Comics review: Misfit City vol. 1

(image courtesy BOOM! Studios)

 

Depending on where and who you are, Cannons Cove is either the site of your greatest, fondest childhood memories or a backwater with little to offer but boring jobs and creative nothingness.

For fans of The Gloomies, an iconic film that defined many peoples’ childhoods, including dismissive uber-fans who come to town blaring the soundtrack and demanding to have their nostalgic impulses gratified at every turn, it’s some kind of nirvana, a return to a kindler, simpler, more, ah, foggy time.

But if you’re from Cannons Cove, so named because ships with cannons got sunk there by pirates – some literal naming going on there! – such as the Sheriff’s daughter Wilder who works at a drive-thru coffee shop, it’s the end of the known universe with not much to offer it.

Her friends are a little more upbeat – Karma, a New Age devotee whose simple joy and ditzy optimism is a joy, Macy, who works at the town’s museum and plays in an electropunk feminist noise duo with her brother Todd, and Dot, whose mum is the local librarian and who is the font of all knowledge (and a channeler of  dead pirate spirits but that’s a whole other story).

Despite their totally different outlooks on life, these four, fast friends, which also include their friend Ed, are the beating, impetuous heart of Misfit City by writers Kiwi Smith and Kurt Lustgarten (Legally Blonde and 10 Things I Hate About You) and artist Naomi Franquiz, a comic strip from BOOM! BOX that is equal parts growing pains, treasure hunt and dissection of small town life and its rewards and limitations.

 

(image courtesy BOOM! Studios)

 

What makes Misfit City pop from the word go, and there’s an undeniable energy and brio to the story from the first panel, is how vivacious, alive and beautifully fully-formed the characters are.

We meet Wilder in almost the very first panel, and it’s clear that she’s is none-too-happy about being stuck in the less-than-stellar environs of Cannons Cove.

She wears a perpetual sense of ennui and sighs are almost second nature to her – much of this could be slated home to the fact that she’s your typical older teenager, still trying to figure out her place in the world, but you suspect she’s also the kind of person who will grab the first chance to dash from Cannons Cove and never return.

Still for now she’s stuck there, and we know thanks to the inspired-writing, just how little she likes being a resident of a place where the height of the social calendar is the annual Shucks Fair (not so great if you don’t like oysters, seafood or electropunk feminist noise duos).

She is but one of the finely-etched characters who give Misfit City a real sense of playful vivacity and engrossing likeability, a trait that goes a clear factor many degrees when Captain Denby’s treasure map falls out of the trunk he donates to the town’s museum upon his passing.

What looks at first like a lark, a fun diversion for the group of friends from the tedium of small town life and being bullied at school for not being one of the cool kids – both the scornful oppressors, dismissive The Gloomies fans and Denby’s kids who want the map for themselves are more trope-heavy than original but they serve their purpose well – soon becomes, in the tradition of all grand adventures, to be much more than that.

Of course, being only a little older than the kids who made The Gloomies such a fun cinematic romp, Wilder, Macy, Karma, Dot and Ed, don’t full appreciate what it is they’re walking, or rather sneaking into, at first.

It’s not until people start getting hit on the head, surprised in darkened mansions and caught out on tribal islands in a howling gale that they come to appreciate that what they see as a diverting excursion is actually a do-or-die effort for many other people, all of whom get introduced throughout the story in much the same way old movie serials did, for maximum effect and cliffhanger potential.

 

(image courtesy BOOM! Studios)

 

In fact, the volume, which gathers together the first four issues in the series, ends on the mother of all grand reveals and you just know, if you haven’t been keeping up with the unfurling series like yours truly, that volume 2 must be in your hands forthwith and henceforth or you will spend all kinds of agonising time wondering what on earth is going to happen next.

In many ways Misfit City is light and fluffy, a breezy fun-filled adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously; certainly you can see the thematic imprint of a thousand teen stories that have gone before in its sometimes trope-ish narrative.

But that is by no means a negative because Smith and Lustgarten know how to use these tropes and use them brilliantly well, imbuing their story with emotional resonance, the very real search for life meaning that is common to teenagers (and not a few adults) and the need all of us have to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

The fact that they throw of all these substantial elements into the mix, and still emerge with a bright, fun and thoroughly engaging story speaks to how well the writers do what they do.

The artwork too is a pleasure, detailed, colourful, dour when needed and popping in every panel, accenting the storyline while never dominating it, proving how good a team Smith, Lustgarten and Franquiz make (with beautiful colouring by Brittany Peer).

