Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review - The Originals

The Originals
by Dave Gibbons
2005 Eisner Winner for Best Graphic Album (New)

Poor Dave Gibbons doesn't get the respect he deserves. He's the other half of the team that created Watchmen and the visual design of that book matched his partner's writing. Even with that partner's infamous obsessively detailed scripts Gibbon's sense of design helped create that unique world. That sense of design is on full display in The Originals and Gibbons demonstrates that he isn't exactly a slouch when it comes to writing either.

The story itself is an old one. Two punks grow up wanting to join what they see as the coolest street gang around. They get their opportunity and enjoy the high life of wild parties, great drugs, and action. Before long things go wrong and they have to face the consequences of their lifestyle.

To call this plot well-worn is an understatement. The Grand Canyon is "well-worn"; this is one of the more overused story lines out there. And Gibbons brings absolutely nothing new to the table with it. It's so weak that for a while I thought I'd come away from The Originals hating it. It's one cliche after another as the plot progresses. What Gibbons lacked in plotting he made for it with his actual writing.

Much of the story is accompanied by narration which is laid out more like a picture book than a comic. This could have been an annoying crutch however I found the voice of the book was engaging. These are foul, self-destructive people and Gibbons still presents their lifestyle as an attractive one. I hated the characters and at the same time I was interested in what was going to happen to them. He gives them moments of glory in revelry before bringing it down with ugly violence behind it.

The visual style of the book is terrific on every level. Besides Gibbons setting the panels so that the narration accompanies the pictures rather than acting as part of them. He creates a world that's a mix of nostalgia for the past and a run down dystopia. The gang fashions are essentially mods and greasers and the book is printed in a silvery tone. As things in the story progress the decay of the environment progresses with it.

The Originals has is a story that's been told with every possible setting and style but Gibbons did it reasonably well. I can't call it brilliant because even when he's doing good work in the pages it's all exactly what you'd expect. Even the gut punching conclusion is something that's been done dozens of times before. Still it isn't bad. It isn't going to stick with me but I don't feel bad about reading it. I'd hesitantly recommend it to those who would like a crime story with an SF spin; just don't expect anything new from it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review - Streetwise

Edited by Jon B. Cooke and John Morrow
Contains "The Gorilla Suit" by Sergio Aragonés
2001 Eisner Winner for Best Short Story

Well, I'm back. After my globetrotting adventure involving sunken treasure, animal smuggling rings, spies, and a plot to undermine the free world (soon to be a trashy airport novel by Clive Cussler) it's time to settle back into the routine of reviewing comics. And to ease myself into that groove I've got something light and charming this time out.

I wasn't sure what to expect with Streetwise. The only thing I knew about it when I got it was that Sergio Aragonés had his award winning short story in it. Still given how terrific Aragonés is (and has been for fifty years) I figured that it had to be worth getting only for that story. What it turned out to be was a treasure trove of autobiographical comics and essays by some of the greatest creators over the course of comic history. Some of posthumous like a story by Jack Kirby and an essay by C.C. Beck but most were commissioned for the book and it is clear that the most of the creators decided to have a bit of fun with the topic and they told the kind of amusing stories that typically only come out after a few drinks.

There's thirty-two stories in this 160-page anthology which means they tend to be short. Most creators go the short and pithy route and confine themselves to just three to five pages. I found those where the creator kept it tight were generally much better than the few who rambled for an extended period. In particular there were two extended "insider stories" about working for the big comic publishers that I felt dragged because they didn't have the room to explore the situation and weren't focused enough to be compelling. On the other hand as low points those stories were okay. Almost all of the rest were extremely entertaining.

If you're not familiar with the name Sergio Aragonés he'd be best known to the public as they guy who drew all those tiny one panel cartoons in the margins of Mad Magazine. He's a brilliant humorist and in Streetwise tells of his time as a clown in a diving show and what happened when he decided to use a gorilla suit in the act. Aragonés goes all out with this story and the facial expressions alone are enough to make me giggle. It's funny enough on it's own that I now desperately want him to create a full autobiography in this style; or at least a few hundred pages of anecdotes like this.

Other high points in the anthology are Don Simpson's adventures in the low end of higher education, Michael Gilbert's dinner party with a 60's burn out, and Bill Alger's story of a demonic voodoo cult running a hospital. Besides the new stories there's also a few special reprints like an unfinished Jack Kirby story about growing up in New York in the 1920's. Joe Sinnott contributed a piece so it would have been nice to see his inks on Kirby's pencils but the raw art still looks good (especially a two page spread of a street scene). Streetwise also has the original three page story for Art Spiegelman's Maus which would be eventually grow the seminal work that more people are familiar with.

Streetwise is a charming anthology and while I wasn't enthralled with every single story in it I found about three-quarters of them to fantastic. As far as I can tell almost all of these stories have never appeared anywhere else which means that this is the only place where you'll find some masterpieces by legends in the field. There's just too many good stories here to ignore it and I highly recommend the anthology.