Thursday, September 28, 2017

C’est la Guerre Review: Knights of the Skull

This post originally appeared on FreakSugar.com

Knights of the Skull: Barbarossa. Cover by Wayne Vansant.

Wayne Vansant’s Knights of the Skull volumes 1 (Blitzkrieg) & 2 (Barbarossa) are young adult graphic histories tracing the development of the Wehrmacht’s armored units, with particular focus on the evolution of German tank design. Judging by the series title, the books are a kind of continuation of Vansant’s 2014 black and white collection Knights of the Skull: Tales of the Waffen SS. The first two volumes in the new series are full-color, and cover German tank development from the end of World War I to the start of the Soviet counteroffensive around Moscow in December 1941. Vansant is returning to familiar territory here. In a career spanning over 30 years, he has produced several excellent graphic histories in the war comics genre, including Days of Darkness, Days of Wrath, The Battle of the Bulge, and Normandy to name a very few.

In the inter-war years, Germany was the only nation to undertake a sustained program to develop both tank technology and both tactical and strategic armored warfare doctrines. While advocates of tank warfare existed in almost every nation that had participated in World War I (George Patton in the US, B.H. Liddell Heart and J.F.C. Fuller in Britain, Mikhail Tukhachevsky in the USSR) but they were largely ignored by the existing military establishments in their own countries (Tukhachevsky had actually made significant progress in Soviet doctrine and armored theory as the Red Army’s chief of staff, but his policies were discredited and discarded after he was executed during Stalin’s military purges during the late 1930s). Heinz Guderian, on the other hand, was extraordinarily successful not only in the development of doctrine, but also in convincing the German high command to support his work. Hitler himself was immediately taken with the panzers and theories of mechanized warfare when he came to power in 1933, and threw his full support behind the creation of the panzer forces.

Vansant traces this history briefly in volume I of Knights of the Skull, using the careers and military exploits of historical figures like Guderian, Erwin Rommel, Hans von Luck, Franz Bake, Kurt Knispel, and Michael Wittmann to anchor the narrative and give the story specific human faces. However, Vansant is often more sharply focused on the technological development of the tanks themselves, which while allowing him to give full reign to his undoubted expertise with historically accurate portrayals of tanks and armored vehicles. The art throughout is detailed and accurate, but the books definitely fall more into the illustrated history category rather than true sequential art, as the illustrations are mostly there to support the text, with each panel often depicting scenes hundreds of miles and/or weeks apart. Vansant covers a great deal very accurately, while keeping the story moving and maintaining the very real tension and drama of events. The work is informative, well-paced, and gripping. There are also occasional interludes between chapters where Vansant takes a page or two to compare German and allied tanks, or to detail the brutal treatment of prisoners by both sides on the Russian front. These breaks remind me pleasantly of the similar splash pages and two-page spreads that were a regular feature of DC’s classic war comics. Moreover, the author provides detailed maps for each campaign, showing lines of advance and retreat to help locate the reader in time and space. He is also to be applauded for revealing that the campaigns in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France, while victorious for the Wehrmacht and certainly vindications of Guderian’s theories, were not really the walk-overs they are generally assumed to have been. Vansant’s panzertruppen are highly trained, highly motivated, but also facing a steep learning curve as they translate training and theory to the realities of the battlefield.

Knights of the Skull: Blitzkrieg pp. 20-21, story and art by Wayne Vansant.

As for the books themselves, Schiffer Publishing has produced nice, magazine-sized paperback editions that give Vansant’s art and subject matter the room it deserves. Unfortunately, the publisher’s editorial department drops the ball here and there, letting several misspellings and subject-verb disagreements slip through the cracks. Admittedly, this is a pet peeve of mine, but it really does seem that publishers and editors are paying less and less attention to spelling and grammar, leading to some unnecessary breaks in the flow of the narrative.

Overall however, Knights of the Skull provides an excellent, accessible overview of its historical subject, and doesn’t shy away from depicting some of the war crimes committed in the East. That having been said, this history is – so far (and unlike the original Knights of the Skull collection) – aimed at a younger, early to-mid teen audience and is therefore rather bloodless, making no attempt to depict the grim realities of the war, or to address atrocities committed by the panzer troops themselves, or the Wehrmacht’s collusion and cooperation in the Nazi’s genocidal programs in eastern Europe. In fact, Guderian and his colleagues are perhaps a bit too much the “good Germans.” This time-honored war comics formula of cool vehicles and military genius largely divorced from ideology feels old-fashioned, and not in a good way. These people were not Good Guys, and every single one of them swore loyalty to Adolf Hitler. Not the rule of law, or Germany, or even to the Nazi Party, but to Adolf Hitler personally, and then they were essential in perpetrating the most horrific conflict in human history. Leaving all of that out isn’t historical objectivism, it’s historical amnesia, and in case you haven’t noticed, that’s a really bad idea.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

C’est la Guerre: Johnny Canuck!

This post originally appeared on FreakSugar.com

Johnny Canuck: Compendium, 1942-1946. art by Leo Bachle.

Undoubtedly, one of the most famous images in comic book history is the cover for Captain America Comics #1 where Cap marks his premiere by delivering a devastating right hook to Adolf Hitler’s jaw while deflecting and dodging the hail of gunfire from der Fuhrer’s guards. The red, white, and blue-garbed Steve Rogers wasn’t the only North American comic hero to do some Hitler-punching, however, being followed in 1942 by Canada’s own Johnny Canuck. Canada’s Golden Age of comics was born out of World War II. As part of the British Commonwealth, Canada had been at war since September of 1939, and by the end of 1940, Canadian soldiers, sailors, and airmen had already mobilized and been sent into combat against German forces, including during the Battle of France and the ongoing Battle of Britain.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, Canada had rapidly become the storehouse and arsenal of the Commonwealth, shipping thousands of tons of food, equipment, weapons, and aircraft to Britain. As the supply of engines and equipment from England for building British-designed aircraft and equipment was suspended in May of 1940, Canada had to purchase such supplies from the US, leading to a growing trade imbalance between the two countries. This in turn led to the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) of December, 1940, which banned the importation to Canada of “non-essential” material and products from the USA. This included American comic books, and created a vacuum that Canadian publishers rushed to fill. With the war effort having first call on colored ink supplies and presses, Canadian comics publishers defaulted to books with colored covers, but black-and-white interiors, earning the books the nickname of “whites.”

As in American comics, Canadian comics characters spent a great deal of time fighting the Nazis and the Japanese both at home and abroad, and in 1942, 17-year-old Leo Bachle created the most famous, and most beloved wartime Canadian hero, Johnny Canuck. Bachle’s feature ran in Bell Publishing’s Dime Comics from 1942 – 1946 (although Bachle had left Bell for the more lucrative waters of New York comic publishing before the WECA was lifted in 1946.) Collected and Kickstarted in 2015 by Rachel Richey, and published by Chapterhouse, Johnny Canuck: Compendium, 1942-1946 brings together all 28 Johnny Canuck stories in one hardback volume that provides an incredibly fun foray into the Golden Age of comics.

Johnny Canuck script and art by Leo Bachle.

