The back cover of Jim Woodring and Charles Barnard’s Frank In The 3rd Dimension (Fantagraphics) taunts that it has “the most startling volumetric 3-D ever printed,” and while that may sound like hyperbole, it really is a major accomplishment in anaglyphic 3-D illustration. Woodring brings a lot of dimension to his 2-D art by using wavy lines of varying thickness to shade figures and create specific textures, and Barnard breaks Woodring’s intricate drawings down into hundreds of individual layers that are slightly modified, making many small changes that add up to create images with breathtaking depth.
Most anaglyphic comics use this illusion of depth to simply create distance between flat planes of artwork, but Barnard’s meticulous conversion process creates volume within the individual planes, accentuating the texture of Woodring’s line and giving the figures more weight. The cover is one of the subtler visuals, but it highlights how Woodring and Barnard’s efforts combine to makes these objects look like solid forms in a real space, particularly in the way the shape of the horn curves toward and away from the reader. The two-page image on the inside front cover brings the drama that is missing from the visual that precedes it, and the two artists create an uncanny sensation of falling by layering round discs in a spiraling descent.
Frank, Fran, and their pets, Pupshaw and Pushpaw, are rendered in a much flatter style than everything else around them, and their lack of dimension makes them the focal point on every page while also creating a point of contrast that exaggerates the dimension added to the surroundings. There’s no overarching narrative uniting the 27 individual tableaux, but each image has its own distinct tone, which is reinforced by the 3-D conversion. Relaxing shots of Frank napping are full of rounded edges and smooth textures to establish a calm atmosphere, but edges become more jagged and textures get rougher when Woodring goes to darker places.
This book would be great for kids if it weren’t for some grotesque, unsettling imagery, but it’s not too bad for children who don’t mind the occasional flash of viscera and can appreciate strange, alien design without being frightened. Some of these illustrations could easily be nightmare fuel—the naked pig-man ripping a hole in the sky that spits out slimy, stringy sky-guts immediately comes to mind—but there are also beautiful vistas and eclectic characters and objects that will appeal to younger readers, who, if anything, will definitely be impressed by the 3-D visuals.
For long-time Woodring fans, Frank In The 3rd Dimension is a striking celebration of his unique artistic perspective. It also enriches Woodring’s past material, and revisiting his older works after reading this book is a fascinating experience. Having an impression of how his art looks in 3-D brings out the volume and depth that is already in his 2-D linework, and it’s impossible to look at Frank and his world the same way after joining him on this journey. [Oliver Sava]
In the long roll-out for Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” relaunch, the company has come in for some criticism regarding just how familiar much of the “new” and “different” Marvel actually is. If you wait long enough, however, sometimes old can be new again. Such is the case with Carnage (Marvel). One could be forgiven for dismissing the idea of an ongoing Carnage series out of hand. The character is little more than an undifferentiated stew of every 1990s villain cliché, a psychopathic killer with an evil symbiote who spends his time locked up in one of those comic book mental hospitals that seems to always be exploding. Just about every Carnage story is terrible, but boy howdy does he sell comics. Marvel doesn’t really know what to do with him. On the one hand, he’s ridiculous. On the other, however, his name is still guaranteed to move units, so it can’t be expected keep him on the shelf indefinitely.
That Marvel has given Carnage another go is no surprise. What is a surprise is the other name on the cover: Gerry Conway. Conway began his run on Amazing Spider-Man with issue #111, back in 1972. He’s the guy who killed Gwen Stacy. And co-created the Punisher. And wrote Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. He’s been mostly absent from comics for 25 years, however. He spent the intervening years working in TV, on a number of different shows but most notably as a writer and producer for Law & Order. Given this, there’s no reason why Conway ever needed to return to comics—certainly not the money!—but return he has. Following a stand-alone Spider-Man limited series last year, Carnage marks his return to monthly comics.
Why Carnage, though? Although the new series is still shaking out, Conway’s intentions seem fairly solid: he’s really not interested in Carnage as a character (thank goodness for that!), but he is interested in the idea of Carnage as a threat to which other characters can react. The premise would appear to be less Spider-Man and more Tomb Of Dracula, with a team of dysfunctional heroes assembled for the purpose of capturing a supernaturally gifted killer. The first issues stumble with a muddy tone and too many seemingly identical military and law enforcement characters working at cross-purposes. But by issue #4 the trajectory of the series has become clearer. With much of the cast winnowed after a first, disastrous battle, the core of the series is revealed to be long-time Spider-Man supporting characters John Jameson (sometimes a space werewolf) and Eddie Brock (the first Venom, now Toxin), along with new characters Claire Dixon and Manuela Calderon, representing law enforcement and the military interests in the hunt for Carnage.
Conway, aided by Mike Perkins’ appropriately grisly art, is having a lot of fun with the over-the-top tone. This is a series, after all, that has already given us Carnage fighting a space werewolf in an abandoned coal mine that also just happens to be adjacent to an ancient temple dedicated to the sinister Elder God Chthon, whose cult sees Carnage as their Chosen One. Conway isn’t asking the reader to take Carnage seriously: he’s fully aware of how ludicrous the guy is. In embracing the weirdness of all the random sci-fi and fantasy concepts littering the ground, however, he’s made Carnage a perfect tribute to the goofy intensity of Marvel’s Bronze Age. He’s also achieved the impossible in making Carnage a book worth reading. [Tim O’Neil]
There are a slew of supporting characters that deserve a shot at a solo title, and in Gotham in particular it seems you can’t take a step without tripping over a B-lister just begging for their chance, so it’s gratifying to see Poison Ivy get her own miniseries after a couple years on the bench. Writer Amy Chu did great work on Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman, so it’s gratifying to see her name attached to Poison Ivy: Cycle Of Life And Death #1 (DC). Chu’s version of Isley, who is for the most part wearing her human disguise for this entire issue rather than Poison Ivy, is smarter than everyone else in the room and confident to boot. She’s got a good handle on what she wants, which is refreshing.
