Review: Troll Bridge

By Laramie Martinez

I first read Neil Gaiman’s “Troll Bridge” in college. I was waiting in a friend of a friend’s house, and while I silently judged my new acquaintance based upon the titles on their bookshelf, I noticed a copy of “Smoke and Mirrors” off in a corner. It turns out she had found it on the street and was happy to give it to me. This gesture greatly improved my opinion of her. Looking back, I remember the “Troll Bridge” as one of the stories that stuck in my head well after I had finished devouring the collection. I was in my early 20’s and had just tasted my first feelings of true regret and isolation. I remember relating to the narrator in a way that was almost uncomfortable.

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Review: The Undertaking of Lily Chen

Another book from First Second that I’m late to the party on. The Undertaking of Lily Chen revolves around the Chinese tradition of finding a bride for a dead son so that he won’t be alone in the afterlife. It’s called a “Ghost Wedding” and it’s a practice that’s become popular again which has resulted in murder. I tell you this because the book tells you all this before even starting the story. At the same time, it was on the news and something I found quite disturbing and yet fascinating. The story starts off in the middle of two men fighting. It’s clear that the fight isn’t extremely hostile, but that there’s a lot of emotion behind it. The two men are brothers, and they’re venting some pent up family drama which results in the death of one of the brothers. The younger of the two flees. He runs all the way back to his parents’ house and tells them what happened, but the incredible thing is that there’s never a written word to accompany it.

lilychen-coverOnce the dialogue starts back up, we find the parents still in shock, but they’re now hell-bent on sending their favorite child to the grave with a wife. Deshi, the younger brother, must now go out and find a ghost marriage broker. Things being what they are the man that Deshi contracts brings him to a very dead woman’s grave. She’s been dead for so long that he’s not sure he can come back to his mother with this body. Eventually, Deshi crosses paths with Lily Chen who is looking for any way out of her life as her father is practically being forced to marry her off to save his house and farm. The first time he meets Lily, Deshi prepares to kill her and yet this encounter doesn’t define their relationship or the events that follow.

The story doesn’t offer a ton of twists and turns. It’s pretty straightforward with what is going to happen to the point that you can figure it out for yourself. That’s not the point of the story, though. It’s an unusual love story that has a lot of dark humor mixed in. That’s the part that caught my attention, was the dark humor. For instance, Lily’s father, covered in mud, bleeding and soaking wet just walks into Deshi’s parent's house and sits down like he belongs there. Clearly, he doesn’t, and it’s a strange moment for sure, but it's humorous.

Danica Novgorodoff manages to take a straightforward story and do an incredible amount of character development. Deshi, in particular, goes through a range of emotions and in the end, is forced to deal with some hard truths like the type of person his brother was and how his family treats him. What’s also very different about the ending is that it doesn’t pretend that these characters are going to live happily ever after, just that they’ll live… most of them. It’s that acknowledgment of real life that also makes the story stand out.

The art is interesting, to say the least. It’s very different, but it fits the story. Each panel is water colored which gives it a nice look. The line work/brush work is simple and yet maintains a level of detailed. It’s deceiving in that way to the untrained eye. There’s visual humor and gags as well that go along with what I previously mentioned about the story. Overall it’s a style that would need to accompany a particular story type, but then that’s the charm of Novgorodoff’s style. If like me, you haven’t checked out The Undertaking of Lily Chen, then give it a chance. It’s one of the most unique graphic novel’s I’ve ever read and a standout title from First Second.

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The Undertaking of Lily Chen Creator: Danica Novgorodoff Publisher: First Second Books Price: $29.99 Format: TPB; Print

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Review: Worry Doll

Worry Doll is by far one of the strangest things I’ve read. I do have a slight problem with the format as the page on the left is dedicated to what I can only describe as prose; while the right page is art without any dialogue appearing on the page. worry-dollThe story is not one that I want to explain because so much of the charm of Worry Doll is figuring it out and interrupting it for yourself. There’s murder. There are dolls. There’s general creepiness, but not so much of narration or plot to follow. It captures the madness of a killer quite well, but even saying that is an understatement to the content.

