To-Review’s tottering tower is at risk of falling again and destroying the city, so let’s bring out some graphic novels to relieve the pressure. Theme of the day: books that are out of the ordinary, even according to my criteria.
Gareth Brookes story / art; SelfMadeHero (192 pages, $ 20.99)
Extract from the description: “Taking place in 1518 and told from the imaginary point of view of Marie, one of the witnesses, ‘The dancing plague’ tells the true story of the moment when hundreds of Strasbourg residents were suddenly seized. by the strange and unstoppable compulsion to dance. As difficult to interpret today as it was then, the story of the “Dancing Plague” finds an extraordinarily appropriate expression in the very unique multimedia style that Gareth Brookes has crafted to tell it.
To which I reply: This is a really strange book.
First, Brookes seems to create his comics by pyrography, defined as “a method of making designs or drawings using heated tools.” The effect is unusual and resembles that of the Middle Ages, made worse by the thick, flesh-colored paper.
Second, Brookes spends most of the book’s pages exploring life in medieval times, instead of focusing solely on the Dancing Plague. And the times, they were a-different. For example, the book opens with a woman hovering over a chamber pot, her husband urging her to “hurry” because he has to go as well. The joke between them is gleefully profane, and when the two are done, they throw the results out the window – where they punch a passing knight, who also has a few choice words.
These are only the first two pages. The whole book is a window into a strange world before the Enlightenment, before indoor plumbing, before humans really knew how the world worked.
And since they don’t, they attribute supernatural explanations to everything at an almost constant rate – some based on religion, some on folklore, some on explainable local customs. And this “magical realism”, for lack of a better term, is adopted by the author: the characters hallucinate freely.
The plot also embraces the supernatural. When a man takes his daughter to the woods to kill her (he thinks she’s a witch), she avoids him by hiding underwater. For days. It remains unexplained, unless you just accept that 600 years ago you could breathe water if you really needed to.
And then there is the language! In addition to the “joyous blasphemy” throughout, the characters constantly blasphemed.
And really creative too! I can’t really name the funniest ones. The foreword usefully informs us that this would not be considered blasphemy at the time, as such objects (whether real or not) were widely revered relics.
So do I recommend it? I guess, but it depends on your comfort level for the above. I have pretty thick skin, but I still raised an eyebrow every now and then.
“Did you hear what Eddie Gein did?” “
Story by Harold Schechter, art by Eric Powell; Albatross Funnybooks (224 pages, $ 29.99)
Eddie Gein is the real life character who started a thousand horror movies. Gein’s deranged demeanor and bizarre obsessions in early 20th century Wisconsin spawned Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and God knows how Horror movies and B and C list movie franchises.
Artist Eric Powell (“The Goon”, “Hillbilly”) and writer Harold Schechter (“Deviant”, “The Serial Killer Files”) will tackle this seminal serial killer story.
I don’t know Schechter, although he seems to have done some careful research. I am very grateful for that.
However, I only thought I knew Powell, as I have a lot of his work in the cave from the comics. But before that, I enjoyed his work for what I interpreted as a mid-century “MAD” vibe from the magazine’s movie and TV parodies. But here in “Eddie Gein” I see he’s much more than that. Yes, the influences of Mort Drucker and Jack Davis are still evident. But through his superb use of wash, precise caricature, and superior drawing skills, Powell leaves the “MAD” masters in the dust to claim a place on Draftsman’s Mount Rushmore himself. I had no idea it was this good, and I’m tempted to reread the book just for the sake of art.
Of course, I have to arm myself with the courage to do so. It’s a pretty shocking book.
Serial killers are so stuck in entertainment today that I’m almost used to it. They kill people, sure, and sometimes on screen, but overall I don’t think much about what they do like I do about how what they are doing makes things happen. ‘plot. These emotional calluses formed from decades of serial killer movies and TV shows dating back to, yes, “Psycho,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Silence of the Lambs.”
But now here Ed Gein is the real deal. Not only is Gein far worse than any of his cinematic imitators, but his perversity is so extreme and inexplicable that it is almost foreign to it. He wasn’t just a killer, cannibal, or necrophiliac – yes, he was all of them – but his needs came from a place so evil my brain couldn’t quite figure out.
And neither will you, after you hear what Eddie Gein did.
“The queen of the ring: wrestling drawings by Jaime Hernandez 1980-2020 HC”
Writer / art / cover by Jaime Hernandez; Fantagraphics (128 pages, $ 24.99)
Artist Jaime Hernandez has been acclaimed for decades as the most talented artist in the trio of designers Los Bros. Hernandez, who together created the wonderful and semi-magical “Love and Rockets,” an anthology series featuring a set of instantly recognizable rural characters. Mexican cities and urban neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
It’s hard to define what makes Hernandez’s art so pleasing to the eye. There seems to be some influence from Archie Comics giant Dan DeCarlo, but I just can’t put my finger on it. His characters are cartoonish but not cartoonish, well rendered but not over-rendered, pleasing to the eye but not pretty Hollywood.
Once again, he’s an artist I thought I knew, since I tear everything he draws from him. But I didn’t know Hernandez had a secret love: 1970s women’s wrestling and lucha libre!
So much so that he scribbled, then re-scribbled, then refined and finally finished page after page of beautifully rendered scenes from 1970s women’s wrestling. Never intended for publication, they are rendered with the occasional tools – pencils of color, markers, felt-tip pens, etc.
Art is beautiful. The subject is inexplicable.
The question that will concern virtually everyone throughout this book is: “What is Jaime’s fascination with women’s wrestling in the 1970s?” They’re all heavy, middle-aged, and with big ’70s hair. It’s not like what they are doing is real; no, like all professional wrestling, this is wrong.
Hernandez doesn’t really explain.
From the few personal observations he lets slip into the minimal copy – which mainly concerns technique and deadlines – you get this:
“When I was six or seven, the whole neighborhood, the gang, would still watch the fight and talk about it the next day,” he wrote. “My brothers said, ‘We should watch the fight, our cousins are watching it next.’ And we watched him a lot with them. I was just bothered by the women’s wrestling, without knowing why. The matches – in their sockets, throwing at each other – the angles just freaked me out. I didn’t know why, but they were.
That’s it, that’s all you get. That, and some really beautifully lovingly created, hand-drawn wrestling pages.
In Jack Kirby’s immortal words, “Don’t ask! Just buy! “
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