Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

MirrorMask: The Illustrated Script

MirrormaskMirrorMask: The Illustrated Script

—–

It’s hard to classify this one.  Is it fiction?  Nonfiction?  Graphic novel?  Or a weird blend of all three?  I’m going to go with the third option, just to be on the safe side.  More information is better than less, right?

Being the Neil Gaiman fanboy that I am (see the last few entries if you don’t believe me), it was inevitable that I was going to see this movie.  I wanted to catch it in the theaters, but the small window of time that it was there (I estimate about 20 minutes) prohibited me doing so.  As soon as it was released on DVD, though, I was there.  Two hours later, I was … well, confused.

I hate to come across as anti-intellectual, but I much prefer the story over the form the story takes.  This preference is part of the reason I couldn’t get into Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and why I have such a hard time getting into character-driven fiction.  MirrorMask went way over my head, and there were times when I was struggling to figure out what, exactly was going on.  I love Dave McKean’s style, and it’s all over this movie, but it was like reading Arkham Asylum without the script: As appropriate as the art style was, it seemed to detract from my understanding of the story.  Had I not read the anniversary edition of Arkham Asylum with the script afterward, I would have taken a lot less from that story than I did.

Luckily, the illustrated script of the movie helped clarify some of the questions I had.  It turns out that I did understand most of the story, and I did have a clear idea of Helena’s motivations; it was just buried beneath the idea that I had to be missing something among all that style.  For a Neil Gaiman story, though, it’s a bit shallow, which was slightly disappointing, but the conflict, the transformation, and the ending were all excellent ideas, brilliantly executed.

Another neat aspect of this book is that there is some behind-the-scenes stuff here, including Neil’s original draft of the story, and the back-and-forth discussions between writer and director to make sure the story worked for film.  There were even storyboarded portions of the story that didn’t make it into production, and some of Neil’s insight into how movies are made, and how making this one was different.  It’s like getting the bonus material on a DVD, and if you’re like me, and love those sorts of bits, then you’re going to enjoy the extra stuff in the book, too.

I’m looking forward to seeing the movie again, now that I have a clearer understanding of the story.  Now that I have all that out of the way, I can probably better appreciate the melding of style and story, and bring myself back up to the level of intellectual.

Yeah, right.

Advertisements

August 31, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Graphic Novels, Nonfiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Strangers in Paradise

StrangersStrangers in Paradise, Book 5 by Terry Moore

—–

So, I’m working my way up to the conclusion of the Strangers in Paradise storyline, and I’m glad to say that the author keeps me guessing. I mean, half of the story in this series is the “Will they or won’t they?”, on again, off again sort of relationship that takes place between Francine and Katchoo. Anyone remotely interested in this series is probably rooting for “Will!” and “On!”, but that the author keeps that tension going, and makes it believable, is part of the attraction to this story.

In the latest collection, there’s less of a focus on that relationship, on the surface, but much of what’s happening now is a furthering of their characters. The whole Parker Girls understory takes an interesting twist (and — MAYBE — is concluded? Who the hell knows?), and there are a couple of moments within the collection that are handled with the same sort of tact and panache that Katchoo is known for (which, of course, means a total lack of), but for the most part, this is a transitional volume.

All of this isn’t to say that this is a poor collection. It maintains the sort of artwork, story, and comedy that fans would expect, even if the “Molly and Poo” stories threw me for a loop. I understand that the entire series is about the end in a couple of months, and that the final pocket book will follow, and I only hope that the story will end the way that I hope it does. But if it did, then the author wouldn’t be surprising me, now would he?

August 26, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

Eternals

eternalsEternals by Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr.