The artwork is impressive. I can’t, for the life of me, tell if it’s photorealistic or photo referenced, and I’m not sure if it matters. It’s just hard to compliment it without knowing accurately. I liked it. The black and white images make it very eerie and strange. The imagery stays with you after you’ve completed reading it, that’s for sure.

This review is probably one of my shortest reviews ever because while I enjoyed the book, there’s not a lot to say about it without invalidating your reason to read it. It’s a great conversation piece so don’t be surprised if it ends up on the podcast at some point with spoilers. While I still have some hang-ups on the format, at least it attempts something different.

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Worry Doll Creator: Matt Coyle Publisher: Dover Publishing Price: $14.95 Format: TPB; Print

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Review: Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen

I’m going to break editorial kayfabe and reveal that Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen has been up for review for as long as I’ve been writing for this website. Every week when I’d sign up for which release I’d review, this book would be nestle towards the bottom of our column reserved for only the most indie of indie comic books. Days went by, and it was there, then weeks and same result.

Then one day I threw myself into the pile of very indie titles and found this beautifully drawn, wonderfully colored comic. I couldn’t believe this had gone untouched for so long, that this went un-reviewed. I made a vow that when I had a week with fewer reviews going on, I’d read this one.

Now that I’ve read this book, I can tell you why this wasn’t talked about for so long. The answer is that, well, it’s French.

European comics took a stylistic turn away from the rest of Western comics at some point in history. They moved away from narrative, moved away from dialog and character and became more about the presentation of art and its visual juxtaposition of ideas.

Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen reads like a pastoral daydream. The line work is immaculate, the colors so soft and war they’re almost like watercolors. When a page portrays a rolling landscape or pristine neo-classical structure, the image could be enlarged and placed on a wall in a museum.

Marie Antoinette Phantom QueenDespite being enthralled by the art, I could never stop being tripped up by the narrative. Here we follow a painter in the 1930s as she inadvertently becomes the spiritual medium for the ghost of Marie Antoinette.  The art so strongly captures each period in vivid detail with particular attention to capturing the beauty of the settings’ styles of dress and with colors that provide this rich texture I’ve never quite seen in other comics.

The story’s pacing moves at a rhythm I could never match. Some scenes felt like they moved through too quickly or with too little connective tissue. Then while there is a horror and tension to Marie Antoinette’s history and imprisonment during the French Revolution, I kept expecting a sharper and harsher visual edge that I never found. The present story of the painter moves at a much more docile pace where events that should cause drama ended up sorting itself out. The internal narrative structure never matched my expectations. When I expected a scene to linger, to indulge in a character moment it was already over, but then when a scene might have traditionally been simply quick exposition connective filler, the pages waited here a little longer. Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen was a story that never match that narrative formula of Western comics but not in a way that challenged it but rather just different.

Here the narrative presents two different women who are turned victims of circumstance by simply existing as women in restrictive periods. Marie Antoinette was tortured, executed and desecrated for simply being born into her life—a life where she had no say or influence on political systems of royal France.

While in the 1930s, Maud becomes the target for her deceased husband’s son as he tries to steal her inheritance. Both women end up helping each other, but the story never has the sharp dramatic beats I expect. Maud’s former step-son tries to institutionalize her, but every effort comically fails, Maud has to find Marie Antoinette’s true remains but doing so turns out to be relatively easy due to her ghost friend’s powers.

There’s still a delight in this story. Maud and Marie Antoinette build a charming and beautiful friendship, and the story’s closest thing to a villain is legitimately funny as everyone one of his attempts at ruining Maud’s life fails. This could be a story that lingered on the cruelty of history especially towards women but instead focuses its content to empower.

I can’t blame a comic, however, for not doing something it isn’t trying to do. Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen invites you a fantastical, lazy afternoon story—one you might read on a porch overlooking a field or read over a cup of tea on a quiet rainy morning. This is a story you breathe in slowly rather consume, a story that’s beautiful and funny and moves at a pace you discover rather than one tied to a formula. Most importantly, however, a story that takes a tragic history and forces us to remember and engage with it so that we can create a better future.

