Sunday, July 31, 2011

FYC Replay: Age of Bronze with Eric Shanower

Another one from the archives and another opportunity I was afforded to interview one of the masters of the form. Eric Shanower's art is incredible and some of the most beautiful work you will have the chance to enjoy. Age of Bronze is his magnum opus. Read on to see why you need to check this book out.


For Your Consideration: Age of Bronze: Betrayal Part One

By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE: Eric Shanower has taken on the daunting task of fully researching the many tales that have sprouted up around the Trojan War and blending them into one single comic narrative. Almost halfway through, this important piece of comic literature, Age of Bronze, is a book well worth checking out.

The 411:

Age of Bronze vol. 3A: Betrayal Part One

Story and Art Eric Shanower

176 pp. b/w


Image Comics

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

At this point, it has been years since Helen was taken from the city of Sparta by Paris, one of the princes of Troy. Paris was sent by his father, King Priam, to retrieve the king’s sister Hesione, captured in an Achaean raid many years prior, but forsook all of his duties when his eyes fell upon the unmatched beauty of Helen. Seducing her and bringing her infant son Pleisthenes with them, Paris escaped Sparta and made for home while Helen’s husband Menelaus swore to get her back and exact revenge upon the Trojans. Presenting Helen as a substitute for Hesione, Paris and his new wife are at first rebuked by King Priam, but when it is revealed that Helen now carries Paris’s unborn son, there is nothing to be done. Despite the enmity that will come from this act, Priam welcomes his family into the city.

Finally, after an initial aborted attempt, the Achaean army is able to set sail for Troy. Trying to conceal their approach by moving from island to island rather than skirting the coast, the Achaean fleet comes to rest off the island of Tenedos less than half a day’s sail from the city of Troy. Anchored in the bay on the far side of this island, the inhabitants of Tenedos – people that do not tolerate strangers – greet the Achaean army by slinging stones at their ships, spurring Achilles to swim ashore in order to answer this unprovoked incident. Achaean soldiers follow in Achilles’s wake and the battle is soon joined. During the melee, Achilles comes face to face with Tennes, the King of Tenedos, and kills him, putting the first nail into his own coffin. For Tennes was the sun god’s son, and the prophecy states that the sun god will kill Achilles in retaliation for Achilles killing one of his sons. But Achilles has already chosen a life of glory over a long life, and tells Mnemon, who was charged by the boy’s mother Thetis to watch Achilles, not to worry. All he must think about now is the glory.

After routing the warriors of Tenedos, the Achaeans take care of their dead and prepare to celebrate their victory with feasting and blood sacrifices to the gods for continued success. During their celebration that night they discover a small reconnaissance party led by Paris. Chasing them off, the Achaeans return to their feast where they decide to send an Embassy to Troy in an attempt to forestall any more casualties on their end. And even if the Trojans do not accept their offer of a peaceful conclusion, they will fall before the great might of the Achaean army.

Meanwhile, with the Achaeans on their doorstep, the Trojans accept the offer of an Embassy. King Priam is still working to gather more kings to his cause and feels he can use the time given over to the Embassy for calling these armies to Troy. Each side is taking a great risk in accepting this truce, and there are factions within the Trojan city that do not care if Priam has given the Achaeans his protection. Tensions boil just under the surface as the inevitable battle looms on the horizon. But who will come out the victor in what will be little more than a bloody mess?

Eric Shanower has taken on the overwhelming task of researching the legend of the Trojan war and assimilating the many disparate tales that have grown up over the centuries in order to create one single narrative comprising all the essential aspects of the those myths from long ago. It is an incredibly daunting task, and one that Shanower has executed thus far with great skill. The degree to which he has researched the peoples, architecture, and realities of that age so long ago is impressive and can be seen in the extensive bibliographic listings in the backs of the three trade paperbacks comprising his series to this point.

Even more impressive might be the fact that he not only has been able to incorporate all of these varied articles and accounts into one narrative, but that he’s also created an exciting tale that keeps his audience anticipating what comes next. Age of Bronze is one of the most engaging tales currently being told in this or any other medium. When I opened the first page of the initial collection, I didn’t want to put it down until I’d reached the end, and when I closed the covers I wanted that next book in my hands as soon as possible. Shanower’s storytelling is seamless and poignant, and yet, for all of the strange names and ancient history included within this book, he is able to make it accessible to a contemporary readership. This is a task not easily done, and one that Eric Shanower achieves with seeming ease.