—–

I so want to give this a good review.  Hell, it’s Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors, whom I’ve defended time and again against the people who think that graphic novels have little redeeming value.  But Eternals falls far short of what could have been such a great story.  I mean, I know what Neil’s capable of writing, and even when he’s mediocre, he’s at least far more interesting than the average writer.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m more a DC fan than I am a Marvel fan.  1602 was a great Gaiman-Marvel mesh, because the major players in that story were … well, the major players for Marvel.  It’s hard not to recognize Robert Reed and the X-Men, when they’re some of the biggest characters in the franchise.  But a bunch of obscure Jack Kirby characters?  Shoot, I had a hard enough time understanding the back continuity of the original Sandman character.

This should have been a great story, because Neil is so good at taking older, obscure characters and giving them a new, interesting life.  He and Alan Moore have always been great at this sort of thing, but with Eternals, I found much of the reinventing boring and uninteresting.  At times, it reminded me so much of Moore’s work on Miracleman (the group-induced amnesia, and the all-too-brutal solution to a childish problem) that I wonder if Alan even knows what Neil’s done with the story.  Maybe if I had a better understanding of the original eternals, I would feel differently, but as a stand-alone story, it’s disappointing.

And speaking of stand-alone stories, Eternals isn’t.  It’s a set-up, it’s exposition, so much so that I went online to discover if this was a graphic novel, a mini-series, or an ongoing series for Gaiman again.  Despite the lack of any clear resolution, Eternals was a mini-series, a self-contained story that’s supposed to have a start, a middle, and an ending.  It has the first two elements, but that last, crucial part of the story is missing.  Ah, but I also find out that Marvel has decided to continue the series, with a new writer-artist combo.  Really?  I’m shocked.  I mean, considering that the greatest threat to humankind is left standing, with less than 14 hours to go before a possible annihilation, with all the main characters dispersing to find more heroes, I’m amazed that there’s anything left to tell.

It seems like Marvel tapped Neil to come up with a new series, to create the genesis of a revamped mythology, for other people to write.  While this is fine in its own right, I can’t help but recall Lady Justice, World of Wheels, and Teknophage, some of the other series Neil created for other writers, but which all failed miserably when all the Gaiman fanboys realized that it took more than an idea to be a Neil Gaiman story.  I can’t fault Neil for the opportunity (the included interviews and behind-the-scenes bonuses in the collection reveal a genuine enthusiasm for what he did), but it’s a shame that he won’t be the writer to continue the series.

If you’re a Gaiman fan, it’s worth reading, but please, save yourself some money and check it out from the library, or borrow it from a friend.  It would be a shame to pay full price for the book, given how little story it actually contains.  I’m certainly disappointed that I did so, and I’m one of the biggest Gaiman fanboys out there.  Just ask my Death tattoo.

August 19, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

Plastic Man: Rubber Bandits

BanditsPlastic Man: Rubber Bandits by Kyle Baker

—–

One of the cool things about the previous Plastic Man collection by Kyle Baker is that the cover is made of a stylish plastic/rubber designed to look like Plas’ outfit.  It really grabs your attention, and if you know anything about Plastic Man, then it’s a great illusion that Plas is actually the book, since he can take the form of anything he likes.   This collection is your standard graphic novel fare — glossy pages in a trade paperback format — so it doesn’t quite have the same shelf appeal.  When you open it, though … whoo, nelly!

I like Looney Tunes and the Animaniacs, so it’s really no surprise that I like what Kyle Baker has done with Plastic Man.  I mean, just look at that cover!  There’s Plas, Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and even Abraham Lincoln in there!  And they’re drawn like your favorite cartoons you watched as a kid!  Plastic Man begs to be lampooned, and Baker does so with a fine finesse.  Shoot, who else could lampoon Busiek’s Marvels, George W. Bush, and the whole superhero genre in one book and get away with it so successfully?

There’s a lot of zaniness in here, and to be honest, that’s about all there is here.  On the Lam had an overarching story, but Rubber Bandits is just a collection of funny stories.  They’re funny and all, with some great moments, but a lot of story is sacrificed for the funny.  This isn’t a bad thing, but I feel like I should forewarn any potential readers that this is not going to be like Moore, or Miller, or Gaiman.  Shoot, if I were going to compare this to another writer/comic, it would have to be Keith Giffen and Ambush Bug.

