Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bunch of comic reviews

Every now and then I think probably most artists get in a mood where they get frustrated by all the art around them because there is not enough of what they would like to see and can become a little dismissive and narrow minded about things that don't suit their wishes. Maybe about 5 years ago I started to feel that I'd discovered the vast majority of comics that were to my liking and I thought the only things I'd like that I didn't know about were handfuls of obscurities, mostly foreign language and future comics to come.
 But around last year I started to look closer at things I had passed on years ago and found myself loving artists like Carlos Nine, Dave Cooper and Kentaro Miura. I read more comics this year than the previous few years put together. The industry is still stubborn about progress and leaves a lot to be desired, but very slowly things are looking better.
 Sadly I feel a lot of my time reading comics sites is fuelled by nostalgia for when I had so many comics I was fascinated by, I keep hoping for some avalanche of new talent, but unless there is some unprecedented wave of brilliance, I doubt I'll ever be as excited about comics as I was in my teens. I don't understand people who are content with what is currently available.
 I've been planning to write about the importance of reviews but that post will be a while yet. I also want to compile a list of things I want reprinted and translated. I wrote a blog about that years ago and many of those things have been reprinted now, just when I've lost interest in them (but I'm glad they are for sale, because I still think they are worthwhile).
 Mattotti is another is my favourite recent discoveries, really impressed by Sergio Toppi and Pierre Duba too. Bastien Vives was a guy I saw on porn sites 6 or 7 years ago (like me, he draws superbusty women), I think his linework is really impressive too, something in common with a lot of my recent favorites is the freeness of the linework, I trait I really crave for myself. You might think this is weird but I also think Vives is one of the most beautiful men I've ever seen.
 Most of these reviews are things I read recently, but also a few things from longer ago. Also lots of Corben reviews, almost like a semi career overview.
HAIR SHIRT by Patrick McEown and Liz Artinan
McEown for a long time has mostly worked on other peoples projects and the rare times you got to see him doing completely his own thing in his own style was in various backup stories in independent comics of the 90s. It is kind of strange to so suddenly see this book length story from him doing his own thing.

I’m usually not up for alternative comics about indie kids drawn in a scratchy style but McEown does it better than is typical.
The relationships and arguments between characters are well composed and there are lots of really well done scenes but ultimately I don’t think the story ever adds up to anything properly satisfying.
The visuals are where it really excels. I mentioned how I don’t generally like the shaky scratchy look of a lot of indie comics but McEown’s art is beautiful and the linework has a nice flow to it, especially in the nightmare scenes. He draws really lovely girls too.

In an audio interview with McEown, he said that he was asked to tone down the darker aspects of the book by the editors and even the finished book was darker than they would have liked. So this is still not the artist fully free of constraints. I really wonder what sort of stuff was rejected for the story.

Special mention has to go to the color by Liz Artinan. I really think this is one of the best color jobs I’ve ever seen in a comic (I mean when the colorist is separate from the people who draw), it would be a totally different book without the color, it really enhances all the moods and is just lovely.

CREEPS by Dan Mishkin and Tom Mandrake

When I first saw advertisements for Creeps, it deeply disturbed me and I wished it didn’t exist. In my early teen period my taste was corrupted by bland mainstream fare in comics and videogames, almost the opposite of my childhood and adult tastes, I sort of feel that teen period was not really me at all but a brainwashed drone in some respects. The images in the adverts gave me the impression the comic was all about physically repulsive people violating innocent strangers. I really cant remember many times feeling so threatened by any piece of entertainment. A mainstream comic by the publisher Image, no less.

Later when I was coming back to my true self and was a horror fan looking for anything that might satisfy me, I found the four issues of this series in a back issue shop. Around that time I was also fascinated by the idea of hidden cultures and societies and since I didn’t know as much about the world, the possibility of bizarre unseen outsiders living on the fringes of society seemed far more real. I really wanted to believe that I could go into a dodgy dirty street, go down some stairs, through a door and find an underground world of strange people and shops selling amazing things you would never see anywhere else.
The more I read about outsider culture, cults and all manner of groups of odd people, the more the reality failed to live up to my fantasies (however interesting some examples may have been).

