Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire

Lost-Dogs-Jeff-Lemire_001Top Shelf Productions published a remastered version of Jeff Lemire’s Lost Dogs in June 2012.  Chris Ross re-lettered the book and helped Lemire repackage it.  This is a powerful short story of a graphic novel using three colors and a brush.

Timothy Callahan reflects in his introduction on the first time he saw the Lost Dogs at a comic show.  He walked away without buying it.  He writes:

And before long, I returned.  The glimpses of imagery haunted me through the rest of the day at the MoCCA art festival.  Before I left for home, I stopped at Lemire’s booth and bought a copy of Lost Dogs, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made (at a comic book show, at least).

That’s the kind of book Lost Dogs is.  It’s haunting, and it sticks with you. If you’re familiar with Lemire’s work, you will not be disappointed. Lost Dogs is his first work, and he is finding his style and voice. You’ll see how his work has evolved and become more refined without losing any of the power or rawness.

I came to the book from Lemire’s most recent graphic novel, The Underwater Welder.  The artwork in Lost Dogs is certainly rawer, but the power of the story and even some underlying themes remain the same.  The book has Lemire’s signature full page panels that stun you with their ability to capture crucial story elements.  I just linger on those pages.  And the text is kept to the bare essentials. Not one word is unnecessary.

Lost-Dogs-Jeff-Lemire_041Lost-Dogs-Jeff-Lemire_019Lost-Dogs-Jeff-Lemire_014
Callahan’s introduction really captures the work well:

Lost Dogs is rough, it is raw as hell, but it’s rough like a bareknuckle fist fight and raw like a rusty knife into your gut.  Lemire’s artistic style has tightened up since he first worked on this book, but the grammar, the fundamental storytelling elements, remain the same as what you might see in the Essex County comics, or in his work for Vertigo.  He’s a true cartoonist, in the sense that his words and his pictures flow from the same source.

If you’re a Jeff Lemire fan, do yourself a favor and pick this up.  You’ll read it through it one sitting and then want to read it again.

Doctor Who: The Dave Gibbons Collection

P00006I’m a latecomer to Doctor Who.  My 11-year-old son turned me on to the television series a few months ago, and we have been steadily making our way through the Netflix collection. When I saw Doctor Who: The Dave Gibbons Collection, I couldn’t pass it up.  I mean Dave Gibbons, artist of Watchmen and Superman: “For the Man Who Has Everything,” and Doctor Who together in comics?  How could you go wrong?

Since I’m no expert, my insight into how these stories relate to older episodes of the series will be admittedly limited.  The collection mainly focuses on the Tom Baker incarnation of the Doctor, with a few stories towards the end that include the Peter Davison incarnation, including one of my favorites in the collection “The Tides of Time.”   Sharon and K-9 are the Doctor’s companions for several stories, but most of the time he travels alone in these stories and meets people along the way.

Naturally, Dave Gibbons’ artwork lives up to his reputation.  The colors and detail are superb throughout the collection.  From what I can tell, he captured Tom Baker’s manic grin and personality perfectly, but I’m going on very limited knowledge of Baker.  Gibbons’ vision of creatures, space vehicles, and intergalactic communities completely drew me into the stories.
P00032P00024P00015
The book opens with several multi-part stories that I really enjoyed- “The Iron Legion,” “The City of the Damned,” and “The Star Beast.”  “The City of the Damned,” which has Orwellian themes, is probably my favorite of the collection.  The citizens of the city are controlled and programmed to be emotionless, but there is a gang of rebels, who each exhibit one emotion, fighting the controllers. There is a quirky ending befitting the Doctor.

“The Tides of Time” runs a close second.  It shows a side of the Doctor I haven’t seen in the latest seasons of the television series.  There are massive powers at play in the universe.  The Doctor is mainly along for the ride and is just as confused as everyone else.  The story takes some really bizarre turns, but is visually stunning.
P00049P00086P00271
There are several other stories in the collection where the Doctor seems to just be along for the ride without contributing much, but they are one-off, quick stories that seem to end as soon as they really begin.  There also seems to be a lot more Star-Wars-like space battles and lasers in these older stories, but that may be natural in the older stories and incarnations of the Doctor.

Overall, the collection is just as compelling as the television series.  Anyone who is a fan of the show and likes comics will certainly enjoy this book.
P00201 P00255 P00323

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

uww1Jeff Lemire’s The Underwater Welder is a powerful example of how graphic novels / comics can be just as artistic, important, and poignant as traditional literature.  The story follows Jack, an underwater welder for an oil rig.  Jack and his wife are expecting their first child, but Jack is struggling with issues from his own childhood and his relationship with his father.

Jack feels an overwhelming need to be alone, and the only place he can find the peace and quiet to deal with his thoughts is underwater welding at work.  The story takes some surreal and unexpected turns as Jack deals with his past and ultimately tries to answer that nagging human question, “Who am I?”  In the introduction to the book, Damon Lindelof describes it as “the most spectacular episode of the Twilight Zone that was never produced,” and that describes the book perfectly.

