Sulyap (Part 2)

Go read: Part 1

Lipad by Rommel J. Estanislao

Loosely adapted from the popular song Pipit, Lipad is a parable of young idealism literally laid low by the banal cruelty of adults. The symbolism employed by both the song and Rommel Estanislao's comic are easy enough to comprehend, and it's object lessons could be conveniently transferred to the conditions faced by the present generation of komiks creators. With its outpouring of sincere sentiment, Lipad would make it a perfect anthem for the Sulyap anthology.

Sulyap: Lipad by Rommel J. Estanislao

Maktan 1521 by Tepai Pascual

The Battle of Mactan is one of those military victories that tend to get retold and given further embellishment in order to inflame patriotic fervor. The particular version printed here is only the opening of a longer graphic novel, so it suddenly cuts off at mid-scene. But the first sixteen pages do provide an ample preview of Tepai Pascual's storytelling: There's a chilling magical-realist vision of the Spanish conquest of the Philippines which sets the tone for the story. The soldiers appear as menacing as a squad of stormtroopers. This foreboding is further intensified in the next scene with a group of worried natives looking at the enormous black vessels of the Spaniards docked at a trading port (This is a black and white comic). The story ends prematurely with a meeting between the Spaniards and three datus, in which the latter are presented with an ultimatum - submit or be attacked.

While it's difficult to gauge anything about the originality of its message or viewpoint from just this sampling, what separates Maktan 1521 from other retellings is the art of Pascual. Her strong sense of design bolsters the heroic proportions of her angularly drawn figures, as well as her preference for chiaroscuro to outline them. It's a beautiful comic to look at, to say the least. This isn't a naturalistic interpretation of the historical events but a romanticized one, informed by Pascual's comic influences from Frank Miller to Hiromu Arakawa. In terms of scope, this is the most ambitious story in the collection.

Sulyap: Maktan 1521 by Tepai Pascual

Taal Volcano Vs. Evil Space Paru-Paro by Macoy

I've already reviewed what looks like a cross between Japanese kaiju an tamagotchi here in its original mini-comic form, so I'll just add that the visuals look much more polished with the superior production values of this anthology.

Windmills: Bearkdowns by Josel Nicolas

Josel Nicolas is the only creator in Sulyap whose art and subject matter largely mirrors the influence of American alternative comix from the nineteen eighties and early nineties. His art is deliberately rough and crude so as not to distract from the narrative. He makes use of surrealist devices such as dream/fanstasy sequences, and anthropomorphic characters. He eschews linear narrative for formalist experimentation. And most stereotypically, he's abandoned pulp formula for literary expression, i.e. autobiography (Or in this case, semi-autobiograhy).

Bearkdowns is a partial reprint of Windmills: Bearkdowns - the first mini in the creator's series. The main protagonist is a talking bear who struggles with writer's block, all the while visiting his parents, and dealing with death in the family. This is an extremely dense story crammed with metaphors centering around creativity and mortality, making it the most challenging comic in this anthology. The crowded panels aren't always easy to look at, let alone decipher, especially within the book's small print size. And the stream-of-conscious approach doesn't bother with clear scene transitions to help make it easier to follow. And in keeping with the arbsurdist nature of the story, the end swerves away from any unambiguous punchline. That's not entirely true, as Bear does seem to find evidence of some mysterious symmetry in life towards the end.

Sulyap: Windmills: Bearkdowns by Josel Nicolas

I'm unsure as to whether Bearkdowns can be considered an artistic success. But even if it is a failure, in many ways it's still the one komik in Sulyap that goes out on a limb.

Part 3 will wrap-up my overview of Sulyap.


Blog: Editorial Explanations

"The USA will steal credit for absolutely everything if you let them."

"It's really quite simple to topple a corrupt regime, as long as you already have the military on your side."

"If you're taking this as a Nixon reference, you're getting really confused, and suspecting that you're now officially way too old. But if you're taking this as a Churchill reference, you're both correct and definitely way too old. (Though Keefe, himself, is too young to remember WWII.)"

"This time, we're in favor of a military junta taking over an important country because...um, they've promised really politely to hold free elections?"

As someone who was around during the original , I can relate to the euphoria experienced yesterday in , and to the whole military on your side... or the USA will steal credit for absolutely everything... which Wheeler jokes about.

To be clear, Egypt won't be truly under "new management" until general elections are held. And even then, there's still the possibility of some of the old elements being reelected into office in another political guise. That an institution which was an instrument of the last regime is now in charge, can't be ignored despite the present goodwill felt towards it (But for anyone who wants democracy to flourish in the region, better it be a genuine homegrown phenomena than violently imposed from the outside).