In some ways, it’s a classic story: highly educated, driven woman struggling to find balance between professional drive and personal needs. That kind of story can feel small, but by twisting it to Isley’s very particular circumstances, Chu makes it nearly universal. The challenge here is that one of the last times Poison Ivy was featured in a comic, Batgirl Annual #2, the story was similar, revolving around Ivy’s fraught relationship with humans and her desire for companionship. Batgirl Annual #2 was so excellent that it will be difficult to live up to that standard, but Chu is doing an good job so far, giving us a solid introductory issue featuring Harley Quinn. The only real stumble in this issue is a panel that unnecessarily turns two men kissing into a joke and something to be ashamed of.
Clay Mann, who also did the cover for Batgirl Annual #2, has worked on far more covers than interiors, so the announcement he would be doing the art for Poison Ivy: Cycle Of Life And Death was intriguing. His work is detailed and skillful; there’s no room to critique his technical chops. The problem is that, while Chu is telling an emotional and intimate story that would be well suited to a softer touch, Clay and his brother and inker Seth are drawing a very traditional comic book. Isley strikes a couple of frustratingly overt tits-and-ass poses, and her clothing seems limited to mostly oversized men’s shirts that vacillate widely in how many buttons are done up from panel to panel for no apparent reason. Readers don’t require constant reminders that she’s an attractive woman, no more than they need a really inappropriate shot that goes nearly up the skirt of Gotham Academy’s Maps Mizoguchi. It’s almost as though Mann is drawing a completely different book than Chu is writing.
Perhaps if Laura Martin, who colored the cover, was also on the interiors it would soften everything a little bit. As it is, Ulises Arreola does a decent job, but everything feels harsh and jagged, draws attention to Isley’s various states of undress and lab-incompatible footwear. Chu is writing an intriguing story that doesn’t feel trite or difficult until it’s paired with Mann’s art. Once combined, however, it grates that a story about a woman is also a story about motherhood, as if the two are inexorably linked. Mann’s well executed but thematically inappropriate art undermines what Chu is doing, and that’s a shame. Poison Ivy deserves better and so do readers. [Caitlin Rosberg]
Taking body dysmorphia as its subject, Emily Carroll’s Some Other Animal’s Meat (webcomic) couches an interrogation of self-image in the language of body horror. The comic presents a woman named Stacey as its protagonist, following the minute proceedings of her days. She runs sales parties for a new skincare product, Alo-Glo, but as the story progress, the product take on a malevolent quality. When Some Other Animal’s Meat begins, Alo-Glo is a detail in the life of Stacey—someone who eschews actually using it (she’s allergic)—and the opening scene, a sales pitch, reads like satire. Carroll presents the bottle without a background or panel borders, and the expository narration is ad copy. Stacey is reciting her lines, but the speaker, and the listener, could be very well be anyone. Her role is performative, and Carroll erases any doubts when, still on the first page, Stacey explains the grotesqueries of the human hand. “Of all the parts of the human body,” she says, “I think hands are the most repulsive… An alien species would think they were obscene.” Not only does she not use the product she’s selling, but she’s disgusted by the very thing that product enhances. As Some Other Animal’s Meat progresses, composed of physically long, visually connective stretches punctuated by digital page turns, Stacey’s mask cracks and begins to come apart.
Carroll establishes Stacey’s interiority immediately, and she quickly follows it up by detailing the emotional-narrative spaces her character inhabits. In a six-panel grid, Stacey looks at herself in a mirror; she disrobes and inspects her body. Carroll uses a static grid to great effect, and each panel is constructed like a simple, elegant sentence. Each little beat is stated matter of factly, and the whole page reads with a telegraphic, staccato cadence. Neither repulsed by nor proud with what she sees, Stacey’s self-interest mirrors her unaffected and solitary domestic life. She returns from work to a quiet home—her husband Keith is there, but only nominally. He’s glimpsed once—just long enough to sleepily insist that Stacey inspect the disturbing noises she heard in their kitchen—but otherwise he’s a disembodied voice.
Impelled by a disassociation and a priori rejection of her physical insides, Stacey projects onto Alo-Glo. Like something out of a Cronenberg film, the substance takes on (or seems to take on) sentient properties. It becomes a panacea for physical ailments, the thing that will connect Stacey more deeply to her skin, the only aspect of her body she feels is genuinely human. Rendered in black and white, Carroll draws the substance like it was an effigy of melting wax, and the goopy globules of lotion effuse themselves across various pages. The sickening stuff inspires abject terror in Stacey, and it’s easy to see why. One of Carroll’s greatest assets as a cartoonist is her ability to combine grotesquerie and terror, inspiring incredible repulsion; under her pen, Alo-Glo is something attracting and revolting, compelling and corrupting.
In the end, Carroll recalls Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, and it’s difficult to read Some Other Animal’s Meat’s conclusion as anything but a solemn acquiescence to societal body norms. Consistent with her ethos, however, Carroll uses that acquiescence to inspire a satisfying mortification. [Shea Hennum]