G A N Z E E R . R E V I E W S

By Dennis Villeneuve, Hampton Fancher, Michael Green (& various) o-o-o-o

Ridley Scott’s original 1982 Blade Runner was flawed, and so is this one. But damn is it good. As good as the original? No no, it’s better. I’ve read think pieces about how the original Blade Runner flopped because it was way too dark for its time. Far from the optimistic futures of Dan Dare and Steve Rogers, which wasn’t what people were ready to see. I call bullshit, because if that were the case, Ridley Scott’s previous film, Alien, would’ve been a huge flop as well. I mean, Blade Runner was dark, but nowhere nearly as dark as Alien. The main difference, I think, is that Alien clearly knew what it wanted to be, whereas Blade Runner didn’t. Even to the point where for the 30+ years following the film’s release, Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott continued to argue over whether or not Deckard (Ford’s character) was supposed to be a replicant (humanoid android). It is perhaps for that very same reason that the movie found itself gaining a prominent cult status long after its commercial flop. The ambiguity of its meaning. That, and of course the expansive world building hinted at from just the vantage point of a future Los Angeles plagued by acidic rain, and home to a wide array of tongues. Not to mention the eerily impressive future noir production design and set pieces.

Luckily, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 has all of that and then some. It builds upon the original Blade Runner elegantly without losing any of the spunk that made the original the closest thing we’ve seen to a cyberpunk noir spectacle. Except in this version, Ryan Gosling’s character who goes by K, short for KD6.3-7, knows very well that he’s a replicant. He is, however, a replicant that follows orders, doesn’t rebel like the older models (like Deckard’s), and as such is tasked with “retiring” them, which he does with an absolute clear conscience. Or perhaps, no conscience at all. Until he discovers something that makes him question the origin of his memories. Or rather, memory implants. Uncovering the mysteries requires some critical detective work on part of K, none of that hi-tech, cheating with a computer a`la CSI stuff, but real deductive detective skills that would make even Sherlock Holmes proud. The kinda stuff that could only be pulled off with an analytical mind and a keen eye for subtlety (something Deckard never really got around to doing much of in the original Blade Runner, as Harrison Ford put it himself, “I was a detective who did very little detecting”). The theme of the original Blade Runner, which centered consciousness around love, is present in this one, albeit not the main plot that drives the narrative. But it is taken up a notch through K’s relationship with his virtual assistant (compared to Deckard’s relationship with an actual replicant), which only serves as a minor subplot, one which if eliminated from the film wouldn’t really change the narrative one bit. The main plot however, is built upon a different philosophical question: the relationship between consciousness and the ability to reproduce?

Although easily dismissible as a pretty dumb question (because the ability to reproduce obviously isn’t what makes us human), one can see how this could be a major game changer from a replicant’s point of view, even one designed to strictly follow orders.

Although never boring, the film is needlessly long, close to 3 hours. Aside from the unnecessary subplot involving K’s assistant, there are a few questionable scenes in there, like the one in which Jared Leto’s character Niander Wallace kills a “newborn” fully grown replicant for absolutely no reason whatsoever, other than to point out that he’s the big bad guy, I guess. Although his motives, and our protagonist’s aren’t necessarily opposite, because what Wallace essentially wants is to get replicants to reproduce. This makes one feel that perhaps the only reason they are at odds is a case of miscommunication, even if not necessarily intended by the filmmakers.

The moment K and Deckard first meet is a big one, but is somewhat ruined by our knowledge of it already happening, thanks to the film’s marketing campaign greatly hinging on announcing Harrison Ford’s involvement. I feel the studio has done the film a great disservice by revealing it so early on. It’s a bit akin to placing a novel’s central plot twist right on the book’s cover.

The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is grand and daunting in all the right parts, but I personally could’ve done with just a hint of 80’s Carpenter-esque synth goodness.

Without a doubt, the weakest link in the chain of the film’s artistry is in the dialogue, for there are a way too many instances where it is cheesy beyond belief. The strongest link is the visuals and production design. My god, how gorgeous! Every set, every scene, and every goddamn frame is a beaut, it’s unbelievable.