What Creeps does more than anything else, is show that fantasy of hidden people. The creeps are not hiding of their own free will, but they are neglected people who have been pushed into the dark corners of the world by ignorant uncaring people. I really love the look of their world, it is a dark, shabby, dirty place.
The characters are the other main strength. There is a fat lady who can morph her skin, she is nice, caring and effectively is the mother of the family. There is an old bag lady who can change her bodily odors so that she can overpower people or make them hallucinate. There are two characters who appear to have mental disabilities: a guy whose face is constantly overflowing with snot and a guy who will eat anything. I really liked the mystery man made of insects.
I felt some of the characters were less interestingly designed: an athletic girl with two heads, a guy with disproportionately muscled limbs and a guy with no eyes and magic powers who I felt seemed a bit too supernatural for the group, he could have been from Doctor Strange.
In an interview at the back of one of the issues, one of the creators comment on how the overwhelming majority of X-Men are very glamorous, even Nightcrawler. This comic is similar to X-Men but it has just a minimal resemblance to superhero comics.

Some of the characters do a little bit of the behaviour I was scared of when I first heard about this title. Although most of the creeps are “good guys”, some of the characters seem mentally like children and are amused by the way people are repulsed by them. It reminds me of when I’m on the bus and sometimes there is a person with serious mental disabilities who is loud and unpredictable; in these situations I’m often frightened because I don’t know if these people have any social boundaries and I don’t know what to think of myself for not wanting to be on the same bus.

I can’t remember a whole lot about the story, but it involves fighting the authorities who want to oppress or even get rid of the creeps.

Tom Mandrake was best known for work on titles like The Spectre, Martian Manhunter and Batman; he would often be called in whenever superhero titles veered into horror territory. I sometimes feel Mandrake’s people can look a little too similar and indistinct, but when he draws the creeps, his art really comes alive and those characters seem far more real than his more normal characters. The fourth issue looks a bit rushed though. I really wish he could do more full blown horror.

I think Creeps was advertised prominently and when in the last issue I read that the writer and artist could never make a living off of this title, I think that was an important point in my becoming more cynical about the comics industry. This is what they really wanted to do and they just couldn’t do it for very long at all. The industry is not good at supporting creators in doing the sort of things they would really like to; most people who make a living in comics are making very big compromises. Mishkin and Mandrake said they would like to return to the series sometime, but the only thing I’ve seen so far is a short story in a black and white anthology called Thrills and Chills.
Creeps was a real oddity and more than any other prematurely deceased series I can think of, I’d really like this one back, I’d really like to see what types of new characters they could come up with. My standard of a healthy comics industry is one where titles like this can continue to exist.

Creeps came out on ebook form recently.

RIPPLE by Dave Cooper

A story of a frustrated relationship. David Cronenberg says in the intro that Tina is a character worthy of classic literature but I never felt there was anything that remarkable about her. The story is decent but the only thing that really fascinated me were the too brief mentions of “ripple theory”, I really wish there was some elaboration on that. The rendering style Cooper uses for this book is really nice and the fold out cover is very good.
I think Suckle might be a better book by the same author, even if the rendering isn’t as impressive, the strange hallucinatory journey is more interesting.

Some might say the fault is with me, but I easily tire of stories about low self esteem, personal failures, frustrated relationships and various hang-ups. Unless it is taken in a really interesting or unusually insightful direction, I don’t think this stuff really goes much anywhere. And from what I’ve heard Cooper say, I think he has lost interest in doing this sort of work. I much prefer him when he is liberated and can just fly free in showing his desires as fanciful as he wishes, like in his art books which I would recommend far before his comics (admittedly I’ve only read Ripple and Suckle and seen bits of various other comics).
I don’t want to make assumptions about Cooper and what place inside him this work comes from, but I will say this about the general trend of artists confessing and obsessing over their mundane troubles: I think sometimes artists convince themselves they always need to exorcise all their negative feelings into their art, maybe some really do need to do it to get over some bad feelings and are able to make something compelling of it but I think a lot of artists could go further by just letting go and drawing something else.

