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Breakdowns – The Importance of Being Furnaced

I’m sure I’ve written something like this before, but I’m moved to, well, repeat myself, because a colleague—another prominent critic, not on this site—recently expressed boredom at the comics and comics news of 2005. This is just a month after another colleague, who does write for CBG, expressed similar thoughts about comics and the value of reviews of them and so on. And I said to both of them what I say to everyone I meet, every goddamn day of the year: trust in Jehovah. Wait, that’s not it. I said, “Remember what Zelda “The New Hotness of 1925” Fitzgerald said: “We were never bored, because we were never being boring.” Those who falter in their purpose, or who find the entirety of current comics unsatisfactory need to politely offer to be upended and cut along the throat to bleed out like kosher chickens, as they have no just reason to clog my Internet with their mewling. For the record, the guy on our site recovered nicely, with a resurgence of enthusiasm and a veritable fresh set of ideas, while the other guy, as of this writing is still reviewing every furshlugginer X-book and “New Mainstream (ie: Easy Readin’ Genre Crud)” book in with a relentlessness that would send both Sisyphus and Don Quixote for a spa day.

The point is simple: if you don’t like what’s going on, don’t change the system from within, don’t elaborate on where everything’s gone wrong. Just die. Die and die again. For me. Please. And failing that, as you’re wont to do, get this through your head: the majority of any media sucks. How many movies come out each year? 100? 200? How many were you interested to see? 5? 10? And how many of those were any good? 3? 4? That’s just the way it is. There’s no great creative depression in any medium, and really no renaissance, either. There’s always some good stuff, and plenty of bad. If you can’t be poopered enough (I refuse to use the UK variant “arsed,” which came along much later in a pathetic attempt to diverge from the established American form) to find it, then again, I say thee end that blah de vivre and just kick it. I can use the extra oxygen.

Hey, before the reviews, let me thank the permanently damaged Mr. Steven Grant for his very kind words about my blog and my reviews. Interesting excerpt he chose, which might confuse some of you because of a small coding error and the fact it’s me writing about another Christopher Allen. Also, for those of you considering circumcision for a child (preferably male, and yours), know that the foreskin is self-cleaning, like an Amana oven, and that its removal causes significant loss of sensation to the penis. Probably why so few Jews participate in horseback riding, or NASCAR. Hi-yo! Anyway, let’s move from the Catskills to Carpathia, or thereabouts…

Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires by Richard Sala is my first lengthy exposure to Sala’s work, having only read one issue of Evil Eye previously. The backcover copy claims this graphic novel—the first long-form Peculia story—“manages to both parody and celebrate elements of classic horror and vampire tales,” and that had me a little worried. I read “parody and celebrate” as “coasting” or “falling back on formula,” just so we’re clear at the start of my bias.

Fortunately, Sala’s just quirky and amusing enough to put this female vampire story over, but I think my instincts were more or less correct, as it doesn’t feel like a whole lot of effort was put into this very simple and predictable tale. As it appears to have been influenced by the sexy vampire films of the 60s from Hammer Studios, it’s appropriate that the main appeal of this book is the way Sala draws the various women in the book. Aside from three of the vampires and a bearded Gypsy woman, they’re all very fetching, and Sala not only makes sure to pose them most of the time in near-profile so as to make their breasts stand out, he gets a good deal of gratuitous mileage out of the sexual nature of vampire seduction, with the female vampires clutching at or climbing on their female victims. That I happen to enjoy this more than seeing, say, Power Girl, doesn’t make it artcomix, but it’s a good deal of pretty harmless fun. Note: my copy, at least, had nearly half the pages printed too light. Fantagraphics Books. $9.95

Paul Moves Out by Michel Rabagliatti is the latest graphic novel to encapsulate and partially fictionalize Rabagliatti’s art-and-love-filled life. In this case, we find him as a college student experiencing a whole new world of commercial art and design, love and independence, homosexual overtures, and the loss of a beloved aunt.

It’s been, well, a month since I read the book, and just looking at the cover brings back not details but just a feeling of warmth and goodwill for Rabagliatti. It’s only slightly easier to find goodhearted cartoonists as it is to find goodhearted comedians, but Rabagliatti is able to draw a reader into his life and emotions without a hint of falsity or manipulation. The title suggests a kind of rebellion, a snipping of apron strings and forceful exodus, but the book isn’t loike that at all. Throughout, Paul never loses himself and always keeps the feelings of others foremost in his mind, including the influential teacher who makes a pass at him on a kind of field trip to New York.

