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Tuesday, February 17, 2004


Short, Sharp Shocks -- Now shorter and sharper than ever -- this week, at least. Valentine's Day and a coincidental three-day weekend ate into my writing time a bit, but here's a brief rundown of recent comics and whether they were any damned good at all.

James Kochalka's Sketchbook Diaries Volume Four -- You probably already know that The Sketchbook Diaries represent some of the most entertaining and enlightening autobiographical cartooning ever. In this volume, we see the next chapter begin in Kochalka's development as an artist and as a human being -- he and his wife Amy decide to have a baby. The year's worth of strips here also include a trip to the San Diego Comicon and numerous rock concerts. Kochalka's fame is odd and endearing and highly personal, and in this bargain-priced volume (eight bucks for a year's worth of daily cartoons), you get to feel what it's like to be James Kochalka, Superstar from the inside out. Vital work from a talent that is expanding our view of comics and the universe year by year. Grade: 5/5

Monokuro Kinderbook -- This 202 page graphic novel by Kan Takahama caught my eye with its elegant and understated design and won me over with its intriguing and autobiographical tales of life in Japan. The book features ten black and white tales of varying lengths, focusing on the enderly, artists, young lovers, children, a bartender -- real people, in other words. The stories are told in the kind of sideways, oblique way that we figure out the stories around us -- observation is rewarded as the details begin to fill themselves in, and it pays to study the details. Takahama is part of something called the "Nouvelle Manga" movement, according to a text piece, and is scheduled to have a piece in the next Comics Journal Winter Special. Her style strongly evokes David Mazzucchelli's in its deceptive simplicity and elegance of design -- and if you appreciate the aesthetic of Paul Hornschemeier, you'll feel at home here, too. This is a beautiful book from a talent that I want to read more from. You can view an untranslated preview of the artwork here. Grade: 5/5

Chosen #1 -- Mark Millar and Peter Gross deliver a current-day take on Christian mythology that wouldn't be at all out of place among such revered Vertigo titles as Sandman and Preacher. This looks to be the highlight of the Millarworld experiment, a thoughtful and intriguing extrapolation of the Jesus story with the best artwork I've ever seen Peter Gross deliver. Chosen should prove once and for all if Millar is in it to shock and awe or if he has higher creative goals -- the first issue indicates the latter by way of an unexpectedly compelling opening salvo. Grade: 4.5/5

Hard Time #1 -- Ugly, irrelevant, and made redundant by much better, similarly-themed books like Demo or even NYX. A pair of high school nerds shoot up the school, and one of them manifests superpowers during the Columbine-like events. Writer Steve Gerber's attempts at sociopolitical commentary are painful and embarrassing, as in the overweight African-American talk show hostess named "Opina," ha-ha-ha. Brian Hurtt's artwork is too simple for the obvious gravity meant to be implied by the plight of the characters, and it's absolutely crippled by the ghastly colour scheme. I just have no need or desire (or even ability) to read a full-length comic about blue people whose lives are occasionally brightened by outbursts of red. Based on Hard Time #1 and a handy preview of other titles in the back of the issue, I will be uniformly avoiding all future DC Focus titles. Grade: 0/5

Coup D'Etat #2: Stormwatch -- Not as good as the Sleeper story that preceeded it, but better than I had imagined. This second chapter of a four-issue crossover involves Stormwatch defying the Authority's, well, authority. As a sampler, it gives a good sense of what Stormwatch is about these days, although Micah Wright's characters have proven too ugly inside and out for me to manage to stay interested them very long. Grade: 3.9/5


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