The Daily Pull

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Quick takes on whatever is at the top of our nightstand pile (we're reading as fast as we can in the hopes it all doesn't come down on us while we sleep). Generally if it made it to the nightstand, it is something we have been looking forward to reading—so mostly positive reviews here. And all under 500 words!

The Eternaut

Héctor Germán Oesterheld & Francisco Solano Lopez, The Eternaut (Fantagraphics, 2016). $39.99.

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In 2016 the Anglophone world was introduced to the English translation of Argentinian Héctor Germán Oesterheld’s El Eternauta (1957-69). Not only were English-speakers presented with a 1950s science fiction story of alien invasion, time travel, and displacement, but they were also confronted with a dystopic comic that warns of the dangers of political regimes and dictators. In the comic, Juan Salvo, the ‘voyager of eternity’ (‘el eternauta’), survives a deadly alien snowfall that annihilates Buenos Aires. Along with his family and a few friends, they are displaced within their homeland. Throughout the story they seek to survive and fight back against the alien invasion with Salvo leading the resistance. What is so enthralling about Juan Salvo’s story is how it reflects the political landscape in mid 20th century Latin America. For Oesterheld, and the artistsFrancisco Solano López and Alberto Breccia—Salvo is rendered as if in a political editorial cartoon because he questions Argentinian authority as well as draws attention to corruption and political violence in Latin America. El Eternauta thus shines a spotlight on the erosion of the homeland as well as appeal for a peace not yet delivered in Latin America. Much like the editorial cartoons of the turn of the 20th century, the English translation thus serves as truly an ironic ‘voyager of eternity’ that warns present-day readers about the dangers of imperialism, dictators, and political regimes. A timely read in today's political landscape that I highly recommend.

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BTTM FDRS

Ezra Claytan Daniels & Ben Passmore, BTTM FDRS (http://www.ezracdaniels.com/#/bttmfdrs/)

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BTTM FDRS is the longest piece of sustained storytelling that I bought at last December’s CALA (Comics Arts LA) festival. Creepy and charming, it mashes up oozy, sick horror and dark, politically barbed comedy. The story satirizes racism, structural and environmental, via a blighted Chicago neighborhood and an imposing, temple-like block of an apartment building there that serves as the setting. A hyperbolic SF riff on urban decay, BTTM FDRS also skewers the kind of White hipster hypocrisy that extols urban decay for its authenticity. It does all this with a cast of distinctive characters, funny, stinging dialogue, and moments of queasiness built around a body horror conceit: that of a building that literally gets inside your guts. It’s one of a kind.

I bought BTTM FDRS partly because writer Ezra Claytan Daniels (www.ezracdaniels.com) had a nice booth at CALA and I enjoyed talking to him. Also, I bought it because it is drawn by Ben Passmore (www.benpassmoreart.com), whose terrific cartooning I, like many people I bet, discovered through Your Black Friend, which my comics class will be reading soon. Passmore is great. Daniels is no slouch either; it turns out (I’ve been asleep) that he’s been producing intriguing comic books, as well as digital comics (e.g. Upgrade Soul), design work, and multimedia projects, for, oh, the past fifteen years or so. His resume is something.

The copy of BTTM FDRS I bought is labelled a “limited sneak peek edition”; a wider release is forthcoming. What I have is an unpaginated, roughly 150-page trade, sans barcode or other fuss. It’s all story. What’s more, the storytelling is dense, with mostly four-tier pages of seven, eight, or nine panels each. The colors (assisted by another cartooning ace, Luke Howard) are assaultively bright, non-mimetic, and perfect—the book burns the eye, in a good way. Passmore’s cartooning is elastic and freaky, treading a knife’s-edge between humor and horror. And the story, despite some puzzling, genre-dictated moves, is knowing and needling on matters of race, White fragility, and the everyday BS we say to each other. The sublime horror dissipates near the end, since explanations and resolutions are required, but Daniels and Passmore don’t let us entirely off the hook.

In sum, BTTM FDRS is sharp, like a harpoon in the belly of Trumpism. Look for it when it goes big.

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Lady Killer

Joëlle Jones, Lady Killer Volume 2 (Dark Horse, 2017). $17.99, pb.

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I confess I am not usually a fan of ultraviolent slash-n-gore comics. Just because, as the great Ernie Bushmiller put it, anything can happen in a comic it doesn’t mean that everything should happen in a comic. 

But, oh, have I fallen for Lady Killer, by the magnificent Joëlle Jones. Graced with the style of a Golden Age romance comic and the brutal frankness of today’s best crime comics, this is a mashup that keeps on giving. And if the first arc left me wondering whether the ongoing tale of Josie Schuller—1960s housewife-by-day and hired-killer-by, well, day-and-night—could sustain itself, the second arc sells the long-term investment in the series much better than Josie sells tupperware (spoiler alert: she is a terrible tupprware salesperson). In this volume, we find Josie and the Schullers in Florida, as she tries to go into business for herself like any good American dreamer. But the life of a small businesswoman is never easy, especially when your partner is a sadistic fugitive from Nazi Germany and your mother-in-law (herself an ex-Nazi) knows your darkest secrets. A pitch-perfect blend of over-the-top violence, dark comedy, social satire, and droll feminism, this is one of the most fun things on the shelves right now.

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Outburst

Pieter Coudyzer, Outburst (SelfMadeHero, 2017). $22.95, hc.

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This is one of the most visually arresting books I have read in some time. Sadly the script doesn’t come close to keeping pace with the art, in what ends up being a fairly trite story of alienation and isolation (and unfortunate "inadvertant" revenge) that fails to connect us to the characters nearly as powerfully as it does to the art. Coudyzer is an animator, and certainly it is often the case that the transition from animation to comics doesn’t always go well for debut books. But his sense of the visual rhythms and unique affordances of graphic narrative is strong, so the problems lie not with the medium but wholly with the script. One can’t help feeling that we are getting here a story idea that was wisely rejected by the collaborators necessary to bring animations to life, with the graphic novel being a stubborn declaration—one worthy of the protagonist of Outburst—of “I’ll show you!”

What he showed is wholly worth looking at, and for a long time. However, I am not convinced, in the end, it is worth the reading

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Getting Out of Hope

James Cadelli, Getting Out of Hope (Conundrum, 2017). $18, paper.

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At first glance this book might look like an amateur affair. Do not be deceived: although his work can look at first raw and untrained, Cadelli is a master graphic storyteller already in every sense. Weaving together the story of a range of seemingly unlikable characters stuck in a decidedly unlikable town called Hope, the book ends up making us care about all of them—and even wish that they might find a way to make Hope work. But the graphic novel is true to its title, and in the end all of our protagonists—curmudgeonly, elderly Jojo; the drugdealing Tom; gruff Marnie, the building manager; the three wandering stoners who wash up in their busted RV; and even the ghoulish Jean-Sam and his penchant for taking photographs of dead animals (and people)—are shown to be worthy of our affections and attentions and free to find out what lies beyond Hope. In the end, Getting Out of Hope is one of the most surprisingly effective books I have read in a while; it crept up on me when I was looking for reasons why it wasn’t “working” and it and its motley denizens took up residence in a soft spot I had been thinking was long calloused over. With a bit more mileage on his drawign chops, Cadelli could end up being one of the great comics storytellers of his generation. And if his art doesn’t develop a bit, I will still seek out whatever comes next. 

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