Time once more for Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I opine on various recently released publications of the sequential graphic nature, some of which may be sitting on the rack at a comics shop, or awaiting the click of a button on some online merchant’s web page, near you. If you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.
MOTEL ART IMPROVEMENT SERVICE
Script/Art: Jason Little
Dark Horse Originals, $19.99
One of the first webcomics (or to be more accurate, comics published serially on the Web for future collection), I ever read online was Little’s Shutterbug Follies. It assayed the adventures of a young redheaded teenage girl nicknamed “Bee”, (short for “Bee-Jin”, we’re reminded here- she’s part Chinese) who worked at a one-hour photo lab in Manhattan, and whose overarching curiosity got her in a world of trouble with some unsavory people. This sequel picks up at a later date, with little mention of the events of Follies; one previous character has a reoccurring comic relief role, but that’s pretty much it. Our girl has decided to get on her bike and ride, as the Queen song goes, and travel cross country to see what she can see…unfortunately, she doesn’t get far, getting run off the road by a truck full of knuckleheaded boys, with an oncoming eighteen-wheeler arriving just in time to run over her bike. Unhurt but bereft of wheels, she checks into a nearby motel to plan her next move, and encounters Cyrus, one of the cleaning staff of the inn who turns out to be not only a connoisseur of pharmaceuticals, but also an artist with a mission: having had his fill of the art world after he got out of school, he prefers to operate on the fringes of society, taking the bland paintings off the walls of motel rooms, adding some little detail or scenario to make them a bit more interesting, and replacing the pictures when he’s done. Oh, and he also goes through the room’s occupants’ bags, looking for pills. Soon, the nothing-else-if-not-inquisitive Bee gloms on to what he’s doing, eventually opting to join him in his avocation, as well as losing her virginity to him in the process (to be fair, she had set out with that very thing in mind from the beginning, thanks to urging from her pal Lyla. Cyrus was in the right place at the right time). As they travel from one motel to another, it’s inevitable that complications will ensue, and these take the form of an aggro soldier, out on leave, in possession of a ton of cash that he intends to spend on some pills manufactured by a couple of college kids, who see this score as a way to set themselves up for a long while, or at least pay some student loans off. Things go as planned for them until they check in to a airport motel that counts among their staff Cy and Bee. Cyrus does his thing, the soldier soon discovers some of the cache he paid for is missing, and off we go. A further complication involves a New York art dealer who figures out what Cy is up to and wants to drag him back in the life he disdains so.
Little manages a neat trick here- none of these characters are textbook cases for being what I would call likable (the realistically-proportioned Bee excluded ’cause she’s just so darn cute, questionable decision-making skills aside), but with the possible exception of the dickhead soldier we generally like them, and don’t really want harm to come to them. I think a big part of it is Little’s oh-so-open and eye-friendly art, full of bright colors, both saturated and pastel. Color has always been important to his work, as far back as the Jack’s Luck Runs Out one-shot from the 90’s. I like Little’s willingness to mix up the body types of his characters, and his style reminds me a lot of Scott (Zot!) McCloud, back when he was interested in creating comics rather than scholarly dissertations about them. Like with Shutterbug, I had been following this on Little’s website for quite some time- this took forever to finish, and there was, as I recall, a long delay between at least two pages- and at some point I kinda forgot about it and stopped reading, so I’m happy to see it all in one place. I think, generally, it was worth the wait; it does seem to meander a bit, and I kept expecting a payoff that really wasn’t forthcoming, but I think someone who hasn’t read it before and isn’t put off by frank sexuality and coarse language, especially involving an 18-year-old girl, can easily get caught up in the whole narrative. All in all, I like Miss Bee-Jin, and hope Little can see fit to give us more of her further adventures. There are lots of sample pages on Little’s website, so you can check them out there before you decide.
