I'm not sure how to feel about Paul Grist's latest project Mudman. A lot of it has to do with his art. Grist's figure drawing owes more to European cartooning traditions than to American pulp storytelling. His figures are flattened and elongated, and somewhat subdued. They're not exactly the center of attention. It's not so much that they're used to mask more highly rendered backgrounds as in Tintin, but they're subsumed to the overall design of the page layout. And Grist's pages are clean, balanced, and uncluttered. They make a virtue of clarity and precision. Technically, I don't find any fault in them. It just doesn't resonate emotionally to me. But I realize I'm clearly in the minority in this regard. Perhaps it's the quality of his line work that's making it hard to relate to the characters. It might simply be too schematic for my tastes.
The story itself is a nicely-told origin that's reminiscent of Spider-Man and other classic superheroes. It implies a larger and more complex backstory that will be gradually revealed in future chapters, like a modern-day fan discovering that the exploits of the Silver Age had some basis in reality. Even the mud-themed powers have a certain 1960's goofiness to them, although Grist injects them with ominous supernatural overtones. This gives the story a dark edge that keeps it from becoming overly nostalgic. Basically, the story revolves around Owen Craig - a rebellious teenager who expresses his boredom with the sleepy British seaside town he resides in by engaging in harmless acts of vandalism with his friend Jack Newton. Craig's a rather normal individual without a whole lot of drama in his life. He's not a geek, or an outcast. He doesn't exhibit any odd talents. He's just very average. One night he stumbles into an old, abandoned house, only to discover it's not so abandoned. He leaves somehow gaining superpowers. And he doesn't remember a whole lot about what happened to him.
If I sound a little blasé about the comic, it's also because nothing jumps out as being particularly new and original. But this is a solid work done in the genre. It's adolescent cast isn't over-the-top, objectionable or cliched. It's entirely accessible to new readers. And I will admit that the cliffhanger ending did leave me in anticipation of what's about to come. While Grist's art has yet to grow on me, those who have read and enjoyed his past works aren't going to need a whole lot of convincing to give his new series a chance.
Go to PART 1 for more details.
Here are a few photos taken from the afternoon I spent at the 7th Annual Philippine Komiks Convention held at the Unilab Bayanihan Center.
That's all for now folks. See you next year, or not.
Here are a few photos taken from the afternoon I spent at the 7th Annual Philippine Komiks Convention held at the Unilab Bayanihan Center.
A few of the komik creators exhibiting at Komikon
The section of the Comic Odyssey booth selling manga, and a few Western graphic novels from another vendor. Anyone looking to buy some defunct Tokyopop volumes could get them for a bargain.
Pinoy manga from the Kurohiko table
The Bayan Knights superhero line from Sacred Mountain Publications
Trese merch and a banner for Never Heard webcomics
Teddy Pavon selling print copies of his webcomic Work In Progress (WIP)
Komiks from the Happy Lockjaw table
Another wide-angle shot of the Komikon exhibitor tables
Tony DeZuniga being interviewed by Syeri Baet-Zamar
Tony DeZuniga prepares to leave the stage
Carlo Vergara sketching
Tony DeZuniga sketching with his portfolio
Gerry Alanguilan signing copies of his award-winning graphic novel Elmer
Michael David and Melvin Calingo at the Point Zero Comics table
That's all for now folks. See you next year, or not.
When I visited last year's Komikon, I noted the problems the growing convention had to confront. So how does the 7th Annual Philippine Komiks Convention stack up to what came before? The following are a few broad observations about the event based on the short amount of time I attended it:
- Komikon changed venues for a third straight year as it tried to anticipate the logistics of running what is the biggest event of its kind in the country. This year it was held at the Unilab Bayanihan Center. With its high ceiling, wood paneling, and powerful air conditioning, this ballroom-sized hall was the largest and ritziest location to host Komikon to date. It's also the first to have decent bathrooms, which is a big plus. Clearly, Unilab takes good care with the upkeep of this place.
- As a facility owned by a pharmaceutical company, Bayanihan is located in a more industrial-looking part of the city. It's not too distant from the main commercial centers in Pasig, but it's far enough to limit casual foot traffic from dropping in. So it does feel a bit isolated and not the most accessible place without a car. Another problem with the location is that apart from a small supermarket across the road, there weren't many places to shop and eat. The convention had to organize several food vendors to cater for the event. So dietary options were sparse. There were no ATMs within the building, which limited attendees spending cash to what they had on hand, unless they wanted to hop in a car and drive around to the nearest mall.
- Despite the more ample space, the hall was beginning to fill-up by noon. So its safe to say that the constantly shifting venues did not discourage most attendees. The overall vibe was positive and even enthusiastic. Komikon is a one day event. But how long will it be until future attendance increases to the point were it can be justifiably transformed into a weekend-long event? I believe that the entrance fee rose from last year's event held at Starmall, although my memory might be faulty.
