Every Wednesday, Paste looks at some of the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Pascal “Mezzo” Mesenburg and Michel Pirus’s trilogy isn’t out in its entirety in English yet, but the first two parts are, and Amazon.com’s recommendation engine suggests you buy Charles Burns’s new one in its “price for all three” feature. That’s about right. The second volume of King of the Flies owes about as much to Burns as the first one (Hallorave) did, but it should reward those who stayed the course despite some problems with their first book. Hallorave was a little selfconsciously dark, constantly trying to poke a thumb in the reader’s eye about sex, drugs, violence, and bad behavior, and it was often annoying, as a thumb in the eye or a teenager just discovering rebellion can be.The Origin of the World, as its title (a reference to the famous painting by Gustave Courbet of a woman’s abdomen and sexy bits) signals, is a little more mature in its provocateur stance, but there’s still plenty of envelope pushing. The characters have grown richer and more varied, although you still may trouble distinguishing among the women in particular, and the narrative more focused, with fewer bodies to keep track of. The art, certainly a highlight of the last book, features some clever use of color to indicate fantasy and the supernatural, both of which appear more extensively this go-round. Consider it, on the whole, analogous to Friday the 13th Part II: a step in the right direction and an improvement on the original rather than a boring retread. (HB)
Ratings: Rat Catcher – 4.1; Noche Roja – 6.7
Vertigo Crime keeps plugging along, cranking out tiny hardcover slices of modern-day noir. Rat Catcher and Noche Roja, the two most recent releases, have a lot in common beyond the crime and black’n’white format. Both feature disillusioned lawmen confronting corruption on either side of the Mexican border. Both books also have a tough, fully-grown man spout the phrase “ginger peachy”, which is just too weird to be a coincidence. I guess that’s how British comic writers think rugged old Texans and Mexicans talk? Noche Roja is easily the better of the two, thanks to Latour’s moody artwork, with figures barely materializing from the darkness that surrounds them. Oliver’s script also touches on serious social issues in Mexico without trivializing them. Rat Catcher shoots for a Tarentino-esque take on pulpy crime paperbacks, with new revelations changing our impressions at the end of every act, but a few legit twists can’t keep this out of Donald Bellisario grannyvision turf. Stock types like a spunky young lady marshall, a grizzled vet with a guilty conscience, and a local racist drug lord float by before often meeting bloody deaths, and it ends abruptly with a bad joke. I like my genre fiction a little less generic than Rat Catcher. (GM)
(Reprinted by Fantagraphics in 2011; originally published as Le Démon des glaces, 1974)
If you just happened upon Tardi’s acclaimed graphic novel, sans context, you probably wouldn’t pick it out as either his most praised work or something that stands as an exemplar in its field, but it happens to both. In fact, you might compare it mentally, if only briefly, to Fletcher Hanks’s I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets, both in its emphatically phrased dialogue and due to one particular twist in the tale I won’t spoil here. Suffice it to say, you keep expecting things to be resolved in a more usual manner, and they’re definitely not. The “ice-punk” story, which nods to Jules Verne and his 19th-century forward-thinking compatriots, starts out more like Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret—short on text, long on pretty pictures and old-timey atmosphere—but gradually moves toward mental. The chapters become shorter and shorter (noticeable in a book that’s no War and Peace to begin with), the transitions more abrupt, and characters speak to one another in quick, stilted bursts. Even the artwork, which starts out eerie and evocative, with swirling snow obscuring objects in the distance, either weakens or wears thin by the end. It’s hard to know what’s European or perhaps satirical and what’s merely not very good writing, but it seems like there’s a bit of both. (HB)
(Drawn & Quarterly, 2010)
Seth’s so old-school his blog is a hard-bound book. With its twentieth issue Seth’s long-running Palookaville series transitions from a traditional floppy into a small hardcover. It’s like when Chris Ware makes an Acme Novelty Library that isn’t big enough to boogie board on. It’ll look good on a shelf, but the higher price point is a bummer, especially when you consider the content. Palookaville #20 looks and costs like a novella but it’s actually a random grab-bag of Sethenilia. There’s a brief but excellent excerpt of his latest serialized story Clyde Fans, an interesting text piece about the papercraft city he’s built over the last decade that would make a great blog post, and a few disconnected sketches. There’s also a short story about a book tour stop in Calgary that, depending on your tolerance for self-analysis, is either fatally honest or shamelessly self-absorbed. It’s probably a little bit of both. The author explains how practical business concerns overcame his own reluctance to ditch the old format, and how serialization is important to his artistic process, so I don’t begrudge the decisions made. And Seth’s art is always a joy to look at, finding great emotional depth in clean but cartoonish facial expressions and the bygone styles of the past. It’s just sad to see how much twenty bucks won’t get you these days. (GM)