BENT by Dave Cooper

This art book comes after Overbite and Underbelly. I’m not sure which one I like best, but this one is the most amazing for technique, with his glowing semi-transparent characters lying in paradise. I think Cooper draws some of the most beautiful women to ever appear in the world of comics.
I must say I’ve always preferred the caricature-like stuff over the most extreme cartoony work, but it’s all good stuff.
He gets some surprising people to write intros for his books, even though there isn’t a real reason I should be surprised some more famous people love things that don’t have an obvious resemblance to their own work.

NONNONBA by Shigeru Mizuki

For a good while into the beginning of this book, I thought it was just a loose collection of memories about his youth and his friendship with the old woman, but it gradually all takes shape into a really sad story with some inspiring ways of looking at the life of your imagination.
I think this might be the best autobio comic I’ve read, but who knows how close this is to what really happened? Mizuki really seems to believe in the spirits and monsters of myth and legend.

I would maybe recommend this to children, but it might be too sad.

DUNGEON MONSTRES 3 by Sfar, Trondheim, Carlos Nine and Patrice Killoffer
I’ve recently become amazed by Carlos Nine, I’m in awe of how passionate, elaborate, decorative, imaginative and free his linework is. Oddly, this is the only thing I can find of his in English, I don’t know why there should be so little. I haven’t looked up to a comic artist like this in years!
The story Nine draws looks amazing, it is well written but not an especially memorable story. The Killoffer drawn story is impressive looking too.

Somehow on the back there is a quote recommending this to children, which is a bit of a blunder. That quote is probably referring to other instalments of this series, but this book has quite a lot of sexual content, extreme violence and more than one nasty rape scene.

BLACK HOLE by Charles Burns
This book has some very well described drug experiences, some great imagery of junkyards full of broken glass that should recall dark anxious dreams a lot of people have; a few other well executed moments disturbing and atmospheric.
But I feel as a story it just feels anticlimactic and unfinished. When I first read it I thought maybe I just didn’t “get” this abrupt ending, but I’ve heard more people say they felt the story was building up to something that never happened. The serialization of this story was over quite a long time and I suspect Burns just lost patience with the story and wanted to end it.
I think the strengths of the book could have been achieved in a visual sequence of strange places and bodily transformation and decay; I’m sure Burns would insist that the characters were an important part of the whole thing but as the work stands, whatever feeling you had for the characters just sort of puffs out into smoke at the end, because it really needed more character development to succeed as a story.

I think it’s a shame they didn’t include the original short story that appeared in Taboo and the covers to the comic series. Maybe it was felt that the color covers and a bonus short piece would make it less graphic novelly and too much like a collection, but I think some of the covers were one of the best things about Black Hole.

ROHAN AT THE LOUVRE by Hirohiko Araki
It is nice to see more Araki in English print and especially in an odd project like this (in color too!). Sadly I don’t think the story is anything special, it does seem like this project was commissioned and Araki couldn’t think of anything more interesting in the time limit. The color art is lovely but some of the anatomy is a bit awkward in places (and not in the way Araki intends with his signature poses).

I was one of the people who was introduced to the world of Jojo by the Capcom fighting game of the late 90s. It really included so many of the elements of the story in a really exciting way, it often gets treated as a marginal game but I thought it was really special (although it did have negative issues). I’ve heard that it was inspired by Capcom’s Marvel games creating interest in those characters in Japan, so the Jojo game might have been an attempt to create interest in Jojo in the western world. The game was a flop but it did create some hungry fans and for all I know, maybe it was a bigger success in all the regions Jojo is more extensively translated in.

