The Lovely Horrible Stuff

Eddie Campbell is probably best known for his collaboration with Alan Moore, the exhaustive examination of Jack the Ripper called From Hell; but for over 20 years he has been telling personal stories through a semi-autobiographical avatar called Alec. The Lovely Horrible Stuff is a story of Campbell as himself, addressing the reader in order to discuss his experiences with money.

The book is broken into two parts. The first examines Campbell’s finances as a freelance artist and self-publisher, and how those are thrown into disarray by some unfortunate dealings with his father-in-law. He depicts the stress this puts on his family (which has since presumably played a part in his divorce) with the fearlessness that has always characterized his work.

The second part of the book is a more general examination of economics through the tale of the giant stone coins from the island of Yap, which is to the north of Campbell’s adopted home of Australia. Campbell’s art style in the book differs from his previous work in that it incorporates collage and photos in addition to his usual linework. As a fan of his linework, I can’t say I that I felt it always worked for me; but his writing is as sharp as ever. That and the unusual subject matter makes The Lovely Horrible Stuff well worth reading.

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Saga, vol. 1

Brian K. Vaughn (Runaways, Y: The Last Man) returns to comics with a very clever SF/fantasy fusion called Saga, illustrated by Canadian artist Fiona Staples. It’s the tale of Hazel, newborn daughter to soldiers on opposite sides of a galactic war; father Marko is from a race of men with horns who wield magic, and mother Alana is from a race of winged humanoids. Hazel narrates the story of her own birth as her fugitive parents try to escape from soldiers, bounty hunters and other dangers.

If this sounds a bit like Star Wars, it should; Vaughn first conceived of the series when he was a child, and has described it as “Star Wars for perverts” due to its adult content. I was initially lukewarm about the fit of Fiona Staples’ artwork for this series, feeling that the style of a P. Craig Russell or Charles Vess might be more suitable; but Staples quickly grew on me for her rendering of the various alien races that she and Vaughn have designed. It’s a hell of a ride and I am looking forward to the next volume.

Chi’s Sweet Home

I happened across the first volume of Chi’s Sweet Home by Konami Kanata at Little Island Comics in Toronto, and picked it up because a quick scan indicated that it was one of the most adorable comics I have ever seen. It is the tale of a curious kitten who gets separated from her mother and siblings one day near a park; fortunately she is found by a wayward child and taken in by his family, with the intention of finding her a permanent family since they cannot keep pets in their building. They have trouble finding an adopter, however, and eventually decide to keep the kitten (named “Chi” – Japanese for “pee” – by the child who is potty training).

The book is told entirely from Chi’s point of view, and Kanata does a great job of depicting the sorts of challenges and feelings that a kitten might have, from separation anxiety to litterbox issues and visiting the vet. It is not always as lighthearted as you might assume, so I would not recommend it for very young children (ie., preschool), but it is very true and touching, in the same vein as Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts comic strip.

Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One

This is the first volume of a projected 2600-page opus by young cartoonist Adam Hines, set in an alternate world where animals can talk. Other than that, the world is much like ours in that we humans still raise and slaughter animals for food, and keep them as pets; as a result it is by turns heartbreaking and horrifying. The first volume introduces many characters and themes, but it primarily revolves around Pompeii, a Barbary macaque that is the leader of an animal terrorist group; and Jack Hammond, a human FBI agent who pursues Pompeii after the bombing of a California college library. Pompeii and his hench-ape spend a chunk of time hiding in the home of a wealthy family, leading to a particularly haunting passage where Pompeii reads the diary of the mother who lived there.

The ambition, complexity, and artistry of this book cannot be understated. It frequently reminded me of another great series about man’s relationship with nature; The Puma Blues by Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli. The art reminded me of the tragically aborted Alan Moore/Bill Sinkiewicz series Big Numbers, by Hines’ use of collage, graphite, ink and mixed media. He employs mathematical principles to design panel and page layouts, reflecting the natural world that he depicts. Long silent passages of the camera drifting over darkened wheat fields or forests give way to human streets and buildings rendered in line art. Like Chris Ware, Hines employs a variety of visual devices and metaphors to compartmentalize the narrative, without losing the tension that runs throughout.

In short, Adam Hines and his book are the real deal. I read most of Duncan the Wonder Dog last night, and found difficult to put down and difficult to sleep afterward. It’s not for the faint of heart; great books or art never are.

