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Saturday, April 21, 2018

House of Fear: The Grumpledowns Gang and the Case of the Mail-Order Shoggoths. Brandon Barrows (Writer), Rafael Loureiro, James Hislope (Art), Jodh Jensen (Colours), Matt Krotzer (Letters). TEN31 Publishing (Summer 2017)

A great fun all ages horror comic that makes a very difficult task look easy. Any all ages comic has to solve a difficult problem, if it leans too heavily to one section of the audience it will loose the others, House of Fear is a great example of how to cater to the widest possible audience with confident delivery and a smart story. Ben Grumpledowns, a young boy gets a surprise when he gets a delivery after sending off to a ad in an old comic. Naturally this is not a good thing. A neatly set up situation releases the problem and within the context of the school Halloween Carnival the problems arise in a very engaging way.
Brandon Barrows' idea of a delivery from a long defunct company listed in the back of an old comic is just catnip to any comic collector who has read these extraordinary adverts with joy and amazement, it gives the perfect lead in with the young cast. The choice of monster is equally wonderful, Shoggoths have the shadow from H.P. Lovecraft on them and are scaled in the story to be threatening without being repulsive.The cast are engaging and energetic, the are not too cute or sawn-off adults, they emerge as children bound on enjoying their lives as much as they can and they give the reader the same chance to enjoy it too.
 Rafael Loureiro' interior art is friendly and full of details that create a believable and solid context. The cast are clearly individual and each is strongly expressive without every being cartoony. The action is fast and exciting. James Hislope delivers the bookends that capture the spirit of the earlier horror comics without breaking the tone or intent of the main story.
Jodh Jensen  colours are great, they bring out the detail of the art and create the emotional tone of the story, when the trouble is revealed it is dark and never overwhelming, the colouring brings the excitement without the possible fear and terror.
Matt Krotzer lettering is quiet and natural, the special effects are as loud and dramatic as required, they give the action a nice extra list that it needs to push the story. Hugely enjoyable.

Watson and Holmes. A Study in Black. Karl Bollers (Writer), Rick Leonardi, Larry Stroman (Art), Paul Mendoza & GuruEFX, Archie Van Buren, Jay David Ramos (Colours), Taylor Esposito, Dave Lanphear, Nicole McDonnell, Wilson Ramos Jr. (Letters) New Paradigm Studios (2013)

A hugely enjoyable and engaging alternative Sherlock Holmes story that confidently moves the cast to different time and context. John Watson is a medical intern in the Convent Emergency Center , Harlem , New York  where he meets Sherlock Holmes who arrives inquiring about a patient who has just been brought in. Holmes makes a suggestion regarding the patient that Watson follows up and this pushes him to visit Holmes at  Hudson's Bookshop, 221b Baker Street Harlem. The case and Watsons's involvement develops very nicely as an extensive and very dangerous conspiracy becomes clear and arrives at a very satisfactory conclusion.
The cast are superb. The headline is that both Watson and Holmes are New York African Americans and the story has a powerful New York context.  What matters is the joyous confidence with which Karl Bollers has written Watson and Holmes, the way that they interact with each other, respond to changing circumstances and in particular the way that John Watson is developed and presented is a huge pleasure. They are utterly true to themselves and their context, the essential details of a Sherlock Holmes story are presented with tremendous understated skill, none are blatantly highlighted and shoved at the reader, they are stitched firmly into the story. Best of all is the key relationship between Watson and Holmes, it is natural and unforced, the motivations for both that underlie their friendship is neatly set up.
The art by Rick Leonardi in the main story is a pleasure to read, it is full of details that firmly anchor the cast in a physical location, the cast are expressive, the body language is eloquent. The cast, including the walk on parts, are all individual, there are no generic characters. They all demand the readers attention without crowding out the action. The quiet moments are as interesting as the action, the cast are interested in what they are saying and that brings the reader into the moment.
In the Epilogue, Larry Stroman's art is distinctively different and equally effective, he captures the tension that runs through a sharp and bitter story that packs a considerable punch in a short space.
The colouring captures the emotional tones of the story and highlights the relevant details with subtle care and craft. This is a noir version of Holmes, the story is dark and even in the light of day there are deep shadows. The colouring shifts tones that track the tone of the story without shouting it, they frame the action and engage the reader.
This is a superb Holmes story, confidently taking the ideas and using them in a engaging and enjoyable way, a pleasure.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Ava's Demon Book 1 & 2. Michelle Czajkowski (Writer & Artist)