This collection probably isn’t for the “serious” reader of graphic novels, but if you like a little bit of comic relief in your comics, then this is for you.

August 10, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | 1 Comment

Girl Genius

Genius

Girl Genius Online by Phil and Kaja Foglio

—–

Well, this is a first, reviewing an online version of a graphic novel. I’ve been reading this series as a webcomic for a few years now, but this last week, the “101” class (the series for those who were just discovering the series) wrapped up and merged into the advanced class (for those who already knew what was going on in the comics), and I caught up on the rest of the backstory. I just have to say … whoo!

It’s been a while since I’ve been this impressed with a sequential art story, which is even more unusual for me to state, considering that I’ve been reading it for years. But having the luxury of reading many of these strips, back-to-back, all in the correct order without the cliffhangers from one post to the next, reminds me why these sorts of stories are meant to be read in clumps, and not from day to day. Megatokyo is another webcomic that’s better read as a graphic novel, which reminds me that I’ve been unimpressed with that story as of late, possibly for this very reason.

For those who don’t know about Phil Foglio and Girl Genius, I’ll summarize: Agatha Clay is a student at Heterodyne University, which specializes in teaching Sparks (those who show an aptitude in making mechanical devices), but who seems to be a bit of a klutz. One day, the city is invaded, and she escapes “into the wild,” where a lot of very strange things begin to happen to her. It’s a steampunk story, set hundreds of years ago, though with an incredibly advanced technology, and anyone not familiar with the Foglios’ style is in for a treat. They’ve been working on comics for a long time, and this is probably their best effort. The storytelling is among the best I’ve read, and they have a knack for appropriate timing and pacing. And the sense of humor gives this series, which can be dark at times, the appropriate humanity it needs.

Do yourself a favor and check out the series at GirlGeniusOnline. Now that the two “classes” have merged, it’s the best time to catch up on Agatha Clay and her adventures. If you like the kind of storytelling that JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett have perfected, you owe it to yourself to read this series, too. Just be prepared to spend some time reading through the archive.

July 26, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

My Dead Girlfriend

GirlfriendMy Dead Girlfriend by Eric Wight

—–

I’m not sure what the distinction of “manga” is, anymore.  Tokyopop and other publishers of manga are publishing more and more stories by American authors, drawn by American artists, so the line between a standard graphic novel and manga is becoming blurred for me.  It doesn’t really make much sense, but then again, I’m not a follower of manga, so maybe I’m missing some subtle distinction.

The sad thing is, what drew me to My Dead Girlfriend was Joss Whedon’s little cover blurb in the upper right corner (you can even see it in the picture there).  I’m not all that impressed with what I’ve read of Joss Whedon so far, but I should clarify that I’ve never seen “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Firefly.”  My only exposure to him is through one or two graphic novels, neither of which sang to me like I was expecting.  “Don’t believe the hype,” I guess, as Chuck D once told me.

Following Whedon’s recommendation, I think it was Wight’s art style that next captured my attention.  It reminds me somewhat of “The Fairly Oddparents,” a favorite Nicktoon of mine.  After those two things, though, it was the premise that won me over.  The main character lives in a world of monsters and ghosts (his own parents were electrocuted while riding the Tunnel of Love at a fair, and seem nonplussed about it), but he is the lone “normal” person in the town.  Which makes him weird.  Get it?

The story, though, is pretty banal.  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again, though now she’s dead, and a ghost.  And that, really, sums up the entire graphic novel.  Seriously.  Nothing is really resolved; the entire thing seems like exposition.  And it’s set in junior high school, of all things, so once again, the biggest issues at hand are dating, peer pressure, tests, etc.  I wonder if I’m getting too old for this sort of thing….

So, Eric Wight.  My Dead Girlfriend.  American author-artist.  Manga.

