Sunday, August 07, 2005

Original graphic novels you might like

First, the loss of the blog again isn't my fault, even though it happened in the middle of my post. I swear!

Okay, so I've been reading a bunch of original graphic novels and I'm going to discuss them. You wanna make something of it?

First up is The Annotated Mantooth by Matt Fraction, Andy Kuhn, and Tim Fisher, which is $12.95 and is brought to you by the fine folk at AiT/Planet Lar. Okay, this is a trade paperback, and it came out three years ago, but this new edition has annotations, for which I am a sucker. I love reading about the creative process behind the work. It's neat.

That's not to say the work itself isn't good. This is fantastic and fun and wild storytelling. For crying out loud, it's about a secret agent gorilla! Rex Mantooth is a wonderful creation, and Fraction simply throws everything he can think of at the wall and sees what sticks. The book starts with Mantooth battling ninja robots and goes crazier from there. Part of the fun is discovering where the stories go, so I'm not going to ruin it, but I will say that this is one seriously fun comic, and if you don't laugh at one page, turn it and you will surely laugh at the next one. Fraction is excellent at putting his hero into situations that seem vaguely familiar from, say, James Bond movies and then ripping them to shreds. It's wacky, sure, but Fraction observes these situations sharply and has excellent comic timing throughout.

It's truly raunchy, too, but unlike a recent raunchy work I hated (coughSuper F*ckerscough), the raunch doesn't overwhelm the story, and it fits into the story. Here's an example: Mantooth is trying to recover a plutonium battery that has been stolen. He's at Dr. Woo's casino, speaking with the good doctor, and he says, as if to inquire about buying the battery (he's undercover, you know), "So, would you know where a fella like me could buy a big-assed plutonium battery that was, you know ... stolen? It's for my girlfriend. She uses a big vibrator ... crazy big." In he second panel, in which he says it's for his girlfriend, his girlfriend Honey sits there, and the look on her face is priceless. Funny stuff.

I should mention Kuhn's art. The only other place I've seen it is in his latest work, Easy Way, and it's good there and it's good here. Fraction crowds the panels with a lot of information, but Kuhn is up to the task. There is a lot packed in here, and it's laid out well, so that we're never confused with what's going on. It's a fine complement to the insanity of the story.

I highly recommend finding this book. It's wild and wacky and completely insane, and it's a welcome reminder of what fun comics can be.

Moving on, I also recently bought Heartbreakers Meet Boilerplate by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, which is published by IDW and will set you back 999 cents, which is a pretty damned good deal, if you ask me. As Bennett says in the introduction, she and Guinan created Heartbreakers back in 1987, and this is its third publisher. Such a convoluted history might confuse newcomers like me, but there's a brief capsule history at the beginning of the book, and we get some nice allusions to past events that don't really clutter up the book.

This is supposedly a "cross-over," but Boilerplate, a robot created in the latter part of the 19th century, is a creation of Guinan, so I don't think it counts. The deal is that the Heartbreakers, who are all clones of a deceased geneticist, find Boilerplate, who disappeared during World War One, and fix him up. This mechanical marvel draws the attention of the Heartbreakers' enemies, the Wexler clones, who are the last survivors of clones from the company that was responsible for the Heartbreakers' template's death. The Wexlers try to take Boilerplate, and mayhem ensues.

It's not much of a story, I'll admit. It seems to take far too long getting to the action, and then the action is over too quickly. What is nice about the story is the way Guinan and Bennett create this world of clones and robots so that it feels real. The historical details are impressive, and the parts of the book going over Boilerplate's origin and "life" and marvelous. I'm a sucker for works of historical revisionism, and this is one such book. Yes, it doesn't deliver as well as it could have, but it's a fascinating read for the most part.

Guinan's art is unbelievably beautiful. The details are fantastic, and the "photographs" of Boilerplate with various historical figures look so real you may do a double-take. The magnificence of the art overshadows, just a bit, the fact that the story doesn't follow through with its climax as well as it should. That's what comics can do sometimes, and here it does.

The coloring is a bit strange in the book. For the most part, it's a sepia tone that looks fine. Here's an example:

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But then, on three different and what looks like completely unrelated pages, we get glorious full color. It really pops off the page:

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I don't understand why it was done this way, but I wish they had just left the three pages uncolored, because the colored pages make me want the whole thing to be done that way.

Anyway, this is an interesting little book. Check it out!

Last but certainly not least, we have Capote in Kansas by Ande Parks and Chris Samnee, which is brought to you by the awesome Oregonians at Oni Press and will set you back 11 dollars and 95 cents. This is a wonderful book. If ever a comic can be called elegiac, this is it. Parks shows us Truman Capote's process of writing In Cold Blood and how it changed him and the people in Kansas who had to deal with the crime. It's fiction, obviously, but it's well researched and it feels real. This is a book about growing up, as Capote goes from an urbane witticist who ignores his true feelings to someone who cares deeply about not only the victims in the crime (he has a running dialogue with the ghost of one of the victims) but the perpetrators as well. Parks refuses to give us easy answers to why someone would commit such a crime - the book is not about that. Rather, it's about someone becoming attuned to tragedy and loss, but also beauty and triumph. It's difficult to read occasionally, because Capote seems to sympathize too much with the killers (or, actually, just one of them), but as we read, we are drawn into his world, a world in which Capote, as a homosexual, might have felt as ostracized as these murderers. In the end, Capote comes to understand a little more about the human condition, which allows him to be a little more human. It's a remarkable transformation, one Parks does not bludgeon us over the head with.

Samnee's art is wonderful, too. It's vaguely reminiscent of Adam Hughes, but with a more naturalistic feel. The black-and-white works well, too, especially in the jailhouse scenes. There are a lot of actors in the book and a lot of talking, but Samnee's art makes it easy to differentiate between them and gives drama to the talking scenes. It's a tough job, but he's up to it.

This book and, to a lesser extent, Union Station make me wonder why Parks is better known as an inker. The man can write!

So there you have it. Three completely different kinds of books, all definitely worth your hard-earned ducats. Who says comics aren't a ridiculously flexible art form? Hunt these books down somewhere - you won't be disappointed.

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