Womanthology: Space – Various

Womanthology SpaceLike some cheap foreign knockoff this is smaller, thinner and not as good as the original feminist inspired crowd-funded opus. You get the feeling IDW sensed a cash-in opportunity with a new audience and cut as many corners to milk it for all they could.

Some of the stories are just weird mental doodling and some a tableaux of curious ideas. If your goal is to show off the talents of under-represented writers and artists it should be accessible. There are some recognisable names here but you get the feeling they were thrown in to attract publicity. The creator bios are firmly tucked away at the back and there are virtually no links to discover more of their work.

Essentially absent are the essays, interviews and “how to” guides of the previous volume that could encourage and empower potential creators. There is a single biography, which is great, but it cements the case that this is not the wonderful celebration of creativity and ‘art’ that fuelled the original Womanthology.

No Thumbs.

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Dead Inside: Do Not Enter – A Lost Zombies Book

Dead Inside

This isn’t a graphic novel no matter how thinly you stretch the definition. It isn’t telling a narrative story but it is painting a picture and building a world through pictures – pictures of text. Think of World War Z done as Post-It notes.

It’s a ‘found footage’ zombie book. I guess that would be ‘found writings.’ The premise is this is a collection of scribblings found by the survivor of a zombie apocalypse who has gathered them up through the outbreak. Most are single notes but sometimes you can spot more than one from the same character.

It is more of a tone poem and an exercise in atmosphere building, or depression generating. Things are quite bleak and there isn’t a defined structure or resolution, happy or otherwise.
It’s a great idea particularly as this was a collaborative effort from lots of different participants. Effort has gone into making each piece of paper, from lined stationary to the back of a flyer, different and realistic.

But if you look too closely things unravel. Many of the articles written are actual thoughts that would probably enter people’s minds but they would never write them down. You might discuss these feelings in conversation but why would you put them in a note, presumably to yourself. Most are hand written but you can tell some are a computer generated font pretending to be handwriting. There is also a text message exchange. Who got hold of both parts of this conversation and why did they print them out individually?

It is a wonderful idea. It is a fine piece of collaborative art and storytelling but just not that entertaining. There is an artificial timeline, presumably that each writer used for their contribution.

Thumbs Up for the idea.

Womanthology: Heroic – Various

Womanthology Heroic

It’s an anthology written by and drawn by women that started as a Kickstarter. Is it all gimmick? Well it might be some gimmick but it is certainly more than that. As an anthology it is going to be hit and miss particularly as it is a blend of experienced and novice creators. It favours very short stories some of which don’t seem to articulate much narrative. The focus is very much on quantity.

The format is full colour oversize hardcover so it shows off its content very well and makes a great coffee table book. There are creator bios, pro tips and a stick figure strip running along the bottom of the pages too.

What it lacks in coherency it inherently makes up for in diversity. Every kind of art and storytelling is on show here. If you have any interest in either of those two this is a wonderful resource and a wealth of ideas and perspectives. That’s not all. There is an extensive section of interviews with well-known female creators and a comprehensive guide to how comics are made and even how to draw. This coupled with lots of industry tips and a history lesson about women in illustration makes it invaluable reading for anyone looking to break into comics in any role.

Thumbs Up!

The Art of Red Sonja – Various

Art of Red SonjaThis is a superb art book that collects many of the covers from Dynamite’s re-launch of the Red Sonja franchise. The oversize nature of this publication means that you can see the art at its best. Most of the covers are actual size and printed on sturdy, gloss paper. Some pages contain multiple covers and a few show you the original sketches or work in progress. There are also some double pages from wraparound covers.

There is a history of the character with plenty of quotes from those that have been involved in her creation and evolution. There is quite a bit about Robert E. Howard’s life and career to start things off and we go right up to the modern writers and artists working on the titles when this book was released.

Thumbs Up!

Eleventh Hour – Various

Eleventh HourThis is an anthology of twelve stories. Quite a brave thing to do. Most are self-contained and others could be the first part of many. There are only four authors however and it isn’t an even split.

Like most anthologies it is a mixed bag but there are definitely some gems. The art too has some really fantastic work with much more variety amongst the artists than the creators.

For the independent spirit and clever twists this gets a Thumbs Up!

The Savage Sword of Kull: Volume Two – Various

Kull 02This is the companion volume that collects the Kull stories from September 1986 to May 1995.

