Friday, 22 June 2012
Posted by emmetocuana at 11:00
When I decided to approach a number of Australian comic creators with a view to running a series of features on this site, I decided to ask Tim McEwen, who is an all round lovely chap and Supanova fixture, for advice on who to speak to. After laughing at my foolhardy scheme - Tim pityingly pointed out I only had two hours to run the gamut of Artists Alley - he provided me with a list of names and recommended books. So I'd just like to say thanks to Tim and everyone else I spoke to last weekend at Supanova for pointing me in the right direction. I hope you folks have a blast at Perth tomorrow.
On with the reviews!
Data Point and Pandeia by Paul Caggegi - Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that I have had an interest in since I first read The Difference Engine, but in all honesty its sudden popularity leaves me baffled. Perhaps it is because to me it feels like what could be a very interesting engagement with alternate history has been reduced to a faddish costume show. But at its heart is the notion of civilization heading down a different path circa the Victorian era, when so much potential in the forthcoming century was yet to be realized. What I enjoy about Paul Caggegi's work - and why I am presenting two examples of his writing in this review - is that he does touch on the steampunk aesthetic, but never shies away from the big, mad science fiction notions that are the bedrock of the genre.
Data Point feels like a more hopeful Jules Verne yarn, with a widower allowing his callous brother to catapult him into space as part of an ambitious experiment. He is not the pilot of this vessel per se but a human flash drive as it were, his life's experiences to be retained by a spaceship that can survive through the milennia. It's a wonderful premise for a story, with a hint of poetry in the narration. Pandeia is a current online comic by Caggegi set in a far-flung futuristic Earth orbited by the remnants of a decimated moon. Chapter 1: Selina introduces the three-man crew of the eponymous high-speed sandcrawler. Corben Wallace the navigator is a blind man who can see - courtesy of bionic eyes - and we quickly come to know him and his crew in the midst of an aerial assault. Caggegi delivers a mixture of high concepts and banter, but wisely keeps it all on a functional level. Consequenty the story proceeds very naturally, which is impressive given that it is set on a greatly altered Turkey
Australia. Nothing here feels unnecessary or overwrought.
Rocksalt by Mark Withington - Do you remember when comics were fun? I do. I think it was around the time the Berlin Wall fell. Thankfully I have just discovered the work of Mark Withington - and he knows very well what fun is. This story of brother and sister Kordan and Gabrielle who enjoy console gaming and quoting dialogue from movies like A Few Good Men and Pulp Fiction feels initially like a love letter to lazy, carefree summers spent eating pizza, watching DVDs and playing Mario Kart. Then one of the siblings while falling down drunk is approached by a dog who appears to have the voice of Samuel L. Jackson demanding to be let into their apartment building. It gets weirder from there.
While Kordan and Gabrielle befriend the new girl in the building Jackie, introducing her to their patented time-wasting antics, a parallel storyline emerges of our aforementioned talking dog (there's a very good reason for that rest assured) and a woman named Madison, with extraordinary abilities and a few skeletons in her closet. Possibly literal ones. The highlight of the first volume for me is when Kordan's rather unlikely guess as to her identity proves to be spot on - the expression on his face is priceless. With Madison's cover blown, and her three young neighbours exposed, the group are faced with deadly threats such as remote controlled war-robots, assassins and more high-tech military hardware than you can find outside of a PS3 title. Fusing pop culture, gaming, anime and that good old fashioned sense of fun I mentioned above, Withington serves up an effortlessly likable action fantasy that is extremely funny. A must-read.
Space Pyrates by Caitlin Major and Matthew Hoddy - And the fun doesn't stop. Space Pyrates is the story of a guy and girl so completely oblivious to the modern world and yet at the same time, unquestionably a product of it. Their adventure is kicked off by a mud-stained - and surprisingly reasonable - landlord demanding they pay rent. At first the two immediately assume he is a zombie, before proceeding to complete bafflement at the idea of paying rent at all -
"We have to pay to live here?"
"I know, right? Who'd a thought?"
That these two characters don't come across as obnoxious or infuriating is firmly down to the charm and humour invested by the creators of Space Pyrates.The title as it happens is not some Captain Beefheartian random assemblage of descriptors - they do make it out into space and do attempt to board a vessel looking for 'booty'. Of course by then they have already long forgotten the reason for setting off in the first place, which was finding a means to pay rent. The influence of the excellent Adventure Time is clearly alluded to and like Pendleton Ward's seminal show, Major and Hoddy get a lot of mileage out of exploring unexpected associations between a seemingly random series of ideas. Resented and hated by their own families, the two 'heroes' live lives free of consequence, laughing off trivial matters such as police arrest and threatening to rob a host while sitting down for a cup of tea. This is blissfully demented lark, up to its neck in lolcats, memes and internet humour, but all cleverly presented. Very entertaining.
Winter City by Patrick Purcell, Carl Purcell and Pablo Verdugo Munoz - My blogging colleague the Geek of Oz raved about this book a few weeks back, so it was definitely on my 'to read' pile already.
Opening in a city plagued by crime and gang violence, with worldweary cops fond of making pronouncements like 'Every day is just one step closer to Armageddon', this series could have been mistaken for a Frank Miller knock-off. However, co-writers Patrick and Carl Purcell deliver instead a story about an unstoppable masked vigilante working through a list of victims somehow connected together; and the cruel and unusual childhood of Sam Winters. Abandoned on a country road by his prostitute mother and her pimp, young Sam is adopted by his uncle Norman, a harsh disciplinarian whose treatment of the boy becomes increasingly excessive as the story progresses. With these events occurring in the past - and the tell-tale panel featuring Norman working in a barnyard smithy littered with gauntlets and armour similar to that worn by the blade-wielding 'crime-fighter' - it is clear that Sam will become the masked figure that identifies itself with 'Death'.
Given the obsession with sin that Death evidences, there's a point of comparison between Winter City and Paul Bedford's The List, both stories marrying righteous violence with nightmarish childhood trauma. I prefer to see the book as a sly pisstake on the tropes of the superhero origin. If Bruce Wayne had been raised on a farm just a few doors down from Leatherface's residence, perhaps this would have been the result. Certainly 'Death' similarly employs the criminal's fear of the supernatural to intimidate his targets, although he does not stop there, graphically murdering them for their crimes. The investigating police arrive after the deed is done, hopelessly in the dark as to the motives behind these deaths. So far their masked killer has encountered no real opposition capable of standing up to him - but then the point of this book is more likely the battle being endured within the psyche, with the suffering inflicted on Sam Winters in each issue increasing in its severity. This is a dark and disturbing fable that challenges the received wisdom of superhero comics that the costumed avengers can successfully maintain a civilian double-life without serious mental fatigue. The manga-influenced art from Munoz also introduces a welcome sense of variety to the proceedings - think a stripped back and grittier Joe Mads. With its willingness to tackle such dark material and excel in the attempt, we could be witnessing a very special book take shape - an Aussie battler capable of taking on the American superhero titles at their own game.
More to come folks, I'm only halfway through my haul. 'Tune in' again for work from Paul Mason, Bruce Mutard, Paul Bedford and others.
Labels: Australian Comics, Caitlin Major, Carl Purcell, Comics, Data Point, Mark Withington, Matthew Hoddy, Pablo Verdugo Munoz, Pandeia, Patrick Purcell, Paul Caggegi, Rocksalt, Space Pyrates, Supanova, Winter City |