Johnny Canuck, “Canada’s Answer to Nazi Oppression,” spends a great deal of time shirtless and solving problems with his fists in adventures that roar by with the pacing of a missile. Each installment runs from 7 to 10 pages, so the action comes fast and thick. Johnny is brave, loyal, square-jawed and powerfully built, while the Nazis are drawn, manacled, scarred, and all speak in a dialect dripping with phrases like “Und I shall collect der ten thousand marks dot haf been offered by our illustrious leader!” Indeed, sentences in Johnny Canuck only end with question marks or exclamation point, with the latter far outnumbering the former as Johnny fights his way through North Africa, Soviet Russia, Yugoslavia, the Pacific, Germany, and France.

Subtlety is not what these comics are about. Good is good and bad is bad, and the tones are simple black and whites. The stories are simple, amply populated with slim, beautiful women who all (even the evil Nazi spy-girls) at have at least a little bit of a thing for our fearless (and shirtless) hero, and are written with classic cliff-hanger endings for every issue. In fact, the Johnny Canuck strips are more similar to old movie serials from the 1930s and early 1940s than anything else, with the same, breathless, breakneck pace. Artistically, Bachle takes his style from Alex Raymond and Milton Caniff, and one of the most interesting things about the Compendium is that the reader sees Bachle’s style and talent grow from merely very skilled into an artist working fully in his own style, and one who comes to use the black and white format of the Canadian Whites to his full advantage, reveling in deep blacks, chiaroscuro, and meticulous line work. Here the Johnny Canuck strips work as a kind of montage of the creator’s development, for Bachle was churning out dozens of different strips for Bell at the same time he was working on Johnny Canuck, accruing thousands of hours of experience and experimentation in just four short years.

Johnny Canuck written and drawn by Leo Bachle.

Like almost all comics of the era Johnny Canuck was produced at the writer/artist’s tops speed, and with minimal editorial oversight. Bell Publishing was far more concerned with getting the books in print and selling than with proper spelling, realism, or even necessarily more than passable art. Comic books, after all, were viewed as disposable entertainment for kids, who wouldn’t notice unconventional spelling or grammar. Nonetheless, Johnny Canuck became a Canadian sensation, beloved by not only kids, but adults, including Canadian servicemen overseas. Late in the war, Bachle was even detained on the Canadian side of the border when attempting to return to his new job in New York City because he had been deemed to be “vital to the war effort” because of Johnny.

Johnny Canuck, written and drawn by Leo Bachle.

 

 

In all, the Axis-smashing adventures of Johnny Canuck are an incredibly joyous romp through the Golden Age, and a tremendously eye-opening look into the war-time psyche of a culture that we Americans tend to see as polite to a fault, and not at all the kind of folks who would go about socking anyone in the jaw. Shows what we know. So, pick up Johnny Canuck: Compendium, 1942-1946 from your local comic shop or direct from Chapterhouse, and kick back and enjoy a simpler time, when no one was questioning whether or not one should punch Nazis.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

C’est la Guerre: #ComicsHateNazis

This post originally appeared on FreakSugar.com

Our Army at War #160, cover art by Joe Kubert.

In response to the neo-Nazi/white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend, comic writer/historian/activist Gail Simone asked comics fans to post pictures of comic book heroes fighting Nazis under the hashtag #ComicsHateNazis. Needless to say, the response was immediate, immense, and the tag was soon trending in a big way across multiple platforms. People posted image after image from throughout comics history showing superheroes punching Nazis or destroying swastikas and other Nazi symbols, and it was good – an affirmation that the medium we all love so much had consistently stood against such a repugnant ideology. Yet in all the panels showing the tights-and-capes crowd taking it to the fascists, I found it odd that no one had apparently posted any images from the vast field of war comics. So, I decided to post one of my own, and one issue immediately came to my mind: Our Army at War #160, from November of 1965.

Of course, fighting Nazis was the bread and butter of American war comics, but at their best, war comics often used that basic premise as a vehicle for commentary on the contemporary culture, and when done right, that commentary was devastating. Enter OAAW #160’s main story “What’s the Color of Your Blood?” written by Robert Kanigher with art by Joe Kubert. The story centers around Jackie Johnson, an ahistorical African-American GI serving in Sgt. Rock’s otherwise majority-white Easy Company (historically, during WWII, US Army units were segregated). First introduced in 1961 in OAAW #113, Jackie Johnson was one of the first non-stereotyped African-American characters to appear in mainstream comics, and the character’s total acceptance as just another incredibly capable “combat-happy Joe of Easy Co.” remains one of the most powerful anti-segregation, anti-racist statements in comics, particularly coming as it did during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

Our Army at War #113, cover by Joe Kubert.

Four years later, Jackie had evolved into a kind of combination of Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis, as a former world heavyweight boxing champion who had been defeated before the war by “Storm Trooper” Uhlan in Madison Square Garden, where Uhlan served as an exemplar of the Nazi’s Aryan racial ideal. In the comic, Rock, Jackie, and Wild Man have been captured by a German paratrooper unit led by none other than “Strom Trooper” Uhlan himself. The story centers around a rematch between Uhlan and Jackie, intended by the Nazis to underline their racial superiority. Throughout the match, Uhlan demands that Jackie admit that his blood isn’t red like a man’s but black – inferior. There are some twists and turns in the story, and the reader is treated to some more of Jackie’s backstory along with a retelling of the events in OAAW #113, but the climactic moment lands like a bomb. For my money it’s one of the greatest moments in comics, and was my contribution to #ComicsHateNazis:

Our Army at War #160, script by Robert Kanigher, art by Joe Kubert.

With this story Kanigher and Kubert unflinchingly linked Nazi and American racism directly, refusing to see any difference. To cap things off, the issue ends with Jackie unhesitating volunteering to give Uhlan a lifesaving blood transfusion. It is not only a refutation of the pseudo-science of racism, but a declaration that a person’s worth has nothing to do with genetics, and everything to do with their character. Facts which are as true today as they were then.

Our Army at War #160.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

C’est la Guerre: GoFundMe for Sam Glanzman

This post originally appeared on FreakSugar.com

Sam Glanzman brought a passion and style to his art that is instantly recognizable, and which quite literally helped to define an entire genre. He will be very sorely missed.

Sam Glanzman, grand-master of the war comics genre and of the comics medium itself, died on July 12 this year, aged 92. Mr. Glanzman worked in the comics industry for almost 80 years, beginning in 1939 at the age of 15. When he turned 18 in December of 1942, however, Mr. Glanzman traded in his artist’s brushes for sailor’s denims, and enlisted in the Navy. After boot camp, Sam joined the crew of DD479, the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Stevens, on which he would serve until the war ended in late 1945. Along the way the Stevens would participate in in 16 different naval operations in the Pacific Theater, destroying 14 Japanese planes, including some engaged in kamikaze attacks against the ship, and the ship was awarded three commendations. In short, the Stevens was an American destroyer in World War II, one of the famous “Tin Cans,” small, fast, fragile, and capable of taking on a variety of missions and operations, some of which had never been envisioned by her designers.

