Comic book review: Animal Noir (issues 1-4)

(cover image courtesy IDW Publishing)

 

It is oft said that you should never discuss politics, religion or social issues.

As truisms go, this is one that still carries a great deal of cautionary weight, especially in today’s world where people have retreated to hermetically-sealed belief towers into which no other line of thought should be allowed to pass, with all attempts to do so met with brusque, resilient, and sometimes, sadly, violent force.

But it’s the very existence of these polarised camps, that necessitates comic book series like Animal Noir by writer Izar Lunacek and illustrator Jernej “Nejc” Juren (IDW Publishing) which brazenly, and with good humour and piercing honesty, discuss a great many things rotten in the state of man.

They do this very cleverly with a deliciously-twisted version of a Zootopia-like society where animals rule the boost – in the case of the birds quite literally – with giraffes as the judges and detectives, hippos as crime bosses (with a penchant for water-filled homes) and zebra as the much-maligned underclass, to whom every crime and societal ill is almost instinctually-ascribed.

As much a crime procedure as a window into our society, Animal Noir doesn’t flinch from exposing the underbelly of a world where older women on the prowl are quite literally cougars, where lions have assumed positions of power, and the weak and the powerless, or the plain strategically-blind can quite literally fall prey to animals stronger than themselves.

It’s not so much dog-eat-dog as hippo bashes hippo (and let’s be honest anyone else who infringes on their criminal dealings), a duplicitous universe where Manny Diamond, the protagonist and a giraffe detective, has to track down a literal truckload of animal porn, all predicated on predator/prey fantasies, one of which features a judge’s wife who would much rather her youthful indiscretions not find the light of day.

His investigations lead him to a very seedy underworld, one with which he appears to have a great deal of familiarity, as the mystery unfolds; but the series also takes a look at his personal life, as we meet his wife Cassy, depressed and still in mourning from the loss of their first child a year ago.

Quite how is never explained but then that is almost irrelevant as Animal Noir quite movingly examines loss, grief and mental health, as well as domestic violence issues when it becomes clear that Shasha, the hippo crime boss does not treat his wives at all well.

 

(image via Flickering Myth (c) IDW Publishing)

 

It’s this skillful, nuanced deep-dive into the malignancies and flaws of the human condition that gives Animal Noir, which is beautifully illustrated with great detail throughout, so much of it storytelling power and emotional resonance.

Whether it is examining the great unspoken taboo crimes that happen behind closed doors, or the rampant crime and corruption of wider society, the series is searingly honest with light touches of humour to leaven things out just a little.

A cute and sweet Disney take on animal society this is not; what it is though is a highly-imaginative, warts-and-all examination of the way society really works, willing at every stop to be brutally honest if that serves the wider interests of the story and the examination of the issue at hand.

Each issue, which is full of inventively-realised pages like the above where the action and illustrations bleed down through every panel of the page, giving you a feeling that you have fallen, tumbling down Alice in Wonderland-like, deep into this alternate world.

Much of the artwork looks cast in shadows too, a wholly appropriate palette given how much of the storyline takes places in seedy theatres and back alleys, behind the scenes and away from prying eyes (those still looking anyway; many are conveniently turned away for one reason or another).

Each issue ends too with a lovely additional piece of world building; for instance issue #1 gives you a penetrating glimpse into a society as riven by conflict and inequality as our own (because of course, in ways too uncomfortable to mention, it is our own) as CBR explains:

Animal Noir wraps up with an excerpt from the The Modern Gazette, an in universe publication focusing on the rise and fall of “equality” schools, the last of which was under the guidance of Harry Loveman, a lion. This backmatter deepens the hierarchy of the animal kingdom and gives us a peek at the blood tax and issues with the food supply without being heavy handed in its political nature. It’s a juicy piece of prose, and altogether garnishes this issue with one last layer of intrigue.”

It is a clever touch, one repeated throughout each issue, not only giving us further insight into Animal Noir society but continuing to build and flesh out issues that will come to play an increasing role in the narrative going forward.

The series may not quite live up to its IDW publicity billing as “Animal Farm meets Chinatown” – it is neither as clever nor as pithy or incisive as those two properties – but it shows real promise, both artistically and narratively, a comic book series that is willing to give down in the gutter and make it damn entertaining but also deeply-thought provoking, to be there.

