Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #393

Tue, December 21st, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

RECENT ART BOOKS

THE BOOK OF SCHUITEN (NBM, $45, preview) is the most beautiful art book I own. I'm biased, of course, in that he's my favorite European artist, whose CITIES OF THE FANTASTIC series is worth every penny NBM would ever like to charge me, no matter how far out there the stories get. Francois Schuiten's art is a treat all its own.

In this 10" x 12" book, we're treated to a ton of work not previously available in North America. Schuiten is a busy man. Aside from drawing his graphic novels, he does work on set designs, posters, and art installations. The book is broken into ten chapters, including sections on travel, flying, cities, prisons, books, bodies, and more. An imagination this large and this detailed deserves the larger page dimensions to breathe.

The book leads off with an 11 page interview with the artist, and a four page timeline of his life and works. It shows Schuiten to be both an artist and a thinker. The work on the page is only half the story. This entire book is a translation from the original edition, which means some of the captions and a few of the interview segments might seem a bit rough.

The only artistic problem with the book is that you might want to wash your eyes out when you're done. It's so unrelentingly brown that you need bright colors to cleanse the palate before looking at another book.

This book also gives me a chance to talk about another way in which comics show themselves in far too many facets of my life. I caught $40 A DAY on the Food Network a few weeks ago, when they traveled to Brussels, Belgium. On the show, chef Rachael Ray travels to different cities and tries to eat well on a limited budget. In the opening to this particular episode, a montage of shot shows various buildings around the city. Every one of them looked like something Schuiten would draw. This makes sense, given that it's his home country. Having never been to my "motherland" of Belgium yet, I didn't make the connection before.

Now, I just want to go surfing the web for pictures of Belgium until I can make it over there, myself.

THE BOOK OF SCHUITEN is the perfect gift for the artistic type in your family, even if they're not a comic book fan. The breadth of imagination, the detail, the style, and the creativity are all top notch. I'm in awe of everything he draws.

INTRON DEPOT 4: BULLETS is a Japanese import being distributed by Dark Horse. I'm not familiar with the materials this book is based on. I know only that it's "a collection of Masamune Shirow's full color works & others 1995-1999." In his brief introduction, the artist says that the work is his own, but not necessarily all his. Some of the notes by the art are repeating client requests and not necessarily his own ideas. It's all broken down by project, from animated movies to video games and more. In effect, this is Shirow's sketchbook from various projects in a five year span.

The book screams at you. Like most Japanese art books of this kind, it's large scale, colorful, energetic, and inventive. Everything from CGI models to pencil sketches to color guides and expression sheets are included. I got lost in it a couple of times, just picking up the book during an idle moment, only to find myself staring at the pretty pictures for much longer. This volume entrances me, even when I have no personal connection to make with it. My anime experience is mostly limited to COWBOY BEBOP, and I'm fine with that. The annotations by Shirow help place the art in context. Even with a book that I'm just gawking at, it's interesting to hear stories on how the industry in Japan works. In many ways, it's not all that different from the American animation and comics industries.

The books runs 112 pages, printed on a very heavy glossy stock. It is a bit pricey at $49.95 for a softcover book, but fans of Japanese animation and video games will find something in it to like.

STAR WARS: PANEL TO PANEL is an art book put together by Dark Horse from its vast reservoir of extant licensed comic book art. I'm not a terribly big STAR WARS fan, but much of the art in this book I've seen already. It looks to be mostly cover work that's reprinted. It's separated into neat chapters, such as "Spaceships," "The Jedi," "Heroes and Allies," and "Villains and Rogues."

Randy Stradley's text attempts to tell a narrative. He's not interested in telling stories behind the making of the art. He's interested in selling this art to a pre-existing fan of the movie series, explaining what the story implications of each piece are.

To be honest, there is a lot of impressive art in here. There is also a lot of art that makes you sick and tired of photo reference. It's not that you get to the point of recognizing the same head shot being used for reference across multiples pieces -- I think they did a great job in avoiding that -- but that art based on photographs inevitably ends up looking stiff. To me, that's the problem with too much of the book.

But for a STAR WARS fan who hasn't kept up with the comic books, this will be all new and exciting. The revelations in this book for those who have only ever seen the movies will be exciting. The variety of styles proves interesting and keeps your attention from wandering too much. It does its job.

PANEL TO PANEL is an oversized softcover volume, available now at an insanely good price point of $19.95.

COMING VERY VERY SOON

From Atomeka Press comes the new Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis superhero comedy, HERO SQUARED: X-TRA SIZED SPECIAL. It's a $3.99 full color book with a full 32 pages' worth of story. It should be out on store shelves this week.