It’s almost daunting trying to figure out how to even begin to describe what Jojo is like or about to people unfamiliar with it. Araki has described it essentially being about “salvation of the human heart” but that does not come across to me having read the first 3 parts of the series. The stories often have the heroes winning by the skin of their teeth and some of the methods of winning are not very convincing even within the context of this crazy world, so characters winning frequently by unlikely circumstances can be a real suspense killer. Sometimes it does have the issues that afflict many action serials (characters somehow managing to talk a lot during fights and some scenes are drawn out far too long), Jotaro’s self-consciously cool hero attitude is grating (Polnareff steals the show) and in the other parts of the series some of the characters look more like fashion designs than characters (a trend that swamps Japanese videogames).
All this is easily bearable because of the odd characters, the sheer inventiveness, the utterly crazy ideas and the mad humor. Araki’s art gets better and better, his style has evolved immensely since the start of the series. He has one of the most unique styles I’ve seen in Japanese comics and the angular poses are brilliant.

This here, I’m reviewing the third part of the series (each part is self-contained), the only part that has had enough commercial interest in English speaking territories (probably a lot to do with the game). It is 16 volumes. It was not successful enough to continue to the other parts of the series, but with new videogames, animations and more and more sites devoted to Jojo, I’m hoping it won’t be too long before the rest comes out in English.

CUBA: MY REVOLUTION by Inverna Lockpez and Dean Haspiel
Lockpez says this is for the voiceless suffering people in Cuba; her story of wanting to believe in Castro’s revolution, having a harrowing time of trying to be a part of it but being unable to ignore its horrible reality. After reading this, it is hard to see how Cuba got such a glowing reputation among so many people. This is a good antidote to the surprisingly numerous graphic novels that celebrate the revolution (usually focused on Che Guevara) by the likes of Spain Rodriguez among others.
Before and after chapters are art by Lockpez and a photo of her from the period. The color choices seem like they might have deliberate meanings but I couldn’t figure out anything like that.

CECIL’s QUEST by Frantisek Skala
I read 1001 Comics To Read Before You Die, it pushed me off the fence about wanting to read some comics but Cecil’s Quest was the only thing in that book that I wanted that was utterly new to me and that alone makes that guide well worth it to me.

It’s quite a simple adventure story, but the joy of the book is the beautiful woodland photography with small people, houses and vehicles crafted of carved wood and odd objects. I’ve never seen another comic like this and I’d recommend it immensely. Skala has some art books but as far as I know, this is his only comic.

CURSED PIRATE GIRL by Jeremy A Bastian
I saw individual issues of this several years ago and hoped there would be a book like this eventually. I’m glad it finally happened. Cursed Pirate Girl is full of character, richly detailed ornate scenery, surreal old fairy tale flavouring, it has an uncommonly distinct writing style full of humor. I love the armoured swordfish brothers.

My only reservations are that the panel arrangements can be confusing and the pages probably should have been bigger because the lettering and many of the details seem so small. Looking forward to more. Bastian is a new bright light in comics.

I think this book has been desired by many people for a very long time. These stories made a huge impact on me first time I read them. At his best, Wrightson gave you the type of stuff you always wanted to see in horror comics but rarely ever got. I really liked the tender dark love stories by Bruce Jones too. Not all the stories are great, but for me this book is essential. If you like this book, track down a collaboration Jones/Wrightson did called Freak Show.

I seen a lot of this stuff first in a 5 issue series called Bernie Wrightson: Master Of The Macabre from publishers Pacific and Eclipse. It was colored but it was an unusually good standard of color and I don’t think it taken away anything from the art. That series is still worth tracking down since there is still so much Wrightson material from his peak that has no definitive collection yet. I’d also love to see Purple Pictography (his collaboration with Vaughn Bode) get another printing.
To my taste, Wrightson from the 80s and onwards was only worthwhile when he is self-indulgent in the extreme. His sketchbook series was the last thing I really liked by him.