- Like many American comic conventions, the showroom of Komikon had a certain flea market feel to it. Everyone was crammed into one big room. But it's a situation that can be alleviated by splitting-up the attendee crowd through the use of varied programming. In my experience, this is something Filipino conventions have yet to master. Komikon is no exception. Like last year, a stage was set up at the far end of the hall, which was used for a variety of purposes. And likewise, there was no seating to encourage attendees to listen attentively, or a partition to help block out the crowd. When the soft-spoken Tony DeZuniga took to the stage for a Q&A session, the only people who could make out his answers above the din were the people standing within ten feet of him. A screening of Comic Book Literacy was not only barely audible, but a mishap with the DVD player cut it off at around the halfway point. As film premieres go, that was a major faux pas.
- These kinds of screw-ups demonstrate that Komikon is only beginning to grasp the effectiveness of varied programming. There's a lot of room for improvement before it can match its more established stateside counterparts. Multimedia presentations are nice, but if they're done half-assed, they'll completely suck. Hopefully in the future, Komikon will expand its Q&A panels and media programming to the point were they can justify placing them in separate rooms. This is one way to help alleviate the crowding in the showroom.
- I wasn't around for it, but at least the Komikon Awards were back.
The Showroom Floor
- Komikon instituted its first official "Artists Alley", which they dubbed "Komik Kalye". I honestly don't get why an event like Komikon even needs an Artists Alley, and the Komikon variant was a complete inversion of the concept. It was populated by young Filipino artists who made it big working for mainstream American publishers, and they were charging relatively exorbitant fees (Starting from ₱300) for sketches. Without an ATM nearby? No thank you.
- Two of Komikon's special guests, Tony DeZuniga and Gerry Alanguilan, are veterans of the American comics industry. Gerry is more or less a convention regular anyway, so whatever. But Tony flew in from the US, which was really cool of him. I hope he's enjoying the rest of his trip. At one point he started to talk about how local airport security hassled him about the metallic cane he uses to get around. But I'll be damned if I heard any of it (see "Programming" above).
- People who have attended events like MOCCA or SPX will find here a somewhat different take on what constitutes "indie" comics. Truth is, virtually everything local is indie when what dominates the market are foreign products from America and Japan. Walk around the showroom floor of Komikon, and between the Filipino superheroes, high fantasy, gag strips, and manga pastiches, an attendee has to squint hard to find something that resembles "alternative comix" as critics usually understand the term. The unspoken purpose of Komikon is to affirm that Filipinos can make comics at all, and the wide divergence of genres is used as a prop for this argument in order to help convince local fans to buy Pinoy.
- Maybe the presence of an Otaku Gear booth on the floor warped my perspective, but I felt that the manga contingent showed up more in force this year. I was certainly doing more double-takes because of the cosplayers I'd occasionally spot wandering the tables. Do all the creators working on their manga-inspired books even need Komikon as an event at this point? It was hard to ignore all the Pinoy manga because they had some of the most colorful covers populated by the cutest, moe characters.
- Webcomics continue to be an afterthought, but I noticed more creators hawking an actual webcomic, as opposed to a DeviantArt page, this year. But as with last year, most webcomics I saw tended to be comic strips that began in print before spawning a web incarnation.
- Retail chain Comic Odyssey took advantage of the Bayanihan and had the largest and most crowded exhibitor booth. They were making a brisk trade selling manga and mainstream graphic novels at steep discounts. The prices for old manga volumes were so cheap, they were actually a better value purchase than the minis being sold in the showroom.
Komikon was crowded, noisy, and fairly chaotic. It's made a couple of steps to expand its offerings, but isn't a slick product by any stretch of the imagination. The convention continues to feel its way forward and feed off the energy and devotion of fans looking for a focal point for their passion.
Update: Go to PART 2 for more about Komikon.
I'm surprised that a crossover between the Star Trek and the Legion of Super-Heroes franchises has taken this long to organize. On one side you've got the paramilitary wing of a utopian interplanetary federation from the 23rd century, staffed by a bunch pretentious starship officers. On the other you have an exclusive clique comprised of obnoxious, peer-rejecting, super-powered teenagers hailing from all corners of a peaceful interplanetary coalition in the 30th century. How could these two organizations not totally get along?
The first issue is pretty much a setup for the kind of inter-dimensional hopping that occurred during those old JLA/JSA team-ups. The two groups start out in their respective universes before getting sucked into an evil version that amalgamates the features of both. Think of it as Mirror, Mirror meets the Keith Giffen Legion, with a dash of the Galactic Empire for extra flavor, if you're into making those kinds of geeky references. Frankly, you have to be that kind of person to enjoy this, because unfortunately, that's what mostly happens for twenty-plus pages. That's the cliffhanger. One moment, things are hunky dory. And the next, they're fighting for their lives in a dystopia without the slightest idea how they got there. The story takes its sweet time to get moving. What the reader is treated to at the beginning is several narrative-heavy pages introducing the alternate timeline, followed by the plot flipping back and forth between parallel events involving the Enterprise crew and a half-dozen Legionnaires. There's a lot of mileage gained from the storytelling device were adjacent panels/pages mirror each other visually in order to compare/contrast the two timelines. For example, the Legionnaires are first seen piloting a time-bubble en route from a mission. Then the scene shifts to James Kirk conversing with his crew on the bridge of the Enterprise as they prepare for shore leave. There's a lot of generic banter from everyone about what kind of R&R they will pursue once they reach Earth. The Legionnaires are hyper-muscular in their multi-colored spandex costumes, while the Starfleet officers are more normally proportioned in their matching cardigan sweaters. The reader gets to see the differing technological malfunctions that sends each group to different parts of the Evil-verse (which shouldn't surprise any longtime fan of either series). And the primary action sequences are comprised of both sets of our brave heroes running around like headless chickens for several pages until they turn to their respective brain-trusts for an answer. Obviously, they're Braniac 5 and Mr. Spock. That's right bitches, the nerds rule no matter what the universe.
