Thursday, May 31, 2007

Down Here on the Farm

Next up on the Top Shelf review list:

Essex County Vol. 1-Tales From The Farm Written and Drawn by Jeff Lemire

I'm a sucker for coming of age stories. Even bad ones. Fortunately this is no "bad one."

For 10-year-old Lester life has been anything but a fairy tale. His Mom has passed away, he's never met his father and now finds himself in the care of his Uncle Ken, a man who means well but is out of his element raising a child. Lester watches hockey in his basement, wears a cape and mask and dreams of becoming a superhero (a fact that is explained with great effect later on). When he meets former NFL player (in one game at least), Jimmy Lebouf, he finds a kindred spirit. Jimmy knows people consider him "slow", but he hold his own in conversations with Lester, and you begin to think maybe he plays a little bit into the "slow" angle.

With Tales, Lemire has crafted a rarity among these types of stories, there's only one kid. Yeah, most C-O-A stories focus on one specific kid, but other children are sometimes a necessity, and more often than not a crutch, for the plot. You need certain archetypes to play against, to show how the main character is unique, why his/her story matters. Lemire never picks up a crutch.

The story is quite moving, and the crafting of the boy-man friendship has become a pretty fine line to walk. Their relationship never feels insincere, with Lebouf filling in the gaps that Lester's Uncle has left. While the two never discuss Lester's life in detail, you begin to understand (and are later shown) that Jimmy knows the details of Lester's situation. Rather than reminding him of it (like his Uncle does, often unintentionally), Jimmy allows the boy to escape into his fantasy world. Then, by joining him, Lester becomes a sort of comrade-in-arms. It never becomes a father-son relationship, or even a brotherly one, but something in between.

The characters aren't the only layered elements in the book either. The plot, which seems relatively simple at first, becomes infinitely more complex as Lester's past begins to unfold. Unfortunately this is the first of a trilogy of books, so there's no too too much that we get to see. If the future volumes are half as touching as this, Essex County is sure to be considered some of the finest the industry has to offer.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Here Come the Superf*ckers!

I've reviewed the first issue of this absolutely fantastic series before, which can be read here.

I got issue #2 awhile back, and I don't remember talking about it, then I got the next two, so I'm gonna talk about all four. First read my review, then head on back.


Well, all those elements are still here, all the insanity, the vulgarity, the goofiness. All still here. In fact, it all seems magnified.

What's most amazing in the books now 4 issues, I think, is that Kochalka has established exactly what he set out to do with the odd numbering system. Instead of a chronology to the story, each issue jumps ahead in the story by a few issues.

I remember Kochalka commenting that one thing he wanted to accomplish was the feeling you got as a kid pulling comics off of grocery store racks. Since there was no direct market, sometime you missed an issue...or four. But what were you gonna do, stop reading? Well, today's collector-focused readers probably would, but I guaruntee you that as kids they certainly did not. So, with each issue you do get a sense that you've missed parts of the story, but Kochalka manages to fill you in and advance the plot along.

That's another thing, plot. You'd think a book about foul mouthed, sexed up cartoonish superheroes would be enough to drive the book, but Kochalka actually infuses it with a plot. Of course, it's as insane as the characters that follow it, but it's there nonetheless.

Still, the comedic value of the issues far outweighs anything else it has to offer. The exchange between Jack Krak and Richard about what is and isn't gay, resulting in Jack bemoaning "Yeah, but...Jack Krak is the muterfucker." has got to be one of the funniest bits ever put to panel. Like some sort of R-Rated Who's on First routine.

Too many people will write these of as lowest-common-demoniator hack tales, appealing to frat boys and stoners. And they're right, kind of. But, there's a lot of highbrow stuff in here too, things you may not see on your first read. Mainly because the cursing and dick jokes overshadow them, but they're there.

That Kochalka can take these kinds of humour and meld them together, simultaneously shining a spotlight on the inane nature of superhero comics past and present, and still tell a viable story just proves the man to be a genius.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Autobiographical is a really long word...

So, book two in my Top Shelf reviews is Feeble Attempts by Jeffrey Brown.

Like yesterdays book, Feeble attempts is a collection of strips about its author, with the occasional oddity thrown in for good measure. Unlike yesterday's book there's a ton more material here. But, more doeasn't mean better of course.

Brown's work here is more along the lines of James Kochalka's Sketchbook Diaries stuff (Vol. 2 of which I'm reading now). But, where Kochalka uses a minimalist approach, Brown loads his pages down with panels. It reminds me very much of reading some of the more serious Sunday comics in the paper.

For me the book's highlights are when Brown deviates from his own life. Strips like Cycloctopus and My Jesus is an Awesome Jesus being the absolute funniest for me. But, given the gigantic range of topics here everyone's sure to have a different favorite. For the uninitiated it's a great introduction to Brown's work, and anyone who enjoys this should pick up AEIOU as a followup. Brown shines most in his more linear storytelling I think, but as collections of strips go Feeble Attempts is a damn good one.

And like yesterday, for another look at this book, check out buddy Johnny B's review (scroll a bit, or read it all, it's good stuff).

Speaking of James Kochalka, tomorrow I'll get to four of my favorite comics of the last few years, Superf*ckers.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Finally, Some Reviews

Sorry guys, been working on some relationship issues with my girlfriend. I haven't had time for reading or watching much of anything. But, we're doing this weird "scheduled visits" thing, so I should have most of my weekdays free now. Hopefully that will lead to more reading, then more posting!

So, I got some stuff from Top Shelf a few weeks back, and I finally had the chance to sit down and read most of it. So, here goes with the first book:

Please Release by Nate Powell

It's a collection of four autobiographical stories that take plave in Powell's life between 2002 and 2005. Music is one of the most prevalent topics throughout the stories, despite never really being the main focus of any of them. The book opens with a string of lyrics, and Powell's art reminds me of some jazzed-up movie title sequences. There's also a lot mentioned about Powell's job at the time, providing help for mentally disabled adults. There's an air of self-deprication that runs through the tales as well, but it never feels like Powell wants you to feel sorry for him. It's not that he hates his life either, on the contrary. What he seems to hate about himself, or what he questions within himself I suppose, are his motives. Does he do this because he loves it, because he really does believe in it, or is it because of the feeling of self-satisfaction it gives him? That Powell questions this about himself shows a humanity that is few and far between these days. It's not often you find someone taking responsibility for their actions, much less questioning the reasons behind those actions.

I mentioned that music plays heavily here, and that's pretty fitting. The stories themselves feel like songs. Please Release is an album with four distinctly different tunes that share certain themes. Humanity, fear, hope, survival, our past, our future, youth, old age, life, death...themes prevelant in all great music. And really, there's not enough great music in the world today.

(For a much better review check out good buddy Alan David Doane's here)

Tomorrow I'm gonna tackle Jeffrey Brown's latest, Feeble Attempts.