This is not a complete collection of Corben’s Warren work and I appreciate that the book notes what was missing (Dark Horse still doesn’t possess the rights to it all). There is a Corben cover to the Harris published final issue of Creepy, and I’ve heard that the Vampirella appearances of Corben are all in just two of the volumes of Vampirella Archives if you really need that stuff (the earlier Heavy Metal collection of Creepy and Eerie includes some of that material).

Some people have said the reproduction of the art is not as good as it could have been, I don’t have all the different printings of the stories to compare, but I have no complaints about that department. There are extensive notes about the restoration of the art, some stories are scanned from the original art and look better than they have ever looked.

The overall quality of the stories is uneven, given the nature of this collection, that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Some of these stories are some of my favourite comics ever. Something that characterises this era of horror comics is the sentimentality, this is for good and bad; the better stories like the stranded at sea with sharks one, the one about the growing giant girl, the Christmas serial killer one and the one about Santa’s helpers all have a sad tenderness that mixes well with the horror. On the other hand, the bad side of this is the overwritten tale of the reanimated corpse with a young boy’s head, which goes too far in trying to be sweet and sad. It probably would have been more sad if the writing had been more restrained.
Another highlight is the 3 part story of romance, dinosaurs and time travel with Bruce Jones. The first two parts are great, you keep wondering where the story could possibly go next, but with the third part everything is ridiculous and unconvincing, perhaps Jones felt he’d written himself into a corner and just stopped trying to make it convincing. Unlike the people in the notes for the book, I thought Jones and Corben done it better in Rip In Time.

I still think this is some of the best stuff Corben ever done and it is great that new generations can enjoy some work that was almost invisible for too long and I hope it encourages more collections of Corben and similar artists and maybe even this type of horror comics in general.

The one criticism I’ve had of Corben’s art is that whenever there is a beautifully rendered smooth surface next to something more rough and hectic like tree branches, grass, flowers or hair, the smooth rendering often abruptly ends and can look really jarring at times. I’d imagine whatever rendering techniques he was using made it very difficult to do more complex detail at the same level.
I really love that multicolor lurid lighting technique he sometimes does here, I’d love to see him use that approach again.

Heavily recommended.

HELLBOY: HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD by Mike Mignola and Richard Corben
I get Hellboy whenever Corben does it, it’s one of the few franchises that feels like a really good fit for him, but I do wonder why he had to change the way he draws Hellboy to be more like Mignola’s version; this gives me nasty flashbacks to Kirby’s Superman with the redrawn heads.
I liked Crooked Man best of all the Corben Hellboy books, the first part of Double Feature was good and Bride Of Hell was not bad either. But I’m still not entirely sold on the series, his grumpy Ben Grimm/The Thing attitude isn’t very interesting and more than anything, I like it as a vehicle for mythical monsters.
This is an okay book, mostly recommended for the art and the various classic cinema style monsters he gets to draw.

BIGFOOT by Steve Niles, Rob Zombie and Richard Corben

A quick, passable but not terribly interesting story which I don’t know why taken two people to write. The art is good but with nothing show stopping to recommend on that basis. It feels a little too slight. The only thing that really sticks out in the memory is the nightmare a boy has.

UNDERGROUND 1 by Richard Corben
This is the first of three books of mostly black and white art, each about 80 pages. I think more were planned. Sadly they didn’t include covers or illustrations from this era and Catalan must have insisted some of the stories being censored. A similar collection by Warren, The Odd Comic World Of Richard Corben was not censored and it has material not included in the three Underground books.
To be honest, story wise I don’t think most of these tales are up to much and they aren’t very funny either. At best they provided an opportunity for Corben to draw what he did best and I guess I have to strongly recommend this work for that. I really like the way the story hosts look and a few stories have some really lovely color.

I’ve recently heard that Corben plans to reprint this stuff soon. I hope the upcoming books are more extensive. I’d like to see covers, comic and magazine illustrations, portfolios, sculptures, life drawings; everything really. A lot of his 80s and 90s creator owned work has never had a proper collection, some of it had really ambitious techniques and I’d really like to see that stuff because I’m not in the mood for tracking down individual comics and magazines anymore.