Shanower’s precise renderings are a natural vehicle for the recounting of a tale such as this, with his sharp black and white lines keeping his audience grounded within the tale. The beauty of Shanower’s artwork as showcased through his work on such diverse fare as Badger and his own OZ series of graphic novels draws readers in, allowing them to become enamored with the story once the lush art entices them. Although an economic decision, Age of Bronze is a book that looks amazing in black and white. I cannot conceive of this book in color and think it might lose some of its luster were it not presented in black and white, yet another testament to Shanower’s talent.

Age of Bronze is the book that Eric Shanower seems to have been born to create, and lovers of great comics or history or myth are all the better for it. This is a book that anyone with a passion for these subjects should seek out, you will not be disappointed.

An Interview with Eric Shanower:

Chris Beckett: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Eric Shanower: Ever since I was very young I’ve written stories and drawn illustrations. When I was a child I knew I wanted to publish my stories and illustrations, but at first I assumed this meant illustrated prose. I’ve read and loved comics ever since I was young as well. I started drawing comics when I was about ten years old. It was when I was about 14 years old that I decided I wanted to be a professional cartoonist. I’m not sure what attracted me to the medium of comics since I can’t remember my first exposure to them. But telling stories through a synthesis of text and drawings seems completely natural to me. I still love illustrated prose and have done plenty of that professionally, but I consider myself first a cartoonist.

Beckett: Age of Bronze is obviously a tremendous undertaking. What inspired you to begin this project, and what is it about the book that keeps you motivated?

Eric Shanower: In February 1991 I listened to a book on audio tape called The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman. The chapter on Troy made me realize that there are many different versions of the Troy story. I thought that combining all those stories into one, while reconciling the differences and setting it in the correct period, would make a wonderful comic book. I certainly realized at the time that it would be a major undertaking, although I underestimated then how major it would actually be.

I’m kept motivated because I’m not finished telling the story yet. There are still so many wonderful episodes to go and I look forward to telling them. It’s very exciting. And I love all the characters. Age of Bronze is a large project, and sometimes I feel overwhelmed by how much of the story is left for me to work on. So I try not to think of that. I just work on the piece that’s in front of me.

Beckett: A huge amount of research is going into Age of Bronze. How different is this project for you compared to other works such as the series of Oz graphic novels?

Eric Shanower: Age of Bronze isn’t as different from Oz in that aspect as you might think. They both require a huge amount of research and an absorption of that research that provides an authentic knowledge of and feel for the source material. When I began seriously working on Age of Bronze back in the early 1990s I specifically determined that I’d have to school myself in the knowledge of every aspect of the Trojan War to the same extent that I’d schooled myself in the knowledge of every aspect of Oz. The main difference was that I’d been reading Oz books since I was six years old. When I started Age of Bronze, I’d never read the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Aeneid, or any of the Troy-related Greek tragedies, much less more obscure sources.

Beckett: Your art style is very precise and lends itself nicely to the black and white format of Age of Bronze. Was there ever any consideration to do it as a color book, and what do you gain as an artist and storyteller with this black and white aesthetic?

Eric Shanower: I’d have colored Age of Bronze if that had seemed feasible. But the pace of publication would double if I were coloring it, and that pace is slow enough already. Color is more expensive to print than black and white and when I began Age of Bronze, I figured that it wouldn’t sell enough—at least initially—to support the expense of color. The expense isn’t such a big deal now that Age of Bronze is established and sales are fine, but the time factor is still a problem. Also, I’m not that fond of painting. It’s certainly not out of the question that Age of Bronze may one day appear in a colored version too.

Beckett: If I’m not mistaken, you have been able to market Age of Bronze to libraries and schools, and I am curious what this has meant to the project itself and to you personally?

Eric Shanower: When I began Age of Bronze, I was confident that the traditional comic store market wouldn’t provide a lot of support for such a project. I was pretty confident that if Age of Bronze could find a mainstream audience, then it would then be possible for me to spend most of my working time on the project itself rather than trying to figure out how to keep publishing it. Fortunately the market for comics has changed and Age of Bronze has found the mainstream audience that I envisioned for it. So that means the project is published relatively regularly and people can recognize it and find it. If I’d had to publish it myself, say, each issue coming out only after I could scrape together enough money to print it and then spending most of my time trying to build distribution channels and find and keep an audience, this whole thing would have been much more difficult. I’m very glad the market for comics has changed along the ways that have meant good fortune for Age of Bronze. Of course, nothing ever stays the same, the market will continue to change. I just need to stay aware of things so that Age of Bronze can stay afloat. I hope the day never comes when I have to relegate it to a back burner.