As comic strips go, Misfit City is up among the best, giving up us characters that matter, a story that has you roped in from the word go, a compelling sense of time and place, and the ability to weave in all kinds of issues without once feeling heavy-handed, and always a pleasure to read and lose yourself in on a rainy afternoon when a treasure hunt might indeed be a fun diversion.

 

(image courtesy BOOM! Studios)

Christmas in July #5: I took joy in Mutts A Shtinky Little Christmas by Patrick McDonnell

(cover image courtesy Andrews McMeel Publishing)

 

Mutts, a delightfully retro, self-aware comic strip by Patrick McDonnell is not your usual humourous newspaper diversion.

First published in 1994, and described by the immortally-great Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts) as “one of the best comic strips of all time”, Mutts has always had a keenly-felt beating heart at the centre of its storytelling.

The willingness of McDonnell to be sweet and adorable, unashamedly heart-on-the-sleeve in an age of cynical standoffishness has paid handsome dividends, not only giving us two avowedly cute (but sassy and clever into the bargain) protagonists in Mooch, a cat, and Earl, a dog – their respective humans, Millie and Frank and Ozzie, though loving and attentive play a background role to the furry stars of the show – but a vehicle through which he can promote a variety of animal-friendly causes, including environmental awareness, conservation, animal adoption and the necessity of giving every pet an expansive love that knows no bounds (because they will most assuredly give it back, without question).

This willing, unconditional loveliness is on full, gloriously-affecting display in the small festive tome, Mutts: A Shtinky Little Christmas, where Mooch and Earl come to the rescue of a long kitten in the snow named Jules, who they rename Shtinky Puddin’ because, well, why not? (Shtinky, the spelling of whose faux-name reflects Mooch’s appealing lisp, loves tigers, and naturally their preservation in the wild, is a recurring character in McDonnell’s artfully-crafted world.)

It’s adorable, as is just about everything about this story which unapologetically, and thank goodness for that, pulls on every seasonal heartstring possible, giving us a story of two animals, and their humans, rescuing Shtinky not once but twice – let’s just say Mooch is a tad neglectful as one critical juncture – come to the salvation of another, and in the process giving us a seasonal tale about giving up our own comfort and wellbeing for the sake of others.

The book is not long, and more like an elongated comic strip than anything (this is not even remotely a bad thing; simply a format description) but in its short running time, we’re treated to a heartwarmingly, redemptive story that sends an important message about looking after the fellow furry creatures we share the planet with.

We even meet Santa Claus too who, along with having a big warm sack full of milk and cookies, scoops up Mooch, Earl and Shtinky from the dubious care of an unseeing snowman in a blizzard, depositing them safely home where love and belonging really lies.

We all know life can be cruel and unpredictable but just as he does in Mutts each and every single day, McDonnell reminds us in A Shtinky Little Christmas that what makes our time here on earth so worthwhile and meaningful is giving and sharing to others, no matter the personal cost, especially if it’s to creatures, and yes, people, far more vulnerable than us.

 

(cover image courtesy Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Christmas in July #4: Home alone feeling scrooged? These Christmas movies deserve some love, actually (curated)

From schmaltzy to savagery, we dissect the classic Christmas flick.
Love Actually, Universal Pictures.

 

Ari Mattes, University of Notre Dame Australia

 

The cultural environment in which we watch a film inevitably shapes our response to it. Engaging with the Yuletide ecology by watching Christmas films offers a genuine cinephilic pleasure, be it kitsch, ironic, or sincere.

The following taxonomy is by no means exhaustive – there are far too many Christmas films to mention – but should present a sufficient overview to keep one’s viewing-December occupied, should one so wish it, with cinematic and televisual fare ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Ho, ho, ho.

Classic Christmas Films

This is not (necessarily) because they used to make better films in the old days, but simply because old popular cultural products that are still being commercially tapped tend to be (comparatively) pretty good. We don’t read Dickens because people were better writers in the 19th century, but because Dickens was one of the great ones of the period, even if for every Dickens there were hundreds of duds, rightfully now out of print.Classical Hollywood cinema offers the most refined, and in many ways the most aesthetically pleasurable, Christmas films.

Likewise, we don’t watch the 1938 version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol because films were better in the 1930s, but because this particular film is excellent.

Black and white film, furthermore, evokes a nostalgic ambience that enhances the sentimentality that makes Christmas movies such prolific producers of warm and fuzzy gut-reactions.

 

(image via The Courier)

 

Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is the most canonised of the classic Christmas movies, appearing as the Christmas movie of choice in several films and TV specials – including a memorable episode of Beverly Hills 90210 – and it certainly warrants multiple Yuletide viewings.

