Saturday, January 20, 2007

A couple of books I've read recently and haven't opined upon:

S: Dave Roman; A: Jason Ho, Roman, Raina Telgemeier, Jeff Zornow, Jen Wang. (Slave Labor, $10.95)

Four stories, augmented with a couple of text-with-illustration reference and diary excerpt-type pieces, about a young girl who functions kinda like TV's Ghost Whisperer, or Haley Joe Osment's Sixth Sense character in that she can (whispery tone here) "see dead people" and helps people both living and dead with any sort of ghostly or weird-type scrapes. It also reminds me a bit of the late, lamented Leave it to Chance, with its youthful adventurer angle. The first feature is drawn by Ho in a nice approximation of Jill Thompson's style, but the story itself didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Next up is an account of Agnes helping out the ghost of a little girl who's being pursued by an apparent monster; Raina Telgemeier's art makes it very charming and a little touching. The third tale starts out with a clever idea, as our heroine helps out a philandering young fellow who is cursed to be pursued by his zombie-fied ex-wives, something I'm surprised Boom! Studios' writer team didn't think of already. That story is grafted on to another, with Agnes getting involved with a race of underground dwellers who burn if exposed to sunlight- and it's OK but reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere...which may explain why the young man/underground dweller she encounters is named Niel (sic). It's passable, and well drawn by Zornow, whose style looks like Ian Gibson crossed with Duncan Fregredo. Roman himself writes and draws a tale of an encounter with a poltergeist, which is fast paced and not terribly predictable, and ends on an amusing note. Text pieces and an artist's gallery finish out the volume, with Jen Wang's art an unsurprising highlight of the former- her expressive faces are outstanding. But I've known that for a long time now. Agnes is a bit of a mixed bag; when the art and scripts are in sync, they're very involving even when the plot doesn't quite fit together like it should, and the lead character is likeable, with an underdeveloped but interesting supporting cast. I'd like to see more- I'm just a sucker for young-girl adventure tales I guess (cf. Alison Dare, Leave it to Chance, and others I can't remember offhand. A complete story illo'd by Wang would be nice, too... A-

S/A: R. Kikuo Johnson. (Fantagraphics, $12.95)

A major disappointment. Other than a few spot illustrations here and there, I had not been exposed to Johnson's work before, but I liked what I saw- he has a naturalistic, nicely inked, Paul Pope-meets-David Mazzuchelli style that just looks good to the eye as well as the mind, and if not for his art this would be a total disaster. A static, bone-dry (autobiographical?) account of a young high school kid in Hawaii, who lives with his well-meaning but distracted and ineffectual Dad, who falls in with the wrong kind of crowd and gets mixed up with drugs and crime, you'd think that this would be a lively narrative- but nothing could be farther from that than this. There's no cause, no effect, no moral, nothing. Things just happen for several pages, in a sort of ABC Afterschool Special kind of way, not especially interesting or exciting things, either...and then they just stop when the book stops. If I was supposed to experience some sort of epiphany or some sort of conclusion, well, I didn't. Perhaps this is just yet another instance in which I totally missed the point, (Nilsson to the contrary, sometimes things need a point, says I, otherwise why exist at all?) but, if there was one it was well hidden, obvious only to those whose intelligence and perception outstrip mine. Just because the protagonist is apathetic to the verge of being comatose in your account doesn't excuse a similar attitude by the author. Anyway, there are delights to be found in Johnson's artwork, as I said, despite his incongruous pretension towards reference-manual illustration work (the knot diagrams, for example, or the native flora) so it's worth getting if you're a fan of good art. That said, next time, I hope Johnson bothers to find a story to draw. C+

No comments: