Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #343

Tue, January 6th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

ANIMALS THAT AREN'T NECESSARILY FUNNY

There are any number of reasons to draw a comic book starring talking animals. It might be that it's where the interests of the artist have always been. Perhaps he grew up doodling Disney animals and now drew that professionally. It might be that the writer had a point to make that would work best with the added metaphor of a story starring animals. It might even be for the sake of a gag.

I don't know why Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido chose to cloak their noir mystery thriller, BLACKSAD (iBooks, $12.95), in the guise of an anthropomorphic comic, but it would seem to me that none of the reasons above apply. Maybe it's just an artist whim? It doesn't matter. BLACKSAD is as dark and gritty a noir tale as you can ask for, just with a coating of fur.

Guarnido's art is lush and detailed. He doesn't use talking animals to skirt around drawing details and making everything look like a cartoon. This is a fully rendered graphic novel, complete with watercolored tints. If it weren't for the hands and faces of the characters, you'd think it were a "normal" noir tale starring humans. Guarnido's rich backdrops are more realistic and detailed than what you find in most comics. Even thegestures and postures of the characters mimic a human's fairly well. The point is that this is a graphic novel featuring animals acting as humans, and it doesn't bother me in the least. It adds some texture to the book and creates extra visual interest. The oversized pages help, too. This book is published at the same scale as other European reprints by Humanoids or NBM.

Canales' story is a fairly standard one of the lost lady love and the lone private eye fighting for her honor. He's got a tough friend in the police department, and some weasels after him from behind. It's a murder mystery that holds up well, with enough dialogue to keep the characters and situations straight through its 46 story pages.

If you're looking for a little noir in your comics until Frank Miller's puts together another SIN CITY story, this isn't a bad place to start.

Another release from iBooks is THE QUEST FOR ABERZEN. When I read the original solicitation and read that it was a fantasy tale, I began counting down the inches of cover space it would take before J.R.R. Tolkein was namechecked. I expected a banner across the top of the front cover, but I was wrong. They saved it for the back cover along the bottom. Even STAR WARS got blurbed sooner. Surprising.

This is another anthropomorphic book, with a more cartoonish art style. It's a fantasy world in which bears work in a mine in the middle of a cleared out section of forest. Meanwhile, somewhere else, there's a lot of snow and some funny looking creatures we can't quite make out the genus/species of are on a hunt of their own mysterious devise.

The book shares one very strong bond in common with Tolkein: I was bored after reading 30 pages of it. All the bears look and talk too much alike. The strange characters from the other plot confused me. I had no idea who they were or what they were doing. I don't mind being teased by a story, but it needs to pay off eventually. The two plots collide spectacularly in the back of the book after a traumatic event, but by then I was on automatic pilot to get through it.

It's a nice looking book, but as a story it didn't grab. I much preferred the more linear noir story of BLACKSAD.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

THE RISE OF THE GRAPHIC NOVEL is a book written by and for librarians. For that, it works. If you're looking for a detailed history of comics, this isn't your book. At only 64 pages, it's a breezy read broken down into approximately five-page chunks, covering comics from their inception right up to today's big movement, manga. It is a handy way to introduce your local librarian to one of the hottest trends in their business right now.

The author, Stephen Weiner, doesn't get too bogged down in historical context for the book, and punctuates it nicely with real world examples, such as BONE, MAUS, and SANDMAN. It's all well and good to explain in broad strokes what the movement is about, but lots of people find it easier to learn by examples. I know I do. That's why I think those chapters are so important in the book, above and beyond the extra sales it might mean for those individual titles.

The book is a hardcover release from NBM. At $15, it's available in comic shops now, but should be available through the book trade in the coming weeks.

GIANT ROBOT WARRIORS

I was leery of reading GIANT ROBOT WARRIORS, the latest graphic novel from AiT/PlanetLar. The author, Stuart Moore, has some strong political opinions which I strongly disagree with. While I normally wouldn't allow that to color my opinion of his work, GIANT ROBOT WARRIORS promised a certain level of political satire. Thus, my apprehension was with reason.

I was pleasantly surprised, though, to find that it's a rather tame satire. In fact, my curiosity was piqued by how tame it was. Moore, helpfully, includes a text page after the story in which he talks about writing the book two years ago. He admits that it would probably be more political if it were written today. In that case, this review probably wouldn't be half as positive.

As it is, it's a fun story of government-sponsored fighting robots and some of the ludicrous nature of government and red tape and bureaucracy and politics.

The art by Ryan Kelly fits the story. Moore calls for political likenesses to be captured, as well as "normal people," giant fighting robots, and some high tech but low-budget labs. Kelly delivers it all.

If Kelly has one weakness, it's that too much of his art is happening too close to the reader. He's pushing the camera in too far, leaving the finished pages with panels that include heads getting chopped off at the top or arms disappearing from the body out the sides. It also leads to a certain amount of claustrophobia on the page. A reading of one of Will Eisner's texts on the topic of storytelling in comics might have helped.

No doubt those who watched the latest Democrat Presidential debate this weekend will love this book for its George W. Bush stereotypical humor and it's anti-war stance. The rest of us can enjoy it for the cool characters and the giant fighting robots. It's not my favorite of the AiT/PlanetLar library, but it is worth a read.

ONE-LINERS

Yeah, I know "One-Liners" are rarely, if ever, one line. This evolved from something else, but the name stuck.

I dropped nearly a dozen titles from my pull list this weekend, in an effort to streamline things about Casa Pipeline. Or maybe I've been watching too much "Clean Sweep" on cable TV? In any case, most titles were ones that I liked, but didn't keep up with for whatever reason from month to month. I don't need to keep collecting books that I figure I'll read "eventually." More and more, I find myself without the time to get around to reading those books.

I picked up my new comics from January 2nd on January 4th. I picked up the new comics from Christmas Eve on the following Tuesday. And I'll be getting this week's new comics on their regular Wednesday release day. Not bad: 3 New Comic Days in a span of 8 days.

The flip side of that, though, is that in the nearly two weeks I went without buying anything new, I dug into the pile of unread trades I had sitting around. That explains last week's column. It felt good to get to some of those, and I may have to try this again sometime soon.

Just to hammer home the Claremont/Byrne X-Men collection, do you think it's a coincidence that the first two cover images DC sends out for those JLA issues feature "X"s on them prominently? Check out CSN #863 to see them. One splits the cover into four separate images. The other is a crosshairs of sorts in the central focus area of the cover.

I know my days of letterhacking are done when I look down my list and see that I only had three letters printed in 2003, and one of those was an e-mail correspondence that the creator asked to reprint.

New Year's Resolution for this column: Review more than 50 trade paperbacks/graphic novels in the course of this year.

PIPELINE PREVIEWS returns on Friday, to look at some highlights for the month of March 2003. It'll probably be a relatively short one. There's not much coming out in March, honestly.

Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday with something new.

Various and Sundry looks at WORLD IDOL, more screenshots from the Linux changeover at Pipeline Central, more Babylon 5 on DVD, the week's new DVD releases, and more.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

Nearly 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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