Need to establish an epic scale for your story? Begin it with an eight-page gatefold splash like ODY-C #1 (Image), the start of Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s new gender-bent sci-fi take on Homer’s The Odyssey. Unfolding that first image creates the sensation of one long panning shot across an expansive battlefield, immediately cementing the massive scope of the series with an arresting visual detailing the plot’s inciting incident: the fall of Troiia. Fallen soldiers and slain alien monsters litter the battlefield, but Odyssia and her fellow captains Gamem and Ene stand triumphant, the final victors after 99 years of war. Ward frames the opening shot with the grandiosity needed to justify an eight-page spread, and his high-impact color palette of fiery orange punctuated by cool blues and greens makes the image hit with even more force.
A huge amount of work has gone into the world-building for this title: On the backs of four of those opening splash pages is an extremely detailed timeline of the events that led to the climactic military moment that begins the story, breaking down generations upon generations of dense sci-fi mythology beginning with the birth of the Olympian gods. The backs of the other four pages are dedicated to a cosmic map that shows how different territories relate to each other in outer space, valuable information to know when the plot is about a character trying to find her way back home. It’s not necessary to read the timeline to understand what happens in the main story, but that list of events provides a lot of context for the story before it starts while also showing how much these characters have gone through leading up to this moment in time.
As a nod to The Odyssey’s origins as an orated epic poem, most of Fraction’s script takes the form of narration, including the dialogue spoken by non-god characters. Letterer Chris Eliopoulos surrounds those narration caption boxes in roughly drawn rectangles that give the words a weathered presentation, but the edges are straightened out for the color-coded dialogue boxes, a subtle change that draws a visual distinction between the narration and the in-story speech.
The use of narration allows Fraction to delve deep into the specifics of this world—considerable time is spent on the technology of Odyssia’s ship, for example—and it also provides an easy entryway into the emotional life of these characters. Odyssia’s warrior spirit is still strong after the fall of Troiia, but her drive to leave this life behind and return to her wife and child is stronger. Fraction succeeds in making the reader feel Odyssia’s longing, but prolonging her happiness is totally acceptable if it means more stunning sci-fi action sequences like the ones in this issue.
Ward delivered beautifully psychedelic visuals in Infinite Vacation, but this series sees him bringing more precision to his linework while pushing his range as a designer. He builds complex techno-organic technology and sleek spaceships, but Ward’s gender-bent gods are his most striking creations, particularly his gargantuan interpretation of Zeus with her impossible proportions. His ornate page layouts and vibrant color palette reinforce an ethereal atmosphere, and his willingness to experiment with panel structure brings an extra element of visual excitement to the story.
ODY-C is one of those comics where cool radiates off the page. Fraction and Ward are doing wildly imaginative work combining fantastic Greek mythology with futuristic science fiction, and the book has a visual sensibility unlike anything else on the stands. From that opening gatefold splash, the creators throw down that this is going to be big and bold and totally badass, and they only reinforce that notion throughout the rest of the issue. [OS]
With the gigantic wet fart of recent midterm elections still echoing throughout the hills and dales of Middle America, politics may very well be the last thing a shell-shocked electorate wants to discuss. But if there is one thing of which Joe Sacco is certain, it is that no matter how hard you try to ignore politics, politics never ignores you. His new project, Bumf Vol. 1 (Fantagraphics) is a timely reminder that no matter how bad things might look, they’re always worse if you look closer. (Incidentally, “bumf” is obsolete British slang for “useless or tedious printed information or documents.” In case you were wondering.)
Bumf gets underway with the revelation that—as Kafka might put it—Barack Obama awoke one morning from uneasy dreams and found himself transformed in his bed into Richard Nixon. It’s not that Obama has been transformed into Nixon, Sacco seems to say, but that Obama was always Nixon, always a representation of the absolute authority of the U.S. government’s hideous national security apparatus. The freshly undead Nixon has some fun playing with toys that didn’t exist back in ’72—drone bombers, for instance, with which to continue flattening Southeast Asia from the comfort of his bedroom, next to a sleeping Michelle.
There’s also an outpost of homeland security in the far reaches of the Andromeda galaxy, where the NSA practices extraordinary rendition, waylaying anyone who stops to think in the middle of the street or pays with cash for a quart of milk. On a far-off planet without the Geneva Convention, tottering pyramids of naked detainees present their buttocks for the gratification of the faceless torturers, Abu Ghraib writ large not on foreign militants but domestic enemies real and imagined. Nixon asks, “Those shapes are people, aren’t they? Are they the bad guys?” To which his assistant only answers, “Who do you want them to be, Mr. President?”