All of these appeared in The Savage Sword of Conan and most were written by Chuck Dixon, John Arcudei or Roy Thomas. Only one story, Exile of Atlantis, is based on a Howard Story, the rest are original creations.

They aren’t bad. Most are single issue tales with a twist at the end. Some previous enemies and characters return. The majority, whist having the feel of Howard’s work, could easily substitute Kull for a generic barbarian hero. It is only the Alan Rowlands piece A Groaning in the Earth that truly captures the spirit, language and existential questioning of authentic Kull.

There are yet more retellings, or even reprintings, of Kull’s origin story, and some alterations to his family tree. The same story, Caresses of Mine Enemy, appears twice, retold with identical plot but different scripter and artist five years later.

The art is the constant black and white newsprint of the era. There aren’t the gimmicks and razzmatazz we see in today’s visually adept comics but the effort goes into the characters. Clear expressions, realistic poses and dynamic action is where these pictures shine. There are also some full page drawings labelled “story excerpts” that are collected together and appearing with appropriate Howard quotes.

These stories are presented in the order they were published meaning writers and storylines alternate and jump around in time. Handily an extensive chronology also appears. This summarises all the Marvel storylines and arranges them into the sequence they would take place in Kull’s lifetime. A handy resource for the Kull scholar.

Thumbs Up!

The Savage Sword of Kull: Volume One – Various

Kull 01This is a massive 448 page omnibus collecting more than 20 stories from the 70’s and ’80. Kull was created by Robert E Howard in 1926 some years before he would go on to create the better known Conan. Only two of the less than a dozen Kull stories were published at the time with the majority being printed after Howard’s death.

Some of the tales here are graphic adaptations of existing stories and some are original works based on the characters. The adaptations do tend to be longer. Because these works were published in other titles, mostly The Savage Sword of Conan, they are self-contained and reading them together exposes large holes in plot, time, and characterisation. You also see Kull’s origin story re-told at least four times.

Howard was a popular and accomplished writer and the adapted stories rely heavily on narration that is lifted straight from his books. Whilst exposing us to beautiful language it makes for slow reading. It also reveals the depth in Howard’s work. As well as heroic stories of battle and honour likened to Greek myth, and eldritch horror in the Lovecraftian vein, he also gets very metaphysical. There are questions about the nature of time, space and existence; the nature of man; the role of civilisation and the destiny of humanity.

The art is all black and white as most of the stories were published this way. You are exposed to a huge number of artists and see myriad variations in the way recurring characters and worlds are drawn. Some of the work is the harsh black ink of the newsprint variety but others have much more subtle, rich shading with soft greys giving a more three dimensional feel.

In addition to the copious stories there are a lot of articles of the period detailing the world of Kull and the life of Robert E Howard. Including a fan letter by one Robert Bloch who would, some years later, go on to write the script for the film Psycho. There are also covers and additional artwork.

You certainly get a lot of pages for your money. The paper is cheap newspaper quality however and some of the printing (white on black text in particular) is poorly reproduced. There is almost no guttering between the pages making you bend the spine back on itself in order to read the words.

A valuable introduction to this lesser known character and a Thumbs Up!

Judge Dredd: The Carlos Ezquerra Collection – Various

This collection contains eight stories but only four of them star Judge Dredd. Five of them feature a Cursed Earth Judge named Koburn. These stories hang together very well and you develop a liking for the maverick lawman and his practical brand of justice. The Dredd stories are good with Garth Ennis writing a couple of great works. If you are a new reader or have been absent for a while you don’t really get the full appreciation, particularly when classic villains from the past appear. Some stories shine brighter than others but there are no clangers.

It seems an odd proposition to collate stories by artist but as Ezquerra was one of Dredd’s creators this isn’t so bizarre. All the stories are modern and there are no definitive Dredd or Mega-city moments. They are all dialogue heavy too so they clearly weren’t chosen for their artistic value. This does seem to be new money for old rope. All the stories are in colour and you do get to see Ezquerra on fine form depicting both the clean lines of the megacity and the grunge of the Cursed Earth. This is where Ezquerra truly excels. His feathery, worn style is absolutely perfect for the rad-wastes and their collection of bizarre muties.

This is a nice long read with many chuckles and great plots even if the title is misleading. Thumbs Up!

74/291.

Tomorrow: Fall of Cthulhu 1: The Fugue – Michael Nelson. PLUS bonus review: Fell: Feral City – Warren Ellis [Redux]