Sam Glanzman at his desk in 2010.

Against regulations, Mr. Glanzman kept a journal of his time aboard the Stevens, complete with sketches and finished artwork illustrating the ship, her crew, and the events and sights he saw during his tour of duty. After the war, he became a professional illustrator, eventually taking a job drawing comics for Charlton Comics in 1958. There he became known for his work on Carleton’s historical war comics, producing detailed, accurate illustrations and stories. By the mid-1960s, Mr. Glanzman was regularly freelancing for Charlton and Dell working largely on war comics like Dell’s Combat, but also branching out to do fantasy work on titles like Tarzan, and co-created (with Joe Gill), Adventures of the Man-God Hercules, in which, freed from the need for historical accuracy, he was able to stretch his artistic muscles, creating a comic that was highly stylized and experimental for the time. In war comics, working with Will Franz, Mr. Glanzman co-created the legendary “The Lonely War of Willie Shultz” for Charlton’s Fightin’ Army.

All this time, his wartime journals and experiences on the Stevens lay largely untouched save as reference material when drawing other stories (fictional and non) set in the war. Until, that is, late 1969 when Mr. Glanzman joined DC’s stable of regular freelancers under the editorial auspices of Joe Kubert. The first USS Stevens story, “Frightened Boys… Or Fighting Men” appeared in Our Army at War 218, cover dated April 1970. A four-page tale, “Frightened Boys…” was still something different, something special. A simple story of a group of newly assigned sailors undergoing their baptism of fire aboard the Stevens during a kamikaze attack, in four pages, Mr. Glanzman caught the terror, the courage, and the desperation of these terribly young men at war, with the story flowing from panel to panel with a grace and easy fluidity that would become a hallmark of his work. Despite becoming the primary illustrator for DC’s G.I. Combat’s “Haunted Tank” stories, it would be these small back-page stories that would cement Mr. Glanzman’s place as one of comics’ greats. He would go on to write Stevens stories for DC through 1977, and would return to the ship and her crew again and again in the 1980s for Marvel’s Savage Tales. In 2013, Mr. Kubert would ask Mr. Glanzman to revive the Stevens for what would be Mr. Kubert’s last work, Joe Kubert Presents, insisting that Mr. Glanzman was one of the finest artists he had ever known.

Opening page of the first USS Stevens story for DC comics, in Our Army at War 218 (1970). Story and art by Sam Glanzman.

In recent years, Eisner-nominated editor Drew Ford has brought Mr. Glanzman’s work back into publication, beginning with A Sailor’s Story  and The USS Stevens: The Collected Stories from Dover Press, and following up with Red Range and the forthcoming Voyage to the Deep from Mr. Ford’s own It’s Alive Press. In the wake of Mr. Glanzman’s final illness, Mr. Ford has created a Go Fund Me campaign to help Mr. Glanzman’s widow, and to celebrate his long career by publishing Sam Glanzman Forever, a tribute to the artist which will include unpublished letters, art, photographs, and tributes from Mr. Glanzman’s fellow professionals and fans alike. At the time of writing the campaign has raised a little over $16,000 of its $20,000 goal, but donations are still being accepted, and gifts of $175 and up receive original artwork by Mr. Glanzman or pieces donated by other artists, including work by Jok and Al Milgrom. Previous volumes from It’s Alive have been incredibly high quality, and there is no reason to believe that Sam Glanzman Forever will be any different. If you can, donate. You’ll not only be helping out the family of one of comics’ greats, but you’ll also have the opportunity to own a collector’s item that is guaranteed to be something special.

In a medium where art and story all too often feel like interchangeable, pre-packaged, industrial productions, Sam Glanzman brought a passion and style to his art that is instantly recognizable, and which quite literally helped to define an entire genre. He will be very sorely missed.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

C’est la Guerre Review: The Death of Stalin

This post originally appeared on FreakSugar.com

The Death of Stalin p.19, art by Thierry Robin.

This month, Titan Comics releases the first English translation of The Death of Stalin, written by Fabien Nury with art by Thierry Robin. Originally written in French, the graphic novel has attracted international attention as the inspiration for the forthcoming eponymous, star-studded Armando Giovanni film. The book chronicles the period from March to September 1953, from the night Stalin suffered an ultimately (but not immediately) fatal stroke to Khrushchev’s seizure of power later that year. Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union from April of 1922 to March of 1953 more absolutely than any Czar, and with a ruthlessness that has become legendary. He was feared, but he was also widely beloved by the Soviet people (and remains so among many Russians even today). Nury and Thierry open their work with a caution that while the book is based on historical events, it is a work of fiction, although they note that their fiction is less strange than the actual events surrounding Stalin’s demise.

The Soviet Council of Ministers. clockwise from top: Molotov, Beria, Kaganovitch, Malenkov, Bulganin, Mikoyan. and Khrushchev. Art by Thierry Robin.

Like many successful dictators, Stalin was a genius at disassociating himself in the eyes of the public from the abuses of his regime while firmly establishing himself as the fount of its successes. Beyond his carefully designed and maintained public image, however, Stalin was a man who ruled through fear, and who held absolute power of life and death over tens of millions of people. After 53 years of rule, in many ways, Stalin was the government of the Soviet Union, and was certainly the only leader many citizens had ever known. At the time of Stalin’s stroke, the seven members of the Soviet Council of Ministers were ill prepared for a transition of power, as Stalin had deliberately kept the chairmen busy trying to maneuver against each other rather than him. The following few days, as Stalin lingered, slipping in and out of consciousness, were witness to repeated rounds of plotting and rejoicing at his impending demise, followed by overwrought scenes of joyous relief and performances of loyalty when it seemed that the “Man of Steel” might just recover.

The Death of Stalin. Script by Fabien Nury, art by Thierry Robin.

Central to these schemes and scenes was Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s long-time executioner, and head of the NKVD, state security, and the secret police. Beria was the first to be informed of Stalin’s stroke, and later claimed to have “done him in,” although whether he was referring to his decision to delay treatment or to something more direct is unknown. Bury and Robin make Beria the center of their story as he attempts to manipulate events and people in order to seize control. Stalin himself plays little direct part in the story, but his presence looms over everything that occurs throughout the book. Nury and Robin perfectly reveal the very real terror that was life under Stalin from the opening panels, when Stalin calls the studio of Radio Moscow to congratulate them on a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, and to tell them that he will be sending someone around to pick up a recording of the performance the next day. Unfortunately, the performance was a live event, and had not been recorded. No matter, however, as the orchestra simply stayed and recreated their performance that same night to record it for Stalin. Because failure to provide him with what he wanted meant the gulag at best and death at worse – for everyone involved. The fear is palpable, and the reader can almost smell it coming off of Robin’s figures.