For Sacco, the face in the Oval Office matters not a whit in the context of an entrenched “deep state” national security apparatus that sets foreign, domestic, and military policy independent of legislative control or electoral rebuff. One supposes it was only a matter of time before the wolfish political machine built to maintain peace and safety in these United States figured out it could act with impunity within its own borders.
Do not pick up Bumf under the impression that the book will offer another example of the groundbreaking comics journalism Sacco pioneered with Palestine or Safe Area Gorazde. No attempt is made at even-handed analysis or fact-based reporting. The tone here is scathing and brutal. The inner workings of American government are portrayed with all the violent depravity of Italian industrialists in Pasolini’s Salò, which is no exaggeration considering how many pages are devoted to detailed plans to bugger the Kaiser. There’s an extended sequence devoted solely to lampooning Sacco’s own po-faced The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day Of The Battle Of The Somme illustrations, complete with a Mad-magazine-esque double page spread of blindfolded soldiers drowning themselves in puddles of viscera.
Bumf is not likely to end up on Time magazine’s best books list. It’s bloody and angry and unlikely to convert anyone not already teetering on the brink of despair from the world’s current state of advanced decay. But Sacco remains one of our best living cartoonists, and those with a strong stomach are encouraged to brave the horrors within. [TO]
DC’s Earth One family of original graphic novels serves the same purpose as Marvel’s Ultimate line when it first debuted: taking the company’s most popular concepts and reimagining them for a modern audience that may not be well-versed in the history of these characters. For Batman and Superman’s Earth One titles, the changes were primarily related to visual design and character personalities, leaving the central ideas behind those characters relatively unaltered. That’s not the case with Teen Titans: Earth One (DC), which completely overhauls the team with a brand new origin story that is more science fiction than superhero.
Rather than going with the original team of sidekicks that made up the first incarnation of Teen Titans back in the ’60s, writer Jeff Lemire turns to Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s iconic The New Teen Titans run for his cast. Cyborg, Terra, Changeling, Jericho, Raven, and Starfire all play important parts in the narrative, with the first four characters getting the most spotlight because they all attend the same high school. The graphic novel format gives Lemire space to establish a strong idea of what each teen’s home life is like and how that’s directly influenced their behavior, and getting to know the characters on a personal level heightens the impact when their typical teenage lives take a drastic turn for the fantastic.
Lemire’s script is heavily reminiscent of Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways (arguably one of the best teen superhero comics ever), using the tension between children and their parents as a springboard for a story about trust, loyalty, and adolescent independence. A lot of the fun is discovering what’s happening to the characters as they do, and Lemire lays impressive groundwork for a larger narrative that gives the team a stronger sense of direction than they’ve had in years. And he does so by turning to themes that any teenage reader will recognize.
There’s always been a cartoonish quality to Terry Dodson’s art, but he accentuates the animation influence for this graphic novel, using a smooth, controlled line that heightens expression and motion. Joined by inkers Rachel Dodson and Cam Smith and colorist Brad Anderson, Dodson delivers crisp, youthful visuals perfect for a teen superhero title, and most importantly, he draws adolescent characters that really look their age. Like Marvel’s Runaways, this interpretation of the Teen Titans isn’t a superhero team so much as it is a collection of teenagers forced together by new, fantastic circumstances, and establishing the human side of these characters before they become superhuman makes it an especially engaging take on the classic DC property. [OS]
Authenticity is key when crafting a story set in a past time period, and in a visual medium like comics, most of the pressure in that department falls on the art team. The Kitchen #1 (Vertigo) is a fairly traditional mob story by Ollie Masters about three people getting in the game and finding themselves in over their heads, but it’s elevated by the specificity of artist Ming Doyle and colorist Jordie Bellaire. Doyle’s character and environmental design puts the 1970s time period front and center with hair and wardrobe styling and decor details like wood paneling and geometric wallpaper, and Bellaire colors it all with a distinctly ’70s palette: lots of warm earth tones broken up by pale greens, yellows, and blues.
Historical context is important for this book. The rise of second-wave feminism in the ’60s saw women fighting against socially accepted, antiquated gender roles, and the three female leads of The Kitchen are part of this movement as they choose to continue their gangster husbands’ work after the three men land in prison. The feathered hair, the fur-lined, wide-lapel jackets, the ribbed turtlenecks—all of these design elements help to reinforce the period that these women are discovering their independence in, but their entry into the Hell’s Kitchen underworld isn’t going to be easy.
