Magickal Realism

Aleister & Adolf, story by Douglas Rushkoff, art by Michael Avon Oeming, lettering by Nate Piekos. Dark Horse Books, 2016. 9781506701042.

aleisterReader note: This book has a LOT of nudity and fucking in it, in addition to Satan worship*, murder, and Nazi atrocities. So, y’know, if any of those is a deal killer for you, give this one a pass.

A graphic artist in the early days of the web goes in search of the original paper files on the design of a corporate logo, after the digital files he needs to build a web page start to misbehave by refusing to stay put on the screen. He’s horrified to find images of torture and death that played a role in the logo’s development. He meets with an elderly man, now dying, who explains what it all means: in his youth, during World War II, he was tasked by American military strategists to recruit British magician Aleister Crowley because the Americans wanted to find a way to use Hitler’s interest in the occult against him. Instead of completing his mission and reporting back, as ordered, he ended up overwhelmed by Crowley’s ideas and in danger of losing himself to the powerful magicks at play. Crowley became obsessed with creating a symbol powerful enough to defeat the Nazis.

The story is based on real-life strangeness and occult beliefs during WWII, with a story of personal obsession and loss woven throughout. Crowley thinks the Nazis are adding power to the swastika through their horrifying medical experiments and mass murders. His efforts to create a rival symbol involve sex magick and sacrifice. This isn’t just a Hammer style occult horror story, it’s about the power of symbols and how they permeate of our lives. In the notes on his art at the end of the book, Oeming comments that while he usually sells his original cover art, he thinks he will burn the cover of Aleister & Adolf rather than unknowingly sell his depiction of Hitler to a neo-Nazi for any price. The symbols in this book are still powerful, generations later.

*a nerdy footnote: Aleister Crowley in the book (and probably in real life) would strenuously object to someone calling what he did Satan worship or black magic. Then he would give you a long-winded explanation as to why. But that’s what people who will want to steer clear of this book would call it, which is why I’m calling it out with those words.

Turn On Your Witchlight

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky. Czap, 2016.

witchlightContains material originally published in Witchlight #1 – #4 plus new material.

Sanja is visiting the market with her father and brothers when she accidentally confronts a witch, Lelek, who is dealing with an unhappy customer. Sanja awakens to find herself tied up in Lelek’s camp, though she doesn’t seem too concerned. Lelek wants Sanja to teach her to fight with a sword. Sanja agrees provided Lelek stops cheating people in different towns. They’re soon on the road together with Lelek challenging other witches to fights wherever they go for a share of the spectator’s fees.

The beginning of the story (the kidnapping) is a bit odd and abrupt, but the budding friendship (and perhaps more) between the two young women makes it very enjoyable, as does Zabarsky’s cheerful black and white (and somewhere in between) art.

I’ve picked up a few Czap books at small comics shows over the last few years (Seattle’s Short Run, and maybe SPX), and I was happy to be able to pledge to their Kickstarter.

Beware Cat Ladies

The Collected Cat Rackham by Steve Wolfhard. Koyama Press, 2016. 9781927668382.

catrackhamSarah: OK, I picked this book for you because of the shiny bits on the cover.
Gene: Ooooh! Cat Rackham!
S: All the rain falling on a dejected Cat Rackham is shiny.
G: It’s a beautiful use of spot gloss on the cover.
S: Falling on a completely sad lump of a cat wearing a green t-shirt.
G: I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but rain is something that a lot of cartoonists draw to show off their skills. Like in old Will Eisner graphic novels — it’s beautiful. Glorious parts of Sin City feature rain, too.
S: So Steve Wolfhard is an animator and for a while he drew comics and they became really popular. He eventually ended up back in animation and he’s one the artists with Adventure Time. You can definitely see some of his style reflected in Adventure Time now.
Continue reading “Beware Cat Ladies”

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spider

Black Widow Volume 1: S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee. Marvel, 2016. 9780785199755.

black-widow-1Contains Black Widow #1 – #6.

Many comics have borrowed the cinematic action style of comics that Darwin Cooke perfected in Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score. (In fact, some pages from Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye run may have one-upped it, though they feel a little grittier.) But only Waid and Samnee seem able to equal Cooke’s sense of fun despite this story’s life-or-death stakes.