What follows is a tour of a world gone mad, but one which operates by its own set of blood-soaked rules, and Nury and Robin take the reader through it effortlessly, evoking disgust, horror, laughter, and wonder in turn, and sometimes all at once. The creators also to an incredible job of separating average citizens and soldiers from the seven ministers at the heart of the system: the widow who wants to take her son to see and honor Stalin’s body as it lays in state, because his father died at Stalingrad. The Red Army officer who finds himself at the center of a tragedy that he neither caused nor could really have avoided. Moreover, the utter indifference of the men in power to those they rule is brilliantly conveyed by Nury and Robin’s decision not to emphasize it. Instead they present it like it was, a fact of life. My favorite touches are two quintessentially Russian “jokes” (which I’ll let you discover yourself) that I suspect are historically accurate, but which in any case reflect the fatalistic, often bitter humor that has been a hallmark of that people since before the Mongols invaded. Robin’s art is breathtaking, using a variety of panel-layouts, framing, and viewpoints that keeps the reader glued to the page and moving effortlessly through the story, while from page one, panel one, Nury lives in a brilliant balance of words and wordlessness that is the thing that comic writers dream of.

Script by Fabien Nury, art by Thierry Robin.

In all, The Death of Stalin is a brilliant, darkly funny portrait of the machinations of the powerful, and a deeply moving study of the people who are both the victims of, and victors over their rulers. The heart of this incredible story is ultimately in the background, in the characters who have been forgotten by history, or who spring from the pens of Nury and Robin. This is an astonishing feat of storytelling in any medium, and a vanishingly rare one in comics. The Death of Stalin is a work of beauty in the Russian mold, where “the awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” In short, this book has soul.

The Death of Stalin is currently available at comic shops, and will be released on Amazon and other booksellers on July 25.

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Ten Percent – The Best One-Night Stands!

This post originally appeared on BiffBamPop.com

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“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

Greetings and welcome to another installment of The Ten Percent, a space where Ensley F. Guffey and I take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the small portion of everything which is not crud. Viewed as a whole, Sturgeon was, sadly, right – the vast majority of movies, television, writing, art, and so on really is crud – but there has always been that slim slice of sublime. The Ten Percent isn’t limited by genre – I think our previous columns have proven that point – and that’s because these rare gems are high quality productions which demand more of their viewer than simple passive reception.

This column is a little different, since the focus is not going to be on a single item, but rather on a service that I urge you – yes, YOU – to take nigh-immediate advantage of. Fathom Events is a content provider owned by the AMC and Regal movie theater chains which is devoted to using satellite feeds to bring extremely-limited screenings (one-night stands, usually) to theaters across the United States. The choices offered through Fathom range dramatically – I’ve seen Rifftrax screenings of extraordinarily bad movies and short films, as well as true classics like Casablanca, since Fathom and Turner Classic Movies have teamed up to get cinematic gems back on the silver screen. And let me tell you – it’s completely different from seeing these movies in the comfort of your own living room. When Ingrid Bergman is twenty feet tall, you understand what all the fuss is about – that woman is so luminous she fairly glows. Fathom also has an arrangement with the Metropolitan Opera in New York to broadcast encore shows this summer – and trust me, if you have never seen an opera, it’s not stuffy and dull as you might have been told. Opera is blood-and-guts, passion-and-revenge writ extra-large when it’s simply on stage – put that on the big silver screen and WOW!

What makes a Fathom event special is also the audience – when Ensley and I last went to Casablanca, there was one gentleman wearing a white dinner jacket, as if he had just come from Rick’s. (I suspect he had letters of transit tucked safely in the inner pocket of his jacket.) You’re part of a crowd who loves movies and who had to do some planning to get there. It’s congenial, fun, and joyous.

For us, the closest theaters that are part of Fathom event screenings are about an hour’s drive away, so we make a “date night” out of it. Tickets are a few dollars more (only a few) than a usual night showing of a movie and you’ll have tales to tell.

Fathom isn’t limited to the high-brow. (Seriously – Fast Times at Ridgemont High is scheduled for the end of July. Oh, Spicoli!) They include sporting events, inspirational documentaries (one devoted to Steve McQueen’s search for meaning is on the schedule for September!), and anime. (Really, you should check out Studio Ghibli FestKiki’s Delivery Service is scheduled for this month.) There’s even a chance for you to score a foam shark hat if you go see Shark Week on the big screen! Or, if you prefer the fine arts, Fathom has you covered with broadcasts of the upcoming Bolshoi Ballet season as well as the new production of Kushner’s Angels in America being staged by London’s National Theatre. Or why not give the color and energy of Bollywood a try?

And don’t forget that later this year, it’s The Princess Bride which you know you need to go to.

Make plans – you won’t regret it!

Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz are co-authors of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, and of the forthcoming Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Babylon 5 Universe (September 2017). You can find Dale online at her blog unfetteredbrilliance.blogspot.com and on Twitter as @KDaleKoontz. Ensley hangs out at solomonmaos.com and on Twitter as @EnsleyFGuffey.


Filed under: Film, K. Dale Koontz, The Ten Percent Tagged: angels in america, bollywood, bolshoi ballet, casablanca, ensley f. guffey, fast times at ridgemont high, fathom events, metropolitan opera, rifftrax, Shark Week, steve mcqueen, Studio Ghibli, tcm, the princess bride, The Ten Percent, theodore sturgeon

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

C’est la Guerre Review – Berlin: The Seven Dwarves

This post originally appeared on FreakSugar.com

Marvano’s juxtaposition of the sun-drenched fields of England and the explosion-ripped pitch of the nights above Berlin is beautiful and terrible, and his portrayal of loss and love in a world gone savage places him among the finest war comic creators.


Berlin: The Seven Dwarves cover, art & story by Marvano.
Recently I’ve been raving about Belgian artist and writer Marvano’s (Mark Van Oppen) work on the graphic novel adaptation of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, currently being reprinted by Titan Comics. My introduction to Marvano’s work, however, actually began with one of his later works, a war comic published in America under the title Berlin: The Seven Dwarves. This small graphic novel is actually part one of a trilogy of books, each with a connection to the eponymous city, and each taking place in a different year: 1943 for Berlin: The Seven Dwarves, 1948 for Berlin: Reinhard le Goupil, and 1961 in Berlin: Deux Enfants de Roi. Unfortunately, the latter two volumes have yet to be translated into English, and your correspondent’s French is – sadly – only adequate enough to give me the bare jist of their contents.
The three volumes focus on the Second World War and its aftermath, with the first book focusing on the pilot and crew of the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber named “Snow White” for its squadron call letter “S,” and in reference to the seven crewmen who serve aboard – her seven dwarves. The war story is framed by the meeting of two older women at an abandoned RAF airfield in 1993, where the elder shares with the younger a letter from Flight Sergeant David “Aubie” Auberson, the Snow White’s pilot and CO, dating from 1943. Auberon and his crewmates were part of the massive British night bombing campaign over Germany and occupied Western Europe. Arising from the lack of long-range fighters to protect the bombers during the day, and the British abandonment of the idea of strategic bombing in favor of area bombing – specifically designed to “de-house” the German population, particularly the working class – night-bombing became the specialty of RAF’s Bomber Command throughout the war.