Gloria Grahame is excellent in a minor role as Violet, and James Stewart as George Bailey does his usual wholesome act perfectly. Capra’s approach, as in most of his films, avoids pure schmaltz, and there is a critical edge in It’s a Wonderful Life’s depiction of the relationship between capitalism and small town America, challenging the role of finance and commerce as it perverts and invades social life.

There are a few other classic Christmas films, that, though less well known, are as good as (or better than) It’s a Wonderful Life – and are certainly worth including on one’s December list.

 

(image courtesy Warner Bros)

 

It Happened on 5th Avenue 

It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) is a hilarious farce involving returned GIs squatting in a New York City mansion. Christmas in Connecticut (1945) is a delightful battle of the sexes film starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan.

George Seaton’s Miracle on 34th Street (1947), following the public trial of a man who claims to be Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), is a sweet, gentle film offering a nice counterpoint to the sharper-edged Christmas in Connecticut and It Happened on 5th Avenue.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947), starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young, and Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner (1940) also deserve mention, as do, for the musically inclined, the Bing Crosby beauties Holiday Inn (1942) and White Christmas (1954), and Vincent Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), starring Judy Garland.

Contemporary Christmas Films

Big budget, mainstream Hollywood Christmas films usually fall into one of three categories.

The first category includes the snide and sarcastic comedies (often featuring shallowly sentimental endings) that have dominated the genre in its large-scale incarnations since the 1980s.

 

(image via Moviepedia – Fandom)

 

The essential 1980s Christmas comedy, perhaps, is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) – and no self-respecting Christmas film lover’s December can pass without a visit to the Griswolds. Chevy Chase offers a pitch-perfect comedic performance as the quintessential frustrated American suburban dad, and Christmas Vacation is, arguably, the funniest of the Vacation series.

The other key 1980s comedy for cynics is Scrooged (1988), starring Bill Murray as a dissolute TV executive, and featuring cameos by players as diverse as Robert Mitchum and David Johansen, lead singer of the New York Dolls. Scrooged offers a wry revision of Dickens’ classic, though the cheerful ending does seem forced in the context of this film.

 

(image via IMP Awards)

 

More recently, highlights include A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011) – a return to form for the pair of lovable stoners after the shambolic Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008) – and Surviving Christmas (2004), a low-key comedy in which a depressed advertising hot shot, played by Ben Affleck, pays an “ordinary” suburban family, led by patriarch James Gandolfini, to host him for the holidays. As Gandolfini and his family increasingly regret the arrangement, Affleck continues to throw more and more money at them in his attempt to fabricate the kind of Norman Rockwellesque Christmas he never had as a child.

Deck the Halls (2006), following Danny DeVito as he tries, to the chagrin of pedantic neighbour Matthew Broderick, to bedeck his house in so many Christmas lights it can be seen from space, and Christmas with the Kranks (2004) are also worth mentioning, as is Ted Demme’s painfully funny The Ref (1994).

 

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Columbia Pictures.

Many people swear by Bad Santa (2003) – though (like many of Terry Zwigoff’s films) it leaves a bad taste in the mouth – and probably the only Christmas films worth avoiding altogether are the extremely irritating Four Holidays (2008), starring Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughan, and Nora Ephron’s heavy-handed Mixed Nuts (1994).

The second, related, category features Christmas films about the waning of belief in a modern consumerist society, and the subsequent re-invigoration and reproduction of Christmas spirit and jubilation.

The best known in this category are the Home Alone films, but other highlights include Elf (2003), starring Will Ferrell, James Caan and Zooey Deschanel, following the shenanigans of an elf-raised human visiting New York City for the first time, and Jingle All the Way (1996), the best of Schwarzenegger’s comedies, in which he battles, on Christmas eve, to secure a popular toy for his son.

 

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Jingle All the Way contains one of the brilliant scenes of Christmas cinema – a critique of the relationship between the consumer society and the Christmas legend in which zealous parents in search of Turboman, the El Dorado of Christmas toys, attack and maim each other in slow motion, accompanied by Andy Williams’ song It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

It’s also notable for a hilarious performance by the late Phil Hartman in a supporting role as Ted, Schwarzenegger’s cheese-ball neighbour.