Between that, the world building, and the philosophical questions inherent in the world presented to us, I am already eager to watch the film again. And I may even be on board for another sequel or two.

#film

by Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson o-o-o-o

One of the best exercises in plotting I've ever seen came in a comicbook I don't think I'd normally be interested in picking up: MANHUNTER.

Yes, it has the names of Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson on the cover, but it's a comicbook called Manhunter for Christ's sake. Look at what this supposedly fearsome Manhunter is wearing, my God. But, Warren urged me to check it out and I have never been disappointed by a Warren Ellis recommendation to date.

Lessons learned from this slim collection are numerous. First of all, it is an absolute joy to read! Which was such a breath of fresh air because more than once in the past few months have I found myself dropping a book out of sheer boredom. MANHUNTER will engage you from start to finish. I started reading it one night before bed, and found myself finishing it the next morning over cereal at the kitchen table, almost unable to put it down. Now if that ain't good storytelling, I don't know what is. As far as escapist fiction goes, forget DOC SAVAGE, or heck Michael Moorcock's ELRIC novels even (blasphemy, I know), but your blueprint for good ol' fashioned escapism is right here, because what Archie Goodwin did with this is pretty much toss in every pulpy plot trick known to man. Clones? You bet. Moles? Check. Conspiracy? Check. Super-healing? Check. Suspended Animation? Check. Teleportation? Yup. Mind-controlled machines? Oh yeah. Betrayal? Of course.

The book has it all, but what's most impressive is how it was all fit into such a slim package. Before it was collected into this 72-page edition in 1984, MANHUNTER ran as an 8-page backup story, serialized in a 1973 run of DETECTIVE, who's lead character was Batman. Sales were low, and the title needed spicing up, but Goodwin realized that he couldn't get away with doing anything too radical on the Batman. A backup story starring an unknown character, on the other hand, he could play with. A whiff of editorial genius pushed him to tap into the then young Walt Simonson, who did with Goodwin's loose plots some really groundbreaking work. If, like me, the notion of drawing or writing a 9-panel grid has ever brought about a feeling of dread, MANHUNTER is your remedy because Simonson will sometimes do a 13-panel page, and it will look beautiful, designed. The storytelling is clear, natural, and effortless. Somehow, the 9-panel grid looks like a walk in the park after studying Simonson's work on MANHUNTER.

Goodwin started out writing “Marvel style” on these with Simonson. Essentially, rather than giving Simonson full scripts, he gave him plots. Walt would then take these plots and use them to rough up his page layouts, which Goodwin would then use to work in dialogue and captions. Such was the collaborative nature of this thing that by the 3rd or 4th episode, Goodwin no longer wrote the plots and instead just talked them out with Simonson. Ideas bounced back and forth between them with such excitement that you can actually feel it reading the comicbook.

Sure, it's rather hoaky in many parts, but it's good hoaky. And in a very short amount of time you somehow find yourself growing rather fond of this ridiculously dressed man who calls himself Manhunter. His adventures take him from Nepal to Marakech to Istanbul, Japan, and Nairobi. It's rather genre defying in that it's part spy thriller, part detective mystery, part super-hero adventure. All of this in 8-page episodes! I don't recall ever seeing that before. A true masterclass in condensed adventure-storytelling.

Now, everything I've mentioned so far is evident of MANHUNTER being made up of a great deal of plot, and nothing much else, which goes against my argument for “sly escapism”. And I think that towards the last episode when it came time to end the story, Archie Goodwin realized that if his story didn't have some kind of point to it, then all the amazing plotting he'd conjured up would amount to absolutely nothing. So he gave it a point and it's a really good one [spoiler alerts are for pansies]. He made it a story against the idea of resurrection and prolonging of life. A story about accepting death when it is time to die. I may be giving this fun little adventure tale more depth than it calls for, and I fully acknowledge that there's no way in hell this comicbook will interest anybody not already interested in comicbooks about costumed superheroes. It definitely doesn't transcend the genre in the way something like, say, WATCHMEN does, but you can be sure that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were informed by the storytelling techniques employed in MANHUNTER if nothing else.

