Funnybook Babylon

July 27, 2009

Working Through the Pile: Pedro’s MoCCA Haul

Filed under: Reviews — Pedro Tejeda @ 8:38 pm

One of the things left off of our MoCCA podcast was the amazing amount of material we purchased at the show. Isn’t that the point of MoCCA: to discover new books and get the hotness everyone keeps talking about? If I don’t walk away with less money in my pocket and a pile of books to read through, I wouldn’t be able to say that I had a good time. This MoCCA was no different than previous shows, but I did find my selections partly driven by my experience reading Denis Barjam’s Universal War One.

Universal War One was typical military science fiction done in that hyper detailed French comic style that makes my mouth water. I enjoyed the early direction the story took, but the book lost me when it got bogged down in using time travel to resolve the storyline and to justify the characters’ motivations. Still, it left me with a desire for more stories that had a sense of adventure to them, and this mindset influenced several of the books I bought at MoCCA.

Pug Davis #1 by Rebecca SugarPug Davis #1, by Rebecca Sugar stands out since it was closer to an experimental art comic than the rest of my purchases. Pug follows the space adventures of All-American hero Pug Davis, a man with a pug’s head, and The Blouse, Pug’s effeminate sidekick. Sugar uses the first two pages to set up the duo, Pug resolves situations with his fists while The Blouse cowers in fear. This leads into a second story where they are attacked by floating brains that cause people to relive their worst memories, like a reverse Black Mercy. Sugar demolishes this section. I must have gone over it six or seven times, digesting pages that made not only clear narrative sense but also were bleeding over with emotion and power. This second story also expands the characters of Pug and The Blouse in a sequence where they experience each other’s past. This is followed by this moment of downtime where they recover from the attack and try to hash out what they just saw. It’s a very clever and natural way for Sugar to provide the main characters’ origins. So far Sugar has done three issues,are all available on her site. While you are there I highly recommend you check out one of her other stories, “Don’t Cry for Me, I’m Already Dead”. It’s phenomenal.

I ended up talking with Sugar and her tablemate Ian J about the type of books I was looking to buy. Ian recommended that I check out The Mourning Star series by Kazimir Strezepek. I actually spied it earlier on Bodega Distribution‘s crowded table but was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options they offered. Thankfully I went back for Mourning Star because I enjoyed both volumes released so far. The series follows the survivors of a world nearly destroyed by a comet. The story jumps between different groups: a young man looking to find his kidnapped sweetheart, an amnesiac warrior, and a gang that is slowly taking over what is left of society. Strezepek lets the stories play out individually, building up aspects of this world’s culture, people and society. I enjoyed that Strezepek eschewed a main narrative but instead using the crossing paths to drive the stories forward The Mourning Star are smaller than your average comic, running five and half inches on each side, only allowing no more than four panels per page. Strezepek paces his story so that the size never feels like a limitation. I also enjoyed the little bits that he includes, like a Baby’s First Dictionary for one character’s artificial language. It is details like that which make a world filled with magic, different species of characters, and dangerous weapons so much deeper. It’s the type of world building I would playfully mimic as an adolescent. If you spent your childhood years filling up composition books with mystical worlds, characters, and weapons, I believe you’ll dig these books as much as I did.

I only read Asterios Polyp because Jamaal had asked me to buy it for him. I’m glad he did, because it will be the book every other great comic this year will be measured against. There isn’t a single aspect of Polyp that I do not love and that David Mazzucchelli doesn’t nail. It’s a master class on visual storytelling and a constant reminder that we still have tons and tons more depth in this medium. It also features graphical storytelling through charts, which I can never ever get enough of. I can’t wait to discuss this in detail on the podcast.

I was attracted to Neil Kleid and Jake Allen’s Brownsville because it was about Jewish gangsters causing mayhem on the streets of 1940s New York. The story follows Albert ‘Tick Tock’ Tanennbaum from his first encounter with Jewish mobsters until the end of his criminal career. Kleid draws much of the story from true events, but he is never able to tie them into a coherent story. Ironically, Tanennbaum never feels like a real person. He never pushes beyond being the cliche of a poor kid trying to make it. It doesn’t help that Allen’s art does a poor job of giving any of the characters a distinctive look. The black and white art could have used some color so that the numerous gangsters could be more visually distinctive. I felt like I was reading the storyboard for a movie, just getting the basics so I could understand how the scenes looked but needing the actors, the set designers, and others to fill in all the details. I have had similar issues with other historical fiction comics like Wire Mothers, but when this genre works, like it does in just about anything by James Sturm, it’s one of my favorites. If you do want to check Brownsville out, a good chunk of the comic is up on the NBM site.

Bourbon Island 1730 coverFinally, I picked up Bourbon Island 1730 by Lewis Trondheim and Olivier “Apollo” Appollodorus. Jamaal and Chris call this one of their favorite books of 2008, and had I read it last year I would have agreed with them. Set on an island west of Madagascar, Bourbon Island mostly follows Raphael, a naive assistant ornithologist, as his group searches for the Dodo. They find themselves on an island preparing for the execution of a pirate captain who was the leader to many of the island’s citizens, ex-pirates themselves. Some pirates have become outcasts in the mountains and continue to fight for freedom, and they see stopping the execution as their last chance to usurp the upper class colonists who control most of the island. The colonists see it as the end of a long campaign to finally control this uncivilized part of the world. Those trapped between the two sides wish to keep their friends alive but not lose the little safety they have achieved. Appollo and Trondheim handle complicated ideas and viewpoints in incredibly subtle ways. Where weaker writers might have used extensive monologues to portray each side, they use a few choice words or a wordless panel. It succeeds as a historical fiction comic because it doesn’t just capture the events but also the feeling of that time period. They get the sense and scope of their world across with fantastic economy. It’s a book that will stick with you long after you read it.

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