Fred Claus (2007), starring Vince Vaughan, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates and Kevin Spacey, is one of the best recent Christmas comedies, following the path of Fred Claus, Santa’s brother, as he struggles to emerge from the shadow of his legendary brother. It contains a brilliant spoof of AA-style groups, and is worth watching for this scene alone.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998) likewise contains some hilarious scenes, as college student Jake (Jonathan Taylor Thomas, from Home Improvement) has to make it from the West Coast to the East Coast of the US by 6pm on Christmas Eve if he is to inherit his father’s Porsche.

 

 

Hugh Grant dancing to the Pointer Sisters in Love Actually. © Universal Pictures.

 

Nancy Meyers’ The Holiday (2006) and Love Actually (2003) are both well-made romances set during the Christmas period, although Love Actually has demonstrated superior cultural staying power.

This type of Christmas film often follows a structure akin to A Christmas Carol – including, of course, numerous versions of that story. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) is a particularly strong rendition of Dickens.

 

Muppet Christmas Carol (image via The Conversation)
 

The third category of big budget Christmas movies involves films closer to the Christmas story itself, about downtrodden people being given renewed hope over the Christmas period.

These “Christmas Miracle” films include Prancer (1989), One Magic Christmas (1985), and The Christmas Star (1986), all sweetly melancholic films.

The “Christmas Miracle” film is problematic, like so much Hollywood fantasy fare, in that it often offers miraculous solutions to prevalent social problems – even if it acts, in any case, as an eminently satisfying narcotic.

Telemovies

Films about Christmas would be few and far between if it weren’t for the small screen. By far the most prolific of the Christmas film categories is the telemovie.

These films are mostly of the hardcore-schmaltz, Hallmark-channel variety. This kind of super-schmaltz becomes much more palatable when viewed through the green and red lenses of Christmas cheer.

 

Trading Christmas (2011).
© Hallmark.

 

There are far too many Christmas telemovies to mention, but some are worth noting. The excellent Hallmark film, Trading Christmas (2011) is a low-brow version of The Holiday starring solid TV actors Tom Cavanagh (Ed), Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal), and Faith Ford (Hope & Faith).

Two others, unconnected despite the similar titles, are A Mom for Christmas (1990), starring Olivia Newton-John, and A Grandpa for Christmas (2007), starring Hollywood legend Ernest Borgnine in one of his twilight roles.

Perhaps the strangest – and, arguably, most wonderful – Christmas telemovie is the unbeatable Santa With Muscles (1996), which follows Hulk Hogan (the Santa with muscles) as he tries to save an orphanage (!) from an evil property-developer-cum-scientist-cum-megalomaniac.

 

(image via Original Film Art)

 

If you are fortunate enough to source a copy of this tongue in cheek melodrama, look out for a young Mila Kunis as one of the orphans.

The other wonderful Christmas telemovie is the remake of Christmas in Connecticut (1992), a gentler and, in many ways, funnier, film than the original. Directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and starring Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson, this version makes a surprisingly insightful criticism of false representation in televisual culture, whilst still offering the requisite amount of sentimentality.

Other telemovies worth having on in the background as you decorate the tree, include The Dog who Saved Christmas (2009), sweet nonsense featuring tele-legend Dean Cain, and The Man who Saved Christmas (2002), a more sober biographical account of A.C. Gilbert, a toy manufacturer who refused to cancel Christmas in response to World War One, effectively played by Jason Alexander.

Genre films set during Christmas

There are also a considerable number of films that are straight forward genre pieces with Christmas thrown into the mix. These are mostly action and horror films.

There are two obvious examples of 1980s action films set during December that incorporate Christmas into their narratives in a way that is more than incidental.

 

(image via IMP Awards)

 

John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988), one of the most striking action films of the 1980s, is set during a corporate Christmas party, and John McClane’s subtle and not so subtle tirades (and raids) against the corporatisation of America resonate thematically with several of the more explicitly anti-consumerist Christmas films.

Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon (1987) is likewise set in Los Angeles during Christmas, and perhaps the most memorable scene in the film is the introduction of cop on the edge Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) as he breaks up a drug deal in a Christmas tree lot.

Something about the Santa myth lends itself to the horror genre, with its combination of magic and maniacs, and there have been several horror films set during Christmas.

 

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974, poorly remade in 2006), an unnerving “slasher” film avant la lettre, is the best of the Christmas horror films. The recent Rare Exports (2010), from Finland, effectively plays on the supernatural elements of the Santa myth.

Horror aficionados will insist on watching the five films of the Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) series – crude and unpleasant exercises in mayhem, without the style or suspense of Black Christmas.

Unless one has always imagined Santa as an axe murderer, one should probably avoid these.

Joe Dante’s monster-comedy Gremlins (1984), too, is set during, and reflects on, the Christmas spirit in small-town America, though it wears thin pretty quickly after the dazzling opening forty minutes or so.