This is the first of two art books; I only managed to get the first. Flights Into Fantasy is another Corben art book I could never find at a reasonable price. There is a lot of commentary from the artist about each piece. Some of the comments that interested me most was that he said a lot of his monsters were versions of people that scared him and the monstrous interpretations helped him deal with his fears. His own doubts about his work are interesting. Also the part about his take on gender and species being more expansive and less easily defined in his fictional world.

VIC AND BLOOD by Harlan Ellison and Richard Corben

I really enjoyed this book, it got me hungry for the story to continue and it bothers me that Ellison is likely to die before he finishes it. The original text versions and the comic versions are all included, so my biggest reservation is that, as good as they are, the comic versions feel a bit redundant, because there is nothing in there that Corben really adds to make it different or enhanced in any way. Corben did a story for Dream Corridor series too, even though I hadn’t read the original text versions of those either, I imagined the Ellison texts were much better. I’d rather Ellison did completely new comic stories (I know he did some original DC and Marvel superhero stories) or gave the artists some material that they could bring something new to.

BODYSSEY by Simon Revelstoke and Richard Corben
This is one of the more impressive looking Corben books, but the writing is typical of the bad humorous fantasy of the time, poor giggly sex jokes. There is even one part that might be seen as homophobic and the main excuse to the contrary would be that all the characters are supposed to be idiots. Some of the phallic creatures are really great.

There is a portfolio of the characters at the end. Some versions of the book have much richer colors than others.

DEN 2: Muvovum by Richard Corben
The printing of the Den series can be a bit confusing with all the serializations in magazines, comics and all the different versions of the books. But it goes like this: Den 1: Neverwhere, Den 2: Muvovum, Den 3: Children Of Fire, Den 4: Dreams, Den 5: Elements, Densaga (no book version in English) and Denz (no book version in English).
The fourth and fifth parts of Den are written by Simon Revelstroke and Denz written by Jan Strnad
I don’t think the Den story was ever completed, it stopped around the mid 90s and I would be very surprised if it continued. All the Den comics, covers and illustrations could probably fit into a book under 600 pages, I hope this will happen soon.

I never followed the story of Den very well; it usually seemed like a standard fantasy plot of characters going from place to place, getting stuck in bad places and saving each other. I think the sniggering jokeyness about sex and nudity really undermined things, as I thought the general frankness of the nudity was very inspiring. I loved how the Red Queen’s costume actually highlighted her nudity.
The naked pride, the vulnerability of the body, fattening Den, masculine women, a skeletal person, humanoid mixtures of different species, mutations and morphs toward the more desirable or the more frightening and repulsive; the physicality of the Den series was the best thing. It is also a showcase for some of his very best art. I’d have to be able to get a hold of the entire series to really know that it was more than that, but I have seen every page at one point.

I think parts 3-4-5 and maybe even Densaga were done in less than ideal circumstances, at the time nudity in a comic could get you in trouble or placed in a discrete place with all the porn comics, so the nudity was often toned down or strategically hidden behind things. I think the art faced tougher deadlines since Corben was his own publisher at this point, the art in these parts would go from the standard style he used for less ambitious fare, then for a few sequences he would do his lavish best in virtuoso technique.

I think overall Den 2: Muvovum is the best of all the parts. It has the most consistently impressive art and it has some of the most disturbing body horror I’ve seen in anything.

EDGAR ALAN POE by Richard Corben and Richard Margopoulos
This contains a few Warren era Poe adaptations written by Margopoulos and is ended by a version of Fall Of The House Of Usher written by himself.
In Usher he manages a really good atmosphere but spoiled it a bit with a jokey comment about a woman’s body (this is a recurring problem in Corben’s work). The misty, ghostly dream sequence looks incredible and I’d love to see an entire book that looked like that.
Corben would later return to Poe at Marvel, then at Dark Horse and even do a couple of animations shown on his personal website. He has done several versions of some tales, including Usher.

