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Tue, October 20th, 2009 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist
0

COMICS NOIR

"You Have Killed Me" is the latest comics output from the creative team of Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones. I'm not nearly enough of a film noir nerd to pick out all of the influences, homages, and/or thematic points of the book, but I know it feels about right. All of the elements of what I'd consider a "noir" storyline come together nicely, including the jazz band, the bartender, the femme fatale, the double crosses, the hard-bitten protagonist with a dark past who can't escape the same circles, etc. etc. And it all works for me. I liked getting lost in the ambience of the comic as much as I enjoyed the plot, which involves a locked door mystery, a missing sister, the smell of almonds, and a circle of potentially very bad people surrounding our private dick, Mercer, who also gets beat up an awful lot in the book. Poor guy. He got stuck in a noir.

The dialogue is crisp and creative, filled with just enough purple prose to make you feel like you're watching a black and white film from the 1940s, perhaps.

"You threw me a sucker's case and played me for a lollipop."

It's a single line of dialogue that I keep going back to, because it shows Rich's ability to turn a phrase, pace it to the rhythm of the story, and show character in the person speaking it.

Rich also is smart enough to know that this is a comic book, and that it allows him to play with storytelling techniques that are missing in other media. He can layer narration and dialogue together over a scene in which something entirely different is happening -- and he can get away with it without being confusing or looking like a show-off. He knows to leave enough space to give the dame a big reveal when she arrives on panel for the first time. He allows the action-packed finale to tell itself, without going in and explaining things in dialogue or narration. Many of those panels are near silent and very dark, so the temptation must have been great in the first draft.

Jones' artwork is strong, too. The sisters at the heart of this story definitely look like sisters, but have enough differences to keep from being confusing. The other characters not only look different from one another, but also don't share stock body types with different hairdos grafted onto them in a weak effort to differentiate them. (I've seen far too many comics fall apart for that, both superhero and not.)

The book is in black and white, of course, but Jones does a nice job in adding grays to add texture to clothing, depth to the scene, or just an extra spark of visual interest to keep a page from looking flat.

Storytelling is strong, with different panel arrangements keeping the pages from looking static at first glimpse. I never had a problem following the action throughout the book, and Jones deserves credit for not oversimplifying or giving short shrift to the details of the story.

If you're looking for a crime noir story filled with believable characters, classic stock situations, and a couple of surprising twists and turns, "You Have Killed Me" is a good read.

Oni has it packaged in a well-designed hardcover book for just $20, for a 180-page story. This is a book that I also enjoy as an object. It feels right in the hand, and looks like a book you'd find on your local Borders bookshelf, not one doomed to be stuck in the back room of a comic shop for the rest of its days. I like that. Also, the cover art by Jones is magnificently designed, feeling as much like a noir movie poster as a "comic book cover." Nice use of the typography as a design element, too.

RED SONJA AS ANTI-INTERNET TOTEM

Savage Tales of Red Sonja Trade Paperback

Comics is not the internet.

I think we all get stuck in the mode of thinking that what goes on in the internet is gospel. The "conventional wisdom" of the internet crowd is how it should always be. Yet, internet darling comic books get canceled left and right for low sales, while those that are reviled critically are often best sellers. The reason for this is simple: The entirety of comics fandom isn't on the internet, nor does it strictly revolve around what it reads in the blogosphere or here on CBR or anywhere else. Granted, core comics fandom has shrunken to a point where it could completely migrate to the forums here at CBR without our servers being taxed too greatly, but I think there's a lot more going on out there than most of us ever stop to think about.

Maybe manga already proved this years ago, but I was reminded of it again recently.

Last week, Dynamite Entertainment released the seventh collection of its "Red Sonja" series, "Born Again." It's a $25 hardcover. Have you ever read a "Red Sonja" comic from Dynamite? I'd venture to guess that the vast majority of you haven't. In fact, I bet most of you just giggled at the thought of taking seriously a book about a chain mail bikini wearing Conan wannabe title, right? It's silly, it's graphic, it caters to a most prurient audience. Nobody's reading that stuff, right?

Someone must be. Dynamite isn't just publishing a seventh collection of the series, but it's also publishing a hardcover collection at a higher price point than a trade would be. For "Red Sonja." Have you ever given any thought to the title?

Look, I'm not saying the book is good or not good. I've not read much of it myself. I have read a smattering of issues, though -- enough to know that it's not my thing. Occasionally, there comes a "Red Sonja" comic with very pretty art in it, such as when Pablo Marcos did an annual issue, but it's never grabbed my attention for its characters or setting. Neither has Conan, for that matter, save for very short blips of time.

I just wanted to point out that a title that doesn't seem to get much press, isn't necessarily a critical darling, and that many would dismiss out of hand, has a sizable enough audience to sustain a pretty solid success. Every now and then, it helps to look beyond the internet and beyond what the big buzz book of the week is at the moment.

There's more to comics than the internet.

LET ME SPEND YOUR MONEY FOR YOU

NBM has a special clearance sale going on that has to be seen to be believed. Through mid-November, they have a selection of books on sale for $4 and $8.

What books? We can start off with P. Craig Russell's beautiful opera adaptations. Then, let's move on to M. Prado's "Streak of Chalk" for $4? Yes, that one is probably adults only, but Prado's artwork is beautiful. I have his "Daily Delirium" book -- also now $4 -- and love the style. Nabiel Kanan's work is also worth reading.

The most spectacularly mind-blowingly amazing deal in the bunch, though, is "The Book of Schuiten" for just $8. This is the book I've referred to before as the most beautiful book in my entire collection. It's an amazing and oversized selection of Francois Schuiten's artwork, best known over here for his "Cities of the Fantastic" series. (One of those, "The Invisible Frontier, Volume 2" is likewise only $4.) For 136 full color pages at 10 x 12 inches, you won't find a better deal in comics this year. Being able to see that much detail in Schuiten's work is mind-blowing. I'm tempted to buy an extra couple of copies of it just to give away here, or use as Christmas presents. This is the book to get.


Now, NBM asks that you order at least $32 worth of books, but that shouldn't be too troublesome. Trying not to would be harder. Check their site out today for more titles.

ONE LINERS

    Wizard Entertainment's press release after their Big Apple Comic Con this weekend extols the virtues of what the event does for "the Comic Con brand." I really hope the people behind the Comic-Con International: San Diego have a lawyer standing by. It would be an interesting fight to see Wizard explain that here is no infringement because they aren't using a hyphen, so there's no possible market confusion.

  • It always amuses me when DC ships "Red Robin" and "Red Herring" in the same week. Sounds like a fine Scandinavian dish, doesn't it? ("Red Tornado" came out the week before, for what it's worth.)

  • I first thought that the theory of Mephisto being behind "Dark Reign" was ludicrous fanboyism. Then I noticed Marvel put out the "Mephisto Vs" premiere edition hardcover recently. Why did they do that? What were they tying that into? That's the kind of crazy timing that I can't chalk up to coincidence. Hmmm. . .

  • Quietly, this is Chris Eliopoulos' month, isn't it? He's seen the release of the hardcover collection of "Pet Avengers" from Marvel, as well as a new edition of "Desperate Times" through IDW and then even self-published a collection of his webcomic, "Misery Loves Sherman." When it rains, it pours.

  • Watch Francois Schuiten draw. This is why YouTube exists. My French isn't good enough to keep up with him, but just watching his ink line move is impressive.

  • Jamie S. Rich met some interesting people at a recent book fair.

  • I've mentioned paper quality in recent reviews, so I thought I'd mention the book with the most insanely high quality paper stock I've ever seen: Dark Horse's "The Will Eisner Sketchbook." It's described as something like "museum-quality," but I swear to you it's printed on high quality sketchbook paper material, not mass-produced comic book paper.

Next week: I've started reading stuff. Hopefully, something will inspire me. Come back next week to find out!

My photoblog, AugieShoots.com follows my recent tests of lighting and Lightroom presets. Coming soon, I hope: Fall Foliage!

I'm on Twitter again at AugieShoots, commenting on the breaking comic news of the moment, and so much more.

The Various and Sundry blog is at a standstill. I have more I'd like to write, but I'm running out of time. Just subscribe to the RSS feed and enjoy the occasional surprise.

Don't forget to check out my Google Reader Shared Items. It's the best of my daily feed reading, sometimes with commentary!

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 800 columns -- more than twelve years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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TAGS:  pipeline, you have killed me, red sonja, nbm publishing, oni press

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