Friday, 2 March 2012

Geek Safari

I've been wanting to do this for a while... Welcome to My Comic Collection!!!

Now calm down, I know what you're thinking, but there's not a superhero in sight and it's only a small collection because I'm actually very picky about what I buy.  I'll borrow from friends and raid the library and get hold of digital copies (I have most of Nightwing on the hard drive) but I love the whole 'Book as Objet d'Art' thing where issues are all bound together with designed covers, can sit on your shelf proudly, and are also reasonably hardy.  This can, however, make them a bit more expensive so I tend to wait until I see something I really want, dither over it for ages, and then give in and splash out on a couple at once.

So here they all are, in the order I bought them over the past four years:

1.  Blankets by Craig Thompson
A friend of mine introduced me to the local comic book shop shortly after I started my degree.  In fact, my first comic book shop.  It hadn't taken me long to work out that I was really into sequential narrative so I was in heeeeeaaaavvveeeeennn!  I had heard about Blankets in a class and although I couldn't shell out the money for it at the time I kept on going back to that shop to flick through it's crisp monochromatic pages, longing for my birthday when no doubt money would be bestowed on me by loving relatives (it was) and I could spend it frivolously on that most nerdy of literary arts, the comic book (I did).

Blankets is 1.5 inches thick, and the first major comic I'd ever seen that wasn't superhero based.  Instead it's a semi-autobiographical story of a young man trying to discover himself through the dramas of his first love, his religious upbringing, his hopes and fears... just the little stuff.  It is beautiful and quiet and deep and I just keep re-reading it.  From then on I was hooked...

2.  Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura
This is the closest to manga my collection comes (while I have a fondness for manga, I feel like I've learned what I needed to from it and moved on).  I found some of these in the library but they're hard to come by, so I tried to get hold of a couple.  Essentially it's about a guy called Manji who, in a very unfortunate series of events, finds himself infected with a parasite that literally makes him unable to die.  It sucks for him as he loses everyone he cares about, but ends up providing him with a steady job as a bodyguard; if he gets chopped up the parasite can just zip him back together again!  He ends up protecting a girl who is looking to avenge her family's death.  They do not get on, but it's funny.  It's also pretty gory (think 300, the movie).  Every character Manji fights tends to have some seriously nasty weapons and ways of killing people, all of which we see in details, but somehow the whole 'gross anatomy/amazing art' contrast really works.  It's all pencil drawings with a high level of realism that you don't see a lot in Eastern comics, This means that we get to keep a fantastic sense of motion and blurring in the fight scenes, of which there are lots!

3.  Skim by Mariko and Jilian Tamaki
So while there are 'famous' or 'generic' comics, the great thing about comics still being the rather under-the-radar artform that they continue to be in the West is that people tend to use it to tell stories that aren't exactly usual about people who aren't exactly usual.  Just so with Kim Keiko Cameron (aka 'Skim'), a Japanese-Canadian, semi-Gothic, overweight, Wiccan teenage girl whose first romantic inklings are for her female drama teacher in a high school that is trying to deal with the suicide of one of the pupils.  

I love it because... well because people are weird.  Weird and complicated and Skim touches on all of this.  The art style is gorgeously fluid and full of character, and it wasn't until after I'd read it a few times that I realised that Kim, the slightly chubby Asian girl who is isolated at school, is in fact drawn exactly like one of the women from the classic Edo-period paintings that are so famous today.  She doesn't look like any of the other girls in her class, but she is beautiful too; just out of her time.

4.  Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano
I have read the Sandman comics and love them, especially some of the later ones, but I feel like if I bought one I'd have to buy them all.  So I compromised -and I use that word lightly, it's not a compromise at all!- with this stand-alone story from Gaiman, with Amano's strange dreamlike art fitting beautifully in as the illustrations.  I'm a Gaiman fan (when I saw a video clip of him reading aloud from his script for the Doctor Who episode 'The Doctor's Wife', while standing IN THE ACTUAL TARDIS I had to stop myself from squealing all over the talking and missing it).  I have several of his books, so when I pick up something with his name on I know I'm going to enjoy the story itself, but I was not prepared for the stunning and incredibly detailed visuals.  I won't even attempt to explain, but do a little googling and you'll see what I mean soon enough.

