Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Aliens: Defiance Volume 1 by Brian Wood with art by Tristan Jones, Riccardo Burchielli, and Tony Brescini. Dark Horse, 2017. 9781506701264. Contains Aliens: Defiance #1 – #6 plus a short from 2016’s Free Comic Book Day.

PFC Zula Hendricks of the Colonial Marines boards a derelict ship in lunar space with a squad of heavily armed, humanoid security drones. (She’s been going through a course of reconstructive surgeries and physical therapy on the moon, and the rough ride is anything but soothing.) The ship’s crew is missing and, well, you know — the drones are soon fighting the long-headed, double-jawed aliens you’ve seen in the movies or just the trailers. After her suit’s helmet is cracked, one of the drones throws her into a stasis pod. She wakes up 27 days later: her legs barely work, the ship has been sterilized, and it’s left our solar system. One of the drones has gone rogue, is actively disobeying orders from its corporate masters, and has set them on a course to find more aliens. It also seems to be in charge, but since it’s not doing what it’s supposed to, that won’t last.

I know it sounds a lot like the original Alien movie, and that’s on purpose. Wood did the same thing with his run of Star Wars back when Dark Horse still had the license — he’s great at writing stories in existing universes that are well plotted, pleasing to longterm fans, and that stand alone. (His creator-owned comics series are great, too.) Hendricks is struggling to appear stronger than she is while fighting the xenomorphs, and she’s not the only strong woman in the story. The rebellious synthetic soldier’s idea of doing what’s right clearly doesn’t jibe with Hendricks’ (though she doesn’t quite know that). The book ends with a great setup for the second volume, which is also a great read.

Love in the Time of Snow

Red Winter by Anneli Furmark. Translated by Hanna Strömberg. Drawn & Quarterly, 2018. 9781770463066. 168pp.

Sweden, sometime in the late 1970s. Unhappy mother of two (and Social Democrat) Siv is having a very loving affair with a politically active young Communist, Ulrik. He’d just as soon Siv tell her husband about them and move in, but she’s worried everyone will hate her. Her daughter Marita knows her secret (she’s reading her mom’s journal), and her son Peter may just have seen Siv and her lover together. As the affair continues there are small, subtle consequences for everyone. I felt the most for young Marita, who seems the most innocent and impacted, but who is also the only one who reaches out to a friend for what she needs.

Supporting the quiet, conversational tone of the book, Furmak’s art had a sense of being wonderfully hand-crafted and heartfelt. It makes the story feel important and true because of the time spent making it. The often icy blue and white outdoor scenes, and the glowing electric bulbs inside were a wonderful way to express the climate. I’d just reread Leiber and Rucka’s Whiteout, set in the Antarctic, and it was great to see a different yet no less effective way to bring me into a story in a cold, icy place I’m personally unfamiliar with.

“It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”

Maggy Garrison 1. Give Us A Smile, Maggy by Lewis Trondheim and Stéphanie Oiry. Europe Comics, 2017. Translation: Emma Wilson. 54pp.

Maggy Garrison 2. The Man In My Bed by Lewis Trondheim and Stéphanie Oiry. Europe Comics, 2017. Translation: Emma Wilson. 56pp.

Maggy Garrison 3. Shame It Had To End This Way Lewis Trondheim and Stéphanie Oiry. Europe Comics, 2017. Translation: Emma Wilson. 56pp.

Maggy arrives for work, for her first day helping Anthony Wight, Private Investigator, around the office. She tries to put on a happy face but finds her new boss passed out on his desk. She takes an angry phone message, and talks to a little neighbor lady looking for Rodgrigo, a canary who Wight is supposed to be looking for. And then her boss dismisses her for the day. But Maggy is on the job. She finds a way to “solve the case” and make the old lady happy, and make a little money in the process. And even if the job doesn’t pay well, it’s giving her the chance to smoke a few of her boss’s cigarettes.