Mesmo Delivery

Mesmo Delivery By Rafael Grampá, Marcus Penna, Rafa Coutinho.
By Rafael Grampá, Marcus Penna, Rafa Coutinho

Mesmo Delivery is less a complete tale, and more like a convoluted fight scene extracted from a Quentin Tarantino movie. There's a lot about the plot, characters, and setting that gets left out, particularly the mysterious mcguffin that triggers it. There's only enough information supplied to create a sense of foreboding. But this is a shrewd choice for the comic book debut of Rafael Grampá. The story is just a means to exhibit his considerable talents as an illustrator and graphic designer. And it soon becomes clear that Grampá possesses a knack for choreographing violent physical encounters, because that's really what Mesmo Delivery boils down to - a virtuosic rendition of brutality and sadism.

The book was originally touted by its original publisher AdHouse with the high concept summation - it's Convoy meets The Twilight Zone. Mesmo doesn't have that fantastical or grandiose a premise behind it, although it contains a hint of the uncanny. Like Tarantino, Grampá pays homage to, and exploits, varied elements of popular genre entertainment. It's a useful shorthand that helps sidestep exposition and character development. Trucker tales, spaghetti westerns, horror, fantasy, kung-fu wirework, slasher flicks, early twentieth cartoons, and who knows what else, are all thrown into the mix. When two enigmatic delivery men walk into a seedy diner in the middle of nowhere, one frequented by the usual assortment of lowlifes, everyone knows a fight's going to break out sooner or later. The two are the proverbial odd couple: One's a massively built ex-boxer, gruff and reserved. The other's a lean-looking Elvis impersonator who can't stop declaiming about his own artistic superiority over the original performer. Grampá throws in a number of twists to keep the proceedings unbalanced. What starts out as a typical back-street brawl quickly takes a strange turn when the participants engage each other weilding unorthodox weapons. It turns unexpectedly bloody, follows another bizarre twist, and climaxes with a mesmerizing pageantry of over-the-top carnage, conclusively proving who is the true badass of this comic. This is all lovingly captured with Grampá's obsessive and finely honed mark-making.

Mesmo Delivery By Rafael Grampá, Marcus Penna, Rafa Coutinho.

Grampá, aided in the colors by Marcus Penna, no doubt has the chops to relay the grindhouse flavor of his influences. He draws the backgrounds and environment with a lot of attention to tiny, gritty details. The muted earth tones give everything a rusted, almost vintage appearance. It's as if the reader is actually looking at everything through rose-tinted glasses. When combined with the setting, it transforms the art into a decadent representation of Route 66 America. In contrast, Grampá's characters, though no less detailed, are slightly cartoony in appearance and body language. It imbues the in-story violence a certain manic stylistic exaggeration somewhat reminiscent of European "clear line" comic art. They're all grotesque figures to varying degrees, literally and figuratively. What really sets Grampá apart from most comic artists is his skill with typography. Type plays a more integral role in creating the environment, especially the faded signs found at the roadside establishments that dot the country's highways. The type by itself is very lovely, suggesting a different era. Later in the story, Grampá goes further and uses typography as a design element within the panels themselves, giving Mesmo Delivery a a visual identity which is unlike most mainstream comics. Those panels have an unusually composed stillness to them that doesn't exactly take away from the action being depicted.

All in all, Mesmo Delivery is an impressive debut for Grampá. It's technically assured, beautifully rendered, disturbing to read, and has the right combination of exhilarating action sequences and pop culture references to be a hit with the target audience. Needless to say, the nonexistent plot, shallow characterization, macho posturing, ultra-violence, and amoral ending are not going to appeal to everyone. But Mesmo Delivery is an undeniable outburst of fiery energy from an artist at the height of his powers. I wonder how his style will evolve in the future with longer, meatier, more nuanced, or more varied narratives.

Mesmo Delivery By Rafael Grampá, Marcus Penna, Rafa Coutinho.


Superman by Jeff Smith

Superman by Jeff Smith
Go to: Boneville by Jeff Smith

I'm curious to see his interpretation of the character, given the creative success of his Shazam comic book. But it's always amusing to pick out a Jeff Smith cartoon by the large flaring nostrils.


More NonSense: The Big One

Crisis on Infinite Earths #7
According to the law of diminishing marginal returns, this plot device would inevitably
get less traction with repetition. From Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 © DC Entertainment
Tim O'Neil blogs about the mother of all superhero crossovers, over here, here, here, here, here, here, here... Along the way he tackles the history of the company-wide crossover, the incomprehensibility of continuity, the persistence of the DC multiverse, the impermanence of death, the fluid identity of intellectual properties, the hold of nostalgia over the fan, and Crisis' own dubious legacy. In short, almost everything there is to say about it.

Elsewhere, he explains how Grant Morrison (and everyone else) just doesn't get how Fascism actually works in Jack Kirby's opus the Fourth World when examining the writer's often discussed crossover .

Charles Hatfield tackles Crisis' one true spiritual successor, , where he's not as affectionate as Tim towards the continuity porn and nostalgic indulgence that predominates, now that publishers are very dependent on decades-old properties and older fans. I suppose that where someone stands with regard to the big crossovers of the Eighties ( anyone?) is one useful way to categorize the loyalties of present-day fandom.