Herb and Diana Arnold do what I think is easily the best color job on Corben that he didn’t do himself. I’ve never seen anything else by them.
This book does not include the cover art that the Usher comic had.

WEREWOLF by Richard Corben

A collection of mostly Underground and Warren era werewolf stories. One of the Warren stories has an impressive new rendering/color job which is even better than the original. One of the stories is in a different language. The cover art is brilliant.

HAUNT OF HORROR by Poe, Lovecraft and Richard Corben
Corben adapts Poe and Lovecraft stories and poems with help from Richard Margopoulos and Rick Dahl in the writing department. Since the original text stories had to be printed alongside the comic versions, I think some lesser known texts were chosen because they had to fit in a short space.
The interpretations are often interesting, in the case of the poems, I wasn’t sure at what pace to read some of the comics to make the poems work.
There is a really great panel in one of the stories of a man behind a woman, moving to grab her and she has a really brilliant smile in the image.

Corben has done Poe and Lovecraft quite a lot, some W H Hogson, R E Howard and C A Smith. I wonder how much of his adaptations have been influenced by commercial concerns? Maybe he would have liked to do Blackwood, M R James and E F Benson?

First there was 3 Poe comics, then 3 Lovecraft comics and individual collections of each and then this collection of all of that with additional drawings and story pages not included in the earlier comics. I cant recall if this book includes all the original text stories though.

HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND by William Hope Hodgson, Simon Revelstroke and Richard Corben
I’ve heard some say this is a disappointing adaptation but I liked it a lot. One thing I like about the Hodgson source material is how it felt like it could have went in a thousand different directions, so it is open to a very wide range of versions/interpretations. Very atmospheric and ominous with some bursts of savagery.
I think this is one of my favourite comics.

Alan Moore provides an introduction, since he wasn’t able to see the finished comic, he mostly tries to give you a helpful introduction to the works of Hodgson and a few similar writers.

STARR THE SLAYER by Daniel Way and Richard Corben
In the late 90s I think Corben might have fallen on harder financial times, he became mostly involved with franchise characters for DC and Marvel. Characters like Cage, Hellblazer/Constantine, Hulk, Punisher, Ghost Rider, Swamp Thing, a tiny bit of Batman, The Spirit and The Spectre. Some of these are more fitting than others, I wasn’t interested in most of those projects; an odd side effect was doing a short piece for Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor. Also for DC there was the sort of anthology comics he would have worked on anyway, some with old favourite collaborators like Bruce Jones.

I think Starr possibly represents the nadir of his DC and Marvel involvement. It has some really nice art in places, a really well drawn black male character, a cool crocodile creature but the story and writing by Daniel Way are really bad. The dialogue is full of swearing and dirty language as if this is supposed to be very funny, possibly adding to Corben’s undeserved reputation of being very immature.
I read an interview with the creators where they said that they were not allowed to do the project as they wished. Starr was supposed to be uglier. I suspect this was a bad experience that forced Corben to get better projects.

TALES OF THE BLACK DIAMOND by Richard Margopoulos and Richard Corben
A collection of horror stories of varying quality, sometimes the black and white art looks overly murky. The series was supposed to be longer and I think some of the later chapters found their home in Odds And Ends. I don’t think the covers from the original Horror In The Dark series were included. I quite liked the story of the axe murderer wife and the attractive fat landlady of the last chapter.

RIP IN TIME by Bruce Jones and Richard Corben
I think this is one of the most satisfying books by either Jones or Corben. It is an action, romance, time travel, dinosaur, crime story of the type Bruce Jones has returned to many times (including his short graphic novel Arena, which he done all by himself). Hearing this type of story described, it doesn’t sound that interesting, but I found it really exciting. One of the best action movies I’ve ever seen, except it was a comic.
The covers of the comic series weren’t included in this book, maybe next time the book comes out.