The rest: incidental Christmas films, cartoons, TV Specials

There are, in addition to the aforementioned films, several films set partially or entirely during the Christmas period, even as this doesn’t figure at all thematically or in terms of plot.

Richard Kelly’s nasty The Box (2009), comes to mind, as does Joseph Zito’s Reaganite masterpiece of American xenophobia, Invasion USA (1985). Chuck Norris evidently doesn’t get a break when it comes to defending the US from its imagined enemies.

There are several animated Christmas films that are worth watching, including The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), The Polar Express (2004), and A Christmas Carol (2009) – along with innumerable TV specials and cartoons dedicated to Christmas.

 

The Nightmare Before Christmas. (Touchstone Pictures)

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) is particularly good – sweet and sombre at the same time – and some of the old cartoons – Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), for example – are Christmas staples. Olive, the Other Reindeer (1999) is a more recent impressive cartoon. Probably the sharpest of the TV specials is Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988), a brilliant, stand alone inversion of Dickens.

There is one final film that transcends these categories in the complexity of its generic composition – and no spectacular Christmas would be complete without it.

Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story (1983), based on Jean Shepherd’s novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash (1966), is a perfect blend of comedy, coming of age story, and suburban drama.

The ConversationIt deserves pride of place alongside It’s a Wonderful Life, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Santa With Muscles at the top of everyone’s must see Christmas film list.

Ari Mattes, Lecturer in Media Studies, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Not everyone was me: Artist captures the poignancy of re-discovering your childhood bullies as an adult

(artwork via Percolately (c) Meghan Lands)

 

I was bullied ceaselessly and mercilessly as a child.

Every day at school was hell and I spent my time trying to maintain as small as profile as possible, a necessary strategy which robbed me of all kinds of academic and sporting activities I would’ve been damn good at.

Years, and lots of therapy later, I have largely left the pain of all that bullying behind – who wants their life to be defied by that kind of small-minded cruelty? Not me, thank you – but this deeply-affecting and insightful comic series from Canadian artist Meghan Lands encapsulates in a ways that I can’t even articulate how it feels when you discover the monsters of your childhood are now seemingly normal human beings.

 

(artwork via Percolately (c) Meghan Lands)

 

In your mind they’re anything but; still as Lands beautifully describes it, you have to grapple with the fact that these people actually had happy childhoods unlike large slabs of your own.

In my case, it’s watching all the time on Facebook as people who made my childhood a miserable living hell talk to each other about the wonderful times they had at school, like they’ve forgotten how exclusionary and hateful they were.

It leaves me gasping and amazed that they could forget that I was never invited to any of their BBQs, their outings, their big nights out – NONE OF THEM. It’s startling and shocking and dismaying and man, if Lands doesn’t capture it perfectly.

Agonisingly, poignantly, thoughtfully perfect.

Read more about it Percolately.

 

(artwork via Percolately (c) Meghan Lands)

 

(artwork via Percolately (c) Meghan Lands)

 

(artwork via Percolately (c) Meghan Lands)

 

(artwork via Percolately (c) Meghan Lands)

 

(artwork via Percolately (c) Meghan Lands)

 

(artwork via Percolately (c) Meghan Lands)

Drawing Wallace the Brave: Will Henry brings his protagonist to life

(artwork (c) Will Henry / courtesy GoComics)

 

As a writer who is, naturally enough, most comfortable with moving words merrily around a page, I am endlessly fascinated by the way artists, whose talents I most assuredly do not share alas, exercise their creative gift.

This fascination increases inestimably when it is an artists drawing a comic strip or poster for a movie I adore, and the best thing of all is actually seeing how they do it.

It’s as if the Wizard of Oz has peeled back the curtain of his own volition to reveal he is in fact not a fraud at all, but every bit as good, if not better, that you knew him to be.

Will Henry, who draws the utterly brilliant Wallace the Brave comic strip, has just done this via his Twitter account and it is every bit as wonderful as you’d expect. (The comic strip has also been featured on US public radio network NPR.)

In one beguiling minute he takes us from an indeterminate (to this untrained eye at least) smudge of pencil to a sketched out scene which shows Wallace reading in the idyllic forest that surrounds his seaside hometown of Snug Harbor to a glory of colour that leaps up from the page in all its bucolic, seagull-enhanced glory.