Berlin, art & story by Marvano.
Despite resulting in fewer losses than daylight raids, the combination of well-coordinated anti-aircraft artillery, searchlights, increasingly effective German night-fighters, and the difficulties of nighttime navigation, the RAF’s bomber crews suffered heavy casualties throughout the war. In Berlin, Marvano perfectly captures the stressed-to-destruction tension and terror of these raids, the freezing temperatures, the sudden chaos of enemy searchlights and flack, and the end of terribly young lives, whether in an instant or an eternity of fiery agony. Aubie himself, in command of thousands of tons of aircraft and thousands of pounds of bombs, is all of nineteen. He has flown 17 combat missions over Germany. Sarah, the WAAF that has caught his eye, and who has already lost a husband to the war, is an ancient twenty-four. Neither their ages nor experiences are historically remarkable.

Berlin, art & story by Marvano.
Berlin does not shrink from the war, and Marvano is at his beautiful best, again displaying his mastery of the subtle detail – a beautiful spring field dusted with blooming red poppies, strange and silly wartime posters urging vigilance or caution, blinding afterimages from exploding flak, or a Plexiglas machinegun turret suddenly painted red from the inside with blood. Marvano’s juxtaposition of the sun-drenched fields of England and the explosion-ripped pitch of the nights above Berlin is sublime, and his portrayal of loss and love in a world gone savage places him among the finest war comic creators. At the time of writing, Berlin: The Seven Dwarves is available new on Amazon for just under $14 in paperback, or $8.99 for Kindle.
This is one you should own.
The post C’est la Guerre Review – Berlin: The Seven Dwarves appeared first on Freaksugar.


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Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Ten Percent – Gaiman’s Pages

This post originally appeared on BiffBamPop.com

“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

 

Greetings and welcome to another installment of The Ten Percent! Every two weeks (well, roughly), Ensley F. Guffey and I use this space to take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the small portion of everything which is not crud. Viewed as a whole, Sturgeon was, sadly, right – the vast majority of movies, television, writing, art, and so on really is crud (trust me on this, I just saw Baywatch for the movie show I co-host) – but there has always been that slim li’l piece of heaven. The Ten Percent crosses genre boundaries, mostly because these rare gems are high quality productions which demand more of their viewer than just passive reception.

In my last column, I discussed Neil Gaiman’s American Gods which, at the time, was just about to begin its run on the Starz network. I am currently caught up on episodes and am also avidly following the comic version. American Gods just makes me smile and the high quality of the work in multiple Media (hi, Gillian Anderson!) is a revelation of how magnificent storytelling can completely transcend genre. The show has already been renewed for a second season, which reassures me that they’ll take their time telling this convoluted tale.

Much of Gaiman’s work belongs in the Ten Percent.* The last column touched on his best-known work, Vertigo’s Sandman, and if you haven’t read that (slowly, thoughtfully, and with great deliberate intent), you have an amazing treat in store for you and I’m jealous that you get to experience the Endless for the first time. However, I wanted to bring your attention to several other works of Gaiman’s that you might not know about. Yes, he’s written for Babylon 5, Doctor Who, and several of his works have been adapted for the silver screen with more on the way. But why wait?

I suggest beginning with Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman’s first collection of short pieces. Early in his career, Gaiman would write for just about anyone who would help him pay his rent and he was honing his craft. Good short stories are actually devilishly difficult to write, because you don’t have the space and word count to mess around. Smoke and Mirrors actually contains several of my favorite pieces, including a fascinating story about one of Arthur’s knights who finds the Grail in the least likely (and most English) of places. There’s also an incredible story of old Hollywood, magic, and the grind of writing for the movies that’s not to be missed.

If you’re ready for a longer work, try starting with Neverwhere. I much prefer the book to the BBC adaptation or any of the other versions. (It’s been a comic and both a radio play and a stage play.) If I were being hard-nosed about it, I could argue that Neverwhere is very, very good, but not Gaiman’s best work. However, it is my favorite and this tale of the colorful denizens of London Below likely always will be. It helps that Gaiman has recently announced that his next work, The Seven Sisters, will be a sequel to Neverwhere. And I’m glad to the point of splitting – I’ve got a fistful of questions I want answered.

If you loved Sandman want to stay in the world of comics, pick up the four-issue version of Stardust. This was made into a film that gave Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer some juicy roles to play with, but honestly – the film is only so-so. While you could read the novelized version, I suggest the comic, which features exquisite painted illustrations by Charles Vess, a longtime Gaiman collaborator. His style perfectly complements Gaiman’s Victorian-era fairytale of a boy, a girl, and a fallen star.

Gaiman’s first novel was actually a two-person effort. Written with the late, truly great Sir Terry Pratchett, Good Omens will delight fans of Pratchett’s twisted Discworld as well as Gaiman folks. Imagine what would happen if those two got together, got silly, and decided to take a crack at The Omen and you’re ready to get started. An adaptation of this retelling of the misplaced Antichrist of the Apocalypse is coming to Amazon in 2018, so go ahead and brush up on it now.

Gaiman is a devourer of tales and myth (his latest book, Norse Mythology, is a retelling of the legends of that part of the world) and his love for these tales permeates his work. (I often wonder what a dinner party involving both Gaiman and Joseph “Monomyth” Campbell would be like, then I shake my head and decide that’s just too bizarre.) He has the rare gift of being able to write in a variety of styles and use source material without coming across as a mere copyist. Nowhere is that more evident than in his retelling of Kipling’s Jungle Book. This book, simply titled The Graveyard Book, restores the eerie qualities inherent in a tale of a child being raised by benevolent, yet unnatural, guardians that was Disney-fied out of the original Kipling. (Hey, I love “Bare Necessities” as much as the next gal, but Kipling had something far darker in mind.) Gaiman’s story never feels as if he was forcing a point to make it “fit” the Kipling version – he’s content to let his story spin on its own axle and the result is dreamlike in its perfection.

There’s more, of course. Gaiman has written for a variety of audiences, including the youngsters – even down to the picture book level. My First Big Book of Gaiman will vary by the age of the reader – for very small ones, try Chu’s Day; for the slightly older, Coraline. That one will probably be read under the covers by a few children and result in a couple of evenings with a higher electric bill than usual as the young fry keep the lights on – just in case.

He’s a treasure and Hollywood is finally discovering his unsettling, yet oddly moral, works so soon the rest of the world will be claiming they’ve been fans of his since Woodstock. Beat the rush and start reading him now. You won’t be sorry.

*Plus, he’s just a good guy. Patient and funny with his fans, and willing to do strange things for a good cause. Case in point, his willingness to read the entire Cheesecake Factory menu to raise money to help displaced refugees. Really, you want to donate to that – and you have about three weeks to do so.

Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz are co-authors of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, and of the forthcoming A Dream Given Form: The Unofficial Guide to the Babylon 5 Universe (September 2017). You can find Dale online at her blog “Unfettered Brilliance and on Twitter as @KDaleKoontz. Ensley hangs out on Twitter as @EnsleyFGuffey.

 


Filed under: books, K. Dale Koontz, neil gaiman, The Ten Percent Tagged: American Gods, Charles Vess, comics, ensley f. guffey, Gillian Anderson, good omens, graveyard book, neil gaiman, neverwhere, norse mythology, smoke and mirrors, stardust, terry pratchett, The Ten Percent, theodore sturgeon

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

C’est la Guerre Advanced Review: The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1

This post originally appeared on FreakSugar.com

I’m adding The Lost Fleet: Corsair to my pull list, and if you dig military SF, I suggest you do the same.