#comix

by Ana Lily Amirpour (& various) o-o-o-o

This is one fucking weird movie, but I actually really liked it and I'm not sure why. Logically speaking, I really shouldn't like it. I mean, there's hardly a likable character in the entire thing. What little dialogue is in it is actually really slow and kind of off and pointless. But it stays with you long after you're done watching it. Or at least it has with me.

A 20-something year old girl is dropped off by the police at a fenced off desert, where she is hunted down by cannibals. She manages to escape and make it to a self-sufficient community called Comfort, where besides having drugged out raves, inhabitants grow their own vegetables and raise bunnies. Up to here, the movie has you gripped by the balls and is pretty fucking flawless. But after that the story zigzags into these completely irrational directions and, despite being really slow and moody (appropriate for the desert setting), it all ends abruptly on a whatever sorta note.

So: I can see why so many people really fucking despise this movie, including the two friends I saw it with.

But: This is the first time in a very long time I've walked out of a movie and actually felt like; if I could, I'd actually like to own an original print of this film. It is absolutely gorgeously shot. The post-apocalyptic set pieces in the desert are made up of the debris of our current very average world, but the assemblage is peak style and super artistic. I get that it's very easy to write the whole thing off as some kind of millennial hipster Burning Man bullshit, but you can imagine a society of white suburban John Wayne-like family men hating on Dennis Hopper's EASY RIDER for reasons not entirely dissimilar. The equivalent of the long-haired hippie biker of the 70's is probably the millennial hipster of today, who is often shat on by the generation that came before. Which is why I suppose THE BAD BATCH isn't really made for the current generation of film critiques or Rotten Tomatoes voters, hence the really poor reviews it's been getting. Its audience is likely only within the millennial crowd, who unfortunately will probably not even hear about it before the film's director, Ana Lily Amirpour, is sent to Hollywood jail and denied the privilege of directing ever again.

I'm hoping that won't be the case though, because if anyone can make a unique film right now on a nickel-to-dime budget, it's Amirpour, as demonstrated by her previous masterpiece, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT. I would argue that THE BAD BATCH is the EASY RIDER of this generation, but that would be selling the artistry of Ana Lily Amirpour really really short. It might be more appropriate to compare her to 70's Jodorowsy whose EL TOPO was viewed religiously in late night exploitation theaters. Indeed, if such theaters still existed to this day, you can imagine them being the perfect viewing venues for THE BAD BATCH, where a contemporary crowd of young, high 20-somethings would likely frequent regularly just to watch the picture over and over and over again (although, it might have to be annexed to a craft brewery or artistinal coffeehouse for that to work).

Amirpour has reportedly stated “I don’t make a film to tell you a message,” so if you're expecting to walk into a film that is spoon-feeding you what it's about, or where every action is supposed to have some kind of payoff as per the conventional storytelling mechanics of the Hollywood film school, then you will certainly be disappointed. We find out at a much later point in the film that this barren desert is where “the bad batch”, society's unwanted, is sent. So you find yourself assuming that maybe... these outcasts will break out and fight back? Or maybe we focus on the internal struggle within this desert prison and we have the cannibals facing off with the people of Comfort? Or maybe our heroine takes it upon herself to enact full-on revenge against the cannibals? The story never goes there though. Instead, much like the film's protagonist, you're tossed into a world that makes little sense, where people say shit that has no meaning and will lead to absolutely nothing, and you just go with it because that's actually what we do in real life most of the time.

Not that you won't come out of THE BAD BATCH with something. It's a work of art where new meaning can be derived from the whole experience as per each and every viewers own persona, where new meaning can be derived each time you watch it. It's a work of art created by someone who might've tossed a young Jodorowsky, Lynch, Tarentino, and Miller into the blender, and chugged that shit down right before marching on set and declaring ACTION!

The soundtrack is also killer (way better than BABY DRIVER's, by the way), and I am very much eager to give it a listen on vinyl.

#film

by Edgar Wright (& various) o-o

A young guy named Baby, whose name isn't really Baby, is the go-to getaway driver of a very bad man named Doc who turns out to be not all that bad after all. Doc assembles a different crew for each of his heists, but Baby is a constant because he's just so fucking good. Baby wants to get out of the game though, and this desire is brought to the forefront when he falls in love with a cute waitress all in the span of a 5-minute conversation.

