Review: 5 Is The Perfect Number

5_isI bought this graphic novel (published by Drawn & Quarterly) on a whim, based on the artwork alone. After reading it, I found it to be a refreshing change of pace from my other readings.

A straight-up mafia crime story set in Napoli in the 70s takes a few surreal turns in this book by Igort (aka Igor Tuveri). Peppino is a retired hitman for the mob who picks up his guns again to avenge the death of his son, also a mob hitman. What transpires next is an escalating spiral of violence and intrigue. While most of the characters are criminals and not exactly likeable, Igort does a good job of making them at least relatable. At times the story veers a bit too deep into philosophical discussions, but I actually prefer that to just action and violence.

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The artwork, produced in an atmospheric duotone, is in turns sparse, dense, breezy, or brooding. He uses very subtle, ethereal lines when drawing a peaceful village setting, but easily switches to heavy inks and blocky black shadows to portray dangerous rendezvous and moments of emotional intensity. It’s also published in the larger European graphic novel size, so you can truly appreciate Igort’s layouts and composition as they were intended.

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The only problem I had with this book was the translation from Italian. The captions sometimes came off as dry, stilted, and academic. By contrast, the spoken dialogue tried too hard to affect an accent or realistic slang, but just came off as stereotypical and clunky. Stuff like “Get yar ass over here” or “dis here is my gun”.

But overall, if you like crime stories, this is a pretty good one, and the sequential storytelling is quite strong.

(A version of this review first appeared on my Ferret Press blog in May, 2011)

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    Review: Animal Man #29 – series finale

    Some minor spoilers ahead. Also, not so much a review of the last issue, as a meditation on the series as a whole, and it’s unfortunate end…

    So one of DC’s few remaining books featuring a character not from the Superman, Batman, or Green Lantern mythos came to an end this week. Animal Man #29 was the last issue of the surprise break-out hit of the “New 52″ relaunch. And I must admit, I was a bit disappointed, not just by the issue itself, but the way the whole series was unceremoniously cancelled. Despite the publisher’s claim that writer Jeff Lemire felt he had told the story he intended to tell and this was the right place to end the series, I have a feeling the decision had a lot more to do with editorial and marketing decisions than creative ones.

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    I think it’s safe to say that nobody expected Animal Man to be such a hit, but it managed to differentiate itself from all of DC’s other titles by blending horror with superheroics, feature a lead character who was married with kids, and introducing strong new concepts into the DC Universe, such as The Rot. But despite Lemire’s strong writing, the book did lose its way (and much of its stream) around midway through its run). Although counterintuitive, the “Rotworld” crossover with Swamp Thing, written by the equally popular Scott Snyder, actually ended up hurting sales. From a plot standpoint, the crossover made sense. The metaphysical realms of The Red, The Green, and The Rot were out of balance due to a power grab by The Rot, and Animal Man and Swamp Thing, avatars of their respective realms, had to come together to restore the balance. However, in execution, the story was long, meandering, and ultimately, pointless. From page 1 every reader, jaded by decades of similar “elseworlds” or “imaginary” stories knew that this supposed dystopian future would not come to bear, that somehow everything would be “fixed” by the heroes and the status quo restored. There was no real sense of drama, nothing at stake.

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    And so sales took an unexpected hit.

    I was actually on the verge of dropping the book when Lemire turned it around, rebounding with more strong ideas and a new direction. The whole “Brother Blood invades The Red” final storyline felt like a return to what made the book so good to begin with. And it didn’t hurt that it featured some fantastic brushwork by artist Rafael Albuquerque. And perhaps I’m wrong, but the jump to an alien planet and the introduction of the enigmatic new character The Bridgewalker in issue #26 felt like a setup for some major new storylines in the future.

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    But by then, I think the decision had already been made to cancel the book. And looking at the numbers, it’s clear that sales were not the main reason for the decision. Animal Man was selling in the 18-19K range, putting it above other lower-selling yet continuing titles like Superboy and Birds of Prey. In light of DC’s reluctance to feature married superheroes, is it any surprise that the one book featuring emotionally complex and dynamic stories built around the heroes familial relationships is being cancelled?

    Which brings us to the last issue. In between an opening and closing sequence showing Buddy’s reconciliation with his estranged wife (and drawn by the book’s original artist, Travel Foreman), the book is otherwise a series of 11 splash pages illustrated by Lemire himself. This sequence depicts Buddy’s young daughter, Maxine, essentially recounting the events of the whole series as a bedtime fairytale for her dad. It’s sweet, and brings a nice emotional close to the loss of Buddy’s son, Cliff, and it gives Lemire an excuse to jam out a bunch of bold splash pages like this:

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    But ultimately, it felt like a cop-out. Like the writer’s best effort to put a positive spin on an arbitrary decision from on high to end the book.

    And I get it. I understand that business decisions will usually trump creative ones for any publisher. Lemire is one of the few writers at DC with a high cachet, able to bring in readers to new books. And the multitude of weekly series in the pipelines are sure to sell better on a per-issue basis than any continuation of Animal Man. So I get it.

    But it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Especially when it means one less book with a unique perspective, in favor of more os the same superheroes.

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      New Day, New Year

      I haven’t updated my blog in months. The simple, and personal, reason is this: my mother passed away earlier this year, after years of battling cancer.

      In fact, I struggled with writing all of last year as well, even as I was finishing volume 1 of Persia Blues. Luckily for me, I don’t make my living from writing, otherwise I would have been in the unemployment line a while ago.

      But today is the first day of spring, which is also the Persian New Year, called Noruz (literally: new day). So I think it appropriate to use today as the catalyst for my renewed effort in writing and creating again. I’ll start with baby steps, a few blog posts here, maybe a piece of flash fiction there. We’ll see how it goes.