The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1, variant cover art by Max Bertolini.

Jack Campbell and AndrĂ© Siregar’s The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1 from Titan Comics feels like ten pounds of story in a five pound sack. There is a lot going on in the first issue. To be fair, as part of Campbell’s Lost Fleet universe (which at the time of writing includes 16 novels), Corsair is bound to come in carrying some plot-baggage. Very briefly, Campbell’s series are set in a far future universe in which humanity colonized much of our local galactic space, and shook out into two major sociopolitical factions: the Alliance, a kind of multiplanetary federal republic, and the Syndicate Worlds (Syndics), an interstellar corporate state where “CEO” and “executive” are political and/or military titles.

Over a century before the first novel in the series, the Syndics launched a surprise attack against an Alliance convoy, and the resulting Alliance-Syndicate War had been raging ever since, stretching the political, military, economic, and social structures of both polities to the breaking point and beyond. At a pivotal moment in the war, Alliance Captain and legendary hero from the very first battle of the war John “Black Jack” Geary is discovered orbiting an out of the way star in a survival pod kept alive in suspended animation for the last 100 years. Called on to lead the Alliance Fleet out of a potentially fatal situation, Geary wins through, but the cost of the fleet’s escape is a suicidal rear-guard action by the battlecruiser Repulse, commanded by Black Jack’s grand-nephew Michael Geary.

Although never seen again in the prose series, Lost Fleet: Corsair reveals that Michael and some of his surviving crew were captured and imprisoned by the Syndics, where they have remained throughout the action of at least the first six books in the series, if not longer. Issue #1 picks up with the Syndicate Worlds falling into rebellion and disarray sometime after the events of The Lost Fleet: Victorious and The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight. Pretty much everything above gets mentioned in one way or another in Corsair #1, so it’s worth touching on. At times this issue is overburdened with all of the continuity that is hanging out there in another medium, but it also feels like something that Campbell and Siregar are just pushing through in order to get it out of the way so they can focus on the story they want to tell here. I expect that subsequent issues will be more self-contained as the creative team is able to remove their characters and story from the existing plotlines.

The Lost Fleet: Corsair gets the introductions out of the way right up front.

The series is set to revolve around Michael Geary and Syndicate Executive (Ground Forces) Destina Aragon who, with her unit helps Geary and the other Alliance prisoners escape so that they can steal a Syndicate warship and get back to their respective homes. There is a lot of distrust on both sides of a hundred-year war in which tactics devolved into massive frontal assaults and planetary bombardment was regularly used by both sides to wipe out civilians by the millions. Thus the first and probably the second issue of Corsair seem poised to set up a story of characters from both sides coming together through necessity and shared danger as they try to make their way back home. While similar in some respects to the plots of both The Lost Fleet and The Lost Stars series, Corsair marks the first time that the main protagonists come from opposite sides of the conflict, rather than different organizations or factions within the same state, and I’m looking forward to seeing if he can pull it off.

However, issue 1 is incredibly fast-paced and action heavy, concentrating on introducing the main players and getting the story rolling – character development and Aragon’s backstory will have to wait a bit. Campbell really hits the ground running, and while the sheer amount of information he needs to get across while also launching a new story sometimes causes the flow to stumble, the reader is nevertheless pulled into the breathless rush. Siregar’s pencils are sharp and realistic, a style reinforced by Bambang Irawan’s confident and precise inking. Unfortunately, Sebastian Cheng’s colors are a bit too slick, and sometimes dip characters into an overly smooth, video game-esque uncanny valley look, and despite the scars and scuffs provided by Siregar and Bambang, his colors are a bit too clean and bright for the setting.

The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1 art by André Siregar.

Overall though, The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1 is a mile-a-second ride that left me impressed and slightly dizzy with everything that the creators managed to fit into 25 pages. The series promises to expand the Lost Fleet universe in some new and interesting directions, and provide plenty of SF action along the way. It remains to be seen whether or not the carefully detailed battles that Campbell’s prose is known for will translate into sequential art, but I look forward to finding out, or even to watching him take a different tack completely. There’s a lot of potential here, and I want to see what happens next, so I’m adding The Lost Fleet: Corsair to my pull list, and if you dig military SF, I suggest you do the same.

The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1 will be available in comic shops on June 7, 2017.

The post C’est la Guerre Advanced Review: The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1 appeared first on Freaksugar.



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Thursday, May 11, 2017

C’est la Guerre Advanced Review: The Forever War #4

This post originally appeared on FreakSugar.com

The Forever War is brutal, beautiful, and utterly sublime. Haldeman and Marvano are creating must-read comics with every issue, and providing a master class in just how powerful the medium can be.

Cover of The Forever War #4. Art by Fabio Listrani.

Issue 4 of Titan Comics’ The Forever War hits stands next week, continuing the reprint of this incredible series from writer Joe Haldeman and artist Marvano. Mandella and Marygay have returned to an Earth that, thanks to the effects of relativistic travel, they no longer recognize. Only a few years older subjectively, decades have passed back home, and the ongoing war against the Taurans has taken its toll on society, although the masses are largely unaware of how much things have changed.

Script by Joe Haldeman, art by Marvano.

In a sequence that reads like a frightening look at things to come, Mandella discovers that at age 70 the government ranks individuals according to how valuable they are to society, and provides healthcare appropriately. For Mandella’s mother, now 84, that means no care at all, despite having a celebrated veteran for a son. On this new Earth, information is carefully controlled and manipulated, and every effort is made to keep the world’s populace in blissful ignorance as to the realities of the war and their own socioeconomic problems. So the two “young” people go back to the only home they know – each other and the military. There things are SNAFU, but at least predictably so.

Script by Haldeman, art by Marvano.

The retelling of Haldeman’s novel continues to be masterful, with deft scripting that manages to compress without chopping the story into snapshots of some greater whole, and Haldeman also knows when to get out of Marvano’s way. I continue to be in awe of Marvano’s storytelling, and his stunning eloquence. Towards the end of this issue there is a five-panel page where Mandella is watching Marygay’s ship leave orbit where Marvano’s use of perspective and distance manages to produce a gut-wrenching sensation of loss and loneliness as Marygay’s ship moves farther away from Mandella while the figure of Mandella is simultaneously moving farther away from the reader’s point of view. Describing it commits a gross injustice to the work, but unfortunately this page was not included in the art provided for us by Titan. You will know it when you see it, however, and you need to see it.

The Forever War #4. Script by Haldeman, art by Marvano.

The Forever War is brutal, beautiful, and utterly sublime. Haldeman and Marvano are creating must-read comics with every issue, and providing a master class in just how powerful the medium can be. This one should be on your pull list, and if it isn’t – you are cheating yourself out of a true phenomenon. The Forever War #4 will be available in comic shops on Wednesday, May 17.

The post C’est la Guerre Advanced Review: The Forever War #4 appeared first on Freaksugar.



