Review: The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch

Mr_Punch_coverThe Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch, written by Neil Gaiman, art by Dave McKean.

This is a quickie review of an old Neil Gaiman graphic novel that I just recently got around to reading. Mr. Punch tells the tale of a man remembering his childhood, spent at a bleak seaside town where his grandfather operated an indoor arcade. Through hazy remembrances, he confronts dark family secrets, nightmares, and a mysterious Punch and Judy man. Now, as many of you already know, I’m a big Gaiman fan, however (and I know this may sound like blasphemy) I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Dave McKean’s art. I appreciate his work, but it doesn’t move me or speak to me as other artists’ work does. So this direct collaboration between the two was a mixed bag for me.

Overall, this was a well written, solid effort from Gaiman, but being one of his earlier books, it lacks some of the charm that his later works weave so well into the narrative. It did get me interested in the history and culture of Punch and Judy shows, though, and sent me off to do a bit of reading on the subject at Wikipedia.

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Gaiman and McKean collaborate quite well together, as you would expect. Using puppets (instead of illustrations) to tell a story dealing with puppet shows makes sense, and McKean is eminently qualified for the job. The standout moments to me were the sequence where the author recalls a hazy memory of a conversation (which McKean depicts by placing the maquettes of the characters behind soft gauze), and the emotionally brutal confrontation between the protagonist’s grandfather and a “mermaid”.

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If you’re a fan of either creator, you know what to expect and won’t be disappointed, but I found this particular outing a bit too dry and bleak for my tastes. Again, your mileage will vary.

(A version of this review appeared on my old Ferret Press blog, March 2011.)

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    Indie Cover Spotlight: Adventurers #1 (vol. 3)

    This week, I’m going to feature a publisher I’ve spotlighted before: Adventure Publications. They started out with several fantasy titles, then slowly branched out into sci-fi, before ultimately being devoured by Malibu Comics. Today’s spotlight is on their flagship title, The Adventurers:

    Adventurers1vol3

    This is the cover to issue #1 of volume 3, which only lasted 6 issues. Painted by Iain McCraig, published in 1989.

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      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.

        Animal-Man-29-Cover

        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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