A very enjoyable and engaging web comic that hides a dark story underneath glorious art and astonishing colours. Ava is a young woman whose life is blighted by the presence of an unseen companion who torments her. Ava stowaways on a space craft and escapes her school and planet only to be involved in a crash landing on another planet and finds herself dying. This is when she discovers her unseen companion is not imaginary, rather it is someone with an agenda a a plan to fulfill it. Ava strikes an agreement with the entity and survives to discover that her problems have definitely increased. The story unfolds slowly and deliberately, the cast are given time to establish them selves while the context is slowly being revealed. The sharp edge to the story is quietly and very effectively revealed as the reader is drawn deeply into the story and the unfolding possibilities.
The dominant colouring is stunning, it verges on the overwhelming while being extremely disciplined and ordered. It creates the atmosphere of the story, giving it a fairy tale glow and giving the cast a elevated context to move through. It is fantastic camouflage for the cast and the story to move under. The cast have sharp edges, they are forcefully making their way through their lives and willing to act to get their own way. The colours soften them and create a great tension in the story, it allows Michelle Czajkowski to cloak the story very effectively.
The uncompressed storytelling benefits from the wealth of detail on each page, the story is unfolding at a sedate pace, there is always plenty to entice the reader and cumulatively the story possibilities emerge into a very compelling form with considerable possibilities. This is a strongly individual comic from a creator who has justified confidence in her process and the talent to back it up. Ava's Demon casts a deeply seductive spell that a reader will be very happy to fall under.
Chief Wizard Note: I purchased Ava's Demon Book1 & 2 as part of this Webcomics Storybundle!,which I strongly recommend  as great value and a set of excellent and diverse collection of web comics.

Born To Run. Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster 2016)

A very engaging and enjoyable biography that gets a delicate balance just right. Biography is a tricky project to get right, the lives of others are of minimal interest to others outside of a very small, usually connected, circle. Fame does not mean that a life is any more interesting, just that the larger , unconnected circle of people who are familiar with the some aspect of a person's life is larger. Getting the balance right between sharing details about what has made the person famous with enough personal details to support the claim to be a biography is tough. Bruce Springsteen has managed it with grace, charm and sharp humour.
Bruce Springsteen never had a full time job other than being a musician, it is a career he has pursued in spite of hitting a low point that would have served as a full stop to most. He was played a set with an actual teenage garage band in their suburban garage, not as a teenager but as an adult musician desperately hustling work. The desire to play never wavered and the sheer intensity of this comes across consistently through the book, increasing fame has not diminished or increased it, it has simply been an outcome of the brutal determination to do what he feels is job.One of the great pleasures of the book to a fan of his music like myself is the time Bruce Springsteen takes over the details of the process of writing, recording and playing his music. It is fascinating to see what music he talks about and what music he does not, what gets details and what gets mentioned.
Bruce Springsteen is a very deliberate musician, constantly aware of his own limitations and working to compensate for them, writing music with a plan in mind. This does not make the process any easier and the description of how the songs have been written is deeply engaging. His appreciation that what he had in mind and the way the audience understands them is welcome. His exploration of his life as working musician in a business is great, the dynamic balance between himself and the musicians he has worked with, in particular the E Street Band, is explored with sympathetic detail.
The other significant aspect to this book is his relationship with his parents, in particular his father from whom he inherited a difficult mental landscape. His openness about his mental health struggles is understated and natural, is is presented as part of his ongoing existence. The episode where his father and a friend organise a fishing trip in Mexico is a joy, the strange places that family bonds take us is beautifully described.
Bruce Springsteen has traveled very from from his roots because he was wiling to work incredibly hard and make the most of opportunities that came his way. When he got the chance to sing with the Rolling Stones and rehearse with them, he revealed the secret of his long career, he is a unashamed music fan. That is the deepest thread in this book and the one that allows the reader to share the journey with pleasure.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Bionics No. 1. Kim Roberts (Writer), Chris Royal (Pencils), Martinho Abreu (Inks), Chunlin Zhao (Colours), Ken Reynolds (Letters). Markosia (2018)

The first installment of a highly enjoyable and engaging science fiction comic that sets up the cast and story with great energy and force. Beth is convinced by her jailed husband, Ben, to meet someone, Zeke, to recover something from the firm he had worked at. Beth discoverers that the firm and her husband had secrets and also finds out that others want those secrets too. Vivian, who now runs Bionics visits visits Ben and the plot kick off into high gear.
Kim Roberts sets up a mystery story that opens nicely out into a  full throttle science fiction adventure, bristling with ideas and details that are a pleasure to encounter. The cast are engaging, Beth is trying to understand how her life could have been upended so dramatically and is willing to take a chance if it will help her husband. Zeke is a cool, mysterious stranger who knows more than he is revealing up front, Veronica is a classic villain. The two who pursue Beth and Zeke are not as human as they appear.
Chris Royal's and Martinho Abreu's art is a pleasure to read, it is distinctive and expressive, the action is powerfully done, the conversations are natural. The panels are used to great effect to control the pace and focus of the story, they bring the reader deep into the story.
Chunlin Zhao's colours are very effective, they bring out the details of the art, adding expressiveness to to the cast and depth to the context. I really like the way the colours are used to give shape and definition to the clothes the cast wear, they are a strong part of how the cast express who they are.
The letters by Ken Reynolds are unobtrusive, easy to ready and placed naturally in the panels.
Bionics does everything a first issue should do with confidence and flair, establish the cast and engage the gears of the story. I am looking forward to seeing where it moves to from here.