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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Advanced Review: Joe Lansdale & Sam Glanzman’s Red Range.

This post originally appeared on FreakSugar.com

Red Range is a wild, weird, woolly, and imperfect ride, but definitely one that’s worth taking, blending genres in a way that is dizzying and delightful.

Cover of Red Range from It’s Alive Press. Art by Sam Glanzman.

Red Range by Joe R. Lansdale and Sam Glanzman was originally published in 1999 as a black and white comic and received little real fanfare or critical appreciation despite Lansdale’s position as one of the leading splatterpunk horror writers of the day and Glanzman’s devoted comics fan base. The book has languished in relative obscurity ever since, until Eisner award nominated comics editor Drew Ford chose it to launch his new publishing line It’s Alive Press. Dedicated to reprinting and preserving out of print and historically notable comics like Red Range, It’s Alive has an impressive line-up of forthcoming titles, including Trina Robbin’s adaptation of Dope by Sax Rohmer, Sam Glanzman’s Voyage to the Deep, and Family Man by Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton.

It’s Alive’s edition of Red Range adds color by Jorge Blanco & JOK to the original work, a short western horror piece by Glanzman called “I Could Eat a Horse,” as well as an introduction by Richard Klaw (Mojo Press), an afterward by Stephen Bissette (Swamp Thing, Taboo), and historical commentary by Bissette, in a hardcover edition that, if Ford follows his usual habit, will be high quality and really well bound. The front-, middle-, and back-matter is particularly interesting for pop-culture history geeks like me who get a little too excited about the story of small publishing houses, or the history of cowboys and dinosaurs. The title story itself is… odd. The opening panels depict one of the most brutal, gory, and realistically violent lynchings that I have ever seen in a comic. This is interrupted by the African American vigilante Red Mask who proceeds to splatter the blood and brains of the white Klansmen widely with the help of a Sharp’s rifle and a double-barreled shotgun. Red Range, particularly the opening pages, has often been called hyper-violent, but I found the depictions to be realistic, and not nearly as graphic as that found in, say, many of Avatar Press’ regular titles. Still, the opening panels are a kick in the gut, particularly when you realize that what they depict is far from being among the worst historical atrocities perpetrated against African American families in the US, particularly in the late 19th century.

Red Range. Art by Sam Glanzman.

So Red Mask rescues the only survivor of the small family, a ‘tween boy, and takes him to his hide out with the head of the Klan – a typically pointy-headed, sweaty, fat man named Batiste – vowing revenge. What follows is a Wild West hunt that goes terribly wrong for the hunters. Ultimately, good triumphs and evil gets its just desserts, but along the way things are just really weird, with everyone being transported by a flash flood into a lost, underground world ruled by black men in Spanish conquistador armor, and otherwise populated by dinosaurs – including an inevitable t-rex. There is also strange strain of humor throughout the book, from basic slapstick to ruminations on the many uses of the humble chicken. In truth, a lot of the story, despite tremendous artwork from Glanzman, just doesn’t work. Even the virulent racism of Batiste is revealed to spring from a specific, horrific, and very painful assault he suffered as a child at the hands of several black kids. This scene (which is my personal favorite piece of Glanzman’s art in the book) tends to undercut the story’s effort to expose the realities of American racism by providing a reason for something that is ultimately entirely unreasonable and unreasoning. It also serves to equate Batiste with Red Mask, whose vigilante career began with the death of his wife and son at Batiste’s hands. So the tale is less about racism than revenge – on both sides. Red Range does better in its handling of racial tensions within the black community, as Red Mask and his companion find themselves condemned by the black rulers of the lost world because they are too black. This is a good lick, pointing up the damned-on-all-sides reality that some African Americans face, but taken with the problematic wellsprings of Batiste’s rage can also be read as something of a “blacks can be racists too” apologia.

Red Range. script by Joe Lansdale, art by Sam Glanzman.

Where Red Range really shines is Glanzman’s art. Bold, dynamic, and strong, this book showcases the artist at the height of his powers. His horses stamp and blow, his people start and move, his bullets violently end lives. Yet Glanzman also shows his chops quietly, beautifully, with close ups of weathered faces that tell tales all their own of grief and hate and love and pain, each an individual entity, with single panels showing the reader a life lived in a hard land for good or ill. This is truly amazing stuff, and worth the $29.99 cover price all by itself. The book is also a testament to the western genre’s seemingly endless flexibility. A mix of horror, social commentary, comedy, and lost world fantasy, all built upon a traditional western structure, Red Range blends genres in a manner that is almost dizzying, and – despite its flaws – delightful.

In the end, Red Range’s narrative stumbles are overcome by Glanzman’s art, including the “silent” short story included in the volume, and by the contextual history provided by Bissette and Klaw. This one goes onto my shelf because it’s a wild, weird, woolly, and imperfect ride, but definitely one that’s worth taking.

Red Range will hit the shelves in June of this year, and is available for preorder on Amazon or from your local comics shop.

 

The post Advanced Review: Joe Lansdale & Sam Glanzman’s Red Range. appeared first on Freaksugar.



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Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Ten Percent – American Gods

This post originally appeared on BiffBamPop.com

“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

am1

Greetings and welcome to another installment of The Ten Percent! Every two weeks (well, roughly), Ensley F. Guffey and I use this space to take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the small portion of everything which is not crud. Viewed as a whole, Sturgeon was, sadly, right – the vast majority of movies, television, writing, art, and so on really is crud – but there has always been that slim slice of sublime. The Ten Percent isn’t limited by genre – I think our previous columns have proven that point – and that’s because these rare gems are high quality productions which demand more of their viewer than simple passive reception.

I have, on occasion, discussed an entry that makes the cut on The Ten Percent in more than one category, such as a book and the movie made from the book. It’s hard enough to create ONE fantastic thing; to create a Ten-Percent-worthy work in more than a single medium is truly catching lightning in a bottle.

Which brings me to Neil Gaiman, an author I’ve been a fan for 25 years. Seriously – the first time I met him, he was kind enough to sign my Tori Amos Little Earthquakes CD, which now sports “Hi by the way” in gold Sharpie. If you don’t get that, well, click here.

An avid reader from early childhood, Gaiman was influenced by writers such as Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, Rudyard Kipling, and Michael Moorcock. Gaiman honed his skills first as a journalist and, like most everyone trying to make his bones, there are a few early works that were simply done to pay the rent. But it was a serendipitous encounter with an issue of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing that first put Gaiman’s feet on the path of seeing that comics could be sharply and smartly written. He eventually began working for DC Comics and, after reading his work on Black Orchid in 1987, Gaiman was offered a chance to re-create an old DC character with his own unique spin.