I’ve spoken to several library conventions, and it’s really gratifying how interested the attendees are in learning about graphic novels and comics. Of course, some librarians have known about them for years, but to others comics and graphic novels are new on the radar. I try to be as useful an ambassador as I can be.

Beckett: Do you have any other projects you are working on, or is Age of Bronze taking the bulk of your creative time?

Eric Shanower: Age of Bronze takes the bulk of my creative time, but of course I work on a lot of other things, too. Presently I’m finishing a short comics story for a gay/lesbian Young Adult anthology edited by Michael Cart to be published by the Joanna Cotler imprint of HarperCollins. It’s a story about two teenage boys who release a genie from a bottle and each gain a wish as the result.

I’ve got a three-page Uncle Scrooge story to be published by Gemstone. I’m still waiting for approval of the pencils before I letter and ink it. Disney has to approve everything and, boy, do they take their time. But I’ve loved Uncle Scrooge since I was a kid, so it’s really nice to finally be writing and drawing one of his stories myself.

I’m writing a comics adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum for Marvel’s relatively new Marvel Illustrated imprint. I love this project. Skottie Young is going to be drawing it and I really look forward to seeing his artwork. There have been many comics adaptations of this story throughout the years, but we’re committed to making this one definitive.

Friday, July 29, 2011

NEW TO ME: Grant Morrison's JLA

I am a huge Grant Morrison fan. The Invisibles is one of the best things I've ever read. His work on All-Star Superman, New X-Men, Animal Man, and others have all been entertaining and thought-provoking. He's one of those writers whose work I will check out regardless of the subject or the character. He's that good.

But I haven't read everything, something I hope to rectify through the UMaine library, where I now work. To that end, I requested volume 1 of Morrison's well-regarded JLA run - New World Order.

With this book, I understand more clearly than with any other comic, the need for the story and the art to complement one another. Opening it up the other night, I only made it to page 4 before I dropped back on the pile and chose something else to read.

The art in this book is horrendous. What was DC thinking when they paired Morrison - one of the premiere writers of the medium - with Howard Porter? Hackneyed, cluttered, preposterous anatomy (reminiscent of the Liefeld clones), and a total lack of storytelling. It's dreck and it colors my feelings of the story, which feels pretty mundane and uninspired thus far.

I've only managed to get through the first two issues, and I don't know how much more I can take. I appreciate some of the things Morrison is trying to do in this story, but so far I'm not impressed. And it doesn't help that the surprise - that the villains, who are posing as superhero analogues of the JLA, are actually white martians - was included as part of the back cover copy. Who the hell thought that was a good idea? It's like the corporate idiots who included Gandalf in the trailer for The Two Towers. People who hadn't read The Lord of the Rings (95% of the movie-going audience, maybe??) thought he was dead. In the book, you're led to believe the wizard in white in Fangorn forest is Saruman. And when it's revealed to be Gandalf, that is one of the best reveals in literary history (in my opinion).

But I digress.

I'll finish this first book and try out the second. But if Morrison doesn't really elevate the writing and the ideas, I will probably bail, because the art is just that bad.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

PLUTO by Naoki Urasawa & Osamu Tezuka, part 3

Here's part 3 of my look at the ending of Pluto from the In the Mouth of Dorkness blog:


It seems a lot of people were disappointed with the ending of PLUTO by Naoki Urasawa. And I can understand why.

Urasawa crafted these 8 volumes as a murder mystery – who is killing the seven most advanced robots in the world? – wrapped in the patina of a classic science fiction narrative, complete with futuristic cityscapes, artificial intelligence, robots that look and act like humans, and some retro-bots that hearken back to Isaac Asimov’s robot cycle of stories. It was well-suited to my tastes.

Despite the fact that PLUTO is a relatively “quiet” story – there are far more conversations than confrontations – that does not mean the story is lacking in tension. On the contrary, Urasawa deftly drives the narrative forward, running through the first few advanced robots rather quickly, in order to set up the premise and showcase how powerful the antagonist, Pluto, is. It seems we are no sooner introduced to the robot North No. 2 than he becomes the next victim of the rampaging force that is Pluto.

