It's true.

*What can be said about...


Anywhere But Here (strange logic in these gag comics from Tori Miki)

Seven Soldiers - Guardian #2 (of 4)

The Flames of Gyro (Fantagraphics' first ever original comic; see how it all started with brave Valgar Gunnar and a most delicious-sounding inferno!)

Plus, if we want to broaden our scope, I also talked about Notre Musique, the most recent feature from Jean-Luc Godard. Because that's what really racks up the hits.

*And since we’re on the topic of reviews, now would be a good time to point out that I’m going to be contributing some original reviews to Alan David Doane’s lovely (and soon to be much lovelier) Comic Book Galaxy in addition to the stuff that appears on my site. I’ve had a review from this site represented at the Galaxy before, but this is all-new material I’m talking about now. I’m very pleased to be working with Alan on this stuff! Thusly, I shall be implementing a new feature on this site - ‘OVER AT THE GALAXY’ - which will announce whenever I have some new material up. Let’s try it out:


Today, we have a review of Sam Hiti’s brand-new graphic novel, “El Largo Tren Oscuro”, which is not the next “Tiempos Finales” book, but an expansion of a minicomic into a 100+ page landscape-format parade of grotesqueries, with a wildly simplified version of the spiritual-pulp iconography seen in his earlier work.


*There we go. Easy, and so much fun that I can barely pick myself up out of this chair.

True Story Swear to God: This One Goes to Eleven

One can never escape the evaluation of interplay between words and pictures in reviewing a comic: such is the very make-up of the art form. But often, this necessity leads readers to assume that balance between the two, some sort of equality, not too fat and not too lean in either department, is the ideal state for a successful work. But different strengths in different areas of comics creation may well suggest an alternate course to success.

True Story Swear to God: This One Goes to Eleven”, the second AiT/Planet Lar trade collection of issues from writer/artist Tom Beland’s self-published autobiographical series ($12.95 USD, in stores this Wednesday), is a very wordy book. Panels sometimes appear choked with word balloons, and when there’s little talking there’s plenty of narration to pick up the slack. Many times you’ll encounter a bottom wide panel, or a bottom series of panels, with nothing but a batch of small character heads against a white background, talk filling up the majority of the space, eight or ten balloons against the blankness. This is not necessarily a fault, though the work is far more text-reliant than the average comic. Beland makes it work.

His is an attractively sparse style. His character designs are simple and smooth, elegant curvy lines providing bodily shape, with quick dashes and bends to suggest features. It’s a classically sophisticated brand of cartooning, and Beland knows how to milk those pliable faces for instantly recognizable emotions, thus empowering his many words. His background art is often kept to a minimum; occasionally he drafts a raging storm or a maze of fallen trees, and his attention to detail and atmosphere is perfectly decent, but much of the book relies on those empathetic character designs squeezing out that dialogue, and that’s all that’s really necessary for the book to work, seeing as how it’s so thematically focused on interpersonal communications.

The seams of individual issues (#5-11 are present here; a #12 has been released in the meantime) occasionally show through in collected form, especially in the first few chapters; Beland’s narration repeats the same information twice at certain points, which seems redundant when the work is read as a whole. But beyond such quibbling, this is a remarkably complete work as a single unit; I’ll confess that I’d never read an issue of Beland’s work before this, and I found the book to be a satisfyingly cohesive piece, not just ongoing chapters of a serialized story. That’s valuable for a comic of this sort, and might even provoke a bit of surprise from folks who followed these exploits as individual pamphlets.

Basically, the plot follows Tom, our author, and his (very) long-distance girlfriend Lily, as they move into a new phase of their relationship. Lily is a radio personality in Puerto Rico, and Tom works at a newspaper in Napa Valley, California. The two seem to be managing their romance fairly well, but the book quickly launches into a major source of stress for the both of them: the 1998 arrival of Hurricane Georges, ripping through the islands as Tom can only sit by the phone and take his frustrations out on his coworkers. The title of this volume isn’t just a Spinal Tap reference and a joke about which issues the book contains (get it? 11?): the storm drives emotions and actions into a new zone of intensity. Tom, you see, has been living in Napa Valley for a long time, and has close relationships with his brother and sister. Both of these characters have presumably been introduced in earlier issues of the book, but what we see of them here is more than enough, and Beland plays off of their personalities (his brother’s comic-relief antics, his sister’s level-headedness) to mine some interesting emotional depths later in the story. The hurricane has thrown into relief the difficulties of Tom and Lily’s relationship, and changes will have to be made, not easy changes. And most of these changes will be presented to us as they are presented to the characters: either through Tom’s internal considerations or though conversation between people. There is very little here that is not presented as spoken in some form, regardless of moving lips.

Naturally, it’s a true story (says so right on the cover), but the selection of material to present is thoughtful, even clever. A discussion between Lily and guests in regards to Tom’s interests in comic books (“Does he draw you with gigantic breasts?”) pays off later in a visit to Comic Relief in Berkley and some self-publishing encouragement, the solidifying of Tom and Lily‘s relationship reflected in the very production of the book you hold in your hands. The brutal storm at the book’s beginning is matched by a flood near the end, both storms related to churning emotions. And of course, Tom’s occasional brusqueness with his co-workers only feeds the impact of the finale of the book. There’s much complimentary doubling of this sort throughout the book, indicating that consideration has gone into structure, allowing the overflow of feeling to register more accurately.

And there’s an awful lot of feeling in here. There’s humor, with Beland’s supple character art perhaps shouldering the burden for the verbal humor a bit more than average, in keeping with the general feel of the book. But mostly what one will remember from this book is the personal drama, the dwelling on ties to the past, the juggling of love of different types. All of this is present in Beland’s words; perhaps some readers will feel that he spells things out too much, that he chokes his story by spilling out every thought in his head (in fine melodramatic form) into those captions. But I thought the book worked well in its chosen style, its stylish characters walking and talking well. It’s a nakedly open book, characters weep a good deal, romantic angst swells at every turn, and there’s always those interhuman (interfamily, interworker) bonds. But there’s enough recognition of realism here to stave off a lethal shock of sentimentality; sometimes, people are just left in tears when you’ve got things to do. And that’s worth saying.

One final note on the presentation: Kurt Busiek offers a semi-decent non-intro about how he can’t quite write a proper intro for the book; really basic stuff. At one point he blurts out: “My job is to be pleasant and readable for a few pages, so Larry can put ‘Introduction by Kurt Busiek’ on the cover or back cover or somewhere.” Most amusingly, Busiek’s name appears nowhere on the outside of the book. I’m guessing Larry meant it that way, because it’s a nice gag.