  • I love this video review from TorAthena. Right on point and enthusiastically delivered … enjoy …

 

The Librarians: Saving the world, one comic book at a time

(image via Bleeding Cool (c) Dynamite Entertainment)

 

SNAPSHOT
Way back in the swinging ‘70s, movie producer Sol Schick was the guy behind such cheesy classics as Quarry: Bigfoot!, Noah’s Ark: Found at Last! and Heavenly Visitors from the Hell Above. But when he’s murdered – at a film festival! – with a piece of Noah’s Ark! – The Librarians are drawn into the mystery. Can their combination of special skills, obsessive curiosity, and knowledge of forgotten lore figure out who – or what – spelled doom for Schick? And as they delve deeper into his past, is it possible that things are not as they seem and that all his crazy, wild movies…were actually telling the truth? (official synopsis via Bleeding Cool)

When two of my favourite quirky TV shows of the last decade, Eureka (2006-2012) and Warehouse 13 (2009-2014) came to an end, I wondered if there’d ever be another show that would provide me with such fun-filled, idiosyncratic, mythos-rich storytelling.

My fear that I would be cast adrift on a sea of just straight dramas and hilarious sitcoms – both of which I love but you don’t want to live on them alone; I am nothing if not pop culturally omnivorous – was assuaged fairly quickly when I came across The Librarians (2014 – present), a series about a group of oddball people from a range of backgrounds who are charged with acquiring all kinds of knowledge and stopping it from falling into the hands of evildoers and the ne’er-do-well.

Based on a series of movies that ran from 2004 to 2008 and starring Noah Wylie as the impetuous though learned veteran Librarian, Flynn Carsen – he is a recurring character in the resulting TV series, The Librarians has just been signed to a fourth series, and now its own comic book series from Dynamite.

 

The main cast of The Librarians (L-R): Lindy Booth, Christian Kane, Rebecca Romijn, John Larroquette, John Harlan Kim (image via Bleeding Cool (c) Dynamite Entertainment)

 

According to Bleeding Cool, Writer Will Pfeifer (Aquaman) and artist Rodney Buchemi (Uncanny X-Men) have been tapped to bring our quirky knowledge seekers and protectors to graphic life, with Pfeiffer excited about the possibilities that the broad narrative canvas of The Librarians allows for.

“The thing that really attracted me to The Librarians as a concept is that they’re not just another group out to save the world. I mean, sure, they end up saving the world and seeing that mankind lives to see another day and all that, but their real focus is knowledge – getting it, keeping it and seeing that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. In this day and age, a group of smart folks trying to get smarter is the sort of role model we need, and the fact that this knowledge always seems to be of the forbidden, arcane variety is what keeps things interesting. I had a great time coming up with some bizarre mysteries for them to uncover, and the combination of curiosity, humor and good ol’ adventure made writing the series a real pleasure!”

The Librarians #1 will fall into the eager hands of fans in September this year.

Stargate Universe lives on with a new comic resolving that bittersweet cliffhanger

(image via Stuffpoint (c) MGM)

 

SNAPSHOT
Stargate Universe followed a exploration team on an ancient spaceship called Destiny, and their attempts to get back to Earth from billions of light years away. In the season two finale, the decision is made to put Destiny on a three-year, faster-than-light jump while the crew goes into stasis chambers. However, one of the stasis pods is discovered to be malfunctioning. Math genius Eli Wallace (David Blue) volunteers to stay behind, believing he is smart enough to fix the pod before life support shuts down. (synopsis (c) io9 Gizmodo)

The ending of Stargate Universe was a deeply bittersweet, movingly melancholic fair.

Not so much because it signalled the end of the Stargate franchise’s third live action TV spinoff (following Stargate SG1 and Stargate Atlantis) – to be fair while that looked sadly likely, it wasn’t an absolute certainty at the time of screening – but because Eli was the sole person left awake, charged with making sure the members make it safely to the next far-off stage of their journey.

 

 

With the end of the series after just 40 episodes, we never found out how the gamble by the Destiny’s inhabitants paid off, leaving fans like myself feeling a little bit incomplete (but not as incomplete as the mere 13 episodes of Firefly left us, but hey that’s a whole other kettle of terminated-too-early fish.)