The opening sequence is really all you need to hear about to know if you want to read it. Black Widow wades through S.H.I.E.L.D agents trying to stop her from leaving what appears to be an office building. After a fight she drops a bomb, blowing her out a window, which reveals that she’s falling from a helicarrier 40,000 feet in the air without a parachute. Does she panic? No. She has a plan. And those agents in flying cars and with rocket packs are part of it. It’s a ballet that ends perfectly and elegantly. And it’s all because someone is blackmailing her by threatening to reveal her secrets.

Understanding Israel

How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less by Sarah Glidden. Drawn & Quarterly, 2016. 9781770462533.

how-to-understand-isreal-in-60Emailing my new Israeli librarian pen pal (Hi Karen!) seems to be bringing a lot of books on her country into my orbit, or at least has me moving them to the top of my reading pile.

Glidden’s graphic novel memoir about her birthright tour to Israel is one of the best. At the beginning, she’s on the lookout for pro-Israel propaganda and evidence of the mistreatment of Palestinians. But as she learns more about Israel’s history and it’s people, she sees how complicated the situation is. It’s an awkward, upsetting, emotional journey, and luckily Sarah has her friend Missy along.

This is much more of a personal journey than Joe Sacco’s journalistic Palestine  and Footnotes in Gaza, and it lacks the funny moments of Delisle’s Jerusalem. In some ways I think Glidden took on the tougher job in making her uncertainty both inform and entertain. And I really enjoyed the way she characterized the people she met: other visitors, their guides, and the people they met and listened to along the way.

Between the above books, Sattouf’s The Arab of the Future, and Brigitte Findakly’s Coquelicots d’Irak (a graphic novel about growing up in Iraq that’s still only available in French), I’m becoming more and more interested in visiting the Middle East.

How to Use Pink to Draw the North

How To Survive In The North by Luke Healy. Nobrow, 2016. 9781910620069.

how-to-survive-in-the-northFor epic tales of icy climes that will make you feel the cold in your bones, read Leiber’s Whiteout or Bertozzi’s Shackleton. But for a beautifully rendered meditation on loneliness, bad choices, and survival, look no farther than How To Survive In The North.

There are three intertwined narratives. One begins in Nome, Alaska, in 1913 as explorer Robert Bartlett sets off on a scientific expedition to the arctic aboard The Karluk. (All does not go well.) The second begins in Nome in 1921 when young native Ada Blackjack signs on as seamstress for an expedition to claim Wrangel Island for Canada. (All does not go well.) The third, unlike the other two, is not based in fact. It involves a tenured professor in trouble with his school for having an inappropriate relationship with a student. On a forced sabbatical, he starts going through the papers of a former professor named Stefannson, learning about Bartlett and Ada Blackjack (via her diary) in the process. But he can’t get the student out of his mind. (All does not go well.)

There are two striking things about the way Healy drew this graphic novel. First, the colors — he uses a the washed out pink, yellow, and blue green that make up the aurora on the cover, along with white, to tell the stories. And somehow it totally works. Second, Healy creates the impression of maintaining a constant distance from is characters. Before taking another look just now, I could have sworn there were no drawings of them at a distance or close-up, that they were all framed as if seen from the same distance throughout. I would have been wrong, but somehow the work as a whole gives this impression — it feels like I’ve been watching an art film that I loved but that I can’t quite explain.

This is one of my favorite graphic novels from Nobrow, which is putting out some great books. Be sure to check out Luke Pearson’s Hildafolk books, Louis Roskosch’s Leeroy and Popo, and Marion Fayolle’s In Pieces.

Teen Cupid

Jonesy Volume 1, by Sam Humphries and Caitlin Rose Boyle. Boom! Box, 2016. 9781608868834.

jonesyHigh school student Jonesy has recently discovered her superpower: she can make people fall in love with anyone or anything she wants, a power she first discovered when the anime characters she shipped started a romance. The only catch? She can’t make anyone fall in love with her. This amazing power complicates her life a little as she has various adventures: clashing with a popular girl, writing a zine about her favorite band, helping out at her dad’s doughnut shop, and hating on the prom.

The colors in this graphic novel are hard-candy bright, the panels are crammed with motion, the faces are simple and expressive, and everyone feels things intensely — Jonesy especially, who is introduced giving her lists of things that RULE and things that SUCK.

I could booktalk this to teen readers by telling them how very old it makes me feel (in a good way). Back in my day, this kind of intense, girl focused, pop culture literate, queer- and minority-inclusive comic would never have been published. That SUCKED. Jonesy RULES. I’m going to be keeping my eye on Boom! Box, who also published Teen Dog, a similarly candy-colored but slightly more mellow high school story featuring (have you guessed?) a super cool teen dog and his friends.