Thus began both the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics and Gaiman’s astonishing run on The Sandman. Far from the B-grade title it had once been, Gaiman’s Sandman quickly earned legendary status for its rich storytelling, incredible art, and unforgettable characters. Much could be written just about Gaiman’s work during this period, but I’ll just mention one item. In 1991, Gaiman was awarded the World Fantasy Award in the short story category for issue #19, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Comics were never intended to be eligible for that category and the organization, which issues on of the top prizes for fantasy fiction, has seen to it that no comic has been nominated in that category since Gaiman’s win. Nevertheless, Gaiman is one of the rare authors who has won all three of the trifecta – the World Fantasy Award, multiple Hugo Awards for best science fiction/fantasy writing in a given year, and multiple Nebula Awards for best science fiction/fantasy published in the United States.

While Neverwhere has and always will have a soft spot in my heart, with American Gods (first published in 2001 and the recipient of both the Hugo and the Nebula – the man’s no slouch!) Gaiman went in an entirely new direction. This novel is huge, sprawling, and jaw-droppingly good. Like almost all great books, this one can hook you with just a couple of “what if?” questions – First, What if, when immigrants came to America to settle, they brought their gods with them? And second, What happens when new gods rise and want their own piece of the Divinity pie?

Gaiman is English by birth and he brings an outsider’s point of view to this examination of the boisterous crazy-quilt of a country that is America. In Sandman, Gaiman created the Endless – a family of seven siblings who embody particular universal functions. They operate much like gods in that they bicker among themselves, are rarely comfortable outside of their own sphere of influence, but reign supreme within their own territory. With American Gods, Gaiman stepped up his already-impressive game to show readers a relatively-young country crammed with gods. Old gods, whose names are now nearly forgotten, were brought over by the first settlers of America, but as the country changed, they were left behind and they are quite unhappy about being pushed aside – especially being pushed aside by these new, brash gods created by modern American society, who have no respect for the old ways and plan to rewrite reality to best suit themselves. Ritual and worship take many forms in American Gods and the old ways have not been totally forgotten. Quite frankly, I doubt anyone else could have written this lush tale and I’m feverishly glad that Gaiman did.

Honestly, that would have been enough for me. But unlike some of Gaiman’s other work (still waiting for a Death movie), American Gods has been adapted and will be available as a TV series on the Starz network beginning on April 30. In connection with the series, a 27-issue comic series adapting the novel is being released by Dark Horse. This series will be comprised of three arcs and the first issue was released in mid-March. If you’re a Gaiman fan, run, don’t walk, to your comic retailer and get this on your pull list. It’s faithful to the source novel and the artwork is enough to make you swoon.

As to the Starz series – I’ve only seen the two trailers and they had me punching the air in anticipation and delight. Ricky Whittle as Shadow seems to hit just the right balance between wariness and curiosity and Ian McShane is spot-on perfect as Mister Wednesday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz are co-authors of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, and of the forthcoming Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Babylon 5 Universe (September 2017). You can find Dale online at her blog unfetteredbrilliance.blogspot.com and on Twitter as @KDaleKoontz. Ensley hangs out at solomonmaos.com and on Twitter as @EnsleyFGuffey.

 


Filed under: books, K. Dale Koontz, television, The Ten Percent Tagged: Alan Moore, American Gods, Dark Horse Comics, DC Comics, ensley f. guffey, Ian McShane, neil gaiman, ricky whittle, Sandman, starz, The Ten Percent, tori amos

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

C’est la Guerre: Barefoot Gen

This post originally appeared on FreakSugar.com

Barefoot Gen is the howl of the grass under the elephants’ feet, and a heartbreakingly eloquent plea for peace and life in a world consumed by fire.

Cover of Last Gasp’s Barefoot Gen, vol. 1, art by Keiji Nakazawa.

 

Keiji Nakazawa was six years old when his home city of Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atomic bomb ever used against a populated target. At the moment “Little Boy” – as the weapon was nick-named – detonated, Nakazawa happened to be standing behind a concrete wall at the back of his grammar school a little over a kilometer away from ground zero. The wall shielded him from both the blinding light and the heat flash that followed, which quite literally melted the skin of tens of thousands of city residents while vaporizing thousands more.

Nakazawa was only lucky to a point, however. His younger brother, older sister, and father were trapped in the family home when it collapsed, and his mother, eight months pregnant, was unable to free any of them before the raging fires that were consuming the city in the bomb’s wake reached their home. She heard her youngest son and husband screaming as the fire reached them, her daughter had, mercifully, been killed when the house fell. As a result of the strain of the day, Nakazawa’s mother gave premature birth to her baby, a girl, but the child died only four months later, whether from radiation sickness or malnutrition, they never knew.

Art and script by Keiji Nakazawa.

Nakazawa survived the A-bomb and the years of hunger, deprivation, and sickness that followed, and became a successful manga artist, and in 1972, he told the story of his family, the A-bomb, and the aftermath in a ten-volume work called Hadashi no Gen, or Barefoot Gen. It remains one of the most powerful depictions of the suffering of the people of Hiroshima ever created, and offers a fascinating look into the complex feelings that poorer Japanese had about the war, their leaders, the Americans, and the bomb. In honor of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima in 2015, Last Gasp launched a Kickstarter campaign to print 4000 hardback copies of Barefoot Gen and to distribute them to as many schools and libraries as possible. As it turns out, my local public library was able to get on their list early and recently received their copies, which I promptly checked out.

Presented in western style (i.e. to be read from left to right) Barefoot Gen is remarkable on several levels. The art is well into the cartoonish end of the symbolic comics’ language, and often has a simplistic, even primitive style. Juxtaposed with the horrific events the books are recounting, the effects can be very… unsettling. The books also read as middle-school level material, and that seems to be the target audience, but again, Nakazawa doesn’t shy away from the brutal realities of his subject matter, so parental guidance and pre-reading is really recommended for those who might have tween readers. Beyond the immediate effects of the bomb, and the radiation sickness that struck down people in the days, months, and even years following, postwar Hiroshima was rife with malnutrition, violent crime, rape, prostitution, and human suffering on a massive scale. In fact, the simplicity of the artwork provides just enough distance to the reader from the visceral reality of the time to make continuing with the story bearable.

Art and script by Keiji Nakazawa.

Barefoot Gen is a must have for any war comics collector, historian, or person interceded in the realities of nuclear warfare. It is not an easy read, but it is ultimately a hopeful one, although you should not expect a Hollywood ending – quite the opposite, in fact. The debate about the necessity and ethics of using the atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki is ongoing, and unfortunately is far too often still fueled by racism, jingoism, and nationalism, but Barefoot Gen’s raw cry for peace in the presence of one of the ultimate horrors of war comes from a place beneath all of that. Nakazawa’s work is the voice from below, shouting the realities of everyday people everywhere around the world who just want to live and raise families and have enough food to eat and maybe dandle a grandkid or two before passing on to whatever comes next. Barefoot Gen is the howl of the grass under the elephants’ feet.

Art and script by Keiji Nakazawa.

The edition is beautifully and very sturdily bound, meaning that libraries should be able to get years of good use out of them, with good thick paper, heavily sewn spines, and easily cleaned covers. Copies are also available on Amazon for about $25.00 each, a very reasonable price for this kind of quality binding. Rarely has sequential art taken on a historical subject better than Barefoot Gen does, making the series a classic in every sense of the word.

The post C’est la Guerre: Barefoot Gen appeared first on Freaksugar.



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