You can read Duncan the Wonder Dog online here.

Bigfoot Boy: Into the Woods

I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Bigfoot Boy: Into the Woods by J. Torres and Faith Erin Hicks recently. It’s an all-ages graphic novel about Rufus, a ten-year-old boy who spends a long weekend at his grandmother’s house in British Columbia. Bored, he follows a neighbour girl called Penny into the woods and gets a little lost; in his attempt to find his way back he finds a strange necklace with a totem carved on one side and “sasquatch” on the other. Like a Canadian Captain Marvel, he discovers that when he says the word on the necklace, he is struck by lightning and turned into a sasquatch (or Bigfoot, for American readers). He takes this pretty much in stride and soon befriends a talking flying squirrel called Sidney. When he says the magic word backwards, he returns to human form (sans clothes). Unfortunately for Rufus, there are others who want to use the power of the necklace. Sidney and Penny help him understand his new powers so that he can survive and protect the forest.

I enjoyed this book very much and will be buying a copy for my own ten-year-old boy when it is released by Kids Can Press in September. Torres is a YA comics veteran and Shuster award winning writer that I have followed since his Copybook Tales minicomics, and Faith Erin Hicks is a talented Halifax artist with comics like the charming Superhero Girl and Friends With Boys under her belt. They make a great team here; Torres’ script is fun and well-paced for the preteen audience, and Hicks’ artwork is energetic and expressive. I hope there will be more volumes to come!

In the meantime, if you happen to be in the Toronto area, Torres and Hicks will be at Fan Expo Canada and launching the book at Little Island Comics in Mirvish Village on Sunday at 4 PM. Get out there and support quality all-ages and YA comics!

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (Colour Edition)

I am a big fan of Scott Pilgrim; my introduction to the series was to buy a copy of this book in its original incarnation from writer/artist Bryan Lee O’Malley at a book festival in Halifax. For the purposes of this review, I’m going to divide the potential reader into the following groups: 1) those who have never read the books, and 2) those who have. Whether or not you have seen the film is immaterial; the books contain a lot of additional story that is well worth reading.

So if you are in group 1, should you buy this book? Probably. I feel that the cover price is a bit steep ($25 for a colour hardcover, compared to $15 for the black and white paperback), and artwise this is the weakest of the series; but the story is still one of the smartest and sharpest things you will encounter on the shelves, and the colour by Nathan Fairbairn is very well done. The lettering has also been “remastered”, whatever that means, and the artwork generally sharpened and tweaked to show off the colour as well as possible.

And if you are in group 2? Personally, I don’t feel compelled to buy the series again in colour. Oni Press has added some nice design touches reminiscent of the film, and some “behind the scenes” material by O’Malley at the end, but I would rather save my money for O’Malley’s new book due next year (or his wife’s adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time, for that matter). Of course, your mileage may vary; I can easily imagine a hardcore SP fan replacing the paperbacks with these new hardcover editions.

The Underwater Welder

Jeff Lemire (Essex County, Sweet Tooth) recently released this original graphic novel through Top Shelf to great acclaim, and while I did enjoy it, I feel like it may be a little overpraised. Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof puts it well in his introduction: The Underwater Welder is like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone. It is the story of Jack Joseph, a diver who works on an oil rig off the coast of Nova Scotia. His very pregnant wife is frustrated that he seems to be pulling away from her when she needs him most. Jack is haunted by the loss of his father – also a diver – twenty years earlier. When Jack finds an object deep in the ocean that appears to belong to his father, he finds himself forced to choose between dwelling on the past and his future.

The Underwater Welder is certainly not a bad book. Lemire has a great, idiosyncratic art style that is its own class of Canadian folk art. As a writer, though, I wonder if he is just best suited to short stories. For all of its ambition, The Underwater Welder feels somewhat slight to me, as if it was once a story of Essex County that got promoted to a longer treatment. Lindelof’s comparison to The Twilight Zone is apt and complimentary, but it is also a bit of a curse, because not every episode of The Twilight Zone was solid gold; sometimes it felt like a bit of a formula. So, too, does The Underwater Welder.

That said, as a native of the area, I did enjoy Lemire’s vision of this small Nova Scotia town and would be happy to read more stories set there. Lemire’s tone and output as a writer reminds me of George Elliott (the Canadian author, not the Victorian pseudonym) and the American writer Sherwood Anderson; pretty good company to keep.