Comic Reviews: February 1993
Written and Drawn by Martin Wagner
The perils of self-publishing comic books can best be seen in the annals of Martin Wagner’s Double Diamond Press. Luckily, Wagner recently released issue number 10 of his labor of love, Hepcats.
Hepcats itself concerns the lives of four college-aged characters: Joey, Gunther, Arnie, and Erica. The current storyline, Snowblind (“a novel in 18 chapters,” we are informed) focuses mostly on the tribulations of Erica, the former exotic dancer, and her mysterious suicide attempt. All of this is baffling to her friends and especially her lover, Arnie. All they know is that the incident was probably precipitated by an encounter with a “mysterious pursuer,” triggering Erica’s plunge into an icy lake.
Wagner is allowing this tableau to unfold slowly, which provides room for greater character development and insight. As the story of who Erica really is and her calamitous past gradually unravel, the sensitive issue of incest and sexual abuse are handled with maturity and compassion.
Hepcats began as a comic strip during Wagner’s college years and it is fascinating to chart the growth in his work. From situational comedy to character study, the transition has progressed as has Wagner’s talent.
Wagner has a fine sense of dialogue as Erica narrates her tale, yet he also realizes that pictures can carry emotion better in some instances and wisely eschews words at these moments. Coupled with an ambitious story, Wagner throws in powerful imagery and his fluid illustrative style ably abets the tale. The only distraction in this mix is that the characters are animals. At times this detracts from the material, especially since facial expressions become awkward, but it is, after all, Wagner’s choice.
All of the encapsulated summary may make this comic seem grim, but Wagner wisely punctuates the melodrama with comic turns from Joey and Gunther, avoiding this pitfall.
Animals or not, Hepcats is a comic about very human issues and characters and one that deserves to be read. Hunt down a copy or beg your local comic shop to order it. You won’t be sorry. (B&W, $2.50) Grade: B
Ring of Roses
Written by Das Petrou, drawn by John Watkis
Alternative history and religious conspiracy are the crux of a 4 issue limited series, Ring of Roses.
Beginning with the postulation that the Catholic Church has become THE world power, this comic centers on barrister Samuel Waterhouse, who is hired by representatives of the Church to discover what has happened to ten of their “brothers,” Waterhouse’s brother among them, amidst growing hostility toward their presence.
From there, Waterhouse’s road is not an easy one, as he is stonewalled by all sides, and finally realizes that he may be in over his head? after stumbling into information that leads to the mysterious Brotherhood of the by Cross. Meanwhile, Cardinal Mayhew appears to have his own agenda, the Pope is going abroad to decide issues of national and world defense despite growing resentment from nationalists, and a plague is beginning to envelop England….
It would take off of room to describe just how these events tie together, but that space is better devoted to applauding the rich tapestry creators Petrou and Watkis have begun depicting.
Writer Petrou has crafted a very believable tale rife with detail and mystery, The reader is plunged into events along with protagonist Waterhouse and carried into terrifying circumstances.
Petrou’s writing is shaped by artist Watkis, however. Watkis’ very European manner of delineation allows very detailed backdrops which render the events more concrete. Likewise, Watkis’ occasionally sketchy lines and imaginative designs flesh things out and create vivid imagery, The covers, in particular, are stunning.
Dark Horse Comics, which has been capturing a larger share of the comics market of late thanks to more mainstream fare, should be applauded for daring to handle controversial material like this. Readers looking for suspense, conspiracy, and an unnerving read are invited to check out Ring of Roses. (B&W, $2.50) Grade: B
Gregory II: Herman Vermin’s Very Own Bestselling and Critically Acclaimed Book with Gregory In It
Written and drawn by Marc Hempel
In 1990, one of the most pleasant surprises in comics was Gregory, a humorous look at the life of the title character, a little boy with a head shaped like a turnip, confined to a straightjacket in an asylum.
Creator Mark Hempel has decided to return to that little world with Gregory II. Unfortunately, the result is a bit disappointing.
The reason for the letdown is simple, ultimately. The main focus of Gregory II is a supporting character: a rat named Herman Vermin. While Herman is an amusing character, a little bit goes a long way and the book runs out of steam and cleverness.
Herman’s shameless self-pro. motion sets off the story, as he fir4 decides to write his memoirs, then realizes (finally) that his lie is an abject failure and decides to end it all, then confronts God. All this is amusing, but also a trifle wearisome. The best moment in the book is a diversion called “A Good Friend for Gregory,” in which Gregory meets (sort of) a new friend.
Perhaps the problem with Gregory II is that it’s a disappointment after the original volume. Certainly, the situations and characters are humorous and Hempel’s cartoony drawings are wonderfully expressive and dynamic.
