Drawing Criticism

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Amazon.com recommends graphic novels for me

Recently, I went through the effort of going out to Amazon.com [Amazon] and marking every TPB/GN that I own as "I own it." I rated many of them as well (from 1 to 5 stars), if I had a definite recollection of the quality of the book. Most of the graphic novels that are in my permanent collection are either 4- or 5-star books, the rest get put up for trade or sale.

The point of this is to get good recommendations from Amazon using their database. According to the top of my recommendations page:

"Recommendations for you are based on 1150 items you own and more."

This number includes about 400 CDs and about 50 gifts that I have purchased through Amazon. The remainder should be entirely graphic novels, as I have avoided cataloging my prose and textbook collection. The "and more" includes items that I rated but do not own, as well as items that I have posted to my "wish list".

Based on the correlations that Amazon's software has calculated, here are my top ten recommendations for purchase:

1) Bone: One Volume Edition by Jeff Smith

This book, like many on this list, is an example of a second or third edition printing. In this case, Bone was published first as a 55-issue comic book series, which was concurrently collected into 9 trade paperbacks (of about 6 issues each). The edition that Amazon recommends is the limited edition third version: the entire epic in one volume (note catchy title).

Why don't I own this yet?
Because I own the 9-volume set of collections. I haven't read the last two yet, but once I do, I will give this book a rating (probably 4 or 5 stars) and it will fall off the list.

Is this good recommendation?
The first 7/9ths of the series was excellent, so I would say so.

2) Blankets by Craig Thompson
3) Persepolis : The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
4) Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

If I were to come up with a list of the 3 most important graphic novels of the past two years, these would be decent choices.

Why don't I own this yet?
I missed these when they first came out. In fact, the Persepolis books were not available to comic book specialty shops for a while, and that's where I get most of my books. Since then, when I am in my local comic shop and my pre-ordered items are not too expensive, I will (if I remember) go looking for one of these books. So of course they aren't in stock. It's not because the store doesn't stock them, it's because they sell a lot of them. I just haven't had good timing yet of a) having excess money, b) to buy an in-stock item, c) that I remember to look for.

Is this good recommendation?
As far as I have heard, these are art-comix essentials. So, definitely yes.

5) Louis Riel : A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown

This is a second edition; this series was originally published in a serialized form.

Why don't I own this yet?
First off, this is an expensive hardcover edition (List price: $24.95) and when it came out, I assumed that a paperback edition would be along soon. Over a year later, I am still waiting. Also, I am not enthusiastic about Chester Brown, as I have yet to read any work of his that lives up to the hype. However, it is historical fiction, which is quite different from his previous subject matter, and the story of a 19th-century radical does intrigue me. So eventually, I will probably get it, but no rush.

Is this good recommendation?
It received good reviews, but I think it's probably a notch below the first four recommendations.

6) Planetary: Leaving the 20th Century - Volume 3 by John Cassaday, Warren Ellis
7) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2 by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill

Regular softcover editions of some of the best-received genre fiction of the past few years.

Why don't I own this yet?
Two words: Absolute Editions. Both of these works are mainly expansive world-building epics. To celebrate works like these, DC Comics has begun publishing "Absolute Editions," enormous hardcover versions that, when opened, are bigger than my TV screen. I already own the first volumes of each in Absolute form (Planetary Vol 1, LoEG Vol 1) and I have Absolute LoEG Vol 2 on order. Granted, these two series are written by two masters of the graphic form and would be great in any size, but the "widescreen" presentation of the Absolute Editions makes the extra price (and the extra waiting time) worth it.

Is this good recommendation?
Aw, hell yeah! I just want to super-size it, that's all!

8) Hellboy Volume 5: Conqueror Worm - NEW EDITION! by Mike Mignola

As the title SCREAMS, this is reissue that came out around the time of the movie.

Why don't I own this yet?
Well, I really do. I own the original edition, but I haven't read it because I feel like I should go back and re-read the first four volumes first. Plus, unlike LoEG or Planetary, the writing on this series has not always matched the quality of the fantastic art, so it's not book that I am dying to read. Once I get around to reading my edition, I will rate this edition as well and it will drop off the list.

Is this good recommendation?
Sure. I gave the first four volumes 3- and 4-star reviews, so I'm not enamored by the series, but it is worthy of a recommendation. The art is like nothing else.

9) Epileptic by DAVID B.

This is the complete translated edition of one of the most important European graphic novels of the past decade. There was supposed to be an earlier two-volume edition from a different publisher, but only the first volume came out.

Why don't I own this yet?
If you haven't guessed from the statement above, I do own this book... but only the first half. I purchased "Epileptic Vol 1" on sale last summer, and it remains in my unread pile. It is supposed to be an excellent book, pushing further the boundaries of what a graphic novel can be. However, it does seem a little tainted now, as it reminds me of the frustration of the publishing situation.

Is this good recommendation?
Like I said above, "It is supposed to be an excellent book, pushing further blah blah blah" *grumble*mutter*mumble*

10) The Cosmic Game ~ Thievery Corporation

Aw, this isn't even a graphic novel!

Why don't I own this yet?
Because there's a difference between "chill-out" music and "coma-inducing" music; I am a fan of the former, and this is the latter. Well, at least that was my opinion of their previous two albums, maybe this one is different. I will have to remind myself to check this out on Rhapsody later.

Is this good recommendation?
No, but it's understandable. I do buy a lot of chill-out compilations that have Thievery Corporation tracks on them, including the excellent Ultra Chilled series. But I have given the other T.C. albums pretty low ratings on Amazon, and the software probably isn't complex enough to correlate negative impressions, only positive ones. After all, it is a sales tool.

