Saturday, November 15, 2003


By Gilbert Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphics Books

On page 521 of this 522 page book, there are four panels that serve to sum up the power, grace and glory of Gilbert Hernandez's accomplishment. Luba, the lead character of Palomar the book and Palomar the village, has announced she is leaving for the United States. The entire village seems to move as one as it gathers together to see Luba off to the next stage of her long, storied life. In these four, silent panels, after spending hundreds of pages with these people, the reader is moved to quiet awe at the import of the moment.

Yes, part of it is that you recognize virtually every one of the unique inhabitants of the village and smile at your secret knowledge of their secret passions and weaknesses. Yes, part of it is the recognition of an exciting, worthwhile journey reaching its conclusion. Certainly, a good part of it is the pleasure you take in having been led to this moment so confidently and pleasurably by one of the most skilled storytellers ever.

Mostly, though, it's the powerful realization that you know these people. The ultimate achievement of Palomar as a collection is that having all these stories together, in order, after decades of serialization, truly feels like coming home. Palomar is a fitting monument to the decades Gilbert Hernandez has spent creating his stories. At just under forty dollars, it would be a bargain at twice the price, a durable collection of some of the best comics ever created.

I've been reading Love and Rockets (the original home of most of these stories) since the first Fantagraphics issue in the early 1980s. It would be fair to say that the series redefined what I thought comics could be, with its peculiar blend of smooth, eye-pleasing cartooning and wild, unpredictable and utterly convincing characters -- especially the women.

It was revelatory to me to read all these stories again, truly as if for the first time, and realize how many of these women I had a crush on at one time or another. The men in Gilbert's stories are sometimes driven to madness and the depths of despair by their passion for the women of Palomar -- and those emotions are accepted and sympathized with by the reader because Hernandez so masterfully depicts the complexity of human relationships and the power and unattainable grace that men see in the women they desire. Just another reason why these stories are so compelling and unforgettable.

Palomar is not a single story, although it feels that way by the end. It is composed of almost a dozen smaller tales broken down further into chapters, each of which showcases on a specific set of characters at a specific time in the village's history. Themes and events recur and resonate, revelations come sometimes subtly, sometimes with the impact of a hammer to the head. Like a symphony in ink and paper, Palomar dazzles with its deft variations between the large and the small, the quiet and the loud, the beautiful and the hideous. It's about lives lived, not always well, but always with passion, hope, and a sense of humour.

The people of the village of Palomar become real through these stories. Like other great literature, once you close the book, you find yourself wondering what they're doing now, what has become of the families and friends and rivals and enemies of this legendary little place with its strange statues, fried slugs and defiant, one-armed children. The good news is, there's more stories out there waiting to be collected. After reading this volume, you'll be hungry for more. Grade: 5/5

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Around the Web -- Here's some highlights from the past day or so on the computer internet:


Demo #1
By Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan
Published by AiT/PlanetLar

"Hey, ever get this weird feeling that you're different somehow? That you have something special, an ability or trait or defect of some kind that sets you apart from everyone else?"

This quote from Demo #1 is featured on the back cover of the issue, and if it suggests not-so-subtly that this is a book about mutants, well, it is. Brian Wood was the original writer tapped to write Marvel's NYX, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that Demo is a retooled version of his concepts for that book (the story in this first issue is titled "NYC," FYI). Given how many creators Marvel has recently screwed over with its humiliating Epic "Program," good for Wood and Cloonan for retaining ownership of this book and doing it their way.

I'm dubious as to whether I need any mutant-based comics in my life, but Demo #1 is a beautiful package. Cloonan's artwork is visceral and human, with chaotic lines intersecting as a visual representation of the peril and uncertainty the two lead characters face. Wood's story involves two teenagers, a boy and a girl. The girl has some sort of powerful mental ability that is being suppressed with drugs, and they flee their lives for freedom in the big city. The key of the story is the bond between Marie and Mike, two outcast loners who have bonded over, one presumes, their disaffection from society, their otherness, their "defects."

Wood has attempted to build an alternative comics career on characters such as this, castoff, misunderstood -- and while my instincts tell me I'd rather see him further develop the raw, unfocused political outrage of such works as Channel Zero, I have to admit that Demo made for an entertaining if lightweight read. Demo is planned as a series of 12 standalone stories, and no themes are really developed or explored in this first issue. It remains to be seen if we'll see these characters again -- certainly, their story has just begun by the time the last page arrives. It's a compliment to the strength of the artwork and characterization that I would like to see where Mike and Marie's story goes next.

The key appeal of the series for me, so far, looks to be Cloonan's art. She has a striking style that makes terrific use of the potential of black and white illustration, and has a couple of standout moments here, including a striking scene when Marie's powers manifest themselves.

Wood still has a lot to prove as far as I am concerned, with his best work, Channel Zero, not saying much more than "Shit sucks, man!" (albeit with excellent production design) and his worst, Pounded, being one of the most pointless, disappointing stories I've ever read. Demo is a good chance for him to develop his writing skills, and this first issue reads better than anything I've seen from him before, integrating the stark outsider-chic of Channel Zero within the context of a more human and humane story.

