I am rested.

*Hellshock Dept: Reader Justin posted a comment in regards to my questions as to the release date of the upcoming Hellshock: The Definitive Edition, with some info from creator Jae Lee himself, posted to his Yahoo group. Apparently, one of the reasons for the delays is that Jose Villarrubia’s original colors are now being entirely replaced by June Chung’s (previously, I was under the impression that Villarrubia simply wasn’t onboard for the book’s new material). You all know how much of a fan I am of Villarrubia's, so I can’t help but be a little distressed at the news - still, at least this’ll afford the book visual consistency, and Chung knows how to compliment Lee’s work pretty well.

It’ll be quite a different book though, different from both its original execution and its latter-day conception (I believe the second series was originally supposed to be twelve or so issues long - now it’ll be below five). Still, I’m certain the project has been changing quite a lot in Lee’s mind over the past decade or so, and this new book is likely ‘definitive’ to him (the title doesn’t say ‘complete’ after all).

Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?

This book, the trade format comics debut of writer/artist Liz Prince (actually a decade-plus comics veteran in the small press anthology and minicomics scene), maybe biases readers a bit too much through the niceties of its construction: Prince’s material is bookended by a sequential art intro from Jeffrey Brown on one side, and a drawing by James Kochalka on the other. Brown even highlights the similarities between his work and Prince’s - “It’s kind of what I try to do… except cuter, and funnier, and without all the wallowing in self pity…” Perhaps this sparks a bit too much eagerness to compare Prince’s book to what certainly seems like its primary influences (Kochalka’s American Elf diary strip and Brown’s trilogy of relationship books, Clumsy, Unlikely, and AEIOU or Any Easy Intimacy - Evan Dorkin and Ariel Schrag are also cited over at Top Shelf’s site), but I suspect that such temptation would rise regardless of any carrots dangled before our eyes. The similarities are just too strong.

Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? is the very definition of featherweight autobiographical comics. Granted, this neatly sidesteps that most clichéd of all autobio comics criticisms, that it’s all a bunch of turgid navel-gazing by boring hipsters, bestowing undue import on their dull lives. This is far too upbeat a book for that, but I dare say it errs in the opposite direction. While Kochalka sometimes wanders far out into the pasture of twee, there’s a cumulative effect to his diary comics, mixing and matching the sweetness with profane anger and genuine pain - it’s a successfully rendered life in shorthand. And certainly Brown, as one can guess from his intro, is often a prime target for the aforementioned critical clichés, not quite undeservingly so, though such snarkish surface critiques ignore the careful rhythms that go into the assemblage of his relationship books, cute and sex and fight and cute and cute and sex arranged in a determined format, all in the service of creating an emotionally coherent portrait of a union. Certainly one can argue that such structures are tantamount to unhappy formula in execution, but there is something at work beneath the book’s hood.

Prince’s book might be considered more unpretentious, more 'pure fun,' but I see it as merely insubstantial. There’s no structure at all here (not that such a thing by itself is a deal-killer); it’s just cute one-page scenes from a relationship, over and over and over. And it's ‘cute’ in a fairly repetitive sense as well, with a constant emphasis on sex and bodily functions and whimsical insecurity (usually itself related to sex and bodily functions but sometimes cuddling as well); as a result, the work reads as white noise after just a few pages.

To wit: following one episode of Prince’s significant other cutely warming his hands in her armpits, we get a scene of him cutely hugging her on the toilet (“…you’re so cute I want to squeeze the pee out of you.”), then a scene of her cutely checking out his belly-button lint, then a scene of her cutely failing to get him to make out before bed, then a scene of him cutely kissing her drawing hand (which she has to take back, since she needs it to draw, of course), then a scene of her cutely teasing him when he cries at the movies, then a scene of him cutely telling her he loves her even though her feet are cold in bed, and so on and so forth until page 71 and the end of the book. It kind of starts to lose my interest after any given quartet of pages, to be honest. One starts to long for some kind of unification, or at least a shift in attitude.

Prince’s art is probably a stronger element, bringing a gentle manga influence to the table (she’s reminiscent of a sketchy, off-the-cuff Kiyohiko Azuma of Yotsuba&!, at least in terms of facial reactions). It’s actually a much more polished style than it initially appears to be; Prince leaves in her initial outlines for character heads and the like, perhaps to give her visual style a bit more immediacy, but I think her work would look just as simple and charming without such flourish. As it is, it only appears to be a needlessly messy alternate form of what strikes me as appealing visual work, and I can clearly foresee Prince developing as a stylist in the future.