It’s this constant forward motion – moving from one robot victim to the next, while affording readers some space within which they can get to know these characters – that compels Urasawa’s audience (if I am to be considered a typical reader) to keep reading “one more chapter,” until one finds that within a single sitting, the latest volume has been devoured. PLUTO is a quick read, but a more than satisfying one. Urasawa’s skill, combined with the tendency in manga of using the imagery more than the words to tell the story, are what help to propel his narrative along. And it is aptly applied to this particular tale.

I should also note that Urasawa’s artistic skills are exemplary. His figure work and body language are well-honed, and I believe the fact that his style does not fall into the “typical” manga style, but has a more western feel to it, would appeal to a broader fan base, particularly here in America.


The first 7 volumes feel as if they are leading to a great confrontation, a final climactic battle worthy of Superman and Mongul in Alan Moore’s & Dave Gibbons’s “…For the Man Who Has Everything.” And even as we begin the final volume, we can see that Atom (Astro Boy) and Pluto are heading for a helluva battle.

At the end of volume 7, the enemy believes it has won, with Pluto defeating Epsilon, the final of the seven advanced robots. But we, the readers, see Atom (Astro Boy) reawaken in a stupor that leaves the audience wondering if Atom will be able to do anything to stop Pluto’s rampage.

For all intents and purposes, Atom has been in a “coma” the entirety of volume 7. But Professor Tenma, Atom’s creator, as well as the creator of Pluto, introduces “a biased emotion … a program to simplify the chaos in [Atom’s] mind.” Tenma uses Gesicht’s A.I. to revive Atom, believing that Gesicht’s final emotions as he was killed will spur Atom to wakefulness, which it does. And with the opening of volume 8, we realize that Tenma’s two greatest creations are on a collision course.

This introduction of an emotional bias is something Tenma had done previously. Contracted by Abullah, a great Persian scientist, to invent an even more advanced robot than Atom, the professor conceived of utilizing all 6 billion human personalities for that robot’s psyche to make it as human as possible. But, when put into action, Tenma discovered that the A.I. of this robot was unable to cycle through all these personalities fast enough and could not achieve consciousness. So, he had introduced an emotional bias then, the anger that Abullah felt when he died. This rage caused an imbalance in the robot’s psyche (the robot that we discover is Abullah, whom we have seen throughout this story and who believes himself to be a cyborg rather than a full robot) and led to the creation of Pluto.

If that sounds convoluted, I would recommend picking up and reading the 8 volumes of PLUTO, as my quick summary does not do the story justice.

All the momentum that Urasawa builds through the first seven volumes continues to roar ahead, driving toward the ultimate battle between these two advanced robots. Urasawa deftly draws this out, subverting our expectations of this “new” Atom while injecting an emotional resonance as he prepares for his final battle. It’s wonderful storytelling, and, like previous volumes, I found myself unwilling to stop reading before the end.

Finally, with chapter 61, Pluto and Atom face off. It’s big and brash and fairly typical, but the scene is elevated by the beautiful artwork on display. This is a battle for the ages.

And then, Gesicht’s legacy (as chapter 62 is titled) comes to bear on this situation. The battle ends as Atom and Pluto start to cry uncontrollably. For this was Gesicht’s final emotional response – he was not angry at the world for his death; he loved his wife and was saddened at the loss of the future he might have had with her.

Love defeats Pluto.

Like any good video game, there is still a “boss” for Atom and Pluto to defeat, buried deep beneath the surface of the United States of Thracia. But, as the audience has been awaiting the conflict between these two robots, that battle is really more denouement than climax.

And, on a purely emotional level for many reading this story, it falls flat. All of the emotional tension that Urasawa has built up over the course of the 8 volumes and 60+ chapters is washed away when we “stop short” in the middle of the melee. It’s as if the air goes out of the balloon that is Pluto, when we hit that point in the narrative, and I can understand why it misfires for so many.

But, is it a well done story? I’ll discuss that in the final installment.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

FYC replay: The Scribbler with Dan Schaffer

Here's another one from the vaults - a look at my Pulse column spotlighting the OGN from Dan Schaffer, the Scribbler. His artwork is akin to Bill Sienkiewicz or Dave McKean (without the multimedia aspect) and that style worked incredibly well with this story about mental illness. You should definitely seek it out. And here's why:

For Your Consideration: Dan Schaffer’s The Scribbler

By Chris Beckett


Daniel Schaffer, the creator of Dogwitch, is a creator whose art and storytelling have evolved with each subsequent creation. Come inside and check out his most recent offering, 2006’s The Scribbler and discover an artist working to expand his personal horizons and strengthen the medium of comics.