5.  Everything We Miss by Luke Pearson
Luke was in my degree class, and it's always great to see someone who graduates with all the tools under their belt to jump straight into the industry and start having successes while the rest of us have to resort to unsatisfying day jobs that don't allow us drawing time and then we grow rusty and...  Am I jealous?  Well possibly, but he's such a nice guy it's hard to really dislike him.  Recently he's produced the more childlike and whimsical Hilda stories, about the adventures of a girl with blue hair, but I bought Everything We Miss because it reminded me of what I liked most in the work I started to see him do at uni - a soft melancholy that, despite the simple cartoony drawings, manages to capture something really poignant.  Which reminds me, I really want to own his Some People as well if it ever goes back into print.  I was a bit slow off the mark there.  In the meantime I guess I should include a link to his website.

6.  Habibi by Craig Thompson
Yeah, you've seen me blogging about this.  I was holding off the review because I wanted to do all the comics together, but it was hard.  After Blankets I couldn't wait to see what Craig would do next, but he's a meticulous guy and we had to wait for it.  Man, it was worth it.  The book is about the same size as the first, and follows the lives of Dodola, a child-bride kidnapped to become a slave, and Zam, the little boy she rescues and refers to as "Habibi", or "my beloved".  As they grow their relationship shifts and changes, and the two have to learn to deal with life both together and apart.  The strong visual language is still there, but the open spaces of Blankets have been filled with intricate and beautiful patternwork, painstakingly researched and developed.  The story is still based on a relationship, but the innocence we saw in his previous book is giving way by the second page to a world that is sometimes horrifically painful to look at -I admit I caved a few times- but which makes the devotion of Zam and Dodola stand out even more dramatically through their struggles.

7.  Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
I've been plugging this recently too.  Maggie McKay, the youngest child of four and the only girl, is about to join her brothers is school after being home-schooled her whole life.  Up until now she's spent all her time with her brothers and so has only ever been friends with boys.  Oh, and she's haunted.  

Faith Erin Hicks has a real talent for writing stories that don't end up where you thought they might.  Situations that begin are never fully resolved, some turn out to be based on red herrings so they never really get off the ground, or sometimes we hear about things that happened before the book began but know that we aren't receiving every detail.  But actually I like my stories without all the loose ends tied up, and it's a really satisfying comic to read partly for that reason.  All the characters are well-rounded and multi-dimensional, there's no such thing as someone without a backstory

8.  The Finder Library: Volumes 1 and 2 by Carla Speed McNiel

Ok, these I'm not done with yet but I went out on a limb and bought them on a recommendation; they are also both nearly 2inches thick, so it's taking me some time to work my way through them both.  The story mainly follows Jaeger, a man pronounced as a 'Finder', able to track down pretty much anything and bound to help anyone who asks him, and the strange circumstances he finds.  

I will say that reading Finder has been great so far, but will require some extra deduction on your part.  Unlike the one consistent narrative of the other comics here, Finder is quite happy to leave a narrative in progress in order to explore a tangent, and then come back. A lot of the information is implied and it's set in a futuristic world that is neither completely u- or dis-topian, just different from ours, so you really need to have your brain screwed in and your eyes open.  That said, even if you don't get all the details you can still be swept along in the story without much difficulty and there are notes in the back for anything you don't catch on the way.  Oh, and when I say 'futuristic' I'm not saying every page has a spaecship on it (in fact I don't think I've seen any so far).  The whole point of setting a story in another time or place is that by putting a story or situation into another context you can see things in it you might not if it were closer to home.  Part of what makes the characters so interesting is that they are just as disillusioned and grouchy as anyone I know.  The girls are maturing too fast, the poor get poorer while the rich lock themselves away, some races are shunned in society.  All of these things are reflected here.  I'm really looking forward to the rest of the journey.

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