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Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen Writers: Rudolphe & Annie Goetzinger Artist: Annie Goetzinger Publisher: NBM Publishing Price: $17.99 (Print); $9.99 (Digital) Format: Hardcover; Print/Digital

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Review: The World of Edena

The World of Edena is the latest collection of Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s surreal sci-fi stories. They began as a promotional comic for the French car manufacturer Citroën and soon turned into a six-volume series. While the easy-on-the-eye simplicity of the art might trick you into thinking that the series is a children’s story, nothing could be further from the truth. Giraud invested this story with themes of living with nature, the destructive effects of technology, sexuality, and spirituality.

Atan and Stel are two human space travelers in the near future. Humans have adapted to an almost totally synthetic existence, which includes regular organ transplants and hormone suppressants to prevent gender differentiation. While exploring a strange world, they find themselves and many other stranded travelers transported to a paradise world known as Edena. Bereft of technology, Atan and Stel soon rediscover what it means to be human, even as they’re forced to fight against those who want to hang on to the old ways of doing things.

The art of the series is what Giraud referred to as ligne claire, which focuses on relatively few details in a given panel. This gives the art a certain sparseness, but it doesn’t detract from the fantastic details Giraud gives the world of Edena. Indeed, those details are made all the more brilliant by Giraud’s ability to hone in so closely to them. For 21st century readers, it has a deliciously retro bandes desinees aesthetic, but in this case, it wasn’t created for the fans. Fans of Hayao Miyazaki might see some familiar looking scenes here, which is no surprise considering that the two of them were friends. Indeed, Miyazaki admitted that Nausicaa was made under Giraud’s influence.

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Some of the dialogue might come across as polemical, especially the conversations between Stel and Atan about how much better to it to avoid synthetic foods after they’ve lived on Edena for a while. To be fair, Giraud was really influenced by a Swiss raw food dietician, and some of it comes across a bit ham-handed now (har har). But it’s also worth remembering that we’ve subsequently internalized so many of these ideas about diet, including organic farming. Where the series really shines is the depiction of the other humans that Atan and Stel encounter. They absolutely refuse to give up on their old ways of living, and their stubbornness has trapped them into an incredibly uncomfortable way of living.

This is a well-established classic, and nothing I can say here will really change that. My only recommendation with this book would be to take your time with it because powering through it does a disservice to it. Read it over the span of a few days and savor it.

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Moebius Library: The World of Edena Writer/Artist: Moebius Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $49.99 Format: Hardcover; Print

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The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye - First Graphic Novel to win the Singapore Literature Prize

Described by NPR Fresh Air as “a startlingly brilliant tour de force”, Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye became the first graphic novel to win the Singapore Literature Prize for English Fiction on July 14, 2016. A1MP4JMgFRLThe Art of Charlie Chan, which also won the Book of the Year accolade at the Singapore Book Awards, is a masterpiece that weaves together a dizzying array of styles and forms to construct a moving portrait of a fictional comics artist while examining the narratives behind the Singapore Story.

It was thrust into the spotlight after Singapore’s National Arts Council withdrew its grant for the book just before it was launched, claiming that it breached funding guidelines through its “retelling of Singapore’s history (which) potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy of the Government.”

Published in the United States by Pantheon Books, it was a New York Times Bestseller, and is due for release in France by Urban Comics and in Italy by BAO Publishing.

Review: Brüssli: Way of the Dragon Boy

What instantly struck me about Brüssli: Way of the Dragon Boy was the artwork. That and the incredible word play on "Bruce Lee: Way of the Dragon". Since this is a French comic translated into English it’s an understatement to say that it’s in a very European storybook style. A style that I can’t quite place my finger on because it reminds me of an animation I’ve seen. It’s also an understatement to say that the art is amazing. The still images by J. Etienne have a very fluid look to them. Your mind’s eye can easily see the movement and so in many ways this is like watching an animation. That and Etienne’s somewhat classic animation style of anthropomorphic animals frankly just warms my heart to see. The warm and detailed background and set pieces whisk you away. I felt like a child again while reading this book and that innocence continues into the story.

