The GeeksverseREVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers: August 2013 Releases

REVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers: August 2013 Releases
Published on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 by
For the remainder of the year, we will be posting reviews of select 2013 trades and hardcovers that we weren’t able to cover in a timelier fashion. Today, we take a look at five books launched last August by Image Comics, Dark Horse, BOOM!/Archaia, and IDW. Unless otherwise indicated, all reviewed titles are digital copies provided free of charge by their respective publishers.
KOMACON (Image Comics)
  • Cover by In-Hyuk LeeStory: Anina Bennett, Colleen Doran, Joe Keatinge, Ben McCool, Beau Smith, Rick Veitch
  • Art: Jun-Hyuk Choi (a.k.a. Cory Choi), Hae Mi Jang (a.k.a. Haemi Jang), Rock-He Kim, Chan-Hyuk Lee, In-Hyuk Lee, Jung-Guen Yoon
  • Format: 80 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List price: $12.99
  • Sale date: 07 August 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Six exceptional young artists from South Korea join forces with six outstanding veteran American writers to create a cross-cultural anthology of spectacular breadth.
  • Click here to read the preview.

The common perception of the art in Korean comics (what is called manhwa), at least as far as most Western readers are concerned, is that it draws much of its influences from Japanese comics (manga) art. While not all South Korean comics art bears overt links to its Japanese counterpart, it is the case that the shōjo manga works of the so-called Year 24 Group were quite widely read in 1970s and early 1980s South Korea and inspired many future manhwa artists. Certainly, many of the most popular manhwa titles to see publication in North America, such as Mi-Kyung Yun’s Bride of the Water God (Dark Horse) and So-Hee Park’s Goong (Yen Press), reflect this in terms of their artistic sensibilities.

The individual self-contained short stories in this volume are entertaining in their own right, although the real points of interest here are the artists. KOMACON exposes Western readers to the diverse and original styles employed by South Korean comics artists that they may not normally be aware of, given the type of material that often makes it across the Pacific to be translated and published. Clive Barker’s Next Testament artist Hae Mi Jang’s collaboration with Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil) presents what can best be described as a Western comics/manhwa fusion style as does Rock-He Kim’s work in the Beau Smith-penned “Warshaw,” while Jun-Hyuk Choi’s blocky figures and surreal urban landscapes give off a pretty strong Ted McKeever vibe in “Smoker,” a short story written by Ben McCool (Pigs). Chan-Hyuk Lee’s wispy painted art on “Bloodeye” (written by Glory‘s Joe Keatinge) will remind readers of the work of Australian artist Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night) and Japanese illustrator Yoshitaka Amano (Deva Zan). The contributions from In-Hyuk Lee and Jung-Yuen Yoon, on the other hand, feature textured, painterly rendering of the type that is associated with contemporary digital illustrators like Stjepan Šejić (Aphrodite IX).

KOMACON succeeds, both as a short story anthology, and as what is essentially a showcase for “alternative” (to Western readers, at least) South Korean comics art. I would have really wanted to see some sort of introduction however, or a brief essay or two to give readers unfamiliar with the South Korean comics scene a picture of the industry and community as it now stands.

Todd, the Ugliest Kid on Earth, Vol. 1 (Image Comics)
  • toddv1_hcStory: Ken Kristensen
  • Illustrations: M.K. Perker
  • Colors: Cemal Soyleyen
  • Format: 96 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List price: $9.99
  • Sale date: 07 August 2013
  • Publisher’s description: This critically acclaimed hit series (now ongoing!) brings its first story arc to trade paperback format. Follow the misadventures of the Belluomo family and their infectiously optimistic paper-bag-wearing son. Irreverent and politically incorrect, TODD tickles every taboo in one wild ride filled with ax murderers, cults, celebrity stalkers, and a neo-Nazi prison gang. Collects TODD, THE UGLIEST KID ON EARTH #1-4.
  • Click here to read the preview.

Described on the book’s back cover as “irreverent and politically incorrect,” the copy neglects to mention one other important feature of Kristensen and Perker’s Todd, the Ugliest Kid on Earth: when the jokes land (and they do more often than they don’t, although the script has its fair share of clunkers as well), the result is laugh-out-loud-by-yourself subversive satire that tickles the funny bone on multiple levels. At its funniest, it comes off like a MAD magazine movie parody of a Silence of the Lambs-meets-Snatch mash-up. Is the book offensive? I imagine it would be for a good many readers—a comedy that concocts humor from the elements of bullying, racism, prison rape jokes, police corruption and incompetence, family dysfunction, marital infidelity, misogyny, celebrity obsession, and jabs at the Church of Scientology is bound to ruffle more than a few feathers. I don’t want to paint the picture that Todd, the Ugliest Kid on Earth is some kind of “equal opportunity offender” against good taste, however—that would suggest that Kristensen and Perker are only looking for cheap non sequitur and shock laughs, setting out to surprise and disgust as many readers as possible in the hopes that readers might mistake transgression for actual comedy. Instead, like any well-considered satire, all that deliberate and targeted button-pushing serves the purpose of commenting on the absurdities of contemporary society. The plot has a very shaggy quality to it, but readers with the appropriate comedic inclinations will neither be bothered nor care about the succession of O. Henry-style coincidences that punctuate the narrative.