The waitress, whose name I cannot recall because of her utter lack of personality, sweeps Baby off his feet for no other reason than she flirts, laughs at Baby's jokes, has a pretty voice, and is readily willing to go on a murderous crime spree with Baby even after being stood up by him just the other night (huh?). Oh, and Baby's deceased mom used to be a waitress at the very same diner (oh I seeeee).

Listen, I love Edgar Wright to no end and I was actually super excited to watch BABY DRIVER. But the movie might as well have been scripted by a poorly-written algorithm. There isn't an inkling of originality in the film, aside from a handful of quirky moments from some of the characters. It's the same heist movie you've seen a million times, albeit a lot more Disneyfied.

Typically, I'm not one to care much for plot anyway, and do believe that how a story is told contributes to the originality of a story more than anything, but even in the storytelling department I'm afraid Wright has severely underperformed. Much has been written about how BABY DRIVER is the perfectly synchronized heist ballet, with all the stunts perfectly choreographed to sync to the soundtrack Wright had already decided on over 20 years ago. Lies, I tell you, lies!

The stunts are not synched. The editing is synched. We've all watched the music videos of Spike Jonze and know what choreographing live action to music actually looks like. And BABY DRIVER is not that. The closest it gets to achieving anything remotely close to that is a scene void of stunts in which Baby is walking down the street to fetch coffees for the gang. It is also the only scene in which you get a true sense of place, Atlanta, where the film was shot on location. The rest of the entire thing, except for a handful of aerial shots, might've easily been shot within the sterile confines of a production studio's lot.

And y'know what? All of that could've been fine, just fine. If you're going to give me a plastic plot acted out by plastic characters in a plastic setting because you're using them as an excuse to do some really cool stunt scenes against the backdrop of your favorite music, well even that would've been fine, but the car chases that dominate the movie deliver less thrill than watching a leaf fall off a tree.

Edgar Wright's BABY DRIVER shows that he's got style, knows where the funny is, and has a good ear for music, but an auteur he is not.

(As for the public's fascination with it? It shows that holy shit, we're doomed! DOOMED!)

#film

by Peter Biskind o-o-o-o-o

When the two [John Wayne and Dennis Hopper] were working on True Grit, Wayne once flew his helicopter in from the minesweeper he kept at Newport Beach, landed on the Paramount lot, swaggered onto the soundstage with his .45 hanging from his belt, and bellowed, “Where's that pinko Hipper? That goddamn Eldridge Cleaver's out there at UCLA saying 'shit' and 'cocksucker' in front of my sweet daughters. I want that red motherfucker. Where is that commie hiding?”

Like the war between old gods and new in Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS, EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS chronicles the battle between Old Hollywood and New. Well into the 60's, Hollywood was still churning out the glamorous musicals and John Wayne Westerns that were popular in the 50's, but America was a different place that the big studio bosses didn't quite get or understand. Anti-War protests and the Civil Rights movement were taking hold. The already popular Nina Simone began addressing racial inequality in her songs, and Bob Dylan became the most popular singer/songwriter in the country, second possibly to The Beatles, who, even they –mere pop artists– couldn't avoid addressing the horrors of the Vietnam war. Television was new, and it was on TV that you could get a glimpse of people like Bob Dylan and The Beatles, who neither looked, sounded, or behaved like anyone on the silver screen. Television was also where you could see mad, groundbreaking ideas for the first time. Things like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone were miles ahead of any feature-length film starring John Wayne or Elizabeth Taylor.

As the studios began to lose a lot of money, the control enacted over film-making was relinquished to smaller production outfits, which started giving directors full control over how they made movies. So radical were the results that first time filmmakers like Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorcese became stars almost overnight.

