It's talking hippo day!

*The street outside my building is a pretty busy one; not quite a thoroughfare, but it fills up with vehicles pretty quickly around the 5:00 rush. So around that time today I was crossing the street, trying to watch out for speeders or early bird drunks, and this old man suddenly stops his truck as I approach.

Hey kid!” he calls out, “You know where the Chevy dealership is?”

I’ve got no clue, naturally, but I’m about to respond anyway when I see another car bearing down upon me from the opposite direction. I sort of dart behind the old man’s truck to get out of the way, with the intention of going over to his passenger’s side window to deliver my useless answer, but he suddenly peels away before I can get there.

So now I’m wondering - did I scare the guy off or something? Did he think I was trying to carjack him? I certainly look like a dangerous and powerful man, yes, but I only use my might for good. He should have been able to tell from my soulful eyes.

Or maybe he was trying to abduct me? He should have offered me candy. I never refuse candy. Ever.

*Not too too much going on right now. I discovered that the lovely unrated dvd of Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer was on sale for about $12 at my local Best Buy, so I picked it up. Looking forward to the audio commentary by Miike and creator Hideo Yamamoto, whose manga provided the basis for the film, and who also contributed to many an issue of Viz’s old Pulp anthology with his Voyeur and Voyeurs, Inc. series, which were never all that good, to be honest. His place in J-pop infamy has since been secured.

*Comics-wise, I’m on a real Ryoichi Ikegami kick right now, as you might have picked up from assorted recent posts. I’m moving through the first volumes of Crying Freeman (very special thanks on that one to John Jakala, who is simultaneously human and god) and Wounded Man. The latter was originally produced back in 1982, the former in 1986, and it’s nice to watch Ikegami progress as an artist between those four years, his realist style gradually climbing up from general muddiness (Wounded Man) into a nice mix of simplicity and ashen hyper-detail (Crying Freeman).

Of course, Wounded Man (released in the US way back in 2001 by Comics One, which I believe is now defunct) is an outstandingly trashy thing in every aspect; an early scene sees the protagonist raping the female lead in order to scare her away from his dangerous mission - naturally she realizes that he cares and they become romantically involved, which doesn‘t prevent him from yanking her around by her hair every so often. And when it’s not indulging in utterly toxic gender politics it’s stunningly ridiculous, with the hero injecting dental cement into people’s penises and taking on an all-powerful porno company called GPX, or God’s Pornographic X-rated Film (where’d the ‘F’ go?), that (in flashback) tries to tempt him into a life of sex and sin with footballs made entirely of 10,000 yen bills. But our hero and his virtuous steady girlfriend see through their little game: “This is not God’s creation! This is actually disrespecting God!” So then the villains lock them in a room with no food to see how long their ‘love’ can last without basic survival needs, a plot device identical to one in a pre-code Charlton horror short I just happened to read a few weeks ago (I found it in NEC’s old Tales Too Terrible To Tell). That’s where the first volume leaves off, and I think my Ikegami thing will be over before I’m tempted to pick up the next one, god or his porno films willing.

Oh, and the story was written by Kazuo Koike of Lone Wolf and Cub; he also did Crying Freeman, and many other bizarre titles (my kingdom for Mad Bull 34 in English! even though it’s 27 books long and apparently batshit insane!). I’m starting to think that his much-acclaimed work on LW&C saw him straining to remain on his best behavior, at least from what little of it I’ve read.

Hip Flask: Mystery City (The Big Here & The Long Now - Episode One of Three)

This is actually the third book to feature Hip Flask, that trench coat-clad anthropomorphic hippopotamus mascot of lettering studio Comicraft, but you don’t need to have read either of the prior two issues (Hip Flask: Unnatural Selection from 2002, and Hip Flask: Elephantmen from 2003), since everything important is recapped in the first eight pages of this latest tome. Perhaps seeking to imbue the project with a little extra class, publisher Active Images has opted to present the book as a semi-Prestige Format kind of deal, with a proper binding and a slick (though soft and bendy) cover. It’s got 42 story pages, with six additional pages of drawings and pin-ups; coupled with glossy, full-color production values, the book’s $4.99 price tag seems fairly reasonable.

Hip Flask is a curious book, basically a straightforward European sci-fi/fantasy album series scrunched down to US pamphlet size (I believe that Unnatural Selection was made available in album format at one point, though). Certainly Jose Ladronn’s art sports the lush, ultra-heavy look that marks quite a few European productions, and his style is perhaps the book’s trump card - it’s not just that his visuals are smooth and pretty, it’s that he approaches the story’s many anthropomorphic beast characters with such seriousness, such a drive to forge ‘realism’ from the fundamentally silly, that he winds up with a uniquely cracked accomplishment in visual world building. Whether it’s the zebra police detective with an eye patch or a blatant Joe Camel parody (host of a luxurious kasbah, naturally!), Ladronn brings total devotion to the page, so much that the reader will probably find themselves willing to overlook the occasional garish computer texture slathered all over a rhinoceros’ hide as he slips into his finest business suit.

The plot, by Ladronn and Comicraft founder Richard Starkings (Joe Casey, who provided the dialogue for the first two books, has left the project), seems jumpy and indistinct, though I think I recall additional background being provided back in Elephantmen; it’s tough to remember, two years subsequent. Basically, Hip Flask and his humanoid assistant Vanity are Information Agency workers who’re tracking the origins of a mysterious vehicle that materialized during a time-travel experiment, the car’s driver liquefied behind the wheel upon arrival. Meanwhile, there’s a war going on involving noted rhinoceros businessman Obadiah Horn and his human lover’s father, both of whom are apparently gang lords. Oh, and the insane scientist creator of all these walking, talking zoo exhibits is plotting something or other from prison, which doubtlessly ties into things, I guess. We ricochet from event to event, location subtitles flying deployed with machine-gun speed (for example, we get “Downtown Los Angeles” “Long Beach Seaport” “Venice Beach” and “The Docks * Long Beach” in the space of twelve pages). A lot of stuff seems to happen, but it all brushes past you too quickly to register. The characters are entirely one-trait wonders, at least judging from this issue, and nobody gets more than a few pages to say some quick lines then race off to the next scene. It’s almost pure plot-propulsion storytelling, a pause only taken to reflect superficially on Horn and his lover’s relationship, before a particularly hoary plot twist disrupts the peace.

Granted, it’s never really bad. Given the rich visual quality, the moderate length, the emphasis on choppy movement-happy plotting, the occasional splash of blood, the abrupt ending, and those friendly old sci-fi environs of shimmering skyscrapers and iron corridors, Hip Flask basically feels like an above-average Heavy Metal feature, and the fact that we probably won’t see another installment for a year or so only adds to the comparison. And it’s entertaining work in that Heavy Metal way, where you don’t have to think too hard with all that candied visual information rushing in; it’s also a bit cheaper, with the (usually awful) back-up shorts stripped away, so it really does balance out in the end.