This is a comic book worthy of additional installments. It has plenty of the quirks that you'd expect from a Giffen/DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE story, but transplanted into another universe with new characters. In this case, we're talking about the frustrated young film director wannabe named Milo. All he wants to do is direct movies, but he's a horrible slacker. His life changes, though, when his superhero double from another dimension comes to him for help. It's a clich of superhero comic books: Something crazy happens and the Normal Joe type is asked to accept it and move on. Usually, it's done in a few panels and the writer moves on by the next page. It's a contrivance we accept under the flag of "suspension of disbelief." It is, however, a situation begging to be expanded on for comedic effect and, believe it or not, believability. That's what happens here. The middle 13 pages is a dialogue scene meant to convince Milo of the new reality around him. It's sharp and witty back-and-forth dialogue that never falters. Every page is crammed with word balloons that are fun to read. It's like a Bendis book, but less stylized and more filling.

Some people might have an aversion to paying $3.99 for a comic book that's mostly dialogue. Please don't let that be you. For starters, there are 32 story pages in the book. That's almost 50% more than your usual $2.99 or $3.50 comic book these days. More importantly, it's a book that you won't breeze through in three minutes. You will be reading a lot in here. This is a book that demands your time and just a wee bit of your attention. It's not horribly complicated material. The material is very basic, as a matter of fact. But the handling of it is a great example of what more comics should be. In the end, it's one of the best returns on your investment in comics today.

Joe Abraham's art fits the story well, alternating between alien invasions and calm subway conversations. There is some confusion between the two identical characters as they talk, though. On some of the close ups, there's no visual cue to differentiate the two. You have to read into the dialogue to figure that out. The tennis match that is the conversation should dictate to you, though, who's talking. The art is reproduced directly from the pencils, which I'm sure will irk many people. It doesn't bother me. It functions as a different media, such as a painted comic or a comic done in charcoals might work.

Matt Nelson's coloring is mostly flat, with plenty of bright colors. The entire scheme reminds me of Disney Duck comic books, in all honesty. In some places, it really works. In others, it looks a bit cheap. It's not a big distraction, though. The coloring often has to work hard to compensate for art that didn't scan through from the pencil work. (Yeah, maybe an inker would have been a good idea. . .)

Ed Dukeshire has his hands full in lettering this book and doesn't falter. It's a very professional job, though the straight edges on the balloon tails stick out to me.

In the end, HERO SQUARED is the book I want to see Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis writing. If all it is is JUSTICE LEAGUE without DC Editorial interference, then that's enough for me. I want more. The pre-existing universe and quaint historical details might be missing, but the creative freedom must be liberating.

Can you imagine AMBUSH BUG being green lit today by DC? Or THE HECKLER? Or much of anything else with a sense of humor? Darn shame, that.

Check out a 12 page preview of HERO SQUARED right here on CBR.

BITS AND PIECES

  • If you're a HALO AND SPROCKET fan, Kerry Callen had some new strips printed in his local newspaper. Now, they're available on his web site. Callen says that work is underway on a new issue, also.

  • Artist of the week: Katie Nice. Cartoon Brew indicates that she's working for Disney animation right now. There's great stuff in the sketchbook section of her site, although I need to warn you that there is some nudity in there. It's nothing disgusting or distasteful, but it is there if it's a sensitive issue for you and yours.

  • My cynical thought of the day: IDENTITY CRISIS was a horrible comic series on purpose. COUNTDOWN will be worse. DC wants to throw everything into disarray to the point where everyone hates them and wants to stop reading everything they do. Then, at the "last minute" and in response to "overwhelming fan demand" (ha!), they'll hit a giant reset button (CRISIS 2?) and everything becomes palatable again. DC looks like the big hero, and everyone swoops to them for good comics. They can even put a pleasant face on it by saying something along the lines of, "You all said you wanted grim and gritty, but we knew it wouldn't work. We did this to prove to you that we were right." Sounds like the whole Batman Breaks His Back storyline, doesn't it?

    To sum it all up: DC gets big sales for all the outrageous crap they pull for a couple of years, and then they get great big sales for bringing everything back to basics for the next three. That's not a bad five year plan, DiDio.

    Just a theory, mind you.

  • From Peter David's blog comes the sad news that former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco lost his wife to cancer recently. I've only met and had the chance to chat with DeFalco at a couple of conventions in recent years, mostly around the time he was putting out the RANDY O'DONNELL IS THE MAN book through Image. (In retrospect, it's the kind of book that's a precursor to INVINCIBLE in some ways.) Tom strikes me as a lovable guy whose enthusiasm for comics is infectious. If only more people in comics were having as much fun as he is -- even in the bad times -- we'd be a much stronger industry. News like this, of course, is quite sad and I want to send my condolences out to Tom and his family. If you so wish, donations can be made to the American Cancer Society in Pat De Falco's name.

Next week: Pipeline takes a look back at the trade paperbacks and collections reviewed in the year 2004.

Merry Christmas in the interim!

Over at Various and Sundry this week: The Five Fraggles of Christmas. Yeah, there will be seven of them when all is said and done, but I couldn't resist the alliteration. Uncle Matt was Sunday and Gobo was Monday. Where will the Doozers fall? Stay tuned. . .

All political discussions have been pushed off to one neat side at VandS Politics.

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.

More than 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 also still available at the Original Pipeline page. I haven't had that account in years, but they've yet to delete the page space. Bizarre.

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