comicbookGRRRL Do not offend the chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible.


Panel Mania: Sophie Goldstein’s Dystopian SF in ‘The Oven’

Time for the second Panel Mania of the month, this time previewing the wonderful Sophie Goldstein's first long-form work, The Oven.

Keep an eye on those insects within....

You can read Goldstein's mini-comics, which I also highly recommend, here:

In The Oven, Ignatz Award winning creator Sophie Goldstein places her characters in exactly that: a lawless community under a burning sun where people can escape the harsh population controls in a crowded world. A broody couple take centre stage in this subtle tale, science fiction on the surface and a familiar societal poison lurking beneath.

Originally serialized in black and white in the indie comics anthology Maple Key Comics, Goldstein’s six chapter story is presented here in glorious colour, orange-burnt beneath an unforgiving sky. Syd and Eric long for a baby, but with strict population controls enforced by the state, they see no choice other than to relocate to a backwater commune, off the grid and away from birth control.

The Oven is a book that unfolds slowly, gently even, as simple lines create this fable. A small encampment looks vast and empty, underlining a utopian vision that doesn’t quite line up with expectations. Syd is a beacon of optimism, but the corrupting influence of the outside world is never far from their doorstep. Perhaps even more dangerous is the insidious creep of gender conformity in an anarchic disguise - a small comment here, a sudden split there. It’s telling that the female friend Syd finds wears glasses at all times, blank eyes leaving no clue to the real soul beneath.

The colour palette, black and white, orange and grey, is both warm and foreboding, echoing within the blank skies and landscapes. Only a solitary bug type dances across the void in huge trailing swarms, bursting from the ground to escape up into the skies, leaving its influence behind.

Goldstein is perhaps best known for her long-running webcomic Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell, co-created with Jenn Jordan, and her Ignatz Award winning mini-comic House of Women in 2014. As with the latter, science fiction and uncomfortable truths are somewhat of a speciality with Goldstein, as indeed are themes of motherhood and fertility. The gorgeous lines and meticulous character work are there to pose questions only – there are no answers here, no dictations, but a seed to be planted within the readers mind.

The Oven is Goldstein’s first long-form work and is perfectly paced; the subtleties within demand re-reading. And like her mini-comics, the ending leaves the reader aching for more.

Read the full preview here: Sophie Goldstein's Dystopian SF in 'The Oven'

The Oven


Panel Mania: Go ‘Ballistic’ with Mortimer and Robertson

For the first Panel Mania of March I selected one of my all time favourite sci-fi comics.

It started out as my choice for best comic of 2013. Now the first volume is complete and collected in a trade paperback, and set to be best comic of the millennium.

Ladies and gentlemen, do feel free to go ballistic for... Ballistic!

A genuine spark of innovation is a rare thing indeed, and something that Ballistic, by filmmaker Adam Egypt Mortimer and comics star Darick Robertson, transmits with shocking force. It’s perhaps the first comic of the millennium to leave readers physically buzzing with excitement, a future classic in the making and the Next Big Thing already flying frustratingly under the radar.

Butch is an air conditioner repairman who dreams of something more, something greater, something… more criminal. His best friend happens to be a sentient firearm; Gun is a foul-mouthed drug-addict who has entirely too much fun blowing people’s heads off. Together they climb the ladder of crime in Repo City State, a post-apocalyptic neon-nightmare world built upon reclaimed trash and constructed with DNA-based living technology – a city that is very much alive, and almost certainly worships HR Giger.

And then things start to go really wrong.

The pacing is manic as psychedelic and insanely detailed world-building collide with hyper-violent mayhem. Mortimer is refreshingly light on wordy exposition, but a handy breakdown is provided at the end revealing the mechanics and history behind each character interaction and glorious tech invention.

It’s difficult to believe that it’s Mortimer’s first foray into comics writing, or that publisher Black Mask Studios launched as recently as 2012 and currently feature one of the most exciting slate of titles for 2015.

Robertson, of course, is well known for his prolific sagas, tremendous character work and most of all, for his horrific depictions of violence. Transmetropolitan, his 60 issue cyberpunk series with Warren Ellis, remains an influential science fiction classic, while gross-out anti-superhero fare The Boys ran even longer.

The sheer lunacy of Ballistic though really does let Robertson flex his creative talents, and with a background as vibrant with life as the story itself, the result is like nothing else in the medium right now.

The comic begins with a fist halfway through someone’s face, blood flecks spraying across the page and drowning the gutter in red. It ends with the reader out of breath and desperate for more of this addictive, ballistic, madness.

Read the full preview here: Go 'Ballistic' with Mortimer and Robertson




Panel Mania: The Spectacular World Building of ‘The Swords of Glass’

The latest Panel Mania is out and boy is it a good one! Laura Zuccheri's work is jaw-droppingly beautiful and the world building that she and Corgiat have achieved here is first class.

This is a gorgeous book that I've already re-read twice, and would recommend to anyone on the strength of the art alone. It's a 200+ page sci-fi/fantasy epic with strange critters, costumes, and architecture a plenty.