Ironically, this "sales tool" didn't sell me much. Of the recommendations, only four of them (#2, 3, 4, & 5) are items that I will definitely purchase at some point, while three of them (#1, 8, & 9) require me to go read books I already own, two of them (#6 & 7) are items that I am holding off on until better editions are available, and one (#10) probably blows.

All in all, the recommendations seem reasonable. More importantly though, it looks like I have some reading to do...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


by Andi Watson
336 black & white pages (168 pages each volume)
Published 2004/2005 by Oni Press
ISBN: 1-929998-86-4 and 1-929998-87-2

Andi Watson has made a name for himself by being one of the few creators in the area of modern romance comics. In his newest two-volume work, he attempts to bring that talent into a new territory: that subgenre of super-hero comics pioneered by Kurt Busiek (Marvels) and Brain Bendis (Powers) where the ordinary co-exist with the extraordinary. Unfortunately, as charming and as well-drawn as this tale is, it lacks a sense of balance and cohesiveness, resulting in an unsatisfying and frustrating story.

Love Fights begins (and ultimately ends) as the story of two people who meet and are attracted to each other, against the backdrop of a city with superhuman protectors. The opening scene when they meet on the subway is extremely charming, as they both try to live their lives despite the chaos of men in tights duking it out around them. This is complicated by their professions. Jack is a comic book artist, “documenting” the adventures of a hero known as the “Flamer,” while Nora is an aspiring journalist seeking information on the Flamer for a sleazy tabloid. After their first encounter, various other sub-plots weave themselves in and out of the picture, including problems with Jack’s co-workers and Nora’s relationship with her boss. Finally, the story culminates in the resolution to the mystery of the Flamer.

The result is a patchwork. This is the first time since Skeleton Key (Slave Labor Graphics) that Watson’s romance plots have had to share space with other elements on equal footing and the result is incomplete and stifling. The scenes with Jack and Nora are often followed by radical shifts in tone and theme. When the story does return to the couple, the transition is so awkward that the emotional momentum is vacant. On the same note, Nora’s relationship with her boss starts out interesting enough, but is never developed. It degrades into a simple “I must please the one who cannot be pleased” motivation for Nora. Even worse, Nora is the most one-dimensional female Watson has ever written. Her character never seems to develop, particularly in her scenes with Jack. She just becomes another supporting character framing his personality, despite their apparent equal status as protagonists. Still, their scenes together are enjoyable and play to Watson’s strengths as a romance comic writer.

On the other hand, Watson has a lot of other ideas that he wants to fit into the book, and this is where the story begins to peel apart at the seams. One set of sub-plots serves merely to move the story forward. Making them tolerable is that they are some of the little attention given to Nora’s personality. But then there’s Guthrie the cat, aka Future Feline -- a thoroughly unlikable character who is made worse by the fact that his every act is designed to disrupt the momentum of the plot and narrative. The cat functions as an irritating annoyance that throws the reader out of the story. It is one of the contrived tricks that showcases Watson’s inability to manipulate multiple plotlines.

Meanwhile, other sub-plots involve Jack’s career, but further add to the imbalance of the story. At their best, these scenes further color Jack’s personality, but more often than not, they serve to distract from the main narrative. One example is, in the build-up to the climax of the story, Jack’s co-worker is arrested. While this shows another side of Jack, it derails the momentum of the main plot and is ill-timed. On top of that, many of these sub-plots serve as commentaries on the comic book industry. The result is a failed fusion of foreign themes into the central conflict of the story. Unlike Busiek and Bendis, Watson is unsuccessful at having elements of interpersonal relationships and super-hero deconstructionism co-exist peacefully. Love Fights feels like many stories awkwardly crowded together, each part undermining the others.

One of the disparate elements that is enjoyable on its own is Nora and Jack’s investigation into the scandal of the Flamer’s illegitimate child. This is a great pulp mystery that provides an over-arching structure for the story, even if it often requires a pesky cat to keep it from concluding too soon. But eventually this plotline is given a contrived ending, apparently another reference the conventions of comic book stories. But because this context is separate from the central conflict of the story, the ending merely feels hacked out.

Watson’s art is gorgeously simplistic. His ability to create meaningful facial expressions on attractive characters with just a few lines gives the story the necessary immediacy and fluidity. His use of shading draws the eye to the flow of the art while his variety of textures keeps the reader interested. The designs in this story are a bit art deco, perhaps reflecting the retro-future aspect of super-heroes, but the focus is always on the characters. Still, the art can’t prevent the jarring awkwardness of the Flamer standing in Jack’s apartment. Many scenes like this just clash without any resonance.

In some ways, Love Fights is difficult to dislike, because it gives the reader moments where both the character interactions and the art are beautiful to behold. But these moments are few, and what remains is a series of disjointed themes trying desperately to function as a whole story. This book has a lot of interesting ideas, but they were sewn together into a story with too little craft. The end result is a work that is stifled and uncomfortable.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Upcoming Reviews

Working on reviews for:

The Monon Street Power Collective Vol 1 (Welsh/El Dorado)
Dorothy #1 (Illusive Productions)
Neon Genesis Evangelion Vol 9 (Viz)
Love Fights Vol 1 & 2 (Oni)
Incal Vol 1: The Epic Conspiracy (Humanoids/DC Comics)
Escalator (Alternative Comics)
Stickleback (Alternative Comics)
Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days (Wildstorm/DC Comics)