Thursday, November 22, 2012

30 in 30: RASL volumes 1-3

#18: RASL volume 1
Storytellers: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books
Year Of Publication: 2009
Page Count (can be approximate or in # of issues format):112 pages

Jump right into the story.  This series opens with a man, bloodied and in tattered clothes, walking down a hillside in the desert.  Readers are immediately pulled into this story by asking where this guy came from, why he’s in such bad shape, and other similar questions.  Done well, as Smith does here, this can be a very effective way to open a story.
In this science fiction narrative, Jeff Smith is creating a “lived in, run down” world.  With his clean style, he manages to convey the typical decay of the settings through well-placed marks – scattered dashes – that mar the pristine white spaces of the page and effectively convey this rough, genuine quality that was lauded in Star Wars.


NOTES / REVIEW / SYNOPSIS It’s Jeff Smith doing something completely different from Bone, but it’s still stellar cartooning.  RASL is a time travel story that incorporates the theories of Nikola Tesla, a love triangle, parallel worlds with parallel versions of many of the main characters, and a mystery about who is trying to capture Rasl and what they want him for.  Great stuff.

#19: RASL volume 2
Storytellers: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books
Year Of Publication: 2010
Page Count (can be approximate or in # of issues format): 112 pages

In volume 1, Smith used the age-old action cliché of having the villain be a poor shot with a gun and I thought nothing of it, having seen this trope used myriad times in film, comics, and TV.  But in this volume, he turns that cliché on its head when the villain confronts our protagonist again and reveals to Rasl that he missed him on purpose.  By doing this, Smith puts that earlier scene into a far different context, opening up a number of question for the reader (why did he let him go before? Is he lying now?) while also opening up story possibilities for the writer.
In a parallel world, Rasl meets an alternate version of his true love named Uma, and as they are getting to know each other, in a private viewing at the museum where Uma is curator, Rasl starts to daydream about his past with the alternate version of Uma and he tunes her out.  Smith conveys this by having Uma’s word balloons empty, and then he pulls in closer with successive panels, showing Rasl’s focus on her, until she leans down into the final panel of the page, where Smith has her face in close-up, and she asks if he’s even listening to her?  I thought this was a really novel and effective way to convey Rasl’s mental state through the visuals.

NOTES / REVIEW / SYNOPSIS Smith really knows how to tell a story.  As good as this is, I only hope that he will stick the ending.

#20: RASL volume 3
Storytellers: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books
Year Of Publication: 2011
Page Count (can be approximate or in # of issues format): 112 pages

This is a science fiction story about parallel universes, but Smith utilizes real history and real science within the narrative – often through flashbacks – to help ground the story, and it works very well.  The big lesson is, if you’re going to tell a fantastic story try to base it within some semblance of reality to give readers something to “hold onto” and allow them to accept the out of this world elements.
In this penultimate collection, things are starting to get out of Rasl’s control.  Time is becoming elastic, and his stress may be feeding into this.  Smith conveys this with an imaginative two-page spread with multiple images of the Uma drawn over an imaginative, abstract background.  This works really well for a number of reasons. 
One, up to this point much of the settings and much of the imagery has been relatively grounded.  Allowing for the conceit of time travel, little else “fantastical” has been seen in the story.
Two, Smith’s very clean art style has also helped to ground the story, so that when we get an abstract image such as this two-page spread, it makes a big impact.
Three, similar to how Moore & Gibbons used the page in Watchmen or Frank Miller used the page in Dark Knight Returns, this is the first time there’s been a two-page spread, and one of the few times where there are not multiple panels on a page.  By saving this large canvas for this important moment, Smith has not diluted the impact and manages to convey the import of this scene well.


NOTES / REVIEW / SYNOPSIS RASL came from a discussion Smith had with Terry More and Paul Pope a few years ago.  They all decided to do their science fiction stories.  From that also came Echo from Moore.  Now all I need to get is Battling Boy and that trifecta of creative, sci-fi, comic book goodness will be complete.


30 in 30: The Ticking by Renee French

#17: The Ticking
Storytellers: Renee French
Publisher: Top Shelf
Year Of Publication: 2005
Page Count (can be approximate or in # of issues format): 216 pages

It’s the little moments – ones that could be most relatable – that can have the most impact in a story.  Early in this story, the son draws a picture of the scar on his father’s head, and he gives it to his dad. A few pages later, the boy sees that picture in the trash, and it was an incredibly affecting bit of storytelling.  French included moments like this throughout the book in a manner that seemed effortless. 
French uses shadows very effectively to enhance the emotion of a sad scene, of which there were many in this book.  But she used this tool sparingly, which was smart, as it could lose its effectiveness if overused.  Maybe it’s an obvious tool, but it’s one to keep in mind.