But now, thanks to a comic book by writers Mark L. Haynes and J.C. Vaughn and artist Giancarlo Caracuzzo, called Back to Destiny from American Mythology, we’ll have a chance to fight out what happened next as io9 Gizmodo explains:

“It’s described as a sort of third season where ‘Eli races against time to repair his damaged stasis pod, [and] a new danger to the ship threatens the fragile plan meant to keep everyone alive.'”

Granted it’s not the renewed TV series we all would have liked but given the rich, deeply-imaginative talent out there in comic book land (yes I will happily live there thank you), this sequel will no doubt be an extraordinarily good way to return to Stargate Universe.

And who knows? If it’s succcessful, it may well spawn a new series of comic books such as those for Buffy and Firefly, something which would make and many other fans, ridiculously star-gazingly happy.

Living Level 3, South Sudan: Graphic novel shines an important light on a desperate situation

(image (c) World Food Programme)

 

It’s been well-documented that art and pop culture can have a powerful effect in spreading information and awareness, creating a groundswell of understanding and motivating action that leads to real change.

One quite striking way this is being demonstrated at the moment is a 48 page graphic novel, Living Level 3: South Sudan (LL3: South Sudan; this refers to the most severe type of humanitarian crisis), which features a real South Sudanese man, Apu Riang and his family who, like so many of their country people, have been caught in the civil war and resulting famine that has affected the new country.

It’s a confronting situation but one that desperately needs to be publicised so people outside of South Sudan understand that once the cable news channels have ceased to have any interest in the story, that there is still an immense amount of need there, and hence, help desperately needed.

The World Food Programme is playing a pivotal role in alleviating the dire need, and its stories such as that of Apu Riang and his family that is underscoring how dire the situation truly is and how much needs to be done.

 

 

As Apu Riang says in the video, filmed as part of a two week information-gathering trip by World Food Programme staff – head of television communications Jonathan Dumont, head of graphic design and publishing Cristina Ascone, and LL3: South Sudan‘s writer Joshua Dysart – you only make the decision to take your family on a perilous long journey from your homeland if there is really no other choice.

The aim of of LL3: South Sudan is to galvanise the international community to act and act now; any delay could cost lives, many lives, and the fictional aid worker in the graphic novel, Leila Helal, plays a key role in making clear how great a task she and her colleagues face.

The aim has always been to accurately document what is happening in South Sudan and as Ascone notes in a Mashable article:

“It’s taken many, many months because South Sudan is [complicated],” Ascone said. “You need to be very careful about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. We needed to make sure we’re portraying the country, the people, everybody in the right way.”

While it aims to be engaging, that is merely a means to an end with the take-away message a vitally important one.

“Basically it says, if people know these stories, then there’s hope. Because then there’s the chance that, whether it’s the World Food Programme or the U.N. or the international community, somebody will care. Somebody will be able to do something to help.

“I think that’s the takeaway. And I think that’s something the reader can use.”

 

(image (c) World Food Programme)

Saving the universe Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 style, one LEGO brick at a time

(image via YouTube (c) Huxley Berg Studios)

 

I think it is pretty much a given that everything in the world is better when it’s LEGO-fied?

The Mona Lisa? Of course. Wandering through the park on a fine summer’s day? It goes without saying? What about saving the universe, for a second time no less? As if you wouldn’t brick-ify that!

Thankfully Huxley Berg Studios recognise the importance of #alltheLEGOS in every aspect of life, and have given us a version of the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 trailer that is sure to please every last one of our inner children.

And as IO9 Gizmodo points out,, they have gone to a considerable amount of trouble to create this mini-masterpiece:

“Unlike the Lego movies, which use photo-realistic computer graphics to make it look like the characters and other Lego set pieces were built and animated by hand, Huxley Berg Studios uses traditional stop-motion and photography techniques. The process is painstaking, but the results are charming—and a lot cheaper when you’re not working with a Hollywood-caliber budget.”

 

More comics reinvention: Looney Tunes meets DC Comics

Martian Manhunter and Marvin the Martian (image via io9 (c) DC)

 

Now that they have (mostly) successfully re-imagined a slew of Hanna-Barbera characters such as Scooby Doo, The Flintstones and Wacky Races, Warner Bros, through their DC Comics imprint, have decided to move on to the goofy cast of Looney Tunes.