And yes, you read that right. Dennis fucking Hopper. EASY RIDER is America's first biker movie, and thus spoke to Americans at the time in a way that no other film ever had. According to Biskind, it largely involved Hopper dicking around on set. The “set” being America's open roads. Nevertheless, it cost $501,000 to make, and brought $91.1 million in rentals. A huge, and very unexpected, return on investment. It won the First Work Award at the Cannes Film festival and was nominated for two Oscars, and Hopper was subsequently christened by LIFE magazine as “Hollywood's hottest director.” It was 1969, and the gates of Hollywood finally swung open to welcome American counter-culture for the majority of the 70's. Arguably, the best decade in American film-making until Spielberg and Lucas showed up to introduce the formula for what would become the, ugh, summer blockbuster.

The book is a treasure trove of “New Hollywood” history, and delves with great detail into some of the horrors, trials, and tribulations involved in making some of America's greatest films. Warren recommended it to me, after I had listened to this NPR interview with Coppola about the difficulties faced in making THE GODFATHER. And let me tell you, what is revealed in that interview is nothing compared to what's in this here book. Not just in regards to Coppola, but pretty much every American filmmaker who rose to prominence in the 70's.

Paul [Schrader] made the call to his agent, Michael Hamilburg, said, “This is The Godfather meets Bruce Lee. It's gonna sell for sixty grand. You get a third of the money, I get a third, and Leonard [Schrader] gets a third.”

Hamilburg gave them $5,000 on the spot. The brothers arrived in L.A. around Thanksgiving and rented a tiny apartment on Bicknell in Venice, a block from the beach, for $90 a month, which Hamilburg paid for. They took the bedroom doors off the hinges, stole some cinder blocks from a construction site, set up two desks, one in each bedroom, facing each other. The only other piece of furniture was a massive butcher block coffee table with wrought iron legs. They rented two electric typewriters, wrote three drafts in about eight weeks. They wrote around the clock, twenty, twenty-two hours a day, worked ten hours, slept one, very little food.

Toward the end, around Christmas of '72, they were running out of money, even though they were spending less than a dollar a day, $7, $10 a week for food, stealing plastic envelopes of ketchup from restaurants, making tomato juice.

“We sat down, took a good look at the script, and said to each other, 'We gotta write it one more time,'” recalls Leonard. “We were just wiped out, needed to find the energy to write one more draft. For us, the only surefire source of that big a jolt was guilt. We talked about, 'How we gonna get' – you didn't wanna go out and rob somebody – 'the guilt?' My brother said to me, 'We'll go to Vegas, lose our money, we'll feel so guilty, so pissed off, we'll come home and finish the script.'”

And sure enough, they did. And a couple paragraphs later:

Says Leonard, “There was an auction, sixteen bidders, it was the highest amount for original script ever sold at that point: $325,000.”

The film that came out of it, THE YAKUZA, directed by Sydney Pollack, is... well, alright. But it did open the gateways for Paul Schrader who went on to write TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL, and eventually direct his own films, like HARDCORE and AMERIAN GIGOLO. But not before screwing his brother over.

When the dust settled, instead of an easy three-way split, The Yakuza money was split 40-40 between Paul and Hamilburg, with Leonard getting only 20 percent. “I wanted to have that sole screenwriting credit, so I made him take shared story credit,” says Paul. Leonard looked the other way, pretended it hadn't happened.

Even though THE YAKUZA was originally Leonard's idea for a novel, before his brother convinced him to co-write it as a screenplay with him. Such personal stories aside, one can't help but see the overarching parallels between then and now. Like Old Hollywood back then, Hollywood today has been riding the wave of an old formula – the summer blockbuster – since well, the 80's really. Like Television in the 60's, the Internet has sprung up as the new media outlet through which one can experience things a little closer to today's equivalent of “counter-culture.” The internet became home to some of Cory Doctorow's first novels, it is where the art of Molly Crabapple first saw the light, where live video was being broadcast from the heart of the Arab Spring, where people are Tumbling their homemade unairbrushed porn, where kids are producing microfiction using cell phones, and where you can hear Kim Boekbinder sing Pussy Grabs Back in response to Donald Trump.

