A recent publication from Humanoids, "Bluesy Lucy" is the story of a woman at age 30 who doesn't seem to have her life together. While all the friends around her are successful, married, and producing children, she's alone. The pressure from family, friends, and even her job isn't helping her. She needs a change, but she's not sure how to go about it.
It sounds like the start of a million other romantic comedy/biographical comics out there, doesn't it? It's another tale of a woman defined by her romantic interests who has crazy adventures with men until a crazy coincidence or an obvious connection finally materializes and we have a happy ending. "Bluesy Lucy" is not like that, though, which is what makes it so enjoyable. Credit goes to co-writers Catel and Veronique Grisseaux for a script that brings us into the mind of a person who feels real and whose misadventures strike chords.
For starters, Lucy is, in many ways, self-destructive. She has a tendency to screw things up on her own. She's not a perfect person trapped in an imperfect world. In many ways, she's just as bad as all of those people around her that she judges. It isn't until she recognizes that in herself that she can overcome it. That tension is where the fun of the book is. It's in watching her get herself into situations that you know, from afar, will do her no good. Yet it's also something she needs to try to find her new middle ground.
Over the course of the book, we also discover that the grass isn't greener on the other side. The "perfect" marriage hides a darker secret. A tossed joke is indicative of a bitter truth. The put-together friend with the happy marriage and kids is living a gigantic lie fueled by credit cards and willing blindness. The sister with her happy family isn't quite as superior to Lucy as Lucy first thinks. And the dream man she meets early on is, almost too obviously, not as interested in her as she initially thinks he might be.
Lucy's character has an interesting arc in the story, winding up in a place that isn't obvious. This is less a book about a woman finding a man than it is a woman finding herself and putting her romantic life in proper proportion to her whole life. It's an important distinction that leads to an ending that's both satisfying and completely inconclusive. That makes it feel all the more real. It all happens through a series of events that you can feel crashing around Lucy as the book carries on, their inevitability often falling off in unpredictable directions.
The art from Catel is not what I'd normally enjoy, to be honest. It's too simple, too alt-comics-y. It looks like it was drawn with a black ballpoint pen with the help of a drying Sharpie to fill in the blacks. The characters have rubbery limbs, the backgrounds and surroundings are crude. Perspectives are off, backgrounds are too simple.
But once I got wrapped up in the story, my problems with the art dropped away. Catel's pages are packed with the proper amount of emotion and normalcy that you want in a book like this. It's not forced and action-packed. It doesn't try to get fancy with story-telling tricks. It does have a few isolated panels and pages that go off-format, but even those don't feel like the artist is attempting to show off at the expense of the story. It all fits together. The gestures are solid. The eyes tell the stories. And people feel more normal, with a variety of body types, fashions, and facial features. The relatively "crude" art better approximates a story that feels like it's drawn from someone's memories, rather than carefully controlled and planned out. This isn't an autobiographical comic as far as I know, but it feels that way.
"Bluesy Lucy" is available today for $25. It's a 120 page black and white 8 x 6 inch hardcover book. (As the Humanoids description puts it, "Presented in a small diary format with thick paper stock.") It's a perfectly self-contained book with plenty of pathos, self-flagellation, and lessons learned. But most of all, it's entertaining. Even when you want to wince for what you think is coming up next, you're still interested in seeing it. Lucy is a flawed, but ultimately likable, character. Catel and Grisseaux deliver on their premise.
BREAKING BAD -- NO, WAIT, "BAD BREAK"
Another recent release from Humanoids is "Bad Break," Philippe Riche's funny noir tale centered on a rose tattoo that spans generations. There is a larger mystery here about the tattoo and what it means and who has it, but the bulk of the action is set in present day as an unlikely trio of characters -- an antiques dealer, a junkyard worker, and a porn star -- team up to dig that story up.
The flashbacks to the past, honestly, are the weakest part of the book, often feeling like the necessary part of the story to keep the plot moving, but never as entertaining as the misadventures of the three people chasing down the mystery. That's where the book shines, when the deadpan reactions, the startled scrambling, and the chase scenes begin. The ending -- the very last page kind of ending -- functions as a great punch line to the whole adventure and gives the title a strong final laugh.
It's not a terribly deep book that I could spend 500 words analyzing. It is a breezy summer read that's easy to finish in one sitting. It's unlike anything else you've probably read this year, so it's a good change of pace. Riche's sense of humor is a little understated. At times, it feels like he could have done more with these characters if he had pushed them a little harder, but then he'd run the danger of hitting us over the head with it.
The book is printed at roughly 10 by 8 inches in size, but probably doesn't need to be. Riche doesn't get too detailed in his art, and his panels are very large. By far, most pages are only three panels. This is one of those rare cases where shrinking a Franco-Belgian album down to standard American comic size would not have likely hurt the art or the readability of the book. (To be fair, it doesn't hurt "Bluesy Lucy" too much, either, but it has a cartoony style, as well.) The black and white art makes great use of gray areas with a few different tones. it never overwhelms the ink line, but helps to separate planes of the art composition and project a light value with direction and strength. Riche draws his backgrounds in as open a style as he does his characters.
"Bad Break" is available today from Humanoids for $30. It's a 200 page black and white hardcover book. If you're a noir fan or looking for something a little crazier than your usual crime fair, this might be a good selection for you.
UPDATES OF REVIEWS PAST
I have two updates from recent reviews this week.
We'll start with last week's review of Papercutz's "The Smurfs Anthology". Editor Jim Salicrup emailed me with some thoughts about the review that I thought would be worth passing along.
I expressed my concern that even in this "oversized" format, the book still hadn't reached the full-page size that the original albums had. I was wrong. The "Anthology" presents the art at the same size as the original publication. So that's happy news.
I was flippant about extra sound effects being thrown in to fill newly empty space from the enlarged page size, but they were actually added back in to be more faithful to the original material. They were originally cut because there was no room to legibly include them in the smaller volumes.
And, as with any foreign translation, any time the balloon size looks odd, it's more the fault of language differences than production. Some French phrases take up less space than the American versions, some more. The word balloons are already drawn on the page and Papercutz is filling them back up as best they can.
The differences between ellipsis and dashes, Salicrup tells me, is part of the company's house style for lettering. They plan on using the ellipsis to show a pause and dashes for an interruption, which is as it should be, I think. Peyo didn't go with these conventions, but those were a simpler time.
Matt Wieringo asked me on Twitter if "Smurfs Anthology" is a book I'd recommend to Carl Barks fans. That got me thinking about the similarities and differences between the two series, between Barks' Duck works and Peyo's Smurfs. Barks' work is stronger, for sure, putting even Peyo's Smurfs into a flatter two-dimensional shell. But when Peyo breaks out of that -- such as with the first Anthology's "The Purple Smurf" and especially "The Smurf King" -- he can be just as witty and adventurous. If you prefer the short humorous works of Barks over his adventurous stuff, you might find "Smurfs" just as favorable. Peyo mixes it up back and forth between longer "adventure" stories and shorter gag-a-page kinds of things, but his strength is definitely with the humor element.
My recommendation is that you read both, and then pick up an "Asterix" book as a chaser.
Secondly, a month ago I looked back at Steve Uy's "Eden's Trail" and "Feather". I didn't realize just how current I was at the time, but "Feather" #1 had just gone up on comiXology's site that week as part of their creator-owned "Submit" program. You can buy the first issue now, with subsequent issues planned to go up monthly. More of Uy's work is planned eventually.
While you might assume everything in this column is carefully planned or possibly even orchestrated with various comic company's marketing arms, the truth is far more boring: Sometimes, I just back into things like this.
Steve Uy also just completed a webcomic for Dynamite called "The Hollows: A Hallowland Graphic Novel." It's a comics adaptation of a zombie novel written by Amanda Hocking (famed on the internet for being a "self-publishing star") and adapted by Tony Lee. The print edition of the work is due out for Christmas.
That comic series, by the way, is no relation to IDW's "The Hollows" from Chris Ryall and Sam Keith.
Finally, to clear up the use of CGI in Uy's comics (particularly some elements in "Feather"), Uy writes:
...you mentioned there were a lot of computer CGI in my older books. A lot of people make that mistake because my coloring goes into more detail than is usual. But all of my art has been done via the traditional pen/ink/scan and colored via Photoshop. That includes all backgrounds. Those CGI elements you think were there were just regular 2D drawings (but in my earlier works I removed the linework so it ended up looking like CGI -- I don't regret that decision because it forced me to show form and structure without relying on linework; a great learning experience!).
Let this be a lesson to us all in assuming we understand the comics making process from the end result. Sometimes, it's not as obvious as it seems.