The idea, according to the press release (below) is to match characters like Yosemite Sam and Road Runner with characters from the DC Comics universe, in the processing re-imagining them in a far grittier, much more Mad Max-ian kind of way.

PRESS RELEASE

Stay tuned.

Jonah Hex. Yosemite Sam.

Martian Manhunter. Marvin the Martian.

Lobo. The Road Runner.

Batman. Elmer Fudd.

 

Batman and Elmer Fudd (image via io9 (c) DC)

 

Quite whether that will work is another matter entirely since Looney Tunes occupied a whole other kind of hilarious, inspired lunacy than their now Hanna-Barbera counterparts, but as long as the essential characteristics of the characters remain intact, and the Hanna-Barbera re-imaginings have shown us this is possible, it may just have a chance of working.

Or it could end up as the comic version of Bewitched (*collective shudder*).

Either way, it will be a fascinating experiment, yet another example of postmodern synergising which, depending on your perspective, is either creative leveraging of the highest, most inspired order, or representative of a slump in originality.

 

Lobo and The Road Runner (image via io9 (c) DC)

 

Being an innate optimist, always eager to see what’s ahead and hoping and believing it’ll be good, I’m going to hope for the former and look to seeing what a way where Jonah Hex and Yosemite Sam rub shoulders looks like.

And hope that somewhere down the track someone puts Bugs Bunny and Wonder Woman together. Now THAT would be interesting!

(source: io9 Gizmodo)

 

Jonah Hex and Yosemite Sam (image via io9 (c) DC)

Simon Says: Lessons of history from a famed real-life Nazi hunter

(image courtesy Andre Frattino via IO9)

 

It is an oft-used phrase, particularly in these perilous times when far right nationalists seem intent on trying to reshape the earth in their poisonously dark image, but one that very much deserves repeating:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

(There is some conjecture about the exact wording and who said it first, or at all and why, but the fact remains, it is a truthful axiom.)

Simon Wiesenthal, and many brave souls like him were most definitely not among the good men who did nothing, bravely going out and sacrificing their lives to bring many fugitive Nazis to justice, and it is their inspiring story that writer Andre Frattino with illustrator Jesse Lee has chosen to ensure they are not forgotten.

“We’re going to have the next generation who’s not going to have anyone who’s affected by the Holocaust,” Frattino said. “Not only are we forgetting, we’re normalizing it. We’re playing it down. ‘Oh it was so long ago, it doesn’t matter anymore, we won’t do it again.’ Those who don’t remember their mistakes are bound to repeat them.” (source: IO9)

This impressive and important comic book, which will play a vital role in reminding younger generations of the need to stay eternally vigilant against evil, is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign, which will run for another 10 days or so.

These types of ambitious and I would argue necessary projects must be supported and I’d urge you to contribute to making Simon Says: Nazi Hunter a reality and be part of inspiring a whole new generation to speak up, act and stop evil in its tracks before it has a chance to wreak the horrific, lives-destroying damage it did during the Holocaust.

 

(image courtesy Andre Frattino via IO9)

 

(image courtesy Andre Frattino via IO9)

Weekend pop art: Apple’s T & Cs re-done in the style of famous cartoons and comic strips

Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz (image via Indy100 (c) R Sikoroyak)

 

Who actually reads Terms and Conditions (T & Cs) documents? Anyone? anyone? Bueller? Just as I thought – NO ONE.

Yeah, yeah we totally should so we know if the vendor we’re signing up with is going to require our firstborn in the event of a missed bill or demand we recreate the Mona Lisa in coloured pasta as punishment for not downloading something correctly … BUT WE DON’T.

Why? Because they’re fantastically boring.

But no longer if insanely clever New York-based cartoonist R Sikoroyak has his way.

This talented guy has recreated all 96 pages of Apples T & Cs in the style of various famous cartoons and comic strips, and the results are nothing short of “hell to the yeah I’d read that!”

Seriously I would and I would love it, and be fully aware of the fact that at midnight on the 4th July 2018 Apple will repossess my home, car and collection of antique poodle statuettes because I accidentally didn’t tick some box somewhere.

Ah the power of good pop culture art!

