Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Time now to dig into the reading stack for a look at some titles I've received lately.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Thanks to the generosity of Brett Warnock at Top Shelf, I was finally able to read two of the most-talked-about books of the last two years, and it's certainly easy to see why; both are very good and very thought-provoking. And it's going to be extraordinarily difficult to say anything about them that hasn't already been eloquently said elsewhere. But I've never let that stop me before, so I'll give it a shot anyway. It's hard to really criticize something like BLANKETS (although I'm sure that won't stop some); when the creator lays as much personal stuff as this on the line for people to see, it almost feels churlish to take shots at it. As I'm sure that most of you reading this are familiar with the story, I'll just try to do it in a nutshell: Blankets is the autobiographical story of Thompson's childhood and early adulthood, his experiences growing up in Wisconsin with his aggressively religious parents; sharing a room with his brother; and his first love, who he meets at a Bible camp of some sort and eventually goes and visits for a couple of weeks, and gets involved with her family, who has problems of their own. It also documents his struggles with the religion he was raised with, and his eventual rejection of its teachings, and there's also significant time spent describing his love for drawing. Quite a bit to stuff in, even though it's darn near 600 pages long! I found myself relating to a lot, not all, of what Thompson was going through; I, too, was raised in a very religious household, father was a deacon in a country Fundamentalist Southern Baptist church (easily the most volatile, dare I say virulent, strain of organized religion there is, if you ask me)...but luckily for me my folks had a sense of perspective about it, and weren't fanatical. They actually realized early on that I had a great intellectual curiosity about the world, and actually encouraged me to read and explore, thank God. Of course, there were times they thought I went a bit too far (my Dad wasn't too happy with me when I brought home a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita to read when I was 16, to name an example), but by and large they were tolerant and caring. Thompson wasn't so lucky. When Thompson finally gets around to asking some hard questions about his faith, and gets no satisfactory answers, that was where I was most in tune with the whole story because I certainly have been down that road. His relationship with his brother was uncharted territory for me as well, being an only child. I must confess that I didn't really understand a lot of his motivations or reasons for many of the decisions he made, especially when it came to his relationship with the person that would seem to be his soulmate, Raina (who admittedly had seemed, inexplicably, to cool on the relationship as well), but hey- it's his life, not mine, and he's simply laying it out there for the reader, make of it what you will. Art-wise, Blankets is thrilling. At first impression, Thompson's art took a little getting used to- it's so loose and sloppy that I didn't care for it at first. But the more I looked at it, the more I began to see Will Eisner in his inking line and storytelling approach, along with other artists like Marc Hempel and Jerry Grandenetti (not an influence, I'd be willing to bet, but many of the full-page, expressionistic layouts reminded me of JG's work a lot). The amount of work that he must have put in on illustrating this book is astounding. I especially liked many of the idealized portraits of Raina he would put in at odd times, fanciful and moody and detailed and often brilliant. While I suppose people will judge Blankets for how they relate to what Thompson is giving them, for my part I was mostly empathic, captivated and especially impressed by his artwork. I don't know how much Thompson has embellished or left out of his life story here, but I do know that I was impressed by what I read and will look forward to what he puts out in the future. A

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usCARNET DE VOYAGE was Thompson's follow-up release to Blankets, but it's no sequel although we get several Raina references. Voyage is basically an illustrated tour diary, done while Thompson was doing a book promotion jag in Spain, Morocco, France, and the Alps, and it's absolutely fascinating. As with Blankets, Thompson doesn't hesitate to let us in on his internal thought processes; he is by now in an on-again, off-again relationship with a girl in the States and we get to share his feelings over that as they talk on the phone at odd times; most of the time he feels lonely and out of place, and has a nagging hand pain problem which I'm sure wasn't helped by the constant drawing he was compelled to do. He encounters interesting people, some benevolent, others not so; we get caricatures and art of and by other artists like Mike Allred, and several pages of outstanding renditions of buildings and scenery in the places he visits, along with lots of drawings of the people he encounters during his trip. Fascinating, and very enjoyable, and I had two impressions when I had finished it- one, I was annoyed that it was over; I wanted it to continue! two, I felt ashamed because Thompson, the space of what- three months? has done more artwork than I have done in the last thirty years, and that's not including stuff that I'm sure was left out of the final publication. And this is not (for the most part) hacked-out, hurried work, but painstaking and skillfully rendered art. Carnet De Voyage is not an epic like Blankets, but it's every bit as impressive and is actually more entertaining. I think Top Shelf needs to send Thompson back out on tour ASAP. I hope his hand is better. A

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usI've seen James Kochalka's work here and there for what seems like ages, and have always enjoyed it, but have never been moved to buy. I had hoped to get a chance to get something f his someday, and finally realized my ambition in that regard when I received MAGIC BOY & THE ROBOT ELF and MONKEY vs. ROBOT &. THE CRYSTAL OF POWER. Of the two, I liked Magic Boy the least; while it was certainly as whimsical and odd as you would expect, the story had the feel of something personal which Kochalka had worked out on paper, and I just didn't get it. Maybe it was no more than a simple fantasy story, but I kinda doubt it. Image Hosted by ImageShack.usCrystal of Power, one of a series of "Monkey vs. Robot" tales, was a heck of a lot of fun- the information-gathering Robots need the titular object to revive their Mother Computer, because a monkey that they kidnapped destroyed her power crystal as he made his escape. The robots find a new one, but it's deep in the jungle and sacred to the monkeys. And the fight is on! Not exactly Landmark Fiction, but a hoot and a half just the same. Magic Boy: B, Monkey vs. Robot & The Crystal of Power: A.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usUNMARKETABLE, by Tom Hart, is the second collection of stories about his character Hutch Owen, a idealistic, philosophy-spouting homeless bum who gets mixed up with corporate greed and idiocy. Kinda like an urban Mr. Natural, I suppose. I'd seen Hart's work only once before, on his Kamandi story for DC's first issue of Bizarro Comics. That story was enjoyable enough, but his crude art style doesn't quite yank my crank...it was tolerable on the Kamandi story since its difference made it fit in, but sadly, a whole book full of it just became too much after a while. Mostly Owen goes from one situation to another, getting taken advantage of or taking advantage of others, pops off a few high-toned diatribes, things blow up , etc., etc. There were occasional laughs here and there, a lot of Dilbert-style jokes at the expense of the drones of the Worner Corporation and their boss (which (I suspect) is not quite the way Hart intended for this to be perceived), and several references to the events of 9/11 which kinda seem out of place even that terrible event provides a lot of the impetus for what happens after the first story. I think perhaps this is just humor that doesn't work on a consistent basis for me, and I must be in the minority, judging by the glowing praise reproduced on the cover and inside. For them that likes, I guess. C+

More later, including some manga and the latest from AiT/PlanetLar...

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