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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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

BERLIN

BOOK ONE

This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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