But more is needed than visuals. I recognize that there’s an enthusiastic audience for this sort of work, and indeed I have to think that I’d be a bit more forgiving of the book’s one-after-another barrage of uniform sweetness if I was predisposed toward delighting in such things. But as far as this brand of autobiographical comics goes, I need something a bit more supple. Coupled with my exposure to Prince’s influences, many of which utilize an extremely similar tonal style as a part of a whole, this book seems like no more than a series of familiar extracts, and repetitious extracts at that, dropped at random between two covers. There’s little bits of pleasure to be found here, mainly in the visuals, but even Top Shelf’s modest seven dollar price tag seems too much for so vaporous a collection.

*And just to completely switch gears -

Escape of the Living Dead #1 (of 5)

Just a few technical matters to sort out up top. The official credits have Night of the Living Dead vet John Russo down for ‘Story’ and Strange Killings artist Mike Wolfer listed under Avatar’s famous ‘Sequential Adaptation’ heading. Unlike all those Alan Moore projects, though, I do believe Russo’s story was created especially for Avatar, so I’m left to presume that he submitted his work in some sort of prose or comics-unfriendly format (Avatar head William Christensen infers as much in that interview I linked to the other day). In addition, the book’s back cover claims that the miniseries is six issues long; Diamond’s list and Avatar’s own solicitation claim otherwise, so that’s what I’m going by here.

An unnamed reader (posting in regards to some comments I made a while back as to Avatar’s 2004 series of Joe R. Lansdale adaptations, By Bizarre Hands) recently asked me for my opinion as to artist Dheeraj Verma. A veteran of the Indian comics scene for years, Verma is only here making his full-length (as in 'non-short story based') debut in North American comics, so it’s pertinent to discuss his style. In short, it’s perfectly fitting for Russo’s story, a pretty standard-issue zombie potboiler; nothing here would look out of place in a 1981 Umberto Lenzi film, save for the 1971 setting. Accordingly, Verma amps up the gore when necessary (there’s a decent gut-chomping panel), though he retains a certain unrealistic cartoon ambiance - note the panel with zombie heads, blasted free of their respective shoulders, soaring merrily through the air.

But mostly it’s a supple horror style, with amusing attention paid to various zombies’ attire. Verma does seem to have some difficulty with characters’ faces; I’ll be generous and presume that a pair of thugs we spot halfway through the issue are supposed to be biological siblings, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that occasionally the only way to tell them apart is through the differing colors Andrew Dalhouse gives their eyes. Worse yet is a certain mother/daughter duo, the former of which looks to be at most five years older than the latter. Not that age gaffes haven’t been a common problem in lowdown horror films throughout the ages, but comics offer a better opportunity for control, and the resulting effect comes off as only distracting.

In addition, Dalhouse’s colors are perhaps a little too dark. At times he appears to be shooting for a ‘golden hour’ early evening feel (especially in a concluding fight in a barn), but the pages mostly come off as slightly muted, less attractive. It’s not a killing blow to the book’s readability or anything, but it saps energy, making Verma’s art seem a bit more weary than it could. All of these problems can be pretty easily confronted in later issues, though.

As for the plot, there’s not all that much to say right now. It’s apparently set in an alternate sort of NOTLD world, in which the zombie plague has been largely extinguished following an outbreak of a while back. Unfortunately, military interests are conducting experiments on zombie ‘survivors’ (it’s amusingly suggested that they’re going to ship them off to Vietnam), and unfortunate twists of fate lead to the titular escape. Can the good residents of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania survive? Enjoy the nudie bathing scene!

Still, while it’s hard to imagine a less original opening premise (the period-specific Nam-era paranoia and unrest are thoroughly shopworn as far as this type of horror goes), I can’t quite articulate anything the book does wrong, save for being kind of unremarkable on the whole. It’s just straightforward zombies, in comics form, executed with a certain amount of storytelling aptitude, though nothing much beyond that. Given my general enjoyment of the films this book is so reminiscent of, I pretty much liked it, though I can’t say it’s in danger of converting anyone. I guess your mileage will vary most of all in regards to whether or not you usually enjoy this sort of thing, which is probably what joins today’s pair of reviews together, now that I think of it. Neither are quite enough to compel those not among the flock.