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Sale's art -- moody, mannered and effectively idiosyncratic for the superhero work he's mostly known for -- is extremely well showcased in this hardcover, which seems to mimic the size and presentation of Sale's Marvel collaborations Daredevil: Yellow, Spider-Man Blue and Hulk: Gray. The book has a linear throughline that covers Sale's artistic career (I hesitate to say development, because he doesn't seem to have evolved much at all over the years) quite extensively in both pictures and words. The backbone and key appeal of the book, I found, was the book-length interview conducted by Active Images honcho Richard Starkings.
There's a pleasantly conversational tone to the discussion which reveals a great deal about Sale's personality and approach to comics. He returns repeatedly to his theories about the art of Barry Windsor-Smith, with a ridiculously inverted belief that Windsor-Smith's best work was in the earliest days of his career -- Windsor-Smith's evolution into a true artist seems to aggravate Sale to no end, and this occupies a disproportionate amount of what was presumably meant to be a personal reminiscence. Sale also seems to share alleged author Clifford Meth's contempt for Windsor-Smith's name, repeatedly calling him "Barry Smith," a name that the artist changed decades ago and that anyone who knows his work well understands. It's telling that the book's endpapers are a clear BWS "homage" (and interestingly one of his more visually appealing pieces). Windsor-Smith isn't the only artist Sale weighs in on, it should be noted, but he does seem to discuss BWS more than any other influence, and in ways that will make little sense to most observers of the man's career as an artist.
I was amused by some sideways revelations about Sale and his frequent collaborator Jeph Loeb, who is revealed as a writer who likes to steal whole bits from movies and doesn't like to read. None of that is any surprise to anyone who's read Loeb's comics, but it's still funny to see his close colleague state it right out in the open anyway. Visually, Black and White is a lush, eye-pleasing production that some minor typos ("Spider-man") do nothing to interfere with. Fans of his art and interested comics industry observers should enjoy this for the reams of pretty pictures, the unintentionally revealing interview, or both. Grade: 4/5
Freedom Fries: The Political Art of Steve Brodner
Just in time for September 11th Year Three and Election Day 2004 (promising a second consecutive presidential contest that will do more harm to America than a dozen 9/11s), political cartoonist Steve Brodner is spotlighted in this massive retrospective that presents his devastatingly insightful art in an unquestionably impressive manner.
Brodner provides a running commentary on each of his powerful illustrations, citing his artistic inspirations and weighing in on the sleazy Democratic dirtbags and swaggering Republican traitors that have been his mission to document for decades.
Seeing them all brought properly to light in this gorgeous, essential volume is somehow imminently more satisfying than the prospect of pulling the lever this November in our latest national day of futility. Grade: 4.5/5
In The Shadow of No Towers
Although tragically hijacked for cynical political purposes almost immediately, no event in my lifetime looms larger or more portentiously over America than the attacks of September 11th, 2001. As Spiegelman notes in one of the ten strips collected here, it really was the beginning of Year Zero, a day that changed everything. For New York City resident and cartoonist Art Spiegelman, it was an intensely personal event that required this graphic novel, as out-sized as the moments and emotions it recounts, to begin to be something he could deal with.
There are only ten strips here, but they are presented in a manner I've never before seen in comics; each strip is given a two-page spread on thick, laminated slabs of cardboard. The effect is transcendent and transformative -- no longer comic strips, each of the ten pieces becomes its own riveting universe of emotion, information and illustration. Spiegelman's artistic skills are put to the test in such a revealing format, and he meets and exceeds expectations, with a vital first-person story told in vivid colours, powerful linework and evocative nods to generations of comics storytellers from Outcault to McManus to Herriman to Crumb to, well, Spiegelman.
More important than technique, though, is message. Spiegelman's story, revealed in the ten commandment-like tablets in In The Shadow of No Towers, is one that combines both his personal post-9/11 crisis with his cogent and timely observations about the sadistic glee with which centuries of alleged U.S. democracy were dismantled quite publicly. Not everyone who was in New York City on September 11th, 2001 has been able to process the events of that day and turn it into art that informs so concisely and even entertainingly. So in his way, Spiegelman is one of the lucky ones. In The Shadow of No Towers is an impressive, personal vision of what has happened to New York City, to America and to the world since those airplanes started crashing out of the sky on that bright, clear morning. We should never forget the tragedy that came after the tragedy, though, and Spiegelman's book is an important document in the effort to remember among all the media and government attempts to make us forget. Grade: 4.5/5
Lackluster World #1
A gothic tale of subversion and dissatisfaction, Lackluster World attacks hypocrisy, torpidity and hollow middle-class values with sardonic abandon.
The lead character is an albino newspaper writer named Fahrenheit Monahan; his life is one of reluctant participation in what he sees as a "lackluster world," a complaint any thinking person will sympathize with. Monahan's family's empty, pious vapidity grates on him and circumstances build up a frustration that erupts in a nicely-paced sequence that feels as paridigm-shifting to us as it does to Fahrenheit.
What follows requires just a bit of attention on the part of the reader, but we're richly rewarded with a delicious final sequence that promises a delightful and pointed mini-series to follow; seven or eight issues are expected to make up Lackluster World, and with this promising first issue, I'm ready for more. Grade: 4/5