The last 12-issue series planned as a dozen related but separate stories that I tried (Global Frequency) ultimately turned out to be a creative failure, ambitious but deeply flawed. Wood and Cloonan bring a similar ambition to Demo, and there's potential to spare in this first issue. I look forward to seeing if it's fulfilled. Grade: 4/5

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

The Galaxy Diaspora -- I wrote recently about the time between 2000 and 2002 when Comic Book Galaxy was a full-service comic book website, with sometimes dozens of reviewers and columnists and even cartoonists contributing to the mix and making the site one of the better comics-related websites. I probably don't say this enough, but those were great days, and I loved every minute of it.

I'm grateful, especially, to the terrific writers who were such a huge part of what we were doing. When I left my previous comics website gig to start Comic Book Galaxy, I had no idea if it would succeed or not, but from the very beginning, readers seemed to accept the site as entertaining, thought-provoking and occasionally exasperating.

Many of the writers who made up the site at that time have gone on, as I say, to other things -- and many of them are still gratifyingly entertaining, thought-provoking and occasionally exasperating. Here's where you can find some of 'em:

You're bound to find hours of good reading by perusing those links.

Jam Another Dragon Down the Hole -- When I was overseeing Comic Book Galaxy, at times we had as many as two dozen or more contributors, mostly reviewers. Over time, probably 100 or more writers came and went, some lasting years, some lasting less than a day. Every single one showed promise, though, which was why they were invited to join the site.

Many of those writers have gone on to either start their own sites or write columns for other sites, and of those, quite a few have made me very, very proud to have been a part of their development as writers. One of these days I want to write a "Galaxy Diaspora" entry here, but I don't really have the time to do it now. But I want to thank Mick Martin for his comments about his days writing for Comic Book Galaxy.

I vividly remember the incident he mentions -- it came at a time when we had many reviewers, and they were all lined up ready to review the latest issue of The Defenders while better, worthier titles went neglected.

There are sites that excel at giving you cookie-cutter reviews of the same goddamned, ass-felching sooperhero books every month, and I wanted something better for our site. I was definitely pushing the limits of civility and friendship in asking those guys to eschew Marvel and DC in order to see what would happen, and many reviewers were unhappy about it. One or two may even have left, now that I think about it.

But Mick's reflection on that time and on the effect it had on him is extraordinarily gratifying to me. Because it had exactly the impact I was hoping before, and because he's willing to say so out loud.

Coming a day after I quoted Chris Butcher saying "There are too many mediocre fucking comic books and you really need to stop buying them," it's very good, indeed, to see that some people recognize that fact, even if it took me being an unfair bastard to bring that about.

Yesterday I read someone online saying that they weren't going to buy some Marvel series after the end of the current arc, presumably because they don't enjoy the book anymore. Well, why the hell would you continue to pay for a series you don't like until the current arc ends? If you don't love it, stop buying it. Give up your addiction to wasting cash on garbage, you only encourage them to produce more that way. Find a reviewer you trust, and give some of the titles they recommend a shot, using the money you otherwise would have spent on whatever crap book you're buying that you really don't like anymore. If it turns out you like that new title, keep buying it.

And just like that, comics get better. For you. And really, you're the one that counts.

November is Brian Woods Month -- That's what I read here. And, yeah, February is Brian Wood month. So two months of the year are already taken. I'm never gonna get my own month.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

New Optic Nerve -- I have it on very good authority that the new issue of Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve will ship in February. This is great news for readers of the series, including my wife, who was recently hooked on the title.

The Week in Comics -- Short version: Get Louis Riel from Drawn and Quarterly and The Walking Dead and Invincible from Image. Christopher Butcher has the long version and this worthwhile advice:

There are too many mediocre fucking comic books and you really need to stop buying them.

Words to live by.

Planetes -- I finished the first volume of this new Tokyopop series last night, and it's very good stuff. In the near-future, a small group of people who crave outer space are employed, essentially, as garbage collectors, getting dangerous debris out of orbit. There's lots of character development and the art is very good, playing down the more offputting Manga conventions and emphasizing a convincing sense of detail and, when needed, a genuine sense of majesty. Augie also recommends it in his column today. Along with Battle Royale, I'm now reading a grand total of two Manga series. If you have further recommendations based on my attraction to these two, drop me a line.

Monday, November 10, 2003

What's Your IQ? -- You can find out here. The last time I took an online IQ test like this, in 1998 or 1999, my score was 137. Apparently I have gotten dumber:

Alan, your Super IQ score is 133

This number is the result of a scientifically tested formula based on how many questions you answered correctly on the Super IQ Test.

In addition to measuring your overall intelligence, we've also measured how well you scored in 8 different areas of intelligence. Your unique set of strengths in these areas says a lot about how your mind works and how you process information.

We also compared your answers with others who have taken the test, and according to the sorts of questions you got correct, the way you think makes you a Creative Theorist. This means you are a highly intelligent, complex person. You are able to process information of nearly every kind with ease, using both creativity and analysis to make sense of the world. Compared to others you also have a very rich imagination.