Bad Machinery. The Case of The Team Spirit. John Allison (Writer & Artist). Oni Press (2013)

A wonderfully funny and confident updating of the school student detective team who solve strange mysteries in their town.  In Tackleford, Shauna, Sonny, Mildred, Charlotte, Linton and Jack all starting their first year at Griswalds Grammer School, Shuna, Charlotte and Mildred want to help an old woman keep her home, Sonny, Linton and Jack are investigating if the Russian owner of the local football team is under a curse. The threads develop and twist together in the most glorious fashion and finally are resolved in a highly satisfactory way.
John Allison has managed to update the genre requirements for mystery solving school children without winking at the audience about how obviously absurd the whole set up is and that he and the reader are both in on the joke. The cast is serious and the story is extremely funny and the mix is perfectly judged. Enough time and detail are given for the school time, home lives and the story threads for all of them to contribute to the overall impact of the book. The adults and the children interact with each other in highly credible and funny ways that never feel forced or deliberately set up.
The mystery team are individual, smart, uncertain and funny, they spark off each other and try to navigate their lives with tremendous energy and force. The perils of school life are just as terrifying as the dangers of the football mystery.
The art is a pleasure to read, it is friendly and open, the cast are sketched with great expressiveness, body language is as eloquent as dialogue. The bright colours catch the mood and tone of the story perfectly and the lettering is natural and unobtrusive.
John Allison has the confidence and talent to pull of a very difficult task, he has written a story that has a joke in every strip that never feels overloaded or rushed. The story moves in all sorts of directions and consistently remains true to the cast, it never makes the children to be short, smart mouthed adults, they are smart engaging children.
Bad Machinery is a web comic and the transition to a physical book is seamless, the oversized horizontal format gives enough space for two strips per page , each at a lovely big size that gives the art the room to make an impact.
Comedy is hard work, lighthearted, charming comedy is fantastically hard work, John Allison makes it look easy and natural, what a treat for readers.

To Pixar and Beyond. My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs To Make Entertainment History. Lawrence Levy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (2016)

A very engaging and enjoyable story about the way that Pixar overcame three very serious problems to launch Toy Story and the company on to huge , deserved, success. Success can look pre-ordained after it has been achieved, this story shows the deep uncertainty that existed before Toy Story was released and Pixar became the brand it is today.
 The three problems that had to be solved were, having the money to make Toy Story, a lopsided contract with Disney that posed a problem for money in the future to make more films and Steve Jobs.
Lawrence Levy was asked by Steve Jobs to join Pixar to help develop the company, actually get the company fit and ready for an IPO so that Steve Jobs could realise the value of his investment as the owner of Pixar. Lawrence Levy took the job for the challenge, without realising the actual scale of the challenge, became deeply enamored with the potent creativity contained in Pixar and set about resolving the problems.
Lawrence Levy has a talent for explaining business in a way that is clear, direct and engaging. He always places the people in the context and the context  in terms of the business. Pixar was a problem for Steve Jobs, his plan for the company had not developed the way he had intended and he was looking for a way to get what he wanted. The staff at Pixar were committed and creative and felt deeply that they had been severely shortchanged by Steve Jobs.
The contract with Disney was an industry standard, Steve Jobs signed it without realising how restrictive it would be for a company that was making hugely time consuming and expensive animated films, the contract would only provide sufficient money to Pixar to continue to make films under very limited circumstances.
The story of how these problems were resolved is engaging because Lawrence Levy  shows how much any business is reliant on the people involved, their decisions, attitudes and engagement. The hard slog of identifying the problem, scoping a solution, getting agreement and implementing it is described with care and detail, enough explanation for those unfamiliar with the processes, not so much to drown everyone in details. The subtle creativity of top flight business managers is demonstrated with delicate care, there is no chest thumping, no macho declarations of dominance, there is patient and thoughtful considerations of how to solve a problem.
One of the most striking aspects to the story is the way that Lawrence Levy consistently highlights the work of others and lets his own work rest in the background. It pulls the reader into the story as they get to feel the tension and  understand the stakes, although the outcome is established the process is fascinating.
This is not a business book, it is a story about a particular business at a particular time, superbly told and pleasure to read.