She arrives for work on her fifth day to find Wight being loaded into an ambulance, and meets a cop she becomes friendly with. In a bar they check out men and Maggy solves another small mystery. And then she runs afoul of some very shady people over some coupons in her boss’s wallet. She’s soon unemployed but having drinks with one of the goons sent to intimidate her. And being double-crossed over a significant amount of cash. It’s more of a crime saga than a mystery, and throughout it all Maggy is just so smart and calm and ordinary that I loved this way more than I normally enjoy stories of reluctant and unlikely amateur detectives.

I’m really excited that Europe Comics is translating some great graphic novels and making them available for the English-speaking market digitally. The digital editions offer me a great chance to save some shelf space and justify the huge, high-resolution tablet my tired eyes need to read these at their best. (They look great on my laptop, but my 12.9″ iPad Pro makes them sing.)

If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you know Trondheim is my favorite cartoonist. Other than certain volumes of the Dungeon series, I haven’t read much of what he’s written for other artists to draw, and this is delightful. Oiry’s art really serves the story, and her use of color is notably great without being distracting — I stopped several times in each book just to look at the colors she used. (I particularly liked the endpapers, a two-page image of Maggy standing atop a map of part of London.)


Whiteout Compendium by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. Oni Press, 2017
9781620104484. 240 pp.

Gene: We’re talking about the Whiteout Compendium, but we only read the first story in the book. The second half was originally published as Whiteout: Melt.
Sarah: Right, our book club is just covering Whiteout.
G: This book was made into a film.
S: I have not seen it.
G: Starring the lady in the vampires vs werewolves movies.
S: Yeah, that one.
G: Why haven’t you seen the movie?
S: There’s only one copy left at my library system and I don’t want to wait for it.
G: I don’t remember it being great, but I’m curious about it. Maybe I’ll watch it again. They have this thing called streaming now.
S: I’ve heard about that!
G: For about $3 you can probably make it happen. That’s just a guess.
S: It’s interesting to think about a movie, because the protagonist Carrie Stetko is such a difficult person it would be hard to create her in a movie. Especially as a woman. I feel like guys can be movie antiheroes, or difficult, but women can’t.
G: I felt like she looked wrong in the movie, because the woman who played her (Kate Beckinsdale) is so pretty. The character in the graphic novel is so tough and normal looking that I just wanted her to look a little more like that without having to be some big, buff action hero.
S: Stetko is physically small but has so much presence and power.
G: Not to take anything away from Kate Beckinsdale, who I do enjoy in movies.
But the weird thing is that the book you brought is tiny and has a Steve Leiber cover featuring snow and Carrie Stetko pulling her way through it and the ice. My old copy has a Frank Miller cover that’s black and white and looks straight out of Sin City. The book that I have has chapter art– the original covers for the series, which were all by different artists. Here’s the Mike Mignola (Hellboy) cover. These are not in the Compendium.
S: I really like that the flashbacks are done in a kind of pencil sketch, so you can tell when she’s remembering.
G: Pencils? Or is that a more lightweight inking? It’s hard to tell. But the difference is great. There’s a lot more texture.
S: Crosshatching instead of black blacks.
G: And that’s part of a flashback about what got Stetko exiled to Antarctica.
You need to give the pitch as you always do, because you’re better than me.
S: Stetko is a U.S. Marshal in Antarctica, in this town that in the on season has thousands of people, but in the off season only has a few hundred. There are areas of the continent where different countries’ scientific stations are located. She’s working at the American one.
G: There’s a map at the beginning of the second chapter.
S: She’s at McMurdo. She did something terrible, which got her this “plum” assignment at the ass end of nowhere, where she’s been for about four years. And she weirdly fits in even though the ratio of men to women is crazy, like 100:1. It’s worse in the off season. She gets treated really badly.
G: It’s worse than being a man working in a library.
S: Exactly. (laughing)
The story opens up with a murder on the ice. They can’t tell who it is because his face has been destroyed.
G: And they can’t do an autopsy until he thaws.
S: Which could be a long time!
G: It’s her and the Doctor she calls him Furry, the medical examiner. (He does not wear a tail.)
S: I used to work at a place where people did a season at McMurdo, and they all looked like that, all the guys grow beards, everyone looks even more heavyset than they are.
G: As they’re trying to get the body off the ice, he accidentally snaps one of the hands off the body. It seems like an idiot move.
S: It’s not really a locked room mystery, because people fly in and out, but it’s a small town, and someone there is a killer. So it’s a great claustrophobic mystery, made more intense by the fact that the weather outside can kill you really quickly.
Continue reading “Correction”

All By Myself

Alone by Chabouté. Translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger. Gallery 13, 2017. 368pp. 9781501153327.

