Robopony

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale. Amulet Books, 2017. 9781419721281.

I’m trying to read more ebooks, especially review copies. I’m out of space. To keep a book I need to get rid of one (or more if it’s thick). And that’s not counting the piles and boxes and books I have hidden in corners.

But when I see physical advanced reader copies of graphic novels at library conferences, I always pick them up. Hale’s new one is a perfect example of why. The finished book is going to be two color throughout, a combination of yellows and black ink washes. (There’s a page of finished art in the front of the book as an example.) Most of the rest of the ARC is finished line art for the book. I know it might not be as popular with young readers, but it makes Hale’s excellent line art, and in particular his old school textures, stand out. The real treat though are the incredibly loose sketch pages. Hale’s primitive, unfinished drawings border on scribbles, yet they show faces, emotions, and posture. Despite how unfinished they are, they’re genius. And together with the other parts of the book they really show the stages of putting a graphic novel together. Grab an ARC from your librarian friend who went to ALA Midwinter in Atlanta.

And just so I’m not remiss, the story is pretty cool, too. In a dystopian future, weird aliens hunt for the world’s technology and metal. When the find it they blow “bubbles” around it that carry off the resources and turn any humans in the way to dust. There’s a caravan of motorized vehicles whose human inhabitants stay on the move, avoiding zones full of aliens as they hunt for technology and information to preserve. But after three young people from the caravan discover a huge cache of hidden robots, including the robotic horse on the cover, the aliens swarm, the teens are separated from their people, and the horse (and a feral human they meet along the way) may be their only hope of staying ahead of the alien horde.

If Hale’s name is familiar to you, you’ve probably read some of his history comics or, like me, you loved Rapunzel’s Revenge.

Rumble Cube

    
Rumble Volume 1: What Color of Darkness. John Arcudi, James Harren, Dave Stewart. Image, 2015.  9781632153838. Collects Rumble #1 – #5.  144pp.
Rumble Volume 2: A Woe That Is Madness. John Arcudi, James Harren, Dave Stewart. Image, 2016.  9781632156044. Collects Rumble #6 – #10.  160pp.
Rumble Volume 3: Immortal Coil. John Arcudi, James Harren, Dave Stewart.  Image, 2017.  9781632159281. Collects Rumble #11 – #15. 160pp. 
The BPRD books John Arcudi co-wrote with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola are some of my favorite rereads. This graphic novel series that he co-created with James Harren also has amazing monsters, supernatural heroes, a sense of humor, and a lot of heart.
In an unnamed (I think) American city near both a swamp and a failed Paul Bunyan theme park, an old man leaves his favorite bar after a night of drinking. He’s attacked by a sword-wielding scarecrow that cuts his arm off. The scarecrow is inhabited by the spirit of “some kind of monster-killing god” from thousands of years ago (Rathraq) and recently set free. He wants vengeance because the old guy is the wizard who separated his spirit from his immortal body. He also wants that body back (it’s just risen from the swamp and looks like some kind of bog mummy) along with his heart, which powers it. But of course the monsters that he once protected mankind from, the Esu, the ones he used to cut up with his mighty sword, are still hanging about and they don’t want that. Their queen hides his heart and threatens to destroy his immortal body. Battles ensue. 
On Rathraq’s side: Bobby the bartender, tough in a pinch but reluctant to kill; his friend Del, a potty mouth who wants to fight alongside Rathraq; and Apache, a dog Rathraq likes to talk to about his dead war hound, Slanjau.  Against them: a “man” with a pet hydra that he loves, a fire demon, and a hoard of creatures. And somewhere in between: half human / half Esu hybrids that need a little love and a lot of pizza. (They look like octopi made out of melting scoops of creamsicle ice cream.)

Sometimes A Fantasy Is All You Need

Fantasy Sports No. 1 by Sam Bosma. Nobrow, 2015. 9781907704802. 56pp.

Fantasy Sports No. 2: The Bandit of Barbel Bay by Sam Bosma. Nobrow, 2016. 9781910620106. 56pp.