The 411:

The Scribbler

Art & Story by Daniel Schaffer

96 pp. b/w


Image comics

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

Strange voices linger on the periphery of Suki’s consciousness. She has multiple personality disorder, and it has eroded away her life for too long. Dr. Sinclair is now using an experimental technique involving a Siamese burn module, a device that sends low-level voltage through targeted areas of the brain. This self-prescribed electro-shock therapy is meant to regulate the synaptic firings of the brain and bring the disparate personalities back in line. A cutting edge treatment, Suki experiences no physical pain, but the dreams induced while the device is running are incredible.

This treatment has worked so well that Suki is now able to take up residence in a halfway house called Juniper Tower. It’s a step forward for her, but things start inauspiciously at the Tower – called Jumpers Tower by some – as a suicide jumper lands fatally at Suki’s feet just as she approaches the front door. Not the best introduction for one with a fragile state of mind.

Inside, things are a bit tamer as Suki meets the Easter Bunny, Cleopatra, and Stigmata Steve and also gets a visit from an old friend also living in Juniper Tower. Hogan was ostensibly cured the last Suki knew, but trying to slash his wrists managed to get him re-committed. They catch up, discuss the residents of the tower, and then get more intimately reacquainted. Afterward, Suki sees Hogan out of her room and plugs in the Siamese burn unit, allowing herself to fall into her dreams. When she awakes, it is three days later and a dog is now living in Suki’s room.

Distressed that the machine has been running the entire time she was asleep when it should have turned itself off after five hours, Suki goes for a walk. Living on the sixteenth floor of the tower, Suki steps into the elevator, which – when it threatens to break down and suffocate her – compels her to take the stairs. In the stairwell, Suki’s day goes from bad to worse as she meets Alice, one of Hogan’s ex-girlfriends. A pusher, Alice sends Suki down one flight of stairs and then another before telling her to send Hogan home if she sees him.

Suki continues to use the Siamese burn unit as instructed, and days keep dissolving away. The voices that had been receding increase their chatter, while in the tower proper more apparent suicides occur as an escalating number of patients find solace diving into the pavement. With things spiraling out of control, Suki begins to wonder what connection she might have with the increasing rate of suicides in Juniper Tower.

Despite the troubling aspects of the Tower, at least Suki only has one extra personality left, the Scribbler. It’s just too bad this personality seems to be ascending during the therapy sessions as evidenced by the many notes written backwards now plastering Suki’s walls. Things are coalescing, a vortex forming around those missing days that now haunts Suki, posing the question: what will the outcome bring for her and for all the other inhabitants of Jumpers Tower?

Dan Schaffer has created a taut, suspenseful story that begins as a meditation on the mentally ill and eventually turns into a criminal mystery. Schaffer’s writing is sharp, parsing out pieces of this puzzle in short bursts, heightening the suspense of the tale before unleashing the climax in one longer final act. Revealing the dominance of the Scribbler, Schaffer pulls together all the varied threads while leaving room for interpretation by his audience. This is a book that can be enjoyed on a couple of different levels and rewards those returning for subsequent readings.

And the art provided by Schaffer is fantastic. A combination of painting and digital enhancement that he first used in Indigo Vertigo, the graphic novel on which he collaborated with writer/singer Katiejane Garside, the imagery springing forth from Dan Schaffer’s brush is reminiscent of some of Bill Sienkiewicz’s less abstract artwork. Despite being in black and white, Schaffer is able to layer his artwork, using light and dark to give the book a more intense feeling than if it had been rendered with a more traditional pen and ink style. The Scribbler is a sharp melding of words and pictures that showcases the breadth of possibilities for comics. With his next project, Schaffer hopes to take another evolutionary step with his artwork and storytelling, pushing the envelope of what can be done within the medium. I am anxious to see where Schaffer will go next with his comic work; he’s a creator to watch. Experimental, engaging, and entertaining – what more could one ask for?

