The House that Groaned – Karrie Fransman

This is an eccentrically artistic work by cartoonist Karrie Fransman, very different from mainstream graphic novels.

It concerns the residents of a converted Victorian property whose very human struggles are only one step removed from our own. The whole piece is a voyeuristic soap opera as we get to curtain-twitch to our heart’s content at these weird neighbours. Some of them have literal struggles we can empathise with and some are abstracted to the point of metaphor, but strangely enough this does not break the narrative.

It is definitely for grownups and not just for the nudity and the grotesque themes. This isn’t a work of escapist entertainment but a catalyst to get your emotions ruminating on the failures of the human condition. You definitely need to be in the mood for it and it is probably something you are better off borrowing than purchasing as it won’t be something you will sit down to read often.

It is definitely drawn by a cartoonist embracing caricature rather than realism and shares traits with other comparable illustrators like Seth. The lines are always curving and freehand even when they are meant to be straight and this adds a wonderfully humanising filter to everything. The colours are black, white and teal in various shades and this extraordinary palette imparts a sense of claustrophobia and insecurity.

It is no surprise why it won so much praise. Double Thumbs Up!!


Dominion: The Last Sacrifice – Joe Hart & Stuart Moore

This is an odd volume. It starts off as the lovechild of Y: The Last Man and Bitch Planet presenting a world where female births stop so women become an endangered gender. It has a dark tone as the world goes to hell in a handbasket in something approaching The Road.

You have a strong female lead and some neat little twists but just as it is getting going you realise the whole thing has either been an advert for, or a cash-in for, a novel series. Literally the last story page is an advert. And then after that you have ten pages previewing a different graphic novel. The whole thing seems blatantly money-grabbing.

The art is fine and the black bordered panels give a sense of menace and jeopardy throughout. It is printed on gloss paper for sharp crisp images.

Disappointing because it could have been so much more. No Thumbs Up!

The Walking Dead: Here’s Negan – Robert Kirkman

Origin stories are for heroes. Whenever a villain gets one it always diminishes them as their sense of mystery and fear is gone. As much as you want to know where Lucille came from and how she got her name perhaps it is better if you don’t know.

This isn’t a bad volume but it is a little thin. Both in page count, which can’t be masked by the slightly oversize format and hardcover, and in content. Kirkman skips Negan through the 100 issues of time that Rick got to grow and develop, but does so aplomb. We also see some familiar names along the way.

The art is the same high standard as it the same people as the main issues.

As a fan of The Walking Dead you will want this and it is a lot more convenient than tracking down original issues. It’s a shame that it is so thin however.

Thumbs Up!

The Fuse Volume 4: Constant Orbital Revolutions – Anthony Johnston

This volume continues the high standard of writing we have seen previously and rewards those loyal readers that have been patiently waiting for the payoff. All those little hints about a larger conspiracy burst forth and are tied up nicely. So much so that this could be the last book for this wonderful world. It would certainly be a shame if Johnston doesn’t come back to this marvellous setting one day though.

The art is superb as always with great colouration helping to set the mood of the moment.

Thumbs Up!

The Fuse Volume 3: Perihelion – Anthony Johnston

This excellent Sci-fi police drama continues to deliver. Set against the backdrop of a carnival and all the crime and mayhem it brings this volume contains a complete story and as usual ends with a tiny teaser for the bigger picture.

The art is excellent with plenty of widescreen panels and lots of visuals to break up the dialogue.

Definitely a keeper.

Thumbs Up!

Usagi Yojimbo 30: The Hell Screen – Stan Sakai

It’s time for another bi-annual helping of your favourite rabbit. The contents page promises seven stories but one is three issues and it isn’t clear why each needs to listed separately.

Inspector Ishida makes a welcome return with another mystery and we also receive a visit from the Komori Ninja. You probably don’t remember Yamaguchi Kyosai from a rock delivering story but the reappearance of these minor characters adds weight and authenticity to Sakai’s world.

All of these feel original and explore cultural aspects we have not touched on before such as the problems Japan faces with its excessive rainfall.

Like normal there is a handy guide at the back which explains and enlightens you to the subjects covered.

The art is great as you would expect. The use of black in the night-time rain scenes and those set in caves are particularly effective.

