An enjoyable creeper that needs a bit more room to run.

THE ABSENCE

A village on the English coast wrestles with postwar realities and quantum physics in graphic designer and playwright Stiff’s debut six-issue horror/science fiction miniseries.

At the center of this tale set amid the cliffs, moors and pub of a seaside English village are dapper, disfigured veteran Marwood Clay and Robert Temple, an aloof scientific visionary who fought—and won—World War II on a radically new front. Marwood was born in the village, but he and Temple are both considered outsiders thanks to a fiery tragedy in Marwood and the villagers’ shared past. Temple has come with deep pockets and bizarre plans to erect a mammoth, meticulously designed structure referred to by his local foreman as “this pile of shite.” After an initial, congenial introduction, Marwood and Temple soon find themselves at odds as each attempts to engage with the villagers. Meanwhile, the village struggles with a rash of inexplicable disappearances. Is it murder? Is it Marwood? Or does something darker lurk beneath the village’s quaint facade? An opening scene of a localized cataclysm shares the date with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, quickly establishing a connection between advanced technology and primal fear (exemplified by Temple’s boss, a decrepit, amputee government agent who wants Temple’s knowledge to further his own agenda). The story maintains a creepy atmosphere throughout, with elements of The Twilight Zone, The Manchurian Candidate and Donnie Darko, well served by Stiff’s simple, expressive black-and-white illustrations that have the outsized chunkiness of Howard Chaykin and the energetic crudity and classic paneling of Steve Yeowell. Stiff stuffs his story until it bristles with science-fiction tropes like liquid mirrors, sinister German doctors, prognostication via equations, crumbling religious iconography and nods to Schrödinger’s cat, but the sheer number of ideas and the brevity of the series give any individual concept short shrift.

An enjoyable creeper that needs a bit more room to run.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1782760382

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Titan Comics

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2014

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Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT

Design veteran Chwast delivers another streamlined, graphic adaptation of classic literature, this time Mark Twain’s caustic, inventive satire of feudal England.

Chwast (Tall City, Wide Country, 2013, etc.) has made hay anachronistically adapting classic texts, whether adding motorcycles to The Canterbury Tales (2011) or rocket ships to The Odyssey (2012), so Twain’s tale of a modern-day (well, 19th-century) engineer dominating medieval times via technology—besting Merlin with blasting powder—is a fastball down the center. (The source material already had knights riding bicycles!) In Chwast’s rendering, bespectacled hero Hank Morgan looks irresistible, plated in armor everywhere except from his bow tie to the top of his bowler hat, sword cocked behind head and pipe clenched in square jaw. Inexplicably sent to sixth-century England by a crowbar to the head, Morgan quickly ascends nothing less than the court of Camelot, initially by drawing on an uncanny knowledge of historical eclipses to present himself as a powerful magician. Knowing the exact date of a celestial event from more than a millennium ago is a stretch, but the charm of Chwast’s minimalistic adaption is that there are soon much better things to dwell on, such as the going views on the church, politics and society, expressed as a chart of literal back-stabbing and including a note that while the upper class may murder without consequence, it’s kill and be killed for commoners and slaves. Morgan uses his new station as “The Boss” to better the primitive populous via telegraph lines, newspapers and steamboats, but it’s the deplorably savage civility of the status quo that he can’t overcome, even with land mines, Gatling guns and an electric fence. The subject of class manipulation—and the power of passion over reason—is achingly relevant, and Chwast’s simple, expressive illustrations resonate with a childlike earnestness, while his brief, pointed annotations add a sly acerbity. His playful mixing of perspectives within single panels gives the work an aesthetic somewhere between medieval tapestry and Colorforms.

Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60819-961-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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