The bottom line? A fairly uninspired debut to what looks like a by-the-numbers crossover event without a lot of impetus behind it. I can't really see this appealing to too many people outside of the usual nostalgics and completists. Younger readers would probably be better entertained finishing their Harry Potter/Edward Cullen/Percy Jackson, shonen ai fanfics.
|From Frank Miller's Batman: Year One|
But I still want you kids to stop stealing my WiFi and get off my lawn.
Update: All kidding aside, I've been under the impression that Miller was beginning to hold right-of-center Libertarian views ever since I read The Dark Knight Returns, and people who thought otherwise because he made fun of Ronald Reagan were missing the point. And it wouldn't surprise me if 9/11 nudged him to openly espouse more extreme opinions if his own beliefs had already become more uncompromising with the passage of time. So I find the shock expressed in some quarters over this unambiguous expression of ultra-conservative politics a bit odd. The one thing about Miller's post that caught me of guard was that the talented writer penned such a poorly worded, hippy-bashing, cliche-ridden response. The language he used is so crude it sounds more like self-parody than a serious statement. But I shouldn't, since this is admittedly what passes for thoughtful political punditry these days. So this paranoid screed fits right in with the rest. When placed next to his latest work Holy Terror or even 300, this looks like the genuine article without any outside editorial input filtering Miller's words.
Comics may not have been the first medium to exploit the crossover, but it's become attached to this storytelling device like no other. Appropriating disparate ideas, forcing them to interact with each other, and essentially re-contextualising them in the process, is pretty much a hallmark of comics geek appeal. So it's no surprise that the protean Alan Moore has become contemporary comics most famous writer. Of his creations from ABC, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has remained his most ambitious ongoing project. What started out as an attempt to weave together various fictional characters into a Victorian-era superhero team, has come to absorb a ridiculous array of literary and popular influences. With Century: 1969, his cunning appropriation hits a new high, threatening to overwhelm the rest of the story. Panels are crammed with incidental details referring to one thing or another. Characters drop in and out while making cryptic pronouncements. As for the story itself, the book assumes that the reader is aware of the League's previous history, not really bothering to explain the setup or the main characters who are involved. The backstory within LOEG would be daunting to the uninitiated. Imagine trying to read the 4th Harry Potter book without prior knowledge of the Philosopher's Stone, or dementors, or Neville Longbottom.
The League in this case is composed of Wilhelmina (Mina) Murray, Allan Quartermain, and the immortal Orlando, a character synthesized by Moore from several sources, such as Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name. Since Century: 1910, the League has been waging a war of attrition against the cult of the villainous Oliver Haddo, an Aleister Crowley analogue. He's intent on unleashing dark magical forces upon the world. The story jumps forward to London in 1969, after events dealt with in The Black Dossier have rendered Mina and Allan also immortal. This generates an interesting personal crisis. As the prospect of an endless future begins to dawn on Mina, she tries unsuccessfully to cope with the changing times by acting like one of the young and hip. There's pathos to the predicament that could have been explored further. But Moore doesn't dwell on this for long before returning to the larger milieu they occupy. London in 1969 is literally a brighter, more saturated place, ably rendered by colorist Ben Dimagmaliw and Kevin O'Neill. But despite the many nods to contemporaneous popular entertainment, this version of the 60s doesn't conform to the typical image of the era. It still feels a lot like the gloomy 19th century city where Mina and Allan hail from. To begin with, the hidden occult threat they're uncovering imbues the proceedings with an inescapable sense of dread. Moore's ramping-up of the cynicism, violence and sleazy behavior somewhat undercuts the whole "free love" ethos of the period. If anything, the numerous impersonal depictions of sex only seems to subvert the freewheeling counterculture of the 60s. And as with past LOEG stories, there's an important but disturbing scene involving a sexual assault on a major character that sours the overall mood. For all its clever world-building, I'm not exactly sure what the comic says, if anything, about the actual social and political ferment of the decade.
The comic culminates in a fictionalized version of the Rolling Stones Hyde Park tribute concert to Brian Jones, now reinterpreted here as an occult ritual which the League attempts to stop. But Mina accidently drops acid and endures a bad trip. She enters the astral plane and battles the spirit of Haddo. It's at this point that O'