I still don’t really know who Ellis (or for that matter, Edmondson) is at this stage, but I do know who Tonci Zonjic is, and his art is the main reason I decided to check this out. If you’ve been wondering what the result would be like if you crossed the Bourne movies with Harvey, well, wonder no longer. This isn’t actually about “Jake Ellis”, at least not yet; we’re introduced to Jon Moore, who’s apparently some sort of spy or mercenary, doing covert deeds for whoever hires him. In what is a reoccurring motif, we’re not really told exactly what his occupation is just yet. Anyway, in the opening scene a meeting with some Spaniards goes south- Jon suddenly gets wise to the fact that his employers are out of patience with him and intend to do him harm. He wreaks a little havoc and escapes, apparently talking to himself as he does so. Then the action stops (we even get a “STOP” caption, and freeze frame), and we see the previous scene again, but this time we can see what the Spaniards (and us, too) couldn’t is that Mr. Moore has a shadowy gray man in a black shirt and gray necktie who is giving him advice and tipping him off to what ‘s happening around him. That’s Jake Ellis, and and in a pretty nifty opening scene we get a shorthand version of what the dynamic will be, at least at the start. Jake isn’t omniscient; he can’t read minds and is apparently unable to predict the future or any other supernatural stuff, but he is a second set of eyes and ears for Moore, and I’m sure what exactly he is and what he represents is I’m sure, going to make up a significant part of the proceedings to come in the next four issues. As so often is the case when his work appears, the star of the show is Zonjic, whose Dark Knight Year One Mazzuchelli- meets-Toth-meets-Wally Wood-meets-name your favorite old-school newspaper-strip or early 60’s paperback cover style artist approach really serves this material well. His line is spare and minimal, but his staging is excellent and he’s very good at suggesting shapes and textures rather than painstakingly rendering them. His faces are expressive, his figures and poses are never stiff, posed, or unconvincing. One of many impressive scenes involves Moore making love to comely young lady as Ellis at first impassively watches, seated, then turns his attention outside, patiently indulging his friend? Master? Charge? who knows. This could be quite the target for sniggering snark in the wrong hands, but Zonjic evokes a sort of ghostly mood of pensiveness and calm before the storm that makes the violence which immediately follows all the more effective. Will this turn out to be a spy thriller with a twist, or will it invite comparisons to Kid Eternity and Mr. Keeper instead? Stay tuned!
One of the by-products of all the upheaval in editorial at DC has been the flood of material that has apparently been on the shelf or in a drawer for quite a while now, all finally seeing print and freeing up space for more material down the road, I’m sure. Anyway, this seems to be another catch-all anthology collection with typically up-and-down fare. First story, by Kevin Vanhook and the technically solid but oh-so-dull Jerry Ordway on art, features Lobo in what is essentially a bloody bar fight story with a not-especially-shocking twist at the end. This one attempts to cliffhang with yet another fight scene about to happen, pretty much par for the Lobo course- for some reason, in the late 80’s and through the 90’s, DC published what seemed like 867,000 comics with Lobo in them; I guess he was the closest thing DC had to a down-and-dirty Wolverine-type character, so there was that. I thought perhaps we were done with him for a while, but never say never- he’s been appearing in their ongoing R.E.B.E.L.S. title. Anyway, next up is what surely must be a repurposed Swamp Thing story- or it certainly comes across that way- written and drawn by Aaron Lopresti, featuring a lead character named “Garbage Man”, who’s made of guess what. He’s that way because of the sinister machinations of some mad doctor in a secret lab somewhere, and he’s not happy about his transformation. Sound familiar? This one ends with him swearing to get answers from the people that made him so, to be continued. It’s slickly and professionally done, but I can’t think of a more inessential or less ridiculous character idea. Finally, the third feature is the best of the three, boasting a Kevin (80’s Justice League) Maguire script and full art, and starring “Tanga”, a cute, elfin purple-skinned young lady who can fly around in outer space, is lost, and is yearning for someone or something to talk to. She comes across a spacecraft, attempts to hail it, is fired upon, and discovers that it’s an unmanned drone after she destroys it with her unspecified energy-type powers. She decides to find out where it comes from, and that’s where we get “end of part one”. If she’s a character that’s appeared somewhere before I’m totally unaware of where it was- probably a comic I don’t read, no rare thing. Anyway, it plays to Maguire’s strengths, which is a light tone and wonderfully rendered figure drawings, and this vignette went down smoothly. Although it’s a trifle, it’s always good to see new work from Maguire; now, if only we could get a sequel to Strikeback!. Gee, the last time DC published a comic titled Weird Worlds, it started with Burroughs adaptations by Kaluta and others and wound up with a young Howard Chaykin’s Ironwolf. This is nowhere near that pedigree, but is worth a look for the Maguire story. Whether or not it’s worth buying, especially at almost four bucks, is something else again.
A couple of links I hope you’ll find of interest:
The redoubtable Tom Spurgeon, as is his custom, spent the holidays posting interviews with various interesting creators such as Dan Clowes, Jaime Hernandez, and others. Here’s a roundup of links to each.
For quite some time, Dr. Scott at Polite Dissent has been providing insight into medical events that appear in comic book stories. He recently posted his best and worst comics medicine list for 2010.
Jeet Heer, over at Comics Comics, should be nicknamed “butter” because he’s been on a serious roll lately with a couple of outstanding posts- first, he points out exactly why DC’s announced Sugar and Spike collection, so long-awaited by many, is not going to come out in a satisfactory format. Second, he asks a question that’s occurred to me many times over the years: why are there no collections of comics which were created by women and published in the National Lampoon, most notably the excellent Trots and Bonnie by Shary Flenniken. Go forth and read. Sorry for that ancient “roll” joke.
The All Purpose Review Writing Moosic List: Roy Wood’s Wizzard- Introducing Eddy and the Falcons; The Replacements- Shit, Shower and Shave; Jefferson Starship- Dragon Fly; Van Dyke Parks- Song Cycle.
OK, that’ll do for this week. Cheers.