Kath has been collecting her husband’s protection money on her own and letting it slide when the stacks of cash are short, but she becomes bolder once she has fellow mob-wives Raven and Angie at her back. That’s when she starts to show the ruthless attitude that is typical of male figures in this world, but because she doesn’t understand the finer details of the game, she makes a big mistake that raises the stakes considerably for the three women.
Masters’ script smoothly covers all the necessary exposition, but also devotes ample time to Kath’s relationships with her sister Raven, her imprisoned husband, and the criminal lifestyle that she’s found herself embracing. It’s a briskly paced character study, and Doyle’s grounded artwork effortlessly captures Kath’s intensifying emotional state, showing how her frustration transforms into rage when she’s pushed too far. This first chapter is titled “Sharpen Your Teeth,” and there’s an animalistic quality to Kath when she finally lets loose. She’ll need that primal strength as she becomes further embroiled in the world of the Irish mafia, but if she doesn’t learn to control it, her bite may do her more harm than good. [OS]
It’s a great time for fans of animal comics. Fantagraphics has been putting out stellar archive editions of Carl Barks and Don Rosa’s Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics; Image just debuted two captivating new series with casts of humanoid animals, Tooth & Claw and The Humans; and last month, Dark Horse released the latest volume of Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s Blacksad, the hard-boiled French crime comic starring an anthropomorphized black cat private detective. Blacksad: Amarillo (Dark Horse) is the slimmest volume of Dark Horse’s Blacksad translations, but Díaz Canales and Guarnido pack an outstanding amount of content in 54 pages, telling a complete, riveting story with meticulously detailed artwork that fully immerses the reader in the retro 1950s setting.
Translated by Neal Adams and Katie LaBarbera, Amarillo is a thrilling crime yarn that takes Blacksad out of the big city and into rural America, where he comes in contact with a motorcycle gang of goats, an antagonistic pair of beat poets (a buffalo and a lion), and a traveling circus run by a morally suspect koala. A former artist for Disney, Guarnido is a master of reflecting human personality traits through animal appearances, and the cartoonish exaggeration in his designs pushes those inner characteristics outward with even more force.
There’s an astounding clarity to Guarnido’s linework; the facial expressions and body language of his characters are finely tuned for maximum impact; his environments have an almost photographic attention to detail; and his intricate watercolors bring remarkable definition to the linework while enhancing the atmosphere of each scene. His artwork is gorgeous, and Dark Horse knows it, printing it on high-quality paper stock at a size that allows the reader to really pore over the amount of labor that went into creating such a visually slick package.
$17.99 for 54 pages of story may seem like a lofty price, but Amarillo is a very dense read that delivers a tense, character-driven crime tale with loads of visual spectacle. Taking the lead character out of his comfort zone pushes the art in a brighter direction, but Díaz Canales’ story doesn’t lose any of the punch of Blacksad’s urban adventures. Blacksad is still as exciting, sexy, funny, and tragic as ever, and the change in scenery adds an element of rural majesty that makes Amarillo an especially refreshing trip away from the city. [OS]
Anyone who grew up weird should be able to find something to relate to in Liz Prince’s Tomboy (Zest Books). Even though Prince’s weirdness probably doesn’t rate that high on the John Waters scale, it was enough to make her upbringing problematic in a way that anyone who had or continues to have trouble conforming to rigorous gender norms can recognize.
From a very young age Prince rejected girl clothes—no dresses, not even the nice ones Grandma gave her. It’s as simple as that, really: She refuses to dress like a girl, a decision that she (mostly) maintains to present day. This is not an unproblematic decision, however, for a number of ugly reasons, mostly having to do with the fact that kids are cruel, even when they don’t mean to be. Prince isn’t gay; she just hates wearing dresses, and this becomes a big problem when she gets old enough to realize that guys don’t always like girls who dress like guys.
Prince has grown a great deal as a storyteller since her debut, 2005’s endearingly sketchy Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed? Her tone throughout is wry and assured, and her confidence with John Porcellino-influenced clean line minimalism makes for an attractive package. The outlines of Prince’s story will be familiar to many, but the signposts—growing up, growing out of her hometown, realizing there are lots of weirdos just like her successfully living their lives out in the wide world—are still reassuring, just the same. [TO]