Lemire’s art is simplistic and raw, which really captures the isolation in the story and Jack’s state of mind.  Lemire uses large panels liberally with minimal text, which also highlights the internal contemplative aspects of the story.  I had an English professor who said that in good literature everything is there for a purpose.  Nothing is superfluous.  The craftsmanship and vision displayed in The Underwater Welder is the perfect combination of writing and art to create a powerful story.  It is good literature.

bar divedeep

I highly recommend The Underwater Welder.   The book is over 200 pages, but reads very quickly.  And then you will want to read it again to figure out how Lemire captured so much story and emotion with black and white simplicity and sparse text.

I seriously doubt there will be a better graphic novel released in 2012. The Underwater Welder is published by Top Shelf Productions.

intruckleavehello

RASL: Volumes 1-3 by Jeff Smith

I was turned on to Jeff Smith’s RASL by The Best American Comics of 2011.  RASL is much different than Smith’s famous masterpiece, Bone.  Where Bone is a epic lighthearted fantasy adventure, RASL is a dark and gritty sci fi noir.  RASL, the main character, is a hard drinking art thief with a mysterious past.  His girlfriend is a prostitute, but he has another girl’s name tattooed on his arm.  There’s time jumping, a history lesson on Tesla, a government conspiracy, and a bad guy who looks like a lizard (think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) chasing RASL across parallel timelines.  Of course, RASL is not his original name, and I’ve yet to figure out what it means.

The overriding theme is the need to make things right with the past, but the harder RASL tries the higher the cost to himself.  There is some Native American imagery regarding life being a maze, and the time jumping lends to the theme.  There is the recurring image of a pebble being dropped in water and the resultant ripples.  It reads like a blend of Raymond Chandler, Hunter S. Thompson, and LOST. Good, dark  fun all around.

The series is steeped in mystery, and Smith is a master of cliffhangers.  I don’t want to give away much of the plot because the mystery of it all is what drives the series.   Rumors are circulating on the interwebs that the series will come to an explosive conclusion in 2012 or 2013.  Issues 1-11 have been collected in three volumes.

Rasl-01 RASL-02 rasl-03

RASL-04 RASL-05 rasl-6

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: A Graphic Novel

DADOES-cover-CopyLike most people these days, I came to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Philip K. Dick through Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner.  I knew the film was based on the book and always had it on my to-be-read list, but that list grows faster than I keep up with it.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep kept its spot as other books piled on.  Then I stumbled onto this comic adaptation by Tony Parker and BOOM! Studios. It’s word for word from the book with panel-to-panel continuity.  I couldn’t resist.

If you like Blade Runner, you really owe it to yourself to read the book or comic.  Both the film and novel are excellent, but they are really two different animals (pun intended).  The film is very character driven and its thematic focus is very narrow. It’s good, but it’s narrow. The novel is idea driven and is much more complex than the film.  Philip K. Dick was as much philosopher as storyteller.  There are some crucial scenes and ideas in the novel that make it superior to the film, because they add so much more depth and meaning to the story.

For example, one crucial element in the novel is Mercerism, a religion that uses technology to give people a sense of connectedness.  People can plug in and feel connected physically and spiritually to Mercer (and all humanity as a result) as he eternally struggles up his hill, like Sisyphus.  As his invisible persecutors throw rocks at him, everyone connected feels the pain.  They actually bruise and bleed.  This is a human need that androids do not understand.  The film doesn’t have enough time to develop this idea, and it is too far removed from Dekker’s primary mission.

DADOES-1-dial-emotions-Copy DADOES-3-VK-Rachael-Copy DADOES-8-mercer1-Copy

The Mercer idea also leads to Buster Friendly, a media personality constantly broadcasting on TV and radio.  Everyone loves him.  Everyone watches.  He has a cast of silly characters that join him similar to variety show and late night TV.  The idea of Mercerism and Buster Friendly are just two examples of Philip K. Dick’s prescience.  They also contribute to the development of Deckard’s character and the difference between humans and androids.

DADOES-5-dust-Copy DADOES-7-cover-13-Copy DADOES-10-cover-21-Copy

I’m not sure if the comic adaptation now constitutes a third animal in addition to the film and traditional novel.  It includes everything in the novel, and readers who know the film will recognize elements of it in the comic as well.  Tony Parker’s illustrations are brilliant and flow seamlessly with the text.  I had to keep reminding myself that I was actually reading a novel that was written in 1968.  Everything fits and looks perfect in this adaptation.