In short: large format, sports-themed, supernatural, all-ages graphic novels that show a heavy manga influence, and which belong in middle schools, some high schools, and all public libraries.

In No. 1, Wiz, an intern with The United and Ancient Order of Mages who wants a reassignment, as does her partner, the gigantic and muscular Mug. Mug says she’s not built for treasure hunting and complains that Mug knows nothing about magic and just breaks things. The archmage sends them out to work together again and to prove themselves by acquiring magical artifacts. First up, after solving a temple’s puzzle, they face the mummy of He of the Giant Steps in his tomb.The contest he chooses: basketball.

In No 2, after a baseball flashback showing how powerful Wiz is, her spell lands her and Mug on an island ruined by the Order of Mages (they rained down fire and took the treasure). The pair are robbed, but have a chance to reclaim their treasure (and more!) by winning Yahm’s Tournament, where they must ultimately face the town’s supernatural, completely synchronized champions at two on two beach volleyball.

These books are great. They’re oversized hardcovers that are great to hold. Bosma’s art reminds me of Osamu Tezuka’s best. And the violence is both cartoony and slightly over-the-top — in the first volume Mug rips an adversary in half, but in a way that’s kid friendly. (Now that I’ve said that will you ever trust me again?) In the second there’s a more cartoonily explosive over-the-net block that levels the beach.

Late note: I just read an advanced copy of Fantasy Sports No. 3: The Green King, which comes out in July 2017. Wiz must win a crazy round of putt putt golf to save Mug and avoid getting eaten, plus there’s a great flashback to a pro wrestling match Mug saw as a kid and even more evidence that The United and Ancient Order of Mages is up to no good. Best volume yet, but read the other two first.

Before I Leave for Laundry Day

I moderated a panel on diversity at Seattle’s Emerald City Comic Con last month (my strategy: stay quiet and out of the way), and I wanted to check out the work of the writers and artists on the panel, so I put these on hold at my local library.

Before I Leave by Jessixa Bagley. 9781626720404. Roaring Brook Press, 2016.

This is a sad little book (with an uplifting ending, don’t worry) about Zelda, a hedgehog whose family is moving, and who is going to miss her best friend, an aardvark named Aaron. There are great moments, like when Aaron tries to fit himself in Zelda’s suitcase, and when he’s sticking his tongue waaaaaaaay out at Zelda for the last time. The drawings have a very hand-done quality and have both amazing textures and expressive characters — the latter is especially good because there are so few words. My favorite thing about the book is the way the characters’ names have to be discovered in the pictures — they’re never mentioned in the text.

Laundry Day by Jessixa Bagley. 9781626723177. Roaring Brook Press, 2017.

This book features Tic and Tac, bored badger siblings whose mother gets them to help hanging up laundry. When she leaves them to finish the chore, they have a great time — so good, in fact, that they don’t want to stop hanging things on the clothesline when they run out of freshly washed clothes. (Spoiler: they pretty much empty the house.)

The drawings in this book have the same hand-colored feel, but they look more crisp. Possibly because the black lines here were inked while in the other book they were penciled? That’s my best guess. They’re just as brilliant, and I think a comparison of the two books would give young artists something to think about.

My Little Motorcycle Talks To Me

MOTRO Volume One by Ulises Fariñas, Eric Freitas, and Ryan Hill. Oni Press, 2017. 9781620104088. 112pp. Contains MOTRO #1 – #4.

A young man with the strength of 10 named Motro lives in a post-apocalyptic world where vehicles speak in images, including the friend who shares his cave, a small wheeliebeast (motorcycle). Heading into a village to trade, he finds it under attack by gun-wielding marauders. He takes them on with his fists and some pepper-root. That’s just the first bit.

Later, working as a gravedigger to clear a battlefield, Motro finds a magical lens that reflects the future. What he and others see gets him adopted by the Captain of the United Brothers Army, and sets him at odds with the Captain’s biological son, Rockmaster. There are fights, reptoids, frog wizards, adventures, and battles as Motro grows into the leader/warrior he’s destined to become.