The English translation of Chabouté’s graphic novel adaptation of Moby Dick is amazing for its pacing, its artistry, and its sense of time and place. Alone is the story of a deformed man living alone in a remote lighthouse, separated from all humanity, his only contact with the outside world the boxes of supplies dropped off by fishermen (though they never see him). A new deckhand on the boat thinks the man must be unhappy, but his boss would rather not think about it. Inside the lighthouse, the man flips open a beat-up dictionary at random, reading definitions and imagining  the outside world. These short looks into his mind are brilliant, and form the heart of the book, telling as much about this lonely soul as the expressions on his face. And then the deckhand secretly initiates contact.

For such a long book, it really is a quick read, with long sections that are wordless. But I’ve found myself flipping it open again and again after finishing it the first time (or was it the second)?

A Beginner’s Field Guide to Korean Fairy Tale Characters

Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim. Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch Books), 2017. 9781632170774. 96pp.

“Halmoni” is Korean for grandma. My daughter’s halmoni became everyone’s halmoni; she lived with us in Seattle for over 13 years, from just after my daughter was born until she passed away a few years ago. So when I saw this book I pretty much had to buy it for my family. But it’s so beautiful it probably belongs on your shelf, or at least your library’s, too.

Two kids, Joon and his noona (a word that means “older sister,” but only for boys) arrive at their grandma’s house, but they can’t find her. They climb out the window and start following animal tracks only to find a Korean-speaking, chocolate-loving rabbit who they can’t quite understand. (The Korean text is in hangul throughout, but if you can’t read it there’s a “What did they say?” section at the back.) But they do understand the word for “tiger” that the rabbit says, and then it gives them a back scratcher and wanders off. They also meet goblins, the tiger, and a white-haired, nine-tailed fox with a secret.

The Ink Panther

Panther by Brecht Evens. Translated by Laura Watkinson and Michele Hutchison. Drawn & Quarterly, 2016. 9781770462267. 120pp.

Gene: Evens is a Flemish graphic novelist, one of the two I’ve read books by, and he’s is the more upbeat. I love his The Making Of, which is the story of an artist who goes to a small town to help put together an art exhibition. Evens’ art, which I want to show you before starting to talk about this book, is see-through. He uses transparent inks or watercolors — I suspect he uses ink because I don’t see watercolor texture much, but that could just be the paper he uses.
Sarah: But yeah, you can see through things.
G: When I first looked at his art, it looked insane. It was visually difficult to make sense of, it was hard to tell what was happening. But then I fell in love with it. It adds a level that I don’t know how to explain, but it’s beautiful in the way it shows bits of a scene that would normally be hidden behind other bits.
The other thing that Evens does, each character has a different color. There are no word balloons in his comics —
S: Oh! Their words are spoken in a matching color.
G: So I love his art but it took me a few tries to fall in love with it. But when it clicks, you’ll agree he’s a genius.
This book is creepy as shit. There’s another book Drawn & Quarterly put out called Beautiful Darkness, which is all the little cartoony creatures that live in and around this little girl’s dead body in the woods (which isn’t overly emphasized or gory). Very strange but creepy, and it’s kind of a kids book about darker things, so it reminds me of this book.
So back to Panther. Here’s the girl Lucy trying to get her cat to cheer up.
S: The scene — things are see-through, so you see through her legs. It’s almost like a cutaway where things are still there. It’s this weird flattened almost Escher-esque feeling to tesselations and stairs.
G: You look at it and ask yourself, “What’s going on there?”
She goes to her room to cry alone for a bit and out of her drawer comes a magical panther.
S: It’s terrifying! It’s wearing a suit jacket and a bow tie.

Continue reading “The Ink Panther”