Parker’s illustrations also illuminate Dick’s underlining themes and the bigger questions at play.  What does it mean to be human?  If the androids are more than human, what does that mean?  What is empathy and why do we have it? Deckard feels like he is increasingly becoming dehumanized by the hunt for the escaped androids.  During Deckard’s internal monologue, Parker often illustrates him imagining that he is killing the androids.   By the time that moment comes in reality, Deckard has already done it in his mind repeatedly.   There is a sense of anti-climax.  It doesn’t mean that much anymore. He has lost some of that empathy.

In addition to the great adaptation, the comics also include an essay at the back of each issue by the likes of Warren Ellis, Jonathan Letham, James Blaylock, TimPowers, etc. The essays are very different from one another.  Some discuss the book and film from an academic perspective.  Some discuss Philip K. Dick in general.  Some are like memoirs. I found all of them illuminating after reading the respective issue.

In short, the comic adaptation is fantastic.  I loved every second of it.  I managed to use the internet machines to track down all 24 issues of it, but BOOM! has issued 6 volumes that collect the whole series.  I will close with a quote from Gabriel McKee’s essay at the end of issue 21:

Dick’s universes have shaky walls and insubstantial foundations.  But throughout it all—and this is where I think many of Dick’s academic admirers get him wrong—he never abandons hope that an authentic ultimate reality exists.  At the core of all of that anxiety… there is a faith that something real is hidden beneath the veil, and that it can and will break through that veil to help us.  And it is that hope, more that the surface anxiety, that gives his stories such power.

The Best American Comics of 2011 edited by Alison Bechdel


coverThe Best American Comics 2011
is the first comic anthology I’ve read.  It convinced me that the comic medium is not well suited for “best of” anthologies, unless the comic is intentionally written to be ingested as a very short piece, like David Lasky’s six-panel “The Ultimate Graphic Novel.”  An excerpt from a graphic novel just doesn’t do the work justice.  What this anthology did was show me I need to get these graphic novels and read them in their entirety.

Comic fans will be familiar with the best, and most obvious, selections: an excerpt from Joe Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza and Chris Ware’s Jordan W. Lint to the Age 65.  Joe Sacco is a master of investigative journalism in the comic medium.  His excerpt in the anthology details a massacre of Palestinian men by the Israelis in 1956. He then questions the reliability of memory when trying to discover the facts of the event.  Chris Ware is doing some of the most stylistically imaginative work in comics while examining the sad mess people make of their lives.

sacco1 sacco2 ware

There are some great surprises in this anthology too.  Angie Wang’s short piece “Flower Mecha” is artistically beautiful and strange.  Pollen is ruining a woman’s picnic and she fights it off in a hallucinatory mix of art deco and manga.  Michael Defarge’s “Queen” is even stranger.  A black glob of a creature walks through a strange alien world picking up pieces of mushrooms, flora, and landscape to turn itself into a freakish woman.  Both of these pieces are surprisingly interesting, but I’m not sure they are the best of the past year.  Looking at the notable mention list at the end of the anthology makes me wonder if there isn’t something better that tells a story using the full capabilities of the comic medium.

flower-mech1 flower-mecha2 Queen1

The mix of history and memoir in “Little House in the Big City” by Sabrina Jones was intriguing.  The mix of history and fictional mystery in “The Mad Scientist” excerpt from RASL by Jeff Smith made me immediately want to read the entire series.  “Winter,” an excerpt from Refresh, Refresh by Danica Novgodorrodov, Benjamin Percy, and James Ponsoldt has a great abstract watercolor dream sequence in the middle, but the excerpt simply doesn’t give enough of the story to stand on its own.  It’s another one I want to read in its entirety.  Kate Beaton’s take on The Great Gatsby is hilarious.

Alison Bechdel is the guest editor for this year’s anthology.  She mentions in her introduction that there is a metafiction theme in many of the selections.  The best example would be “Pet Cat” by Joey Alison Sayers.  Sayers documents the history of a comic strip in its many incarnations until finally God takes over the writing of the strip.  The satire comments on how artists are disrespected and exploited.

great-gatsby pet-cat winter

The anthology was an interesting read, and it pointed me to some works that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.  I do have a gripe, and I’m sure I’ll get ripped by someone for it, because Bechdel is well respected as a writer and artist.  The problem is there’s no hiding her subjectivity or agenda in this anthology.  Many of the chosen selections highlight an obvious feminist and gay perspective.  “Flower Mecha” and “Queen” are perhaps overt feminist symbolism.  Other selections, like “Manifestation” by Gabrielle Bell (which opens the book) and “Weekends Abroad” by Eric Orner, are manifestly feminist and gay, respectively.  Again, I look at the list of notable mentions and wonder if there isn’t quite a few on that list that are better comics overall.  When the subjectivity is so obvious, I think we have to question is this really an anthology of the best comics in 2011?  I understand that an anthology of this sort with a guest editor will never completely escape subjectivity, but I’d like to see some semblance of trying to find a true “best” based on the quality of the work and not some other criterion.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are quite a few selections in this anthology that deserve to be here.