I don’t get it.

July 23, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

Fables: Wolves

WolvesFables: Wolves by Bill Willingham

—–

It’s hard to think of something new to say each time I comment on the latest Fables collection. By now, I’ve either convinced you to read them, or not. So, I’ll make this short.

In this collection, Bigby comes back into the story, with the help of Mowgli, and he gets involved in a clandestine operation involving the Adversary. It doesn’t resolve too too much, but it does set up the plot for future stories, which is very cool. Issue #50 is a part of this collection, too, and the setup ensures that they’re going to at least try to make the series last another 50 issues. Plus, the whole story was well-constructed, and didn’t beat me about the head with its point.

I feel like the series is gathering its legs up underneath itself, preparing to make a big leap forward. This was a gentler sort of collection for Fables, with less direct confrontations involved, but it ends with a clear sense of foreboding. The winds are changing, and I’m eager to see where they take me.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

Emily Edison

EdisonEmily Edison by David Hopkins and Brock Rizy

—–

Anyone who likes cartoons will probably pick up this book, just to browse the artwork. In fact, anyone who watched Ren and Stimpy, or anything that John Kricfalusi created, will recognize the style. The foreword to the book even talks about how cartoons influenced the book, and how anyone who grew up on the Looney Tunes cartoons will find a kindred spirit with this book. I love cartoons, and I enjoyed Ren and Stimpy, but for whatever reason, this graphic novel fell flat with me.

The story is about a young girl, Emily Edison, whose father is an inventor who created a temporal rift with a quantum vacuum cleaner, and whose mother is a princess in the dimension that Emily’s father discovered. Her parents divorced, and she spends time between the two dimensions, but her grandfather in the other dimension wants for Emily to stay in the other dimension. His plan is to destroy Earth, so that Emily has no choice in where she chooses to live.  It’s a little weird, but the story doesn’t presume to be anything more than an adventure romp, so it works.

The thing is, I had the same problem with this graphic novel as I did with Rocketo; I couldn’t follow the action.  This is partly because there was so much going on in the panels, and the art was impressionistic enough that it was hard for me to figure out the details of what was happening.  Ultimately, I was just moving through the panels, instead of really understanding them, just to figure out who won, who was hurt, etc.

Interestingly enough, I find that a lot of the more modern action movies give me the same trouble.  It’s as if the directors try to pack so much action into every scene that the viewer can’t distinguish between everything that’s happening.  At least, I can’t.  And I found the same thing happening with this graphic novel.  Maybe it’s a generational thing, since this book is marketed toward the younger crowd.

And, to be frank, I think that’s another reason the story failed with me.  There just wasn’t enough to keep me interested.  I expect that if I were 15 or 16, then the perils of step-siblings, crushes, school, and exams would be more compelling to me; as it is, it’s just a reflection that I’ve lost touch a bit with what passes for entertainment now.

I suppose this is a fine enough graphic novel for its age group, but I wouldn’t recommend it to teens, what with Sandman, Bone, and Fables out there.  I guess if they were finished with all the great graphic novels, they might find something interesting in this story, but I’d hate it if someone just getting into the genre would start with this one.  It just might turn them off from the form entirely.

July 14, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews, YA Fiction | Leave a comment

Jack of Fables: The (Nearly) Great Escape

JackJack of Fables: The (Nearly) Great Escape by Bill Willingham

—–

Fables has the distinction of taking on the mantle that Neil Gaiman discarded after ending Sandman.  It’s an odd blending of modern storytelling and old fairy tales, with a clever interpretation of the characters from the latter.  I’ve enjoyed the series so far, and I look forward to seeing the directions it will take.

The (Nearly) Great Escape is the first volume in a spin-off series surrounding the charismatic Jack, who has been exiled from Fableland for revealing too much about the Fables.  As a part of the Fables series, Jack was a pain in the ass, but a lovable one, if only because of his charm.  As the center of his own series, though, his arrogance shines through, and he becomes more insufferable because of it.  It’s hard to relate to someone so hung up on himself that he resorts to bragging about his exploits in the voice-over narration of the overall story.