For those who just can't get enough of classic crossover trivia, there's always blogs like DC Multiverse.


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz By Eric Shanower, Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Jeff Eckleberry.
By Eric Shanower, Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Jeff Eckleberry

I've never read L. Frank Baum's classic Oz book series. Like most people, my primary point of reference is The Wizard of Oz, the famous 1939 film adaptation of the first book. And my own impressions are more reliant on general cultural osmosis than from any recent viewing of the movie. The resulting effect is that, for better or worse, it's become virtually impossible to separate the narrative from the film's many well-known musical numbers. The other obvious impact of the movie is its memorable visual identity, which I believe was largely derived from the original book illustrations of W.W. Denslow. At any rate it's a safe bet that when most people in the Western world picture the land of Oz, they're partially recalling scenes like the cast singing "we're off to see the wizard" while marching down the yellow brick road. So unfortunately, any adaptation not only has to compare with the written text, but this beloved movie as well. The last effort that I can recall seeing was the 2007 mini-series Tin Man - a plodding, overly-long attempt to superimpose onto the fairy tale a bleaker, more adult sensibility, and a conscious repudiation of the sun-drenched world of its predecessors for a more dystopian, post-industrial setting.

Given this history, what's immediately most striking thing about this comic book adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the cleverness of its artistic approach. Navigating between the poles of faithful reproduction and critical deconstruction, artist Skottie Young and colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu opt for an interpretation that feels fresh without coming across as a cynical attempt to "update" the source material. Speaking only for myself, I much prefer it to Denslow or the 1939 film. Young draws in a more rubbery cartoon style which, in comparison to Denslow's more mundane-looking designs, is frankly better suited to capturing the fantastic world of Oz. And Beaulie's warm, bright color palette and painterly layering imbue Young's lines with the right amount of two seemingly contradictory qualities: nostalgic remembrance and innocent wonder.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz By Eric Shanower, Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Jeff Eckleberry.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz By Eric Shanower, Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Jeff Eckleberry.

The main protagonist Dorothy looks much more fragile and child-like than the inevitably more stolid presence of Judy Garland. But this makes her scrappy demeanor and acts of bravery all the more endearing. The fantasy-based characters have a certain creepy, even alien, quality not found in the movie. This lends them a certain edginess not found in Denslow. The Scarecrow actually looks like a sack of straw that inexplicably talks despite not having a real mouth. The Cowardly Lion is a more convincing giant fuzzball. But the most interesting redesign is the Tin Woodman, who now sports a handlebar mustache and a deeply furrowed brow. This gives the character a sorrowful, middle-age appearance which generates pathos in his quest for a heart.

For those familiar with only the movie, an interesting point of divergence is that writer Eric Shanower preserves within the comic a certain storybook quality. This can be partly explained by the serial format, but an episodic structure which carefully divides the story into a series of set pieces is a useful method for keeping a younger audience's interest in an extended narrative. This makes it very suitable material to being followed over the course of several readings. Their didactic nature definitely comes through, as each chapter is a mini-adventure that forces the characters to call upon heretofore unacknowledged virtues (wisdom, compassion, courage, sheer dumb luck).

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz By Eric Shanower, Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Jeff Eckleberry.

I take it that Shanower is being extremely faithful to the book, because I get the impression that the included text was lifted almost verbatim. The results are not always ideal since the comic alternates between highly wordy panels that feel like pages from children's picture books, and silent panels where the art alone tells the story. These contrasting approaches stick out incongruously rather than flow seamlessly into one another. The more verbose panels take on the voice of an omniscient narrator who will often reinforce what the art is already showing. This makes the sudden quiet of the other panels seem a bit odd. Something also seems to have been lost during the paring-down process of the text for the comic, because the dialogue often sounds dry. This contrasts with the more lively portrayals within the panels. Rather than complimenting the art, the text often seems to be wanting to set the pace and overall tone. But the result is that certain actions or key moments feel understated, or even completely lost, when they could have been illustrated for greater visual impact. Perhaps a looser wording of the text would have served the comic better.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz By Eric Shanower, Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Jeff Eckleberry.

Obviously, I can't just recommend an adaptation over the source material. And I'm loathe to turn young people away from any valuable work that could inspire longform reading. But whatever quibbles I may have, they aren't enough to disregard the efforts put into the book. This is no doubt a labor of love, especially for Shanower. The art alone is worth the price of the comic. And for those already familiar with Baum's original text, or the 1939 film, it's an alternative worthy of consideration. It might even change how some people imagine Oz.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz By Eric Shanower, Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Jeff Eckleberry.


On a completely unrelated note, this post marks three years to the day I started this word blog. Yay for me. Not that I'm an exceedingly brilliant writer by any stretch of the imagination. But I'd like to think I've improved since my first post. Yeah, I know - just keep telling yourself that buddy.