Again, there is a sense that big media outlets are stuck in their old ways, producing things that are far removed from the pulse of now. But if recent hits like MOONLIGHT and GET OUT are any indication, it seems like Hollywood may be catching up. MOONLIGHT is an honest portrayal of homosexuality in an African American community. GET OUT unapologetically tackles the horrors of racism by way of a popular genre film. One of them won the Oscar for best film, and the other is the highest grossing film by a writer/director in the history of American cinema. These are game-changers that tell us that the decade to come will be nothing short of a cultural revolution. And that excites me.

[Buy]

#prose

by Walter Simonson o-o-o-o

Warren Ellis insisted I read this after noticing stylistic similarities in my work on THE SOLAR GRID. I'll admit, this isn't something I would've necessarily been attracted to, not at first glance, as I tend to lean more towards science fiction that has its roots more in science rather than fantasy, but it only took me the first few pages to understand why Warren would recommend this. STAR SLAMMERS is a masterclass in comicbook storytelling.

Now, for the B-movie aficionados, it might disappoint you to know that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie STAR SLAMMER: THE ESCAPE (previously released as PRISON SHIP), but I guarantee you it is much better.

It blows my mind that this is Simonsons' first ever comix work, because it has all the hallmarks of a seasoned professional, one who knows the medium like the back of his hand. Although, with enough enthusiasm for it to bend the rules from time to time and experiment with storytelling techniques. One of my favorite parts in the book is when Senator Krellik (the bad guy) asks the delegates of his planet to vote on whether or not to eradicate the Slammers, effectively an act of genocide. Monolithic holograms take form behind him, a rose for life, a skull for death. The votes are cast, and it's as if the skull awakes.

Now what's interesting is that this warmongering democracy is not brought to its knees by way of a lone warrior, but rather a collaborative tactic that requires a level of elevated spirituality. Sure, it isn't the most groundbreaking story, but it's beautiful stuff. And it feels like a full fledged movie, told almost effortlessly in just 64 pages. I find myself referring to it over and over again just to learn how to pull that off (once I bring THE SOLAR GRID to a close, I don't think I'll be able to handle a project of the same scope for quite a while).

“Genre-bending” is the new buzz word de jour, but STAR SLAMMERS, first published in the WSFA Journal in the early 70's, and later reprinted in 1983 by Marvel, has its fair share of it with elements drawn from sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, and samurai cinema. While the story will hardly blow anyone away, especially not today, the book is an exemplar manual in conscious and powerful graphic storytelling, not to mention illustration in general.

STAR SLAMMERS is available used on Amazon for as low as $0.99

In 2014, IDW released a poorly marketed re-release of STAR SLAMMERS, complete with a sequel that, once upon a time, was partially released by Malibu Comics in 1994. Based on the previews, this new collected edition seems to have been “re-mastered” with 90's era digital coloring that I just can't swallow. But do pick it up if that's more your jam.

#comix

by John Pham o-o-o-c

I have a soft spot for beautiful print objects and well-designed zines. I envy comicbook auteurs the likes of Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes, who are masters of both art and story. And boy do I get off on experimentation with format. John Pham pulls that all off in his beautiful self-published anthology series EPOXY.

The first issue, published in 2000, is without a doubt, the least experimental of the bunch, at least as far as production goes. Comprised of 64 pages printed in black & white, wrapped in 4-color cover, it doesn't feel like anything out of the ordinary, until you read the the stories within. The first story, SHIVA, involves a humanoid robot on the run from a flying dragon in a futuristic version of the Vietnamese city of Hue.

The second story, ELEPHANTINE, is about a one armed boxer who cannot be beat, until maybe something happens to his corner-man. The third story, MODESTO, sandwiched between the other two, is more of a traditional slice-of-life story about the shenanigans of a teenage Vietnamese-American girl who has a big family reunion dinner party to look forward to.

For EPOXY's second issue, Pham opts for a smaller zine-like cut, but ups his production game with a risograph print. A two-color beaut for the cover, and a close-to-florescent green for the interiors. Both ELEPHANTINE and MODESTO continue where they left off, but SHIVA is oddly nowhere to be found.

Enter issue #3, which is the size of a book in its own right, with spine and everything. The format larger than the previous two, and took Pham two years to produce. In it, he concludes SHIVA. And halfway through the book, he introduces another story, ASTROGIRL, done in a style that is somewhat akin to Chris Ware's work.