BrussliThe story is fairly simple and straightforward. The plot is out of a kid’s movie and that’s okay, because it does this quite well. The tale starts off in a town called Stillendorf. The richest man and essentially the leader of the town is on the verge of death. He leaves everything to his only living kin, his two granddaughters. One person that wishes to see him off is Arsenius who has just found a strange egg in the mountains while gathering some plants for the dying man. Low and behold the egg hatches later and suddenly Pa and Ma Kent have a new baby… I mean Arsenius and his wife have a baby.

We flash forward some years and meet young Brüssli who has an unusual face. The other kids pick on him in a way that would only be acceptable in this bygone era. That is to say they chase him with what can only be described as crude bats after giving him a boot party. This ends with him up a tree and apples being thrown at him. Not of the rotten variety.

Other players in the story are introduced. The two grown granddaughters, one a ruthless business woman looking to discover the treasure that her grandfather spoke of on his death-bed. The other can only be described as pure, innocent and dim-witted. And while it’s a bit of a trope for dim-witted Dorette to act the way she does, I assure you that her pure heart and dim bulb make for some great moments.

This collection is split up in four chapters. There is an overall arc to the entire story running through all four chapters, but also an A and B story as well. The first two chapters are extremely connected to each other, while the last two are as well. Each pairing has its own plotline that it’s following making for a very rich reading experience.

The only thing holding the story back is the sheer amount of dialogue that it has. There’s a lot of redundancies in the information given and every character seems to need ample time to talk. In that regard it almost feels like a stage show in which information is being conveyed because it can’t be shown. But it’s a comic book and the information can be shown and is, wonderfully at that. It’s not a deal breaker, but towards the end I was able to read the first few dialogue bubbles, skip to the bottom and have all the info. Especially if a gag wasn’t happening.

With that said I would still really recommend this story. It has a classic animation feel, but a story that was just a little more mature than you’d expect. It’s nothing like cartoons and kid’s stories today in which lessons and counting are the only thing done, but more like Warner Brothers cartoons in which children were entertained, but adults could appreciate the brilliance of what they were watching. Not that Brüssli is an animation, but perhaps I enjoyed it because it felt like one from beginning to end.

Check out the trailer Humanoids made!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyDXGuyE5cs

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Brüssli: Way of the Dragon Boy Writer: Jean-Louis Fonteneau Artist: J. Etienne Translator: Anna Provitola Publisher: Humanoids Inc. Price: $24.95 Format: Hardcover; Print/Digital

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Original "Hellboy" Graphic Novel To Be Published in 2017

Next spring, Dark Horse Comics will publish an original graphic novel,Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea, co-written by legendary Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, co-written and illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Gary Gianni and colored by award-winning colorist Dave Stewart. Following the events of the classic story “The Island,” Hellboy sets sail from the wreckage of a deserted island only to cross paths with a ghost ship. Taken captive by the phantom crew that plans to sell him to the circus, Hellboy is dragged along by a captain who will stop at nothing in pursuit of a powerful sea creature. Gary Gianni has previously collaborated with iconic writers including George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury and Michael Chabon and teamed up with Michael Kaluta to work on the classic pulp hero, The Shadow. Gianni is best known the creator of the Monstermen series, which appeared as a back-up feature inHellboy. He also illustrated Prince Valiant, the syndicated newspaper comic strip, for 8 years. Gianni will illustrate Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea, with colors by Dave Stewart; Mignola will provide a cover, with colors by Stewart.

"I imagine if Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea were a movie, the Hollywood hyperbole would describe it as Hellboy's greatest adventure,” said Gary Gianni. “Yes... it's Hellboy as you've never seen him before, laughing , loving and battling his way across the stormy seas! You'll be thrilled as he faces cosmic forces terrorizing a haunted ship manned by a desperate crew! Be sure not to miss Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea, the biggest comic book event of the year!"

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea is the third Hellboy original graphic novel, following the classics, Hellboy: House of the Living Dead by Mignola, Richard Corben and Stewart (2011) and Hellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mignola, Duncan Fegredo and Stewart.

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