Pulling back the curtain has never been more entertaining …

 

Weekend pop art: A pop culture A to Z by Otis Frampton

(image via Think Geek (c) Otis Frampton)

 

I remember fondly the days of learning my ABCs, when my kindergarten teacher Miss Allen and Sesame Street jointly taught me – contentions about how to pronounce the letter “Z” aside -how to go from the beginning to the end of the alphabet (love the song!) and how to use all those fabulous letters to make amazing words.

It was the start of a vibrant love affair that continues to this day and is responsible for my blog posts, my too-long-shelved novel and the job I hold as a content writer.

So yeah I love the alphabet, which means I am positively giddy about writer and artist Otis Frampton’s pop culture alphabet, ABCDEFGeek, which all kinds of geek-loved characters to teach us how to jauntily go from A to Z, with humour and a little irony to boot.

Responsible for the joyously offbeat and quite touching Image Comics’ series Oddly Normal, and a slew of upcoming childrens’ books from Capstone Books featuring Batman, Superman, WonderWoman, Green Lantern, The Flash and Aquaman, Frampton’s alphabetical musings have a delightful whimsy and cleverness to them that make them as pithy as they are cute.

You can find out more about the talented artist and writer by going to otisframpton.com – where you can commission him for comics work – or follow him on Twitter or Instagram.

(image via Think Geek (c) Otis Frampton)

 

(image via Think Geek (c) Otis Frampton)

 

(image via Think Geek (c) Otis Frampton)

 

(image via Think Geek (c) Otis Frampton)

 

(image via Think Geek (c) Otis Frampton)

 

(image via Think Geek (c) Otis Frampton)

 

(image via Think Geek (c) Otis Frampton)

Weekend pop art: Reading books made quick and easy with abridged illustrations

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

 

I love reading books.

Losing myself in books, long and short, big and small, has been a passion of time since I can remember but even I have to admit it’s well near impossible to read everything (not that I don’t give it a red hot go!).

Riding to the rescue for those with not enough time, and for those addicted to the viral bits-and-pieces of today’s read-and-run culture (of which I am a participant as much as anyone), is Ottawa-based graphic designer John Atkinson who has come up with a really fast, and fun, way to get a handle on a book in record time – abridged illustrations which humourously take a book down to its core elements.

It’s all driven by a simple recognition that our reading and information absorption habits have changed in the digital age, as he told Buzzfeed:

“I did the original three abridged classics cartoons a while back. I was thinking about how, in an online world, we consume information. In the past, we would spend hours/days/weeks reading great literature, but now we have a need to digest everything in small viral bits.”

Fun though they are though, and they are nothing short of wonderfully inspired, he hopes they will lead people to go further and explore the actual books:

“I would hope that people find these funny — or at least pithy. I’d also hope they might encourage some to revisit, re-read, or discover for the first time some of these great works of literature.”

If you love these illustrations, and why would you not, you can find more in Atkinson’s book, Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t – which, as yet, has not been abridged itself – or enjoy the wider body of his work at Wrong Hands.

 

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

 

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

 

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

 

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

 

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

Comics review: Oblivion Song (issues 1-3)

 

(image courtesy Image Comics)

 

The apocalypse is big business these days.

For some reason, and it may have something to do with the fact that ever since the optimistic blush of post-World War Two idealism wore off in the early 1970s that we’ve become more and more convinced the world is going to hell in a handbasket, everyone is obsessed with a thousand different ways the world might end …

… and, more intriguingly for a storyteller, what happens after that cataclysmic event.

Robert Kirkman, through his The Walking Dead comics and TV series, and the spinoff series Fear the Walking Dead, has been one of the people at the forefront of this fascination with a bleakly dark and deadly future, asking time and again what it would mean for humanity to be faced with this most horrific of existential crises?

Would we rise, nobly and selflessly to the challenge, or cave in on ourselves and employ our best (read: worst) Darwinian tendencies for a race to the self-preserving bottom, alive but with little that made us stand above the evolutionary crowd intact?

It’s an intriguing, multi-layered question and one he explores once again, with talented artist Lorenzo De Felici, in his new comic book series Oblivion Song which explores what happens when 300,000 of Phildelphia’s citizens are absorbed, with no warning into an alternate dimensional hellscape known, you might have guessed, as Oblivion.

Populated by beastial monsters and the stuff of nightmares on acid, the Oblivion kills many of its unwilling captors as the government does it best to save as many of its people from their dimensional prison as they can.

But as so often happens even in the more mundane and terrestrial of disasters – and I use the word “mundane” only as a contrast to the freakish otherworldliness of Oblivion – people lose interest, the news cycle powers down and its left to survivors and their families to do what they can do to save those they love and have lost.

