him, and the world along with it!

Art-wise, Herbert West is the definition of uneven. It’s certainly not bad, and there are some really dynamic panels to be found in the layout, but sometimes the action is difficult to follow. The transitions from panel to panel are at times abrupt, or simply unclear. Character expressions and motion are also somewhat stilted, and as a result there’s an awkward flow to the issue overall. Facial expressions are uneven—sometimes memorable, other times completely disconnected from the dialogue boxes. The same can be said of the action scenes: movement feels stiff and awkward in places, but manages to pack a punch in others. Backgrounds, however, are nicely done across the board.

Despite some roughness in the art department—and despite the tendency to overload the page with words—Herbert West nonetheless manages to tell a creepy story well, one that managed to intrigue me enough to check out the H.P. Lovecraft story upon which it draws inspiration. It’s a creepy tale with shades of Frankenstein, albeit with enough twists to keep things interesting. It also works rather nicely as a stand-alone, should you choose to stop reading at the end (albeit with a bleak ending), due to its relatively self-contained structure.

Overall, The Chronicles of Dr. Herbert West #1 is a mixed bag, but it’s got enough going for it to be worth a read, even if that read is limited to issue #1.