With issue #4 and #5, John Pham takes his work into a completely new direction like nothing I've seen in comix. Both are printed on a risograph, and John really takes advantage of what he can do with the machine with just 2-3 colors, getting grains of blues and oranges and pinks to mix in fresh interesting ways. The result is something that can only be produced on a risograph and no other way.

The main storyline is called DEEP SPACE, an avant-garde sci-fi piece about a traveler landing on a weird planet.

Also inside the issue are two miniature magazines actually stapled inside. One of them is a funny mini-comic titled JAY & KAY, and the other a satirical magazine called COOL MAGAZINE, filled with miniature crossword puzzles, fake interviews and product reviews.

With these last two issues, Pham really elevates his practice to create something much closer to fine art than comicbooks. The way the three original stories came to an end feels somewhat abrupt, but it doesn't take away from joy of experiencing them. Not entirely unlike say, Daniel Clowes' GHOST WORLD. Although, if I'm completely honest with myself, my reason for following John Pham in the future will not necessarily be his stories, but rather for his storytelling, and how he makes use of illustration, design, and printmaking to such superb effect, which is such a rarity in most comix these days.

[Buy]

#comix

By Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward o-o-o-o-o

A perfect blueprint for creating condensed high-concept pieces tailored specifically to the comix medium is Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward's ANCESTOR.

Wealthy inventor/entrepreneur Patrick Whiteside throws a big party at his estate for a number of special people he has chosen to be exposed to “the vaults of the universe.” Little do the party-goers know, they will very soon be responsible for remaking the entire universe, even if they don't really want to.

At least some of them, anyway.

In just 4 short chapters, this work of art by Sheean and Ward will take you where you will never expect. By the time you close the back cover, you'll feel something akin to coming off of an acid trip, mind-expansion and all.

It's an odd, understated book that has more of an arthouse feel than anything Image Comics has ever put out (love the paper!). Beautifully designed, lettered, and produced and very well thought out, to the point where the gutters between the panels are a pale pinkish color at the beginning of the book, gradually getting darker as the story progresses. Sheean and Ward have thought of everything.

I imagine I'll be following everything they make from here on out.

[Buy]

#comix

By Kurt Vonnegut o-o-o-o-o

Finally got around to reading SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut after every goddamn American I know recommended it to me upon finding out about my travels to Dresden. And for good reason. THIS BOOK IS FANTASTIC!

This has got to be the most non-linear thing I've ever read in my life, but it is not the least bit confusing. Also one of the most engrossing. I don't remember being so engrossed in a book since THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY.

It may also be one of the most quotable books. It is also a book with a heart, a book with a mission. It's an anti-war book. And one that manages to be laugh-out-loud funny.

But perhaps most astonishingly is that its an anti-war book that has no villains. This is World War 2. There are Nazis.

When was the last time you read or saw anything WW2-related that contained no villains to speak of? And the book is perfect, I tell you. Perfect!

Vonnegut even comments on that in the book.

I think about my education sometimes. I went to the University of Chicago for a while after the 2nd World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.

Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me “you know – you never wrote a story with a villain in it.”

I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut. Everyone should read it.

[Buy]

#prose

By Haruki Murakami o-o

Y'know. I've decided that Murakami is just not for me. Between this book of short stories and the absolutely unnecessarily stretched out 1Q84, I think I can say that with absolute confidence. Sure there are aspects of Murakami's writing that I do like, like the peculiarities of his characters, even if those particular peculiarities have absolutely nothing to do with the story at hand. I absolutely love that. And I do like the magical realism vibes. His stories though, not so much.

My feeling is that his stories often start off most interestingly, but then towards the end –even the short stories– they sort of just lose steam and are thus killed. Meh.

I think its incredibly important to read authors of various cultures. There can be nothing more enriching. And I don't want my distaste for Murakami to put me off Japanese literature in general, so I'm going to have to very quickly attempt to find a substitute (or two) that is right for me.

[Buy]

#prose #prosefiction

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