 

(image courtesy Image Comics)

 

Nathan Cole, whose estranged brother Edward may still be trapped in the mindlessly terrifying expanse of Oblivion – the land it consumed in Philadelphia before disappearing is a desert wasteland, with the only way to reach the alternate dimension through darts that allow movement across the barrier between the worlds (Nathan has more freedom of movement than that) – is pretty much the last man left standing, working with Bridget and her Oblivion-survivor husband Duncan (who suffers from PTSD and in unaware his wife forged a new life with a new man during the many years her husband was missing and presumed dead).

With a dogged determination borne of the need to do the right thing and no doubt find his brother – he is accused repeatedly of doing it for wholly selfish reasons but you wouldn’t keep exposing yourself to such nightmarish danger and possible death – there are a number of close scrapes with mortality in just the first few issues – Nathan keeps pushing back into Oblivion to rescue people like Thomas and Patricia Crenshaw, a married couple who, like most rescue survivors, can’t adjust to the fact that they are safe from the monsters.

It’s a common thread in the series so far – what happens after your rescued? Is the happily-ever-after really all that happy or is it an agonisingly awful safety and nothing more? Can you ever leave that kind of trauma behind?

Given the fact that Oblivion Song is bouncing between Oblivion itself, where it turns out some survivors, organised and led by the mysterious Ed who may or may be Nathan’s missing brother, have actually, and weirdly, made themselves a new life, present-day scarred Philadelphia where a massive memorial museum to this hopefully one-off apocalyptic event dominates the city, physically and psychically, Nathan’s relationship with Heather who works in city government, and the experiences of rescued survivors, it somehow manages to tell an engrossingly complex story.

It’s not perfectly executed, of course, but given the profusion of imaginatively-articulated moving parts, that’s to be expected, with an interesting premise, some nicely-brought to life characters and some incisive perceptiveness about government and society and they can be out of step with basic humanity giving the series, thus far at least, a robust well-roundedness.

What is fascinating is how something this cataclysmic, this devastating could be so easily ignored, after the initial panic and rush to rescue survivors has subsided? Surely the public, the families of the 300,000 not yet accounted for would be baying at the doors of government, beseeching the media, begging people like Nathan to do more, much more?

 

(image courtesy Image Comics)

 

Two scenes explain why this isn’t happening, at least not in the way you expect.

Nathan, fronts to a meeting at city hall organised by Heather where he must keep his cool – like most outliers, he is passionate to the point of rudeness and subordination, unable to conceive how anything other than going in and saving people matters; fair enough, in a perfect world, that would and should be the sole consideration – in order to get the funds he need to expand his team back to the size it once was before government decided the mission was fulfilled.

The fact that people are out there, and that Nathan keeps finding and saving them suggests that’s not the case at all, but it appears the government, worried that continual movement through the dimensional barrier might be weakening it, something which could lead to a repeat of events a decade earlier, and other considerations not articulated, feels it’s simply not feasible to reopen the program to its full strength and leaves Nathan as an effective one-man band.

Later on, he goes to see his old tea member Marco who is uneasy about Nathan’s requests to come back with him into Oblivion – the series titles comes from Duncan’s relocation of the “music” you would hear in the rare, quiet moments you weren’t running from monsters when all you could hear was “the breeze, the creatures in the distance, insects” sounding like nothing in our dimension – and eventually rejects his request, deferring his wife Lucia’s fears about him going back in and his own understandable terror.

It’s this cumulative, ever-present horror, this sense that Oblivion is but a permeable barrier away and that everything could go to hell again, that I think powers the reluctance of government and the populace – how is Philly not a ghost town? I’d have packed up and left but then like most people, could I afford to? – and the crowds that surge through the museum, afraid of the reminders it provides but unable to look away since the reality of it all is but a transitional event away?

In Kirkman’s other creative endeavours, you can’t escape the apocalypse since it’s everywhere; but in Oblivion Song, rich with humanity, portent, lingering hope and grief and loss, people feel like they can ignore it, well enough to get on with their lives in something approaching normalcy.

Of course, that’s a fallacy, which Nathan and survivors like the Crewshaws and Duncan prove each and every day but among the many insights Oblivion Song provides through its immersive narrative and stunningly evocative art – De Felici’s artwork is a thing of beauty and nightmares all at once – is humanity’s enduring ability to both face up to and roundly ignore threats to its very existence (think climate change right now as exhibit A).