An Interview with Dan Schaffer:

Chris Beckett: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Dan Schaffer: I couldn't decide if I wanted to be an artist or a writer! When I started working in comics I didn't know anything about the industry or the direct market or fandom or superheroes or any of that. I grew up on British punk comics from the late seventies, old war comics, bizarre French science fiction, and I came into the business just as the light from the nineties indie comics explosion was fading. I'm not sure what's going on in comics now or why I’m still here. Hardly anything in the current comics market makes any sense to me at all.

Beckett: While trying not to divulge too much in The Scribbler, I was impressed with how you laid the bread crumbs for the final revelation in the book. It's difficult to make something like that flow naturally through the narrative without giving away the ending and still have readers be able to piece it together once they reach the climax. How did you approach this aspect of the story and did it involve much editing on your part?

Schaffer: I'm not very good at deconstructing my work retrospectively, mainly because I write intuitively in the early stages, collecting ideas until they reach critical mass and fall out onto paper. At that point I usually don't know what I'm doing. I'm just following a feeling. But then I go digging through the mess looking for clues and, once I’ve found them, I start editing, moulding the story around these clues and building onto a thematic framework. With The Scribbler, it all started with the concept of the Siamese Burn Module - a machine designed to cure disassociative disorder - and I just followed it from there. I'm not sure how I ended up exactly where I did, challenging concepts of good and evil and all that, but the multiple personalities were always intended to be personifications of Suki’s skills, dreams, and ideas, with the mute Scribbler being a physical representation of her individuality. This is the one that won’t go down without a fight. Instead, it rises to the challenge, grows bigger to fill in the gaps and, in essence, becomes an evolutionary step above the bureaucracy of everyday life. The Scribbler started out as quite a small, intimate little story. The psychological and thriller aspects were kind of deliberate but the unusual ending was a logical conclusion of events and themes, and that more or less wrote itself. I'm sure I got criticized for it, but there was really no other way to go. I had to be very careful not to break the aesthetic distance of that book. It had its own logic.

Beckett: The two books of yours I've read - The Scribbler and Indigo Vertigo - have been black and white, but the artwork seems to be painted. Is this the case, or is it a digital facsimile, and how did you develop your art style?

Schaffer: It's part paint and part digital. It was a style I developed for Indigo [Vertigo] to suit Katiejane's writing, but three years of intricate line art on Dogwitch was making my fingers hurt so I'd been looking to do something new for a while anyway. Indigo Vertigo was set in a surreal world of underwater imagery and strange metaphors, so I needed an art style that could visually display the tone and mood of Katie's writing as well as illustrating the story between the lines. I paint using only black and white paints, then scan the artwork and layer it with home made digital filters. I recently did the same thing in colour for the first time on a comic short called Lesions in the Brain (also a collaboration with Katiejane Garside), but most of the time I prefer working in black and white.

Beckett: With these last two books, you've worked as the artist in a collaborative capacity, and you've worked as the sole creator. What benefits - and, conversely, what drawbacks - are there for you in each process, and do you approach each process at all differently?

Schaffer: When you're working alone, your focus point is somewhere in the middle of your own head, but with a collaboration it's all about finding that same point between yourself and somebody else. Generally speaking, I've never been interested in collaborating with anyone in comics. Maybe as a writer, but certainly not as an artist. Trying to stick rigidly to someone else's script would drive me crazy. Working with Katiejane was kind of a special case. We weren't following any structural rules of storytelling with the art or the narrative, and we had a pretty tight creative connection at the time so we could trust each other to approach everything organically without going off the mission profile. So, the closer we stayed to the intuitive end of the process the better because we were trying to communicate on a different level, subliminally or subjectively, through a sort of dream logic. That kind of collaboration appeals to me. Being somebody’s pencil monkey doesn’t excite me in the slightest.

Beckett: I would think creating a book dealing with psychological disorders would be a daunting task. How much research did you do for The Scribbler, and is the technique used for rehabilitating Suki's multiple personalities something created by you whole-cloth, or did you come across it in your research?

Schaffer: The Siamese Burn Therapy is a metaphor for the machine-like nature of authority or the general rigidity of the modern world. Seems like the more free we get and the more enlightened we become, the more we tie ourselves up with rules and regulations. The idea of a machine that resets you back to normal mental health displays a certain arrogant assumption that the people who made the machine know what mental health is. I've spent a lot of time researching various forms of psychology, I live in a house with psychologists so the place is filled with text books, but The Scribbler isn't really about that stuff. It's all just a metaphor for life in the twenty-first century where everyone is expected to think in a particular way or do their jobs by the book without question, and this kind of spreadsheet-mentality leaves no room for personal style. Individuality is slowly becoming outlawed. To me, that’s insanity. Surely we don’t want to live like ants, right? The Scribbler is basically saying that the more you suppress people's creativity, the more creative they will become. It's an optimistic book looking towards a world where the people with all the answers finally realise they don't know shit and stop hassling the rest of us with their theories.