Whatever the case, Gregory II is worth buying and reading, especially when compared to the dross comics companies are releasing every month. One just hopes that future volumes of GREGORY will focus more on the little guy. (B&W, $4.95) Grade: C
Written and drawn by Frank Miller
Frank Miller has been pushing the boundaries of mainstream comics since the late 1970’s with his revisionists of several super-heroes, including Batman. Fans of Miller’s work will be delighted to note that Dark Horse Comics has published Miller’s latest ambitious project, Sin City.
Sin City, originally serialized Dark Horse Presents, revolves around a psychopath named Maw and his intention to solve the murder of a hooker named Goldie. Marv’s motives are partly altruistic and partly selfish: it seems Maw has been set up to look like Goldie’s killer. This chain of events soon leads to a fast-paced (and bone-breaking) series of twists and turns, all given Miller’s distinctive touch.
Perhaps the simplest way to describe Sin City is “hard-boiled” (the title, incidentally,of another Miller cartoon). Inspired by Mickey Spillane and other crime fiction writers. Miller has crafted a very distinctive world (in this case, the title town) where the people and the living are tough. And the toughest is Marv himself, as he punches, maims, gouges, and shoots his way from situation to situation, eventually unraveling the true story behind Goldie’s death.
Miller moves the story along at a rapid pace, scarcely allowing the reader a pause to breathe. The narrative, told by Marv himself, is harsh, which suits the material.
The strong point to the tale is Miller’s wonderfully expressive illustration, though. Miller manages to bleed every ounce of emotion and. intensity out of the black and white format, employing a nearly chiaroscuro technique, using shadow and light in a remarkable fashion. The detailing is remarkable, with thick lines and ultra-thin lines weaving admirable pictures.
But … in the end, Sin City fails because Miller settles too much for stereotypes and cliche. The women in Sin City are all tough-talking and beautiful while most of the men are gruff brawlers. While the plot is unpredictable, it reads like something that’s been done before and better.
So while Sin City is stylish and pretty to look at (sort of); ‘it cannot overcome the limitations of the genre. It shouldn’t keep the reader from looking forward to Miller’s next opus, however. (WW, $1 5.00) Grade: C
Well, it’s a bit late, but here (finally) are the top 10 comics of 1992 as selected by yours truly. You’ll notice there are no superheroes and nothing from -the top three comics companies (Marvel, Image, and DC). Message? You bet. The truly different, original, and worthwhile material is being produced out of the mainstream; So if you’re interested in comics or just starting to buy comics, stay away from the formulaic, tired stereotypes. In reverse order, here’s my top 10:
The only anthology on the list. There is some garbage within its pages (it is a horror title, after all), but the standout material is exceptional, especially Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell‘s From Hell chapters and Jeff Nicholson‘s Through The Habitrails.
- Tantalizing Stories
A very funny and bizarre funny animal book featuring Mark Martin‘s charming Montgomery Waft and Jim Woodring‘s uncategorizable Jim. At turns amusing and disturbing.
- Peep Show
Joe Matt‘s pathetic and miserable existence is detailed for all to see in this autobiographical comic. Occasionally jarring, sometimes amusing, and always enlightening.
Dave McKean‘s 10-part examination of the lives of people in a tenement building (as an allegory for the way in which human beings live in cages) continues to astound with mind-boggling art and meaty philosophical wanderings.
Jeff Smith‘s heartfelt adventures of the Bone cousins hearken back to tales of simpler times with less angst and no urban decay. Delightfully illustrated in a fashion befitting Walt Kelty.
- Pirate Corp$
Yes, only one issue of this title came out in 1992, but it remains a gem among mics. Featuring the grounded crew of a “pirate corps” spaceship and their struggles to find beer, ska shows, and something to live for, Evan Dorkin continues to excel.
Ed Hillyer’s three part series reprinted his self-published BIC comics for a larger (deserved) audience. All about a boy, a girl, and the bike he loves, Engaging and thoughtful.
The misadventures of Buddy Bradley in Seattle continue, thanks to Peter Bagge and Fantagraphics. Mean but funny, this comic rips apart the fabric of American existence.
- Deadface: Earth, Water, Air and Fire
Eddie Campbell finally returns with new tales of Bacchus among the modern day as he and the surviving Roman gods are embroiled in Sicilian doings. A trifle under-drawn, but captivating.
As always, Dave Sim and Gerhard excel in detailing the exploits of the gray aardvark, moving from the quiet interlude with Oscar to the ambitious scope of the current storyline “Mothers and Daughters.” Intricate, imaginative, and mind boggling.
And that’s that. I’m sure many of you disagree with the choices, but that’s fine. Just remember to look for the challenging comics, because that’s where the great material is being published.