This is just the first collection of the series, and I will likely continue reading it as the collections become available, but I wasn’t impressed with this side-jaunt.  Willingham seems to have collected a group of misfits together (including one who was assumed dead from the main series) in an effort to cash in on the popularity of Fables1001 Arabian Nights (and Days) was a clever prequel to the overall series, so I hesitate to call it a cash-cow, but Jack of Fables doesn’t quite stand well enough on its own.  It meanders too much, and would fit perfectly into the overall Fables series, so why make it a separate series at all?

The series maintains some of the enigma of the original series, with the readers trying to guess who some of the mystery characters are, and the plot works well enough, but it seems thin, and unimportant.  I couldn’t seem to care about what was happening in the story, partly because the protagonist was a  selfish ass.  I was more interested in the secondary characters and what happened to them than I was in Jack.  Maybe that was the point, though.

To be fair, a lot of what’s happening in this collection is the exposition.  We’re meeting new characters, learning how they fit in with the general continuity of the parent series, and learning a bit about how this new world works.  The series format, being what it is, requires a story amid all this exposition, and if it feels rushed and thin, then it’s only because of the direction the story is forced to take. Like the original series, Jack of Fables has potential, and I’m willing to stick around to see how it goes.  I don’t think it’s as gripping or as groundbreaking as Fables was, but I’ll give it a try.

If you like Fables, I don’t think I can talk you out of giving this series a try, and to be honest, I don’t want to.  I guess I’m jaded from seeing too many spin-offs and sequels that would have been better off being undeveloped, but the story is decent enough, and it’s a fun diversion, despite its few faults.  Just don’t expect it to be the “next best thing.”

May 30, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment

Stuck Rubber Baby

BabyStuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse

—–

Years ago, I read a comic book that had a profound effect on me.  It was about childhood, and growing up questioning everything around you.  That comic book was Brooklyn Dreams, by J.M. DeMatteis, and it was published by Paradox Press.  I was so impressed with the story that I’ve since made an effort to pay attention to the publisher, so when I saw that Stuck Rubber Baby was published by Paradox Press, I sat up and paid attention.

Stuck Rubber Baby is set in the South during the 1960s, and is about a gay man trying to come to terms with himself while simultaneously being caught up in the nonviolent protests of the Civil Rights Movement.  His participation in the movement is precipitated by his attraction to a women who attends a local college, but through his participation, he begins to confront his own racism, while confronting his own issues about his sexuality.  It’s a complicated story, but it’s powerful, and resonates long after you finish reading the story.

Cruse spent four years writing this story, and when you look at the artwork, you can see why.  The illustrations are dense, and are highly detailed.  Most of the work is shaded with crosshatching and dotting, and it boggles my mind to think how long it would have taken the artist to complete a single panel.  Combine this with a detailed and complex story of self-examination and self-acceptance, and four years doesn’t seem like quite a long time at all.

This is a story about superheroes and villains, like most graphic novels tend to be, but what makes Stuck Rubber Baby stand out is that the superheroes are people that you see on the street every day.  The main character acts selfishly and thoughtlessly, but he still struggles to do the right thing by overcoming his own inadequacies.  He draws strength from those people around him, and while his original intentions were far less admirable than the final outcome, he learns from his mistakes and grows from them.  You just might leave the book thinking, “If only we could all do the same….”

I think this is the aspect of the book that makes it so inspiring.  Because it’s populated with real characters with real imperfections, who still manage to overcome their shortcomings, we’re reminded that we all have that ability to do better, to attain that same level of “superhero” in our daily lives.  That it draws most of its power off of the Civil Rights Movement only strengthens the book’s resonance.

If you like comics, and you like a good story, find Stuck Rubber Baby.

May 16, 2007 Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews | Leave a comment