There’s a great deal left to explore such as the organised survivors in Oblivion seeing people like Nathan as a threat not as saviours, which makes this series, which could, Kirkman promises, run for years (they didn’t launch until they had a year’s worth of issues in the vault so clearly the idea has narrative legs), a new apocalypse powerhouse of storytelling one that has the potential, if properly exercised, to offer up some penetrating truisms on the messy contrariness that is humanity.

 

Slack Wyrm: Subversive philosophy, dragons and hilarious volcano cakes

Slack Wyrm has all the great magical black forest cake and none of you are getting any (artwork (c) Joshua Wright)

 

SNAPSHOT
Slack Wyrm – the ongoing comic story of unconcerned dragon in an uncaring world by Josh Wright. Set in an ill-conceived medieval/fantasy realm of fabulous monsters, princesses, towering castles, creepy woods and houses made out of confectionery. There are witches and wizards and talking animals who sometimes wear jackets, but never pants. Also everyone seems to have a smartphone, which makes no sense at all. Wickedly quirky and gleefully subversive are two qualities I love in any pop culture I consume. (Slack Wyrm Facebook page (c) Joshua Wright)

Anyone can replicate a trope or a well-worn idea, but only a gifted few can take them, turn them inside out, give an idiosyncratic spit-and-polish and voila! Regale us with something entrancingly new …

Even better if it’s funny too, and in the case of cartoons or comics, possessed of a singular arresting visual personality.

Geelong, Australia-born Joshua Wright, who says he “remains ever-keen to impose his art onto a weary world” and who happily, and quite accurately boasts that “I already have more Twitter followers than Alexander the Great ever did, [which] must mean I’m more important” has ticked all the above boxes with his Slack Wyrm comics which are unapologetically in your face and hilariously so.

 

Slack Wyrm – No.286 – Show some respect (artwork (c) Joshua Wright)

 

Averaging two comics a week, Wright is clearly a man with a great deal of tongue-in-cheek humour to unleash upon the world. Take this excerpt from his website bio:

“After finishing a History & Literature degree, and taking a few overseas trips, he settled down to his deluded fantasy career as a famous writer of children’s novels. A decade later and with several unimpressive jobs on his resume, he finally got a few books into print. These masterful works continue to fade into history to this very day. You should probably buy one now before they become collector’s items.” (Joshuawright.net)

Armed with that kind of self-deprecating wit and a talent for giving it both visual and verbal expression that wins on just about every count, Wright’s Slack Wyrm couldn’t be anything other than the gloriously off-the-wall piece of creativity than it is.

If you’re tired of comics that play it safe or don’t push the envelope, or that simply feature a dearth of dragons – we’ve all been there, am I right? – then Slack Wyem should be your new comical bae.

Who knows? You may even get a great magical black forest cake out of the deal.

You can find follow Joshua Wright on Facebook, Tumblr (“I do so enjoy unexpected guests …”), Instagram and Twitter and you can even support his noble work to convince, and he does, he does indeed, that dragons are the funniest mythical creatures around.

 

Slack Wyrm – No.284 – Kids? (artwork (c) Joshua Wright)

 

  • Want to chat directly with him? Email him at joshuahamishwright@gmail.com

 

Jabberjaw and Aquaman together fighting dystopian nightmares? You better believe it!

Aquaman/Jabberjaw and The Flash/Speed Buggy. (image: Paul Pelletier and Andrew Hennessey (DC Comics), Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund (DC Comics)

 

You have to hand to DC Comics – they may not have had much success with their foray into moviedom, save for the stellar success of Wonder Woman, but they sure know they’re away around comic book adaptations of old, beloved Hanna-Barbera characters.

Following hot on the heels of the likes Adam Strange/Future Quest, Booster Gold/The Flintstones, Green Lantern/Space Ghost and Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits, comes all-new fantastic cross-fertilisations between the likes of Jabberjaw and Aquaman (my favourite combo to be honest), Black Lightning with Hong Kong Phooey, Dynomutt with Super Sons, and The Flash with another one of my enduring favourites, Speed Buggy.

What makes these updates of classic characters work so well is that the various creators – the full details of writers, artists and bios can be found at DC Comics – keep enough of the classic characters to make the update accessible and familiar while adding all kinds of new, highly-compatible facets.

It’s a highly-imaginative gambit but it works and works beautifully, and I can’t help but agree with IO9 when they say “These books are always a damn hoot.”

That they are, and we’ll find out how hoot-a-licious they are on 30 May when the one-shot issues are released.

 

Black Lightning/Hong Kong Phooey and Dynomutt/Super Sons. (image: Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and Jeromy Cox (DC Comics), Fernando Pasarin and Oclair Albert (DC Comics)