Invincible and The Walking Dead -- Both these books ship new issues this week, and both are excellent. Invincible is a perfect jumping-on issue, as the titular hero scouts a possible college to attend in his civilian identity, only to be interrupted by an attacking supervillain. If you haven't given this series a try, give this one a look, especially if you're fond of superhero stuff in the vein of Astro City, Hellboy and Savage Dragon.

Walking Dead #2 also ships this week, also written by Invincible's Robert Kirkman. This is one of the best new series of the year, and if it borrows a bit of its premise from the excellent horror film 28 Days Later, it takes its own approach to the subject, injecting a good amount of humanity and drama into the story.

There aren't a lot of great floppies being released these days, but these are both great books, a lot of fun and way above-average storytelling. Give 'em a look.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Epic Explanation -- I made a joke about Epic earlier today, but a comment from Julio Diaz has me thinking perhaps I should explain a bit further my take on the situation.

I was among the elite corps of Internet Geeks Marvel asked to pitch for Epic in the early days of the program. I was sent a series breakdown written by Bill Jemas and asked to work something up.

In my opinion, Jemas's idea for a series ("The People's Thor") was one of the dumbest goddamned things I've ever read. After talking to a veteran pro with much Marvel experience who happens to be a friend of mine, I really gave this some thought.

Yes, I am a lifelong comics fan. Started reading them in 1972 when I was all of six years old. For the past half-decade I have devoted considerable time, energy and money to writing about comics for Silver Bullet Comics, Comic Book Galaxy and now on my li'l weblog. When the biggest comics publisher in the United States comes calling, it really forces you to look at what you really want to do.

I turned them down, politely but honestly saying that I thought Jemas's proposal was not something I would be able to work with. What I didn't tell them was that their sophistry in contacting comics journalists to write their books had put into (pardon the pun) stark relief the fact that I don't particularly want to write comics, and certainly not superhero comics. So I suppose for that, I am grateful.

I don't feel particularly sorry for the people who did get sucked into Epic. First of all, the initial description of the proposal sounded for all the world like Bill and Joe standing at the bus station waiting for the unsuspecting fresh meat to get off the bus. The nicest thing I can say about this aspect is that they clearly were taking advantage of naive, hopeful, starry-eyed young would-be creators. Welcome to the American comics industry, everybody.

Further, while I had the benefit of Jemas's retarded series description to clue me in, Marvel's history in regard to the treatment of its creative people is very public, and very poor. One did not have to be the editor of a newspaper about comics or a newspaper columnist who writes about about comics to know this entire thing was a disaster waiting to happen. And clearly, even if you were one of those two things, the specious lure of working for Marvel Comics was too much to counter common sense and established history.

In short, when I say the people I feel sorriest for are the children, I really mean John Jackson Miller and Mike Sangiacomo. And all the other suckers like them that should have known better. It looks, from what I've read, like Miller's comics might not suck as much as I would have suspected, so good on him. I hope he takes what he can while he can before the inevitable shithammer falls on him. Because decades of observation have taught me that it may take years (hi, Stan!), but sooner or later Marvel fucks everyone. EVERYONE. It's the nature of the beast. And if nothing else, the Epic creators should have remembered that if you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas.

Old Friends in New Blogs -- Added two new links to the blogroll at right...Joe Lawler and Mick Martin. These two guys are former Comic Book Galaxy contributors and I was excited earlier today to find out they're both blogging these days and planning their own comics site. I'd love to hear from either or both of you guys if you're reading this -- couldn't find e-mail links on either of their blogs.

Matrix Revolutions -- You know, Reloaded didn't work for me in the theater, but on DVD, I have come to like it a great deal more. Revolutions, on the other hand, I enjoyed from the first moment. There are a few problems...the spaceship stuff seemed a bit Trekkie/Star Warsie, Laurence Fishburne was criminally under-utilized, and Trinity, well, I don't want to spoil things if you haven't seen it yet, but let's say she has a key scene that...just...would...not...ever...end...ever! Things I liked about it:

It's clear from reading the comments of others that much of the intent of the filmmakers may be blurred by the sheer density of the three movies -- Ebert's review revealed he still is under the mistaken assumption that Zion may not be "the real world," so even someone I generally trust and respect in regard to film may not grasp what the movies are about. Further, while he might not have found himself caring about Neo, Trinity, Morpheus or the rest, I did indeed sympathize with them and was interested in their struggle and fascinated by their world(s).

Ultimately, I think the films succeed. I have neither the desire nor the energy to get into any debates over the merits of any sci-fi trilogy, but as far as I am concerned, The Matrix films blew my mind and in the end held together quite well, and I look forward to owning and watching all three many, many times in the years to come.

Wrong Turn DVD -- All right, Steve Bissette was right. Wrong Turn is just about the perfect horror flick, not a single wrong beat in the entire thing. Eliza Dushku brought me in, but I stayed for the relentless dread and wrongness of it all. This and 28 Days Later are two of the best DVD rentals I've made this year, and I kind of wish I'd bought both of them.

Epic Tragedy -- The utter collapse of Marvel's Epic imprint is, of course, a tragic event of monumental proportions. You know who I feel sorriest for? The children. That's who.

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