NOTES / REVIEW / SYNOPSIS I had no idea what to expect with this or the other Renee French book I read for 30 in 30, but I now see why French is held in such high regard.  This story was told mostly through the pictures and the characters’ body language rather than through the dialogue, and I found it incredibly affecting.  I wish I hadn’t waited as long as I had to finally read some of her work, but I’m glad that I now have more work of hers to discover.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

30 in 30: Moebius - Upon a Star

#16: Moebius 1: Upon a Star
Storytellers: Moebius (Jean Giraud)
Publisher: Epic Comics
Year Of Publication: 1987
Page Count (can be approximate or in # of issues format): 64 pages

When writing alien dialects, one need not be constrained by utilizing our English alphabet.  You can use images instead of words – made up or otherwise – to show their language in the word balloons
The coloring in this book really stood out for me.  The use of vivid colors was striking in this.  And the fact that Moebius used colors for common things (such as the sea or the characters’ skin tones) that did not match with our expectations (the sunsets were green, some human-like characters had orange skin) really sold the alien setting of these stories.


NOTES / REVIEW / SYNOPSIS This was the first of Epic’s line of Moebius collection from the 1980s and it includes a few short stories and one longer story, “Upon a Star,” that are all part of Moebius’s Aedena cycle.  They were enjoyable, and the art was amazing, but there was little ground-breaking in here, in my opinion. Still, these were very fun and beautiful science fiction stories that I would definitely recommend, if you’re able to find them at a decent price now.

30 in 30: Concrete - Think Like a Mountain

#15:  Concrete: Think Like a Mountain
Storytellers: Paul Chadwick
Publisher: Dark Horse
Year Of Publication: 1989-1998 (collection: 2006)
Page Count (can be approximate or in # of issues format): 198 pages

It’s an old lesson – and maybe more of a reiteration – that whenever you have characters with competing viewpoints, you have to view each character’s argument from the standpoint that “they are in the right.”  If we are lazy in contemplating both sides of the argument – spelling it out in positive terms as a true activist/believer would do – then the dialogue will not ring true, and it will come across as rhetoric rather than a story.

One thing Chadwick likes to do often is show the hidden parts of nature (whether in the underbrush or beneath the Earth’s surface) in a panel.  It not only makes for an interesting and distinct visual stamp for Concrete, but it also ties in with the main character’s personal ideology.  Utilizing the visuals to enhance characterization is an interesting tool that I’d like to try and use in my own work.
Also, incorporating the entirety of the scene into the creation of the images can be effective and engaging.  In a specific instance in chapter 1 of “Think Like a Mountain,” the scene turns to the roof of Concrete’s home, which is on fire.  Concrete has solar collectors on the roof, and Chadwick uses them as inset panels of this scene to show the reaction of those on the ground to the person on the roof who is dumping the contents of the water collection tank that Concrete threw up there to stop the fire from spreading. 

NOTES / REVIEW / SYNOPSIS This book collects the 6-issue series “Think Like a Mountain” along with a number of shorter stories that have been published elsewhere – most often Dark Horse Presents.  This was the last of the major Concrete collections for me to read and it was typical Concrete, which means it is a well-crafted book.  Chadwick managed to make the main narrative flow naturally, and his art was stunning in its detail and imaginative imagery.  Some of the shorter stories were hit or miss for me, and even when I didn’t enjoy a story, or felt like it didn’t work fully, I appreciated the experimentation incorporated by Chadwick in many of these vignettes.  If you like good comics, this is worth reading, and if you’re already a Concrete fan, then you’ll really enjoy this.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

30 in 30: Sword of the Atom

#14: Sword of the Atom
Storytellers: Gil Kane & Jan Strnad
Publisher: DC Comics
Year Of Publication: 1983-85
Page Count (can be approximate or in # of issues format): 6 issues (4-issue mini + 2 specials)

It’s a fine line between good captions and overly expositional ones.  For the most part, Strnad manages to create poetical captions that add to the story without feeling intrusive.  This first series being published in 1983, I don’t know how familiar he was with Alan Moore’s work, but he seems to be plowing the same fields, so to speak, as he creates lyrical prose that reads easily for his captions, rather than the overly dramatic exclamations that Stan Lee had made so popular. 
To open the mini-series, Gil Kane created a full-page montage over which Strnad wrote a brief history of Ray Palmer (the Atom) and Jean Loring (Palmer’s wife).  I love Kane’s work, and having a great piece of art over which to relay essential information for any new readers is a great way to introduce those readers and get the story going immediately on the following page.  If only, they had been able to do this for the subsequent issues of this series, but sadly they did the fairly typical 3-page cut-and-paste “this is what happened in the previous issues” exposition in the following issues.


I hadn’t read this since I originally bought it sometime in the late 80s.  I was worried it would not hold up well.  With the exception of the multi-page “what came before” segments, I really enjoyed the mini-series.  However, the specials left a bit to be desired.  The first one basically rehashed the mini-series through the conceit of a biography that had been written about Ray Palmer.  Thankfully, there was some new material toward the end of the story, but not enough to really save this.  The second special redeemed itself plotwise, but the continuity it was already building up with the previous stories bogged it down in exposition they felt was needed to bring newer readers up to speed.  Overall, a fun read, but nothing I expect to read again.