(source: Indy100

 

Dilbert by Scott Adams (image via Indy100 (c) R Sikoroyak)

 

Adventure Time by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb (image via Indy100 (c) R Sikoroyak)

 

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (image via Indy100 (c) R Sikoroyak)

 

Tintin by Hergé (image via Indy100 (c) R Sikoroyak)

Update stage left! Snagglepuss reimagined as a gay southern gothic playwright

(image via Hanna-Barbera (c) Warner Bros)

 

Nothing stays the same forever, including it seems some of Hanna-Barbera’s most beloved characters who have been thoroughly and impressively re-imagined by DC Comics in the last year or so.

In that spirit of reinvention, one that reflects a more grim aesthetic than the knockabout fun of the 1960s and ’70s, The Wacky Races became the grimly apocalyptic Wacky Raceland, Scooby Doo became Scooby Apocalypse, Johnny Quest, The Herculoids and The Mighty Mightor became Future Quest, and The Flintstones became, well, The Flintstones, although nowhere near as much of a Stone Age family as they had been.

To this burgeoning gang of reborn Hanna-Barberans comes Snagglepuss who from September/October this year will be presented, according to CBR.com, as “a gay Southern Gothic playwright.” (To those of us who grew up with him and were also of a non-heterosexual person, this was blatantly obvious from day one so it’s fitting it’s now being openly acknowledged.)

 

 

Writer Mark Russell will pen the new-and-improved Snagglepuss, who debuted in 1959 as one of the ensembles characters on The Quick Draw McGraw Show, and had this to say about remaking the character:

“I envision him like a tragic Tennessee Williams figure; Huckleberry Hound is sort of a William Faulkner guy, they’re in New York in the 1950s, Marlon Brando shows up, Dorothy Parker, these socialites of New York from that era come and go. I’m looking forward to it.”

And as for the fact that many supposed him to be gay, well Russell is openly embracing of that fact too.

“[I]t’s never discussed and it’s obviously ignored in the cartoons ’cuz they were made at a time when you couldn’t even acknowledge the existence of such a thing, but it’s still so obvious. So it’s natural to present it in a context where everybody knows, but it’s still closeted. And dealing with the cultural scene of the 1950s, especially on Broadway, where everybody’s gay, or is working with someone who’s gay, but nobody can talk about it — and what it’s like to have to try to create culture out of silence.”

The newly openly out Snagglepuss will make his debut in March with an eight page story in a Suicide Squad/Banana Splits Annual (the mind frankly boggles; that will be interesting), before getting his own starring comic book vehicle later this year.

(source: CBR.com)

 

Weekend pop art: Comic strips meets TV in creative mashups

(image via Laughing Squid (c) DirecTV)
Peanuts meets The Walking Dead (image via Laughing Squid (c) DirecTV)

 

Have you wondered what Linus would look like as a zombie? Or Pigpen as Daryl (he’s the one Peanuts character who’d be untroubled by the ablution-challenged environs of the zombie apocalypse).

Or perhaps you think Game of Thrones could do with a dose of Calvin and Hobbes whimsicality? (Let’s face it, sleigh rides that delight you rather than kill you are always the better option.)

Would Dilbert and Silicon Valley be corporate-sceptical soulmates? Or how would Cathy handle the morally-challenged, logic-averse surrounds of VEEP‘s Selina Meyer’s White House?

Wherever your TV – comic strips mashups mind may wander, there’s a very good chance that DirecTV have got there first and the results are absolutely delightful, as well as definitively nailing how Charlie Brown might fare in Negan’s bloodthirsty universe or Garfield‘s Jon Arbuckle might find the gritty, morally-ambiguous world of Mr Robot.

To find out more about how the creators of these mashups envisage the two worlds colliding, go to Direct Deals.

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

Game of Thrones meets Calvin and Hobbes (image via Laughing Squid (c) DirecTV)
Game of Thrones meets Calvin and Hobbes (image via Laughing Squid (c) DirecTV)

 

VEEP meets Cathy (image via Laughing Squid (c) DirecTV)
VEEP meets Cathy (image via Laughing Squid (c) DirecTV)

 

Silicon Valley meets Dilbert (image via Laughing Squid (c) DirecTV)
Silicon Valley meets Dilbert (image via Laughing Squid (c) DirecTV)

 

Mr Robot meets Garfield (image via Laughing Squid (c) DirecTV)
Mr Robot meets Garfield (image via Laughing Squid (c) DirecTV)