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Trouble with Comics

TCJ.com - Hello To All That

I wasn’t too worried about the new Dan Nadel/Tim Hodler revamp of TCJ.com, but it’s off to an even better start than expected. Now, I’m not offering anything close to a comprehensive review; one nice thing here is that there’s quite a bit to dig into and most of the articles, columns, interviews and reviews are relatively lengthy. Just a few thoughts on the ones I read first:

Tucker Stone on Johnny Red - Tucker’s a good reviewer, but it seems like he exposed a soft spot here. This sounds like a raft of formulaic, derivative old sub-Enemy Ace bollocks—why not let rip with some anti-aircraft fire? I realize he knows one of the other three people (Grant Goggans) in America who might be getting this book, but still. (Note: I just realized I wrote this after a loving review of a book of Adam Hughes’ T&A covers. My daughter was embarrassed by Power Girl’s cleavage.)

Sean T. Collins interviewing Blaise Larmee. Jaunty Sean T. is a thoughtful interviewer and Larmee is an exciting young talent. But while Larmee isn’t insulting, I wasn’t really into the games he was playing here. Which is fine. Maybe from now on I’ll just focus on his lovely comics. (Note: sometimes we shouldn’t interview artists we like. For me it was Kevin Huizenga, but it didn’t ruin my affection for his comics.)

R. Fiore’s Funnybook Roulette. Hey, Fiore’s one of my favorites and I’m glad he stayed on. The line about Toy Story 3's characters exchanging one god for another is brilliant. Still, call me a dick editor but if I was Nadler I'd want to launch this new webmagazine edition of “Funnybook Roulette” with something about actual funnybooks. Not cartoons. (Note: this kind of attitude may be why nobody lasted very long with me editing them at Comic Book Galaxy.)

Bob Levin on the Frank Frazetta stolen artwork case. This is the best piece I read yesterday, and it’s not even in my top 20 Levin pieces (never mind his full-length books). It was sad/funny to see commenters on the piece ripping him for a) not appreciating Frazetta’s artwork the way they do, and b) practicing an un-tabloid reporterlike restraint by not intruding further into the lives of the hurting, feuding Frazetta kids (Bob could get another good piece about how we consume Art while not really caring about the artists themselves and the pain that results in or from their art). There’s a kindness in his method, and in not pressing too hard on what seems pretty clearly an opinion that Frazetta’s work was simplistic, didn’t evolve, and even suffered some technical failings in the classic sense of believable light sources and the like. He also maybe thought Frazetta was kind of a loudmouth, if only judging by the TCJ Gary Groth interview years earlier. 

While the piece offered no new revelations in the story (and even missed one or two recent developments), I appreciated the psychological insight of it. If your world-famous Pops moved your family out to the boondocks, that might feel a little stifling, might cause some resentment. I liked Levin’s problem-solving here; lacking juicy quotes or an obvious hook for the story (he hitches a ride on the Art of the Steal/Van Barnes story, but it’s not enough of a parallel with Frazetta to get him very far), he turns inward, seeing in the aging lion Frazetta and the void his passing left for his survivors his own struggles and obligations with his elderly, stroke-surviving mother. That’s more of a fiction writer’s technique, feeding off one’s own life when inspiration ebbs. It works nicely here. (Note: I just really like Bob Levin’s writing).

Good luck, TCJ.com. Glad to have you back.

—Christopher Allen

Christopher Allen Reviews Young Lions

Young Lions

Writer/Artist - Blaise Larmee

Self-published. $10 USD. http://cometscomets.blogspot.com

I’ve had this gem for a few months now, always turning up somewhere around the house or in my backpack. I guess I was hoping for that perfect time to review it, when the book had fully crystalized for me. Finally, I realized that wasn’t going to happen, and that’s fine.

Young Lions isn’t so much about a specific thing that I can tell, but it does deal with how things sometimes don’t quite work out, and how a moment of shimmering magic, pure love or perfect harmony can become ennui, discord or heartbreak before you know how good you had it. Wilson, Alice and Cody are clever, attractive young people who are a tight unit, but there’s something missing. They try on different ideas and theories like sweaters, and it’s with this blithe spirit they become involved with Holly, a pretty blonde who’s part lost soul, part muse, part wood nymph, part siren. An unschooled rustic original, open and guileless yet not giving anything away that would reduce her. Is she a pawn, a mascot, a sacrificial lamb, a catalyst or passenger?

A hipster party leads to a road trip to Holly’s old hovel, a romantic interlude, quiet anguish. As Wilson tells Cody early on, “Like many dreamers, you mistake disenchantment for truth.” Cody tries to take a picture of Holly at one point, but admits it didn’t come out well. It’s so hard to capture a moment accurately, and moments with Holly resist capture completely. She doesn’t know the way herself, but can at least show them how to push forward and combat inertia.

Larmee does a lot here that works so well, yet seemingly so offhandedly, that it’s hard to tell how much calculation really went into it. For example, leaving the book in reproduced pencils is not just pretty but adds to both the ethereal beauty of Holly but also the sense that the characters are in transition, not completely formed and adult yet. The extra detail given to the pattern of Wilson’s sweater or the shine on his eyeglass frames is not just tactile but creates a game between reader and creator as to whether more important information is being conveyed in softer background pencils, the darker lines and patterns merely distractions. 

And what to make of the rosy circles on Cody’s cheeks, often created by Larmee’s inky fingerprint? At first I thought it was a kind of clown makeup affectation of Cody, intoxicated by art and performance, rather than just blushing. I kind of prefer the former interpretation even if it’s wrong.

The character designs are marvelous as well, with all four very childlike with their large heads, slender limbs, and lack of obvious adult sexual characteristics. There’s the way the latter pages seem even less distinct, Larmee withholding those precious concrete details to grab onto, emphasizing how the bonds between the group are already slipping away. The use of song lyrics as commentary on the action and tart, physical counterpart to the dreaminess is very effective as well. And I don’t even want to ruin the Yoko Ono thing, other than to point out it’s but one more of many wonderful elements a reader can derive meaning from or leave alone. For a book that on the surface seems rather casually put together, it’s actually rather stuffed with any number of meanings, and doesn’t read quite the same way twice. Stunning and invigorating.

—Christopher Allen