If one is concerned with plots and callbacks and everything tying up nicely, then I suppose this book is a failure. It’s really just a chunk of Paul’s collegiate life and his life after moving out on his own with his wife, Lucie: babysitting, going to funerals, socializing, etc. But Rabagliatti is in the rarefied group of cartoonists who are talented enough to pull all this off without melodrama or farce or cutesy connective tissue. He could do a story about going to the corner shop for a newspaper and it would likely be one of the better stories of the year. May he live long and continue to chronicle his ordinary and yet fascinating life. Drawn & Quarterly. $19.95

Parting Ways by Andrew Foley, Scott Mooney and Nick Craine is the first original graphic novel I’ve read from Speakeasy Comics, and it looks to have a legitimate shot at further broadening their readership. In other words, I could easily see Oni Press publishing this, but the nice thing is that it’s in regular (old) graphic novel size, rather than the manga digest format. It’s a black-and-white, 147 page beast of a book for a good price that uses this space to actually explore ideas and characterization and numerous twists and turns of plot.

The basic story is that nice guy Peter Orbach hangs himself, wearing a note for his artist girlfriend Jennie that reads, “You Deserve Better.” The good news is, Jennie saves him just in time. Well, not exactly. He was dead long enough for his soul to have been collected and sent to Hell, where a kind of caseworker demon named Hissrich shows him how things work in Dis. Unbeknownst to them, Jennie revived Peter’s body, which then goes about resuming Peter’s life, though without satisfaction or any real feeling. There’s no soul there, after all. Though Jennie naturally sees it as a symptom of Peter’s foiled suicide and soon leaves him, Peter’s body finds it’s a lot more successful as a stockbroker, moving clients’ money around without that nagging compassion and human feeling getting in the way. Meanwhile, Peter’s soul meets his harpy tormentor, Agatha, who really doesn’t enjoy her work any more than Peter did when he was alive, so they instead spend much of their time talking, and Peter discovers she has feelings for Hissrich.

The romantic subplot is but one of many elements to the book. As with other afterlife stories like Ghost, the one who’s left behind has to realize a potential suitor or trusted friend is a snake in the grass, but refreshingly, Jennie needs little help from Peter (early on, while alive, he points out that he can tell the guy likes Jennie) in this and handles herself just fine. There is also some broad but generally effective skewering of the greed and baser motives to be found in both the financial investment and art worlds, and interestingly, there’s a kind of corruption of Hell itself, which has changed from lakes of fire to immense, ugly concrete buildings filled with demonic bureaucrats who refuse to change or entertain new ideas. Mooney draws pretty flat in some places, but for the most part does well with a challenging, not to mention long, script, that calls for two different facial designs for Peter; numerous demons who must still be expressive and sympathetic; a convincing underworld; and examples of modern art (Jennie’s series on hanged men with messages similar to Peter’s “You Deserve Better” would probably have been a devastating exhibit in real life). Mooney is good enough here that I expect him to continue to grow, but luckily Craine does his damnedest to add dimension and excitement to every panel with as many lines and crosshatches and reflections as he can muster with his brush and pen. This is not your all-too-common, “I like inking because I can do it and watch TV at the same time” job here; Craine deserves double whatever he made on this book.

Although the ending, which involves reuniting the body and soul, is expected, Foley keeps it interesting with some surprising action, good dialogue between Peter and Jennie, and the typing up of the various subplots. The theme of the book isn’t just that life is worth living, but that one must learn to find satisfaction and purpose, and even a kind of excellence, in what one does. Foley’s a strong enough writer that he doesn’t just explore this theme in Peter’s story, but it’s echoed in Jennie’s need to express herself whether her art is popular or not; in Agatha’s and Hissrich’s dissatisfaction with their jobs, and in the wonderful idea of Hissrich’s, fostered by Peter, that Hell should be doing its job better: the job of returning not just adequately rehabilitated souls to Earth, but wonderful, purified, inspiring souls to Earth, so that humans can improve their world and make Hell less and less necessary. We’re so used to Hell portrayed as merely a place of punishment and internecine squabbles and plans for Earth conquest that the concept of rehabilitation gets lost. It’s not a perfect book but it really aims high and has something to say. Speakeasy Comics. $12.99

Christopher Allen

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Christopher Allen
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