      Anyway, happy new year to all.

      now-roz

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        The working title of my memoir, as presented on BuzzFeed

        “21 insanely boring facts about my life that will blow your mind”

        “This man was born in Iran. You simply won’t believe what happened next”

        “13 of my life experiences only anxious geeky extroverts with disabilities would understand”

        “53 signs that I can’t believe I’m over 40″

        “My career in comics, as told by Sir Mixalot lyrics”

        “38 questions people from Iran living in America are sick of being asked”

        “The shocking truth behind my poor eyesight, and why you won’t see the world the same ever again”

        “My 8 most epic blog posts from 2008, and how they didn’t change my life”

        “Nerve-wracking story of my 1988 SAT test will make you laugh and cry at the same time”

        “12 countries I’ve traveled to, and why you’ll never see the pictures on American TV”

        “18 times I almost used the word ‘YOLO’ but then decided not to”

        “This Vine video will break your heart, but it made me just shrug”

        “10 (not so great) quotes vaguely about my life from 80s indie comic books”

        “37 Twerking pics of people who are not me”

        “Some reporter on FOX News made an extremely racist remark, but I wasn’t watching so I missed it”

        “27 most overused hastags that describe my life, if I knew what hashtags were”

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          Writer Joe Harris and mindmapping

          For you process junkies, here’s a nice post from writer Joe Harris on his use of mind maps to sketch out his storylines and multi-issue plots.

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          The Lost Firestorm “Year Two” Story Notes Mindmap

          There are also a few tidbits of insight into DC’s editorial workings, such as this snippet:

          “When editorial told me the new plan was to, basically, pull the plug on the “New 52″ direction and wind things back closer to where they were left, pre-universe reboot, I was tasked with doing so in the #0 issue of the series.”

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            Review: The Rabbi’s Cat

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            I’m not a fan of religion as a topic, and despite the accolades this graphic novel had received, I wasn’t exactly rushing to the bookstore to grab a copy. But I’m glad I did, because it really delivers on all levels.

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            Joann Sfar’s art took a while for me to warm up to, but on every page there’s something new – a detail, a sight gag, a different technique – that proves he’s an illustrator at the top of his game. And the story…wow. It’s poignant, charming, funny, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and meaningful. Sfar uses the characters of an old Rabbi in Algeria, his daughter, and his cat (who gains the gift of speech after eating the Rabbi’s parrot) to masterfully ruminate on the nature of religion and Judaism, human nature, philosophy, and relationships. And just when you think that the subject may be getting a bit too deep or heady, he very naturally and organically interjects subtle humor into the narrative.

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            Through the pages of this book, I traveled to Algeria and Paris in the 1930s, saw human foibles through the eyes of a smart-ass cat, and fell in love with the central characters. A truly fantastic work of sequential art and storytelling. I just got the sequel to this book, and I’m looking forward to reading it as well.

            (This review originally appeared on my Ferret Press blog, August 5th, 2011 )

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              Indie Cover Spotlight: Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of The Here and Now #5

              While originally slated to adapt just one of Cory’s short stories for this IDW mini-series, I ended up getting a third issue due to IDW Editor in Chief Chris Ryall’s busy schedule (he had planned on adapting this story himself). So issue #5 became mine, adapting “I,Robot” (Cory’s version, not Asimov’s)

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              As per the previous issue, this one featured another top talent doing the cover: Ashley Wood. Interior art was by Erich Owen, and it shipped in February, 2008.

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                Review – Dracula: A Symphony in Moonlight and Nightmares

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                Jon J. Muth, one of my favorite artists, takes a shot at capturing the tone of the Dracula novel in a 48-page graphic novel. As you can well imagine, this isn’t a straight-up adaptation, not even an abridged one. It’s more of a “reimagining,” with liberties taken with characters and plot. And actually, it’s not exactly accurate to describe it as a graphic novel, as the presentation is more of a collage of writing and art. But most of the story elements are there, and the gothic tone is richly captured by Muth’s artwork.

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                The story is told through various devices: excerpts of ship logs, diaries, traditional prose, conversations, and even a movie script. The evocative artwork, beautifully painted in watercolor as always by Muth, is sometimes in the form of a full page illustration, other times as a collage, or even pseudo comic book sequentials. The overall effect is a wholly unique book that is light on narrative, but heavy on atmosphere and emotion, which I found befitting the material. If you’re a die-hard fan of the Bram Stoker novel and don’t like reinterpretations, you may want to skip this book. But if you’d like to see a consummate professional flex not just his artistic skills, but his writing and design muscles as well, or are just a fan of Muth in general, this is a great book to track down. It’s a quick read, but you can spend hours looking over the beautiful artwork. I found it to be a worthy experiment from a fantastic artist, and would definitely recommend it.

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                Originally published in 1988 by Marvel Comics (#26 in their line of oversized graphic novels), Muth’s Dracula was was later reprinted by NBM in 1993 and is easy to find.

                (This post first appeared on my Ferret Press blog September 5th, 2011)

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                  Indie Cover Spotlight: Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of The Here and Now #3

                  After turning in the script for issue #1 (Anda’s Game), IDW liked my work enough to offered me another one of Cory’s short stories: Craphound.

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                  This time, one of my all-time favorite creators was on cover duty: Paul Pope.

                  Paul Friggin’ Pope, covering my second ever paying gig. The book shipped in December, 2007, which made it a great Christmas present for me.

                  And the interior art was by British artist Paul McCaffrey, which was a joy to behold:

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                  Next: I,Robot.

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