Thumbs Up!

Crossed +100: Volume 3 – Simon Spurrier

Here is another book in the most interesting Crossed series to date. We leap forward five years, possibly as a jumping on for new readers, or possibly it ties into the number 13.

Like the first book this is another ‘grand plan’ epic in which Salt directs the fate of the Crossed – from the grave. Also like the first book we build to a shocking climax at the end. Or at least we attempt to. Having seen it done magnificently by Alan Moore the cat is definitely out of the bag and we aren’t going to have the rug pulled out on us twice.

There is an interesting family situation developing for ‘Future,’ our antagonist, and it will be interesting to see where Spurrier goes next having taken all this time to worldbuild.

Definitely worth a read but don’t expect lightning to be striking twice.

Thumbs Up!

Crossed +100: Volume 2 – Simon Spurrier

If you are contemplating volume two then you obviously weren’t driven away by the polarising first instalment. Alan Moore was brave and bold, and not to everyone’s taste, as per usual. But he made the Crossed scary again which is something no writer has been able to do since the original. Although Spurrier is the most successful and prolific Crossed writer there is no guarantee he would be able to duplicate Moore’s success. But thankfully he does.

There is a shaky handover as the futurespeak is tough to get a handle on. Too much would render it gibberish and too little would miss the whole point. The flaw is the inconsistency. Sometimes a word will be hyphenated and sometimes it won’t, which for the same speaker is obviously an editing error. There are staple words and phrases which you are able to pick up on and settle into a rhythm of comprehension but some words are just thrown in without any need or logic. This is a language that has supposed to have evolved and not been created.

The stars of the show are, for once, the Crossed. It seems Spurrier remembered they aren’t just mindless hedonists but wily and driven humans. They are capable of using tools, cunning and tactics in order to get their way. And it appears that after a hundred years of natural selection the smart ones have survived and begun thinking long term. Which seems an entirely realistic prospect.

There isn’t the mind-numbing terror of the first book’s ending but there is a good strong story here that builds and leaves you in no doubt that this series is every bit as good as Wish You Were Here.

Double Thumbs Up!!

Marvels: Eye of the Camera – Kurt Busiek & Roger Stern

This is a sequel to the highly acclaimed book Marvels. But you can still enjoy this perfectly as a stand-alone volume. If you have read the original work it is great to see Phil again and learn how the events of this life and that of his family continue.

We follow photographer Phil Sheldon and his documentation of the emerging superhero and mutant phenomena of the 70’s & 80’s. This is very different style of book and isn’t about individual battles and heroes. Instead it’s about the broad strokes of culture and society as a whole and how it views this historical period.

Phil is also a fully fleshed out character with a family and problems of his own. It is this human narration that serves to elevate this book from spandex extravaganza to thought-provoking discussion.

The background events are a chronologically accurate representation of what was going on in the Marvel Universe at that time. If you have some knowledge of the continuity you will recognise many famous key story points of the past. If you aren’t then they are just as dramatic and exciting. And at the back is a huge index that tells you where these story-points come from right down to the issue number.

The art is spectacular. Every panel is practically an Alex Ross cover with them all being (hand) painted like a Blacksad story. It is so different from normal 2D comics and lends such a mature gravitas to the whole work. It is exactly what is needed to support the weighty themes the book is portraying.

There are extensive design notes, a page of art construction and two full draft outlines of the project allowing you to see how it changed during revisions.

The hardcover is superb with a dark blue binding and copper foil stamping. The paper is a sturdy gloss that allows the art to radiate from the page. Even the flyleaf inside the cover is premium quality.

It is hard to know what more they could have done to make this book more perfect.

Double Thumbs Up!

Rat Queens Volume 4: High Fantasies – Kurtis J. Wiebe

The trouble with any book that follows a world-shattering event is where do you go from here? This volume feels very deflated as we almost go back to square one. Except we can’t because square one got blown up and not all the characters are still around.

But we love our Rat Queens and even if the plot isn’t up to much then just hanging around and laughing at their jokes will do for now. There is a nice old school D&D dungeon crawl that tickles the funny bones of any veterans out there and also a quirky flashback to some of the character’s origins.

Thumbs Up!