Everything is drawn in a pleasant style that really flows, story-wise — the characters all look a bit squat and startling compared to average, overly anatomical comics, the same way Frank Quitely’s art did the first time I saw it, in JLA: Earth 2. And it feels like a weird cross between Heat Vision and Jack, The Road Warrior, and One-Punch Man. (That make sense to anyone other than me?)

The Big Book of Surgery

The Sacred Heart: An Atlas of the Body Seen Through Invasive Surgery by Max Aguilera-Hellweg. Bulfinch Press, 1997. 9780821223772. 128pp.

Gene: This is a Wow, but it’s also potentially an Ick. What I love about sharing books with you is that I’m digging into books that I’ve kept for a long time and asking myself why I’ve kept them, and if they’re worth hanging on to. This book freaks me out.
Sarah: Ugh!
G: It’s photographs of surgery. I’ve looked at it so many times, but so quickly, that I didn’t realize before the other day that a lot of the pictures are of the same surgery. I never read the essay before (I did a little this time) because the photos take over my brain and then I have to stop looking at it. Continue reading “The Big Book of Surgery”

Shaken Not Stirred

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition by Darwyn Cooke. IDW, 2011. 9781600109805. 360pp.

Contains the previously published adaptations of The Hunter and The Outfit, as well as the short “The Man with the Getaway Face,” and a new short, O. Henry-esque adaptation for this volume, “The Seventh”, and lots of extras.

I was having a crappy day yesterday, and somewhere in the back of my mind I must have remembered that this book was about a crook having a few bad days of his own.

The Hunter opens in 1962 as Parker is walking back into New York City. His wife shot him at the end of a recent heist, and then she took off with his partner on the job, Mal Resnick. They assumed Parker was dead. He tracks her down. Then he interrogates the man bringing her an envelope of cash to find out where that’s coming from. Then he tracks that guy down and keeps working his way up the chain of command. Resnick used the money from their heist to buy his way back into the mob. But the mob, instead of protecting Resnick, wants to see him deal with the problem he’s created: Parker.

I won’t tell you how it resolves, but I will say it’s the first in a long line of Parker novels, and at the end of The Hunter Parker needs a new face to hide from the mob (they prefer to be called The Outfit). That’s all covered in “The Man with the Getaway Face.” Then in The Outfit, after Parker survives getting fingered by an informant, he heads out to make peace with the mob by making things tough for them when he and his friends start hitting their operations. It’s beautiful. And all three of those books form one long story.

This is a deluxe, oversized collection of these previously published books. The duotone art looks fabulous on the thick, cream paper, and the larger pages really let the art sing. (Plus I didn’t need glasses to read the print.) There’s a conversation at the front of the book between Tom Spurgeon, crime writer Ed Brubaker, and Cooke, and a ton of extra art by Cooke that includes portraits of Parker, Westlake, and a portfolio of images inspired by the Parker films and others. There’s a drawing of Michael Caine in Get Carter (based on the excellent novel by Ted Lewis) that I just may have to cut out and frame.

These graphic novel adaptations have lead me to track down some of the original novels by Stark (a pen name of Donald Westlake). The original prose is spare, no nonsense, and tough, without the over-description and sentimentality that ruins too many modern mysteries for me. Parker isn’t ever nice or easy, and he doesn’t flinch from difficult and dangerous work, but he’s not stupid. No one could draw a 60s tough guy like Cooke, and the cinematic quality of his art makes this a better adaptation than any of the films — it enhances and clarifies the novels without changing them. (If, like me, you read this and want to see Parker on film, try Point Blank starring Lee Marvin or The Split starring Jim Brown (with Donald Sutherland, Gene Hackman, and Ernest Borgnine). Both Marvin and Brown feel like Parker. But don’t even bother with the latest film adaptation starring Jason Statham — it’s unforgivable even for a Statham fan like me.)