Thursday, May 05, 2005

Couscous Express

So, as part of the Mixed Bag deal Larry Young sent out a copy of Brian Wood's Couscous Express GN from his publishing house AiT/PlanetLar with his mix CD, which serves as the unofficial soundtrack to the work.

I just finished reading the GN, which I've read before, but it's admittedly been awhile.

The story focus' on Olive, a delivery driver (on a vintage Vespa no less) for her parents restaurant, Coucous Express. Anyone who knows her will tell you she's a spoiled brat, that she doesn't appreciate her family or the things they do for her, but all of that is about to change. It seems there's someone out to extort money from the family, an old boyfriend of her mother's, and current head of the Turkish Mafia, who claims their hummus recipe was stolen from his family.

Olive really comes to life when she sees what this man is threatening to take from her, and with the help of her boyfried Moustafa, his partner Special, and a load of their friends, she's going to take back the people she loves, and in the process she may learn what family and friends are all about.

Written by Brian Wood and illustrated by Brett Weldele, Couscous Express is, essentially one of the coolest graphic novels ever. Take that as you will. The book has it's faults, and may not really be the most sound idea ever commited to the written page (taking down the Turkish mafia with a few people on scooters and rollerblades, only in comics!), but there's no denying the feeling you get when you read it. You wish you were these people, they come to life in a way that few books could achieve.

The characters are those classic Hollywood actors, or at least the image they personified, reimagined in the punk rock world. Olive is Katharine Hepburn from Bringing Up Baby. A girl that's always had everything she ever wanted, in the way she wanted it. All the reasons for you to hate her are right there, yet as the story progresses you begin to love her more and more, and by book's end you admire her, despite those faults you find so unattractive. Moustafa is the epitome of cool, he is the Steve McQueen in the world of Couscous Express. He's the guy girls want to be with and other guys just want to be. Sure, he may not always be on the right side of the law, but you'd follow him to hell if asked you too. And the there's Special, the third wheel. As weird as it sounds, Special is every character Cary Grant ever played blended into one. She's sexy, she's funny, she's a little on edge, you want to hang out with this girl, she's just got so many sides to her, you always want to see what she's going to do next. At least, that's the way I see it. Classic Hollywood gone punk rock.

Weldele's art is occasionally distracting, but mostly enjoyable. Sometime's the panels look too "rough", like watching a film that's coscious of the genre it's trying to place itself in rather than just letting the work flow. But, like I said, it's mostly enjoyable. One of the book's better artistic aspects is the change in tone, even style to a degree, when the end comes, it's reflective of Olive's change in attitude to her life, and even though it's only a few pages, it's something to note.

Overall the book is very enjoyable, it's fun, exciting, action packed. No, it's not the greatest GN ever published, but it's still a damn good read.

The soundtrack, as Dorian noted, makes for excellent driving music. Like the GN it's fast, heart-racing, exciting music. I haven't heard of many of the artists on the disc, but after a few listens I'm becoming a fan of quite a few of them. The Bosstones track is great, How Why Wuz, it feels slightly out of place with the heavier stuff, but it does allow a bit of a down time. Bring Back the Skins was a nice little brit-reggae type of tune. It's weird, but very enjoyable. Bill Withers Lovely Day is one of my favorite on the disc. It's kind of disco-pop mixed with some soulful singing. Good stuff. the two Desmond Decker tracks (Pickney Gal and What Will You Gain) are also favorites, the music feels a bit reggae, makes for nice tunes to mellow you out in traffic. The Pete Rock stuff is excellent, reminds me of some Wu-Tang style mixes, I'll definitely be looking onto some stuff by him. Skinhead Girl by Fat Holligans feels like a drinking song, or maybe something you'd hear at a soccer match.. There's a cover of Shania Twain's Still the One that made for a very interesting listen, I've gained an appreciation for the song, it's fun and funny at the same time. Dilated Peoples and the Offspring show up, and that's always nice. I like both of those groups, and She's Got Issues is just a great song for a Couscous Express Soundtrack. Minor Threat's Goog Guys Don't Wear White is equally fitting for Moustafa, and a good song to boot. But, hands down the best track on the CD is Dropkick Murphy's The Guantlet. It's the theme song, or better yet, the anthem of the book, easily, and has already climbed its way into my brain, nestling with my other new favorite songs. It's a great CD, a perfect soundtrack and companion piece to the GN. I could have done without the instrumental pieces (I crave any kind of dialogue, so music without words, at least modern rock/rap music, gets old very fast, but fortunately most of the tracks are pretty short, and all have catchy beats.

Big thanks to Larry Young for the CD and GN. I enjoyed both tremendously and am glad to have them in my collections. When Lefty provides a complete track listing I'll shoot a link out to it for anyone wanting to compile their own copy. Trust me, it's worth tracking the stuff down.


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