Beckett: What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?

Schaffer: The third Dogwitch trade, “Mood Swings,” should finally hit the shelves later this year. There's a new comic project on my desk called Killdarlings which I hope to finish drawing soon. It's part horror, part brutal Hollywood satire. It's actually more twisted than Dogwitch, I think. Both the art and storytelling styles are a bit experimental 'cause I wouldn't want to stop doing things the hard way. Outside of comics I've been writing for film. I sold a screenplay last year called Doghouse. That's due to start shooting in a couple of months with Jake West (Evil Aliens) directing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

PLUTO by Naoki Urasawa & Osamu Tezuka - part 2

Pluto by Naoki Urasawa & Osamu Tezuka – part 2: a brief synopsis


In writing up this piece on the ending of Naoki Urasawa’s PLUTO, a retelling of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy: The Greatest Robot on Earth for a modern audience, over at the In the Mouth of Dorkness blog and discussing whether it work or not, I realized that I was taking a very important piece of the puzzle for granted. I was assuming anyone that might be reading this would have already ready Urasawa’s PLUTO.

That would be an erroneous assumption to make.

So, here, as best as I am able, I give you a quick synopsis of the 8 volumes of PLUTO.

Europol has sent its prime investigator, Gesicht, to look into the death of the world-renowned robot from Switzerland, Mont Blanc. Gesicht is one of the most advanced robots in the world, which is why he is given this case, and is in fact one of the seven most advanced robots in the world. He is also a humanoid robot, passing for human in every way imaginable, which is helpful in his line of work. Mont Blanc, until his untimely demise, was also a member of these elite seven robots, and his death is felt by people all over Switzerland.

During his investigation, Gesicht discovers a pattern – it appears that these seven advanced robots are being targeted as well as those humans involved with the Bora Project during the 39th Middle East War in Persia, a war in which all of these seven advanced robots were involved one way or another, even if that was to protest the war and remain out of it, as Epsilon did. Gesicht is unable to reach the second victim, North No. 2, before he too succumbs to Pluto’s devastating attacks.

The person behind these attacks appears to be the President of the United States of Thracia – the antagonist in the 39th Middle East War when they invaded Persia behind the claims that Persia was working to create robots that would act as Weapons of Mass Destruction – but we also see that he is being manipulated by a teddy bear, which is actually a sentient supercomputer working to decimate the planet and leave the robots in charge of a cinder almost completely lacking in humankind.

But that explanation comes much later in the story.

As Gesicht works the case, we are introduced to all of the other super robots – including two wrestlers, Brando and Heracles, Atom (better known to Americans as Astro Boy), and Epsilon, the pacifist who now runs an orphanage for the orphans of the 39th Middle East War. We also learn about the scientists behind the creation of these robots, specifically Dr. Tenma, who created Atom as a replacement for his son who died, and Dr. Abullah, who was the head of the Persian Ministry of Science and is working to bring back the beauty of his country after the devastation of the war. He was also a victim of the war, losing his family and most of his body and, like Darth Vader, becoming more machine than man.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Abullah is working with the President of the United States of Thracia, because he, along with Dr. Tenma (see below), were the scientists who created Pluto. Dr. Abullah is seeking revenge for what these robots did to his country during the 39th Middle East War and will stop at nothing to achieve his ends.

We follow Gesicht, who vainly tries to stop the killing at two, and experience the humanity he and his robot wife have, as well as the humanity found in so many of these advanced robots. The mystery of who or what Pluto is continues to deepen over the course of the 8 volumes, twisting and turning as we learn that Pluto is not only a destructive force, but also wishes only to paint beautifully colorful landscapes. His A.I. is a strange dichotomy that strains his psyche and eventually leads to his final salvation.

Eventually, the President of the United States of Thracia succeeds in killing all seven of these most advanced robots in the world, paving the way for the ascension of the U.S.T. as the most powerful nation in the world. But he hadn’t counted on Dr. Tenma using his genius to provoke Atom’s resurrection.

Which we will discuss in the next installment.