MUTANT WORLD by Jan Strnad and Richard Corben
A sometimes depressing story about a simple minded mutant who gets treated very poorly by just about everyone, some really unpleasant rape too. I think this is the best Jan Strnad/Corben book. The end has a really nice scene of the main character smiling and relaxing that really stands out.

There was a sequel called Son Of Mutant World. When the original serialization came out, the comic was in color a few issues and then black and white issues with overly heavy grey tones that spoiled the art. There was a non-English language collection of all the issues in full color. Such a collection is yet to appear in English.

JEREMY BROOD by Jan Strnad and Richard Corben
A fairly decent science fiction story with a premature ending forced by the poor sales of the series. To be honest, I didn’t see a whole lot of promise in the story. Both creators have done far more interesting work which you should seek out ahead of this book. I recall there being a really lovely foggy scene in the book.

NEW TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS by Jan Strnad and Richard Corben
In one version of the book (there is another printing titled Last Voyage Of Sinbad) there is an extremely enthusiastic introduction by Harlan Ellison promoting elitism, but the story is simply just okay. The selling point of this book is the fantastic dramatic appearances of the enormous monstrous genie, the green undead warriors and the beautiful women.
RAGEMOOR by Jan Strnad and Richard Corben
Ragemoor was conceived as a Poe and Lovecraft style thing, but it reminds me far more of Hodgson's House On The Borderland, which Revelstoke and Corben adapted into a comic years ago. It's all about a living castle which shifts and morphs for mysterious reasons which gradually become clearer. It's a great premise with several great visual ideas but a number of things stop it from being as special as it could have been.

The quality of the art is plainly superior in the first issue/chapter to the remaining three. The last three are good, but they look rushed by comparison and many scenes don't have the drama, power and atmosphere they might have had; this isn't just about lavish rendering, the story suffers for this too. Another art problem is that there are lighting effects that distort the linework, this happens quite a lot in mainstream comics when a colorist goes overboard with effects on another artist, but in this case Corben did all the art. Some lines lose a lot of weight, so that sometimes the lines in a characters facial expression look weaker than they should and spoils a good drawing and renders the characters emotions less convincing.

The problems with the writing are that when the second issue started, the main character is writing poetry about the misfortune that fell upon a woman he recently met and has fallen in love with very quickly presumably because he is so isolated and slightly mad. He basically assigns himself as her love and protector and thinks of macho displays to win her even though she seems to be in really bad mental condition after she was attacked. You also find out there is an insect kitchen staff. I'm not sure it all of this is supposed to be funny, because most of the book seems to be played straight.
The biggest problem with the writing is that the language often reads like a parody of this particular genre of horror. Words like "forgotten lore" probably shouldn't be used even if you wanted to go for that archaic horror language because the cliché is overwhelming. It is difficult to write extravagantly in this style without becoming parody, but some words should obviously be avoided or used more carefully.

Despite all this, it is still a decent story and the visual ideas and the very idea of the place are the strongest thing to recommend the book. It really is all about the wonderful castle. I hope Corben keeps doing his original stories in this style but I think the clichés need cleaned away if the works are going to have any real power.


Marcel Ruijters said...

One big Corben fan over here. I agree about Muvovum, it's top notch.

And how sad it is that Mr. Corben has to team up with the likes of a no-talent sack of crap like Rob Zombie to make a living these days.

Marcel Ruijters said...

Also: out of Dave Cooper's body of work, Ripple I enjoyed the most. Of course, it's the classic love-turned-disaster story about an artist who falls for his model, but it's captivatingly told. Kind of meh about his later coffeetable books.

alkbazz said...

Thnx for sharing these reviews!
I'm not always fan of Corben but some are really good... I remind one in which a spaceship fall on a iceplanet, don't know how its called...

also love Cooper's work, i'm not sure about which one because of translation but i like his trilogy

sometimes i feel like "get away the story just draw", as in Burns book the story could be only graphic sequence that let you fill up holes in story with your imagination - its like words are conventionnal obligation we could just throw away