Saturday, May 28, 2005

Hey! It's that sense of wonder!

Well, a few days ago I mentioned that I miss the sense of discovering comics that no one else knows about. Well, this week I bought a couple of books - an OGN and a TPB - that gave me that sense again. It's not the same, of course, because I had to order both of the books through Previews, so I knew they were coming, but I only knew a little about them. Man, they're brilliant.

The first book I got was the collected edition of Deep Sleeper by Phil Hester and Mike Huddleston. I have yet to get their other collaboration, The Coffin, but now that I've read this, I'm going to find it. This is, seriously, unlike anything I've read in comics. I really can't even summarize it without making it sound, well, silly, even though it's not. It's the story of a regular guy named Cole who's a freelance writer with a beautiful wife and two nice kids. He has strange dreams, but other than that, his life seems pretty normal. Then one day he goes into the city (Minneapolis) to drop off a story and finds out people are watching him. There's a mystical guru-type dude named Ramman who talks about transcendence and that kind of crap, two wayward bum-types named Tulsa and Dar es Salaam (although I only learned that from the back of the book, since the girl - Dar es Salaam - is only referred to as "Dar," and Cole somehow just knows Tulsa's name), and a scraggly-looking guy named Calder, who has some issues and secrets. It turns out Cole is one of these people whose souls can leave their body and zip around the world, and he meets a bunch of others like him. Of course, nothing is what it seems and Cole is a lot more powerful than he imagines, and there's lots of fighting. The story is far more than that, and Hester makes us care about the good guys and be genuinely frightened of the bad guys (especially the Dervish - brrr). Cole has to figure things out when they go horribly wrong, and the conclusion is totally not what you expect. This is a glorious story about what it means to be real, what it means to love, and what we can and will do to sacrifice for those we love. The art is fabulous, too. I have been enjoying Huddleston's art on Mnemovore, and here it is really spectacular - the black and white is wonderful, and he really cuts loose. There's a problem with the book, but it's a small one - there's a page missing. Actually, a page is reprinted twice, so one's missing, and I want to know what's on it, damnit! Other than that, it's a great comic. One I knew only a little about before I got it, so discovering it for the first time was a cool thing.

The other book I ordered I knew even less about and got it simply because of the brief description in Previews. It's called Different Ugliness, Different Madness by Marc Malès (translated by Jonathan Tanner), and it's one of what I guess will be the last contributions from DC and Humanoids. It's a shame that this partnership is done, because it brought some things to these shores that we might never see. I'm really glad that this got through at least, because this is an unbelievably good comic. The plot is simple - a meeting between a wandering young woman and a reclusive man and what happens next - but it is much more complex than that.

First, Lloyd Goodman. In 1934, he was the king of the radio. Everyone loved him. Then he disappeared. He's the recluse. It's not really giving anything away to say that he's ugly, something he could get away with because it was, after all, the Golden Age of Radio. But for some reason, he decided to quit and go live in a nice house out in the middle of nowhere. Second, Helen. She's a beautiful young woman who istravelingg the country by train with no fixed destination. Why she's doing this is part of the intrigue of the story. She meets Lloyd and stays with him for a few days, and they both learn some interesting things about each other. The story is told in a series of flashbacks, from the 1950s to the 1980s to the 1930s. We see Helen as an old lady, returning to the railway station where she left Lloyd years earlier and telling her daughter the story. She still has her secrets, but the story allows them to play out over the course of the narrative.

The meat of the story is, of course, the time the two principals stay together. Helen is a woman with many secrets, and Lloyd has just the one (why he left radio), and the conversations between these two, in which they delicately fence with each other without giving too much away, are painful and wonderful to read. The title of the book speaks to the fact that they both have ugliness that they are trying to hide, and they both have madness they are trying to exorcise. In some ways, of course, the "ugliness" is more obvious - Lloyd's face - but it's there in both of them, and even though we as readers know that it's not really "ugliness," these people don't see that, and it hurts to read about them and wonder how they will overcome their deep wounds.

It's a joyous book, but also full of pain. It's a book about people in love who don't know it and wouldn't know how to express it anyway. The characters are beautifully realized, even the minor ones like Helen's daughter and Lloyd's boss. The art is occasionally rough, but that's part of its charm. Lloyd isn't as ugly as you might think, which might be a deliberate choice. Perhaps Malès wants us to realize his "ugliness" is mostly in his head.

These two books show why comics are a wonderful art form. It would be impossible to write these as straight fiction, because so much of their impact depends on the visual. Different Ugliness, Different Madness might work as a movie, but Deep Sleeper would push the CGI budget way up and probably look stupid - but Huddleston makes it work. Only in comics can these works have the impact that they do. These are two powerfully emotional books, and I can't recommend them enough. If you see them, snap them up. That's an order!

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2 Comments:

Blogger chasdom said...

I know I'm in the minority on this, but I really did not enjoy The Coffin. Anyone care to convince me that despite that fact, I should get Deep Sleeper anyway?

5/29/2005 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Eliot Johnson said...

Deep Sleeper is better...and it's not really a horror story like The Coffin. The main character is a lot more appealing and well-developed.

And it's kinda trippy, which is a plus.

5/31/2005 12:13:00 AM  

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