Rubicon (BOOM!/Archaia)
  • Rubicon GN CoverStory: Dan Capel
  • Script: Mark Long
  • Art: Mario Stilla
  • Based on a story idea by: Christopher McQuarrie
  • Format: 128 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List price: $24.95
  • Sale date: 07 August 2013 (comic shops); 20 August 2013 (book stores)
  • Publisher’s description: In this story inspired by the classic “Seven Samurai,” five paramilitary Navy SEAL operators defend the residents of a remote mountain farming village in Afghanistan from attacks by marauding Taliban. Led by the war-weary Hector, the operators and villagers form mutual bonds of honor and respect leading up to a climactic battle where the “Lions of Panjshir” are desperately outnumbered. Story by Oscar®-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (Usual Suspects); founding member of SEAL Team Six, Dan Capel; and New York Times best-selling author Mark Long (The Silence of Our Friends). Written by Long and featuring an introduction by Richard Marcinko, best-selling author (Rogue Warrior) and the first commanding officer of SEAL Team Six. The graphic novel also features a pouch containing cool extras like a map, a Purple Heart replica certificate, and a handwritten letter!
  • Click here to read the preview.

One of the disadvantages of taking plot and thematic inspiration for an original graphic novel from such an influential and widely-known film as Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is that it leaves little room for genuine surprises. The characters are familiar no matter if it’s the first time we’re seeing them, we all know what the climax is going to be about despite the modern setting and circumstances, and we all know how it will all end, in broad strokes, if not in detail. In these cases, novelty and competence in execution become even more important.

Rubicon updates the Seven Samurai conceit by setting the story in present-day Afghanistan. Instead of the roving ronin defending a village from marauding bandits, Rubicon has an American special operations team tasked with helping a village fend off the Taliban. To its credit, the story by Capel doesn’t resort to the easy, good vs. evil set-up one might expect from military-themed popular entertainment. Rubicon‘s narrative reflects the complex and sometimes contradictory situation on the ground in Afghanistan, where the line separating ally and enemy, civilian and combatant, victim and assailant, victory and loss, is constantly shifting and frequently blurred. It’s worth noting, too, that the American forces aren’t so much tasked with “saving” the Afghan villagers as they are with helping them defend themselves—it’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.

Still, for all that it does right, Rubicon occasionally falters in terms of character development as well as the visuals. The dialogue and interactions in certain sections is boilerplate action movie stuff—not bad in and of itself, but it does detract from the reader’s sense of emotional ties with some of the characters. I was invested in the fate of certain characters not because they earned my sympathy, but because I felt obligated by dint of story convention. Mario Stilla’s rendering is solid—he doesn’t skimp on the accurate detail when illustrating equipment—although I’m not personally fond of the type of stylization he’s applied to the figurework, which has something of a 1990s superhero comic book look to it that seems at odds at times with the theme of the material and the tone of the writing. I’m also not too thrilled with the gratuitous use of irregularly-shaped panels, overlapping panel borders, and figures crossing panel boundaries. Used judiciously, such gimmicks can serve to infuse page layouts with extra dynamism, but when almost every panel is trapezoidal in shape, overlaps with its fellows, and has foreground objects spilling over its borders, the effects lose their impact and can make for jarring, uneven reading.

Fagin the Jew, 10th Anniversary Hardcover (Dark Horse) [EDITOR’S PICK]
  • fagin1p0Story & art: Will Eisner
  • Foreword by: Brian Michael Bendis
  • Introduction by: Jeet Heer
  • Format: 136 pages, sepia/black & white, hardcover
  • List price: $19.99
  • Sale date: 14 August 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Comics luminary Will Eisner takes on literary giant Charles Dickens, in this fascinating retelling of the life of Oliver Twist’s Fagin! Imagining Fagin’s impoverished childhood in the slums of London and his initiation into the criminal underworld, Eisner’s story counters the anti-Semitism of Victorian literature as his gorgeous brushwork creates an evocative portrait of the era.
  • Click here to read the preview.
  • Read the review of the remastered edition of Will Eisner’s Last Day in Vietnam here.

