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

By Steranko o-o-o-c

Steranko, of course, is a magician. No, but really. He spent many childhood summers with his old man, who had his own magic act, doing circuses and carnivals until he became a side-show performer himself. By his late teens, he had already reaped a wealth of newspaper and TV publicity as an escape artist. This, I believe, may have helped hone Steranko's special talent at seeing through the mechanisms of how things work. This can be seen in every facet that makes up this pocket-sized novella from 1976. This, however, does not necessarily benefit the story as much as it benefits the rather ingenious visuals, design, and packaging of CHANDLER.

It is precisely because Steranko sees right through the mechanism of noir stories that CHANDLER is a wholly unoriginal run-of-the-mill crime noir tale with plenty of cheese. Where Steranko truly delivers, in my opinion, is in everything else: Crisp and beautifully composed and rendered full-color artwork. An ingenious grid format that gives the storytelling a beautifully steady pace and a very comfortable reading experience that a great many illustrated novels tend to lack, and a modern type treatment that is impeccably considered. It would be unfair to describe CHANDLER as an illustrated novella, because what illustrated novella features two illustrations per page? The illustrations and design of the entire thing are an in integral part of the storytelling experience, which makes CHANDLER far more than an illustrated novel but not quite a graphic novel either. It is a wholly unique experience, where Steranko sticks to 13 lines per column which deliberately correspond to a vertical panel right above. It is a work of illustration and design genius. And even if one was to throw away the story, the design, and just fixate on the panels, it's easy to imagine each and every one of them hanging in the MOMA or MAD completely on its own.

Fans of Steranko's art might be fooled into thinking the larger “deluxe” edition of this book is more worthy of their bookshelf space, but if you really want to experience CHANDLER the way Steranko's design solutions were intended for, then Pyramid's pocket-sized “pulp” edition is the only way to go.

And while I may not be entirely impressed by the story, I cannot possibly imagine Steranko creating the images without simultaneously writing the story for them, nor could I imagine him writing the story without simultaneously considering the artwork and design. Pulling something like CHANDLER off requires something of the cognitive abilities of a drummer, which I've discovered that Steranko also excelled at.

My brain now growls for more Steranko, and so should yours.

P.S. The story was later reprinted and repackaged as CHANDLER: RED TIDE.

#comix #prose

By Taiyo Matsumoto o-o-o-o

TEKKONKINKREET is kind of amazing. On first glance, it's not something I would normally pick up, but Ales Kot shoved it my face for my birthday, and my psyche is all the better for it. Manga can be weird, but TEKKONKINKREET is weird even by manga's standards. It doesn't adhere to any industry criteria, neither in terms of story or art. It feels very, shall we say, indie, very ziney, but 600 pages of ziney art and story rather than the handful of pages we're used to from most zines. It's Japan's answer to the underground comix of 60's-70's America.

The line-art is somewhat wobbly, and feels like Matsumoto took a ballpoint pen directly to the paper, sans penciling or any kind pre-planning. This may seem somewhat off-putting at first, but after a couple of pages, it really grows on you and clings to your heart and becomes an inseparable part of TEKKONKINKREET's charm. If I were to reveal the plot to you, you would automatically decree that its a story that should take no more than 150 pages tops, but part of the reason it takes 600 is that Matsumoto allows certain moments to breathe. Something that would take no more than 2 panels in your average Western comicbook, Matsumoto uses an entire page of 7 panels for. This allows certain moments to sink in, be felt, and really helps put you in the story's setting.

TEKKONKINKREET is definitely an outlier, where common wisdom would dictate it should not really exist. If it were pitched, no one would publish it. It's a whimsical, pure, unfiltered passionate output that can only exist in this world by the sheer persistence of its creator, and as such is one of the most inspiring and fulfilling graphic novels you will ever read. Nothing will make you want to make comix –or anything for that matter– quite like TEKKONKINKREET will.

Now I'm jonzing to see the film.

[Buy]

#comix

By Ales Kot, Will Tempest, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Muller o-o-o-o

Excellent comicbook for people who don't read comics. It's Kot's soapbox book, in the way that PROMETHEA was Alan Moore's and much of TRANSMETROPOLITAN was Warren Ellis'.

MATERIAL, Vol. 1 is different in that rather than follow one main character, it follows four: a former Guantanamo inmate, an actress, a protestor, and a philosophy professor. Their stories are not in anyway intertwined nor do they intersect at any point, but exist as parallels, and I quite like that. While each of our four characters leads a completely different life, what they share in common is perhaps this: something new is introduced in their lives. Whether that new thing is a positive influence or not entirely depends on what they do with it.

Upon first glance, Will Tempest's art may come off as rather weak, especially especially If you've become overly accustomed to Marvel/DC fare. Not unlike attempting to derive the flavors of a simple Italian oregano/olive oil dish of some kind after eating a deep fried chicken doused in barbecue sauce. Almost impossible. But Will Tempest's art is really really good for the purpose of MATERIAL and I love that he's taking his color cues from the principles of graphic design rather than animation or cgi. It's cleanliness and clarity is a breath of fresh air what with the mess that is mainstream comics now.

The book also includes a series of excellent essays by Spencer Ackerman, Fiona Duncan, Jarette Kobek, Sarah Nicole Prickette, and Bijan Stephen! Way to connect the book to a larger cultural dialogue, Ales!

There ought to be more “soapbox comics”, because the medium is so right for it. And if you think about it: the comic strip, which is the predecessor of the comicbook, is entirely a soapbox affair. The whole idea behind the strip is for artists to use cartoon characters as vessels for their thoughts and frustrations on a daily basis. Why that approach is virtually absent from the comicbook, I think, has much to do with publishers trying to act too much like TV producers: relying on synopses and treatments and anything else that will turn a story into a stiff unrisky mathematical equation. An environment that PEANUTS, CALVIN & HOBBES, AND LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND can simply never thrive in. And you can bet that neither Ellis nor Moore would've been able to publish TRANSMET or PROMETHEA had they not already been household names. Although with Moore, PROMOTHEA started out as a superhero book, but turned into something else along the way, as per the Shaman's own testimony.

Kudos to IMAGE COMICS for growing the balls to publish MATERIAL, a book that relates to people not yet part of the company's usual readership. Now if there was only a way to get it on shelves outside of comicbook shops.

[Buy]

#comix

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