A dying sun, four cosmic swords, and a young girl determined to become a warrior in the name of vengeance. In this alternate world the rich rule over the weak, killing the poor and stealing women. But with the waters rising and the weather becoming more and more extreme, even the privileged find themselves locked in ivory towers to escape the solar wrath.

The oversized deluxe edition of The Swords of Glass (Les Épées de Verre) clocks in at an impressive 212 pages from Humanoids, collecting the complete four books in the series: Yama, Ilango, Tigran, and Dolmon. A chapter for every sword, and all bound in the generously opulent French style.

Once upon a time an artist named Moebius, one of the most influential pop culture icons of the 20th century, founded a comics art group that grew to be the publisher Les Humanoïdes Associés. Publishing infamous magazine Métal Hurlant and plentiful graphic novels by French creative legends, the company also birthed Ah! Nana, an innovative female-led magazine in the late ‘70s.

After troubled times and a resurgence for the industry and publisher, that spirit of equality and diversity is very much alive today in the form of this newly translated epic from Sylviane Corgiat.

The last ten years has been a busy time for the celebrated fantasy and science fiction writer, with Elias Le Maudit (Elias the Cursed) and Lune d’Ombre (Shadow Moon) winning particular acclaim, but it is due to the ethereal and delicate work of artist Laura Zuccheri that The Swords of Glass is such an unmissable treat.

Zuccheri is no newcomer to comics in her native Italy, with multiple contributions to Giancarlo Berardi’s Julia, but collaborating with Corgiat has perhaps given her the most high profile and award-winning platform to date, and Humanoids have certainly done the work justice.

Yama, the young village girl, is our first and main protagonist. In a Conan the Barbarian type intro, the world that she knows is stolen from her in brutal style, driving her to a life of fervent training in the name of vengeance. Unlike Conan and others though, while Yama is uniquely intelligent and hot-tempered, she must also face the additional perils of being female within a barbarian land.

Luckily for Yama she just happens to have been chosen by the sword that fell near her home, and lies imbedded in rock, awaiting her command. Yet the man who took Yama in as his own, and who has trained her all these years, seems to know far more about the sword than he is prepared to tell.

Characterisation is given in broad strokes, with actions rather than words defining the nature of our cast, but flashbacks are well placed when needed to avoid large spoken expositions. The world building is slow and almost sensual, large views are broken down into more thorough and highly detailed panels, and the wildlife and variation on humanoid races is a startling and successful choice.

In a story of fantasy and science fiction, albeit with a timely environmental angle, where vast cities dominate the page with their expert architecture and a theatrical array of superb costumes with shades of Japanese culture and Moebius in influence, it is the sheer beauty of this natural world that elevate the tale into something rather special.

Dense lush forests with strange creatures, spectacularly lit giant humanoid creatures striding across the dusky horizon, endless fields of green that the pig-tiger pet lollops across, even a cute monkey-like critter ably scampering up brickwork… it is rare to find an artist so comfortable with depicting such disparate scenes as well as composing striking character and expressive work. There is something so nostalgic and yet progressive about Zuccheri’s art as she realises Corgiat’s imaginative world, the comic is a pleasure to return to countless times.

Every blade of grass is painstakingly in place, every fantastical creature consistent in each appearance, and all anatomy precisely where it should be. The story is indeed gripping as the tale unfolds and new characters are introduced, but above all, Zuccheri’s work is simply breathtaking.

Read the full preview here: The Spectacular World Building of 'The Swords of Glass'

The Swords of Glass The Swords of Glass

The Swords of Glass


Panel Mania: Ba and Moon Explore Home and Family in ‘Two Brothers’

Oh just a special edition of Panel Mania with a little world exclusive for y'all ;)

A ten-page preview of the upcoming graphic novel, Two Brothers, from Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, which looks very promising indeed!

The best selling brothers are back, as publisher Dark Horse Comics reveal the first look at Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s new graphic novel, Two Brothers. The Brazillian creators have been celebrated with a clutch of awards each, and their previous collaboration, Daytripper, became a critically acclaimed knockout.

An adaptation of Dois Irmãos (The Brothers) by the eminent Brazillian author, Milton Hatoum, Two Brothers promises a story of strained family relations and identity, with more than a hint of intrigue bestowed by the two brothers translating the tale in both language and medium.

Omar and Yaqub are identical twins with many differences between them. The strong love of their mother, Zana, only causes more trouble in their relationshop and a violent exchange sees the “good son”, Yaqub, sent from his home in Brazil to live with relatives in Lebanon. As the book opens, he is returning home after five years, a virtual stranger to his parents, estranged from Omar, and with family tensions still very much intact.

The Brazillian setting, on the riverbanks of the Amazon in the port city of Manaus, is a celebration of the vibrant and diverse country, and host to this Brazillian reimagining of a treasured local author’s tale – the themes of the home country and the relationship of brothers reflect upon each other in a startlingly unique way.

The ten-page preview underscores the subtle arts of graphic storytelling - the words unsaid, the looks avoided, the porous nature of time. Bá’s distinctive lines render unique characters in minimal strokes; clever transitions, cunning shadows, and scenic panels promise a beautiful book.

Read the full preview here: Ba and Moon Explore Home and Family in ‘Two Brothers’

Two Brothers


Panel Mania: Fashion Forward with ‘Girl in Dior’

This month's first Panel Mania spotlights the upcoming translation of French comics maestro Annie Goetzinger - Girl in Dior.

A love letter to fashion, Paris, and the House of Dior, NBM brings French superstar Annie Goetzinger to conquer the US, following in the footsteps of the titular designer. One of the rare Grandes Dames of comics in France, Goetzinger is well known for her blend of the historical and nostalgic, most often with a societal sting in the tale.

Her works (Agence Hardy, Paquebot, Le Tango du disparu), with their sumptuous Art Nouveau-influenced style, have rarely been translated for the English market, but Jeune fille en Dior perhaps has a wider audience than most – the world of fashion is rarely restricted by mere geographical borders.

The heroine of the title, Miss Clara Nohant, is a fictional creation serving as our viewpoint on the rise of Christian Dior and the fierce loyalty he inspired in those around him. Given little personality of her own, the cub reporter gazes in wonder upon his creations, with her mother and grandmother giving their own, generationally different, opinions.

For those looking for a hard-hitting historical expose, be warned – this is a feather light kiss upon history, with only a slightly belligerent sabre rattle of socialist concern, but oh the dresses. The beautiful, stylish, inspired dresses. Goetzinger’s background in fashion is apparent not only in the flowing lines of the countless outfits and the way they gloriously capture the light, but in the layouts, backgrounds, and characters of the entire comic.

This is for fans of beauty and refinement, both in comics and in clothing, an indulgent present for those who love fashion and the female form. The original French edition by Dargaud was praised for its lavish presentation and exquisite binding, a trait that NBM have consistently proved to be a mutual priority.

Goetzinger has been working in comics since the ‘70s, and while this is far lighter than most of her body of critically acclaimed work, it’s lovely to see a subject often derisively dismissed as “feminine” being treated with such love and respect. A guilty pleasure? No guilt required!

Girl in Dior opens with a quote from Dior himself: “In a machine age, dressmaking is one of the last refuges of the human, the personal, the inimitable.” Comics, perhaps, is a similar refuge.

Read the full preview here: Fashion Forward with ‘Girl in Dior’

Girl in Dior


Panel Mania: Lucy Knisley Explores Aging in ‘Displacement’

I always love Lucy Knisley's work but this new title is particularly special. It's very uplifting, though I did have a wee cry afterwards.

Touching and relatable, New York Times best-selling artist Lucy Knisley follows up her previous hit autobiographies with a travel journal of her trip aboard a cruise ship with her elderly grandparents. With memories of a childhood shared with an active grandma and grandpa, Knisley is forced to confront the mortality of those dear to her alongside the sheer exhaustion of being their temporary carer.

Knisley’s previous works have focused on a trip to Paris with her mother (French Milk), her love of food (Relish), and a travel memoir of her adventures in Europe (An Age of License). Travel then is certainly a topic of speciality but the focus here is very much upon feelings of grief, guilt and compassion rather than youthful adventure.

Knisley’s grandma has dementia, which is getting worse, and her grandpa also needs near constant care and supervision. It’s a sad flip of the parent-child relationship that comes with advanced age, and something many of us struggle with and try to avoid even thinking upon. Knisley though is unflinchingly honest in her writings – her love for her grandparents is powerful even when she is gripped with guilt and fear over the many daily decisions she has to make. Her anger too at family members who avoid dealing with the realities of her grandparents’ situation is palpable, her emotions conveyed not only in carefully chosen words but in the expressive drawings of chosen moments.

The clever blend of comics, illustrations, and hand-lettered text is Knisley’s signature and her skill increases with every book – in some ways Displacement almost feels too short as the reader wishes desperately to stay in Knisley’s world just a little longer. Her art too, with soft lines and colours and occasional humorous expressions act as a wonderful filter for the story. What could be rather depressing is lifted by the human moments shown; small changes in expression, little thought bubbles of the artist’s thoughts, emotions hinted at that are far harder to convey in text alone.

In contrast to the daily routine of caring for an elderly couple are the grandpa’s journal extracts peppered throughout. His jotted down experiences of being a pilot in World War II are a sharp reminder of the young man he once was, with his own opinions, memories and life revealed, brought to life by his granddaughter. It can be difficult to connect the elderly relatives we have with the people they once were, and for older grandchildren in particular it can be heart breaking to see once active grandparents seemingly fade away as visits unintentionally decrease.

Displacement is a travel memoir on the surface, but the journey is through time and emotion rather than to any one particular destination. As Knisley struggles with the task of caring for her grandparents, schmaltz is avoided by the genuine internal arguments laid out on the page. There is no grand reveal or change of minds, but there is a whole lot of heart and truth and love, and for grandchildren everywhere this is an absolute gift.

Read the full preview here: Lucy Knisley Explores Aging in 'Displacement'