Will Eisner’s Fagin the Jew, one of the legendary cartoonist’s final works (it was originally published in 2003), is held up as the master visual storyteller’s powerful disputation of the anti-Semitism that informs much of Victorian-era literature, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist in particular. And it is that, but it is so much more. What is occasionally forgotten in any discussion of Fagin the Jew is that Eisner also used the work as a personal vehicle for exploring how he, a son of European immigrants raised in the Jewish tradition, ended up perpetuating a terrible racial stereotype through a character of his own creation, the unfortunately-named “darkie”-style character Ebony White who was featured regularly on The Spirit during the 1940s and the immediate post-War era.

Considered in that context, Fagin the Jew can also be viewed as, not so much an apology (although Eisner has made clear numerous times in the decades before his death his regrets over the design of Ebony White), but an attempt to explain how racial, religious, and cultural stereotypes arise in societies, even within a persecuted minority, and that combating stereotypes with a vindictive counter-discrimination is no solution at all, but simply an arc in the vicious cycle of unreasoning hate and prejudice. Eisner doesn’t let Dickens off the hook for the anti-Semitism in Oliver Twist, but he doesn’t go out of his way to demonize Dickens, either. Rather, his larger point is that the only true way forward and away from the divisiveness of the past is through dialogue, atonement, and forgiveness.

It goes without saying, of course, that the 10th Anniversary Hardcover edition of Fagin the Jew, looks absolutely beautiful. The art on this new version of Fagin the Jew hasn’t been touched up in any noticeable way from the already sepia-tinted original, which is just fine. A new foreword by Brian Michael Bendis and an extensive afterword by arts and culture journalist Jeet Heer round out an excellent package.

Visual Funk: Jim Mahfood Art (IDW)
  • JMahfood_ArtBook-pr-001Text & art: Jim Mahfood, a.k.a. Food One
  • Book design: Carmen “Jane Dope” Acosta
  • Front cover photo by: Cherie Roberts
  • Front cover colors by: Steven Chunn
  • Front cover model: Shay Maria
  • Back cover photo by: Enrique Espinoza
  • Interior colors by: Jim Mahfood, Steven Chunn, Justin Stewart, Anne Masse, Carmen Acosta, Jose Garibaldi, Kevin Foakes
  • Interior photos by: Jim Mahfood, Derek “AkiroPhoto” Puleston, Victoria Lara, Trisha Angeles
  • Pervert Train Models: Shay Maria, Kat G., Sara Brinsfield, Kate Werthheimer, Meredith Cunningham, Jana Jordan, Whitney Crittenden, Erica Ness, Alex, Callie O’Connor
  • Format: 256 pages, full color, oversized hardcover
  • List price: $49.99
  • Sale date: 28 August 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Jim Mahfood, a.k.a. Food One’s sixteen year long professional career has spanned across the fields of comic books, illustration, animation, advertising art, murals, gallery shows, body painting, and live art in bars and nightclubs. This is Mahfood’s first 250 page classy hardcover art book, featuring the absolute best of his diverse work, from finished art, sketches, behind the scenes concepts, never before seen drawings and designs, photographs of painted girls, and more. Mahfood’s style, the neo-psychedelic Visual Funk, is a combination of various influences that Jim has managed to turn into a recognizable brand, garnering a loyal following across the globe. This book is a must-have for comic book fans, art lovers, and pop culture connoisseurs alike!
  • Click here to read the preview.

Chalk this one up as my designated “nostalgia pick” for this set of reviews. I freely admit to being a fan of Jim Mahfood’s art for reasons that go beyond just finding it visually arresting: His idiosyncratic style, informed by mainstream comics, the alternative comix scene, advertising art, manga, as well as urban art and graffiti, was the perfect antidote to what I saw as the creeping homogeneity infecting much of the comics art of the mid and late-1990s. But more than that, Mahfood’s art came to represent for me what could be described as a modern version of ukiyo, a snapshot of what I tell myself was what it was like being in my late teens/early twenties, living alone in an urban center during those increasingly surreal premillennial years. Mahfood’s characters were smart, fresh, sexy, dangerous, beautiful, and just a touch insane, and if you were the right age, possessed the appropriate inclinations, and lived in the right place when first encountering his work, you’d think you were, too.

Anyway, if you consider yourself a fan of Mahfood’s art by any measure, it’s worth it to at least check out this hardcover art book, as it collects images of a wide range of his personal and commercial output, from comics pin-ups to graffiti to model bodypainting to album covers and even limited edition Colt 45 malt liquor can designs.

Check out our reviews of 2013 trades & hardcovers by clicking on the links below:
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