Upcoming comic alert!
2016 is not yet over, there's still almost two whole months of comics goodness to come but my amber alert has gone off, warning that early 2017 looks to be the most fiscally damaging month in some time as caused by comic book excellence. Pretty sure the Akira 35th Anniversary box set is arriving around then, to blow a Neo Tokyo-sized hole in your wallet, Fantagraphics is kicking off its Studio Editions (their take on IDW's Artist Editions) with a book collecting reproductions of the entirety of Jaime Hernandez's beloved "Wigwam Bam" story from Love & Rockets and D&Q have announced the much more affordable but equally must-have, Terms and Conditions from cartoonist Robert Sikoryak. Taking "the contract that everyone agrees to but nobody reads" and reproducing it entirely in comics form, Sikoryak draws every single page of his project in the style of a different comic. Advance glimpses look tremendous. Oh 2017, you big tease...
COMIC OF THE WEEK : THE MARQUIS OF ANAON: THE BEAST
By Fabien Vehlmann & Matthieu Bonhomme
Published By Cinebook
"This is no ordinary predator" - Captain Xavier Poulain-Legoff
It's what's pretty much become a tradition in this column, the arrival of a new Marquis of Anaon book is reason alone for comment. I've not been shy in shoving this product down readers' throats and I'm more than happy to do so again, with the arrival of Jean-Baptiste Poulain's fourth adventure, "The Beast."
A quick summary for newbies: Poulain is a young man with a gift for the supernatural. He's travelled far and wide soaking up various custom and superstition. I've previously described him as an adventurer, sceptic, mystery-solver, occasional coward and possible paranormal magnet. He's also proven himself to be the most bumbling action-adventure hero you've ever seen. He's useless in a fight and has solved "cases" by more luck than any skill or deductive or magical power. The creators have taken their time building up Poulain and it's here, finally, with "The Beast" that our "hero" actually shows some real spine and perhaps becomes worthy of his moniker ("Anaon" means lost souls) and his burgeoning reputation with people as esteemed as French royalty.
New readers, fear not: each volume in the series is essentially self-contained and any and all of them are highly recommended, with the first two making my best of 2015 list and the subsequent 2016 volumes poised to do the same.
Still reeling from the tragedy that happened during his last adventure aboard The Providence, Poulain is tasked to accompany a squad of French soldiers led by his cousin, Xavier, a crack marksman, to exterminate what many believe to be a werewolf prowling the countryside and committing murder-sprees. As good as "The Providence" was, with its claustrophobic and gothic sea ship interior action, it's a relief to see Bonhomme back to illustrating breathtaking landscapes. His widescreen panels of mountain ranges with windswept flora and sharp, craggy cliffs are absolutely lovely. He's a prodigious talent.
Along the way, in the company of these tough-talking roughnecks, Poulain's constantly teased, mocked and generally emasculated by everyone except his own cousin. The creators once again excel at blurring the line between the supernatural and the happy accident - encountering a band of smugglers, the soldiers and Poulain engage in a firefight with their foes. Poulain appears to miss a shot at virtually point blank range, but his enemy also simultaneously misses -- do both pistols misfire or is their something else at work here? Of course, being unable to shoot a foe in such close quarters only gives the soldiers further reason to mock Poulain who, to his credit, takes some marksmanship lessons from cousin Xavier. Here is the book's main sequence of character development as Xavier discusses what it is to kill a person, either by accident or mortal necessity, and how one must accept and move on from tragedy. A lesson Poulain must sadly learn.
Poulain's knowledge and abilities may seem like foppish nonsense to the soldiers, but as troubles arise and numbers are cut, they soon learn to trust him as he predicts storms by "reading the thistles" or follows bees for direction and aid. Culminating in a showdown with The Beast itself, Poulain and Xavier's hunt takes them seemingly out of this very world, into an undiscovered land of snow, ice and rock -- given stunning life by Bonhomme -- and finally, The Marquis of Anaon becomes a figure of action, driving the plot and its events forward rather than merely being in the right place at the wrong time. In time honoured tradition the roles of predator and prey begin to switch as we head toward the final showdown.
Vehlmann's plotting and scripting is absolutely on point this volume. Poulain truly emerges in this story, which begins with him literally as figure in the background (he does not say a word for the first third of the book), to gradually pushing forward to the forefront of the narrative and driving the action as a true protagonist should. Towards the conclusion, he tells Xavier, "We're in the other world now! It's a region I'm familiar with...I'm almost at home here," literalising his growth.
Taken individually, The Marquis of Anaon books are gorgeous examples of complex, spooky historical adventure comics. Collectively, however, the series is fast becoming a textbook how-to on patient character development. Thankfully, we're not done yet. "The Chamber of Cheops" is up next year, promising one guesses from title alone, more spooky, gothic interior work from Bonhomme and, possibly, the most courageous and confident incarnation of The Marquis of Anaon we've yet encountered. This series is absolutely top shelf stuff and should be savoured and re-read in anticipation of each forthcoming release. Highest possible recommendation.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : HAPPENING UNDER YOUR NOSE: AN UPDATE ON THE LARGEST PRISON STRIKE IN US HISTORY, NOW ONGOING
Local fave and Squishface studio fixture, Jess Parker, gets some pretty big exposure this week as the latest instalment of The Nib arrived featuring her deliciously inky work. I've been an admirer of Parker's work for a few years now. She's got a real gift for working with pen and ink, able to produce works of real detail and delicateness despite often using lines as thick as the cord to your phone charger. There's something very real and almost tactile about Parker's work, making her the perfect artist for this Nib assignment, Happening Under Your Nose: An Update on The Largest Prison Strike in US History, Now Ongoing, which illuminates various facts about striking prisoners and the economic ramifications thereof. Good stuff.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : URASWAWA NAOKI NO MANBEN DOCUMENTARY - S01E02 2015 - FUJITA KAZUHIRO ENGLISH SUBS
Yes, it's Manben again. Shush. It's great.
In this episode, Urasawa sensei fixes his cameras is the studio of the gregarious, fastidious and surprisingly sensitive Kazuhiro Fujita. I've included this for a couple of reasons: first, you've never seen so much Wite-Out used in your life. Seriously, by the time the episode ends and they close in on Fujita's finished artwork, there's cracks on the page like the paint on an old stone wall. Second, Fujita's Black Museum: The Ghost and The Lady came out in English just last week, and those looking Jojo's Bizarre Adventure fans for some more spicy, kinetic, seinen action could do way worse than this.
It's also worth watching for not only the fastidious draftsman Urasawa's flummoxed reactions to Fujita going from basically pencil stick men to finished inks (hence all the Wite-Out) like some sort of manga rogue, but also for the camaraderie they share over the struggles to realise their dreams as well as the bittersweet feeling that comes with overcoming such artistic struggle and building a sizeable audience but having that much of that audience churn through your comics at such a pace that they may not appreciate exactly everything that's gone into it. It's a touching reminder to us all to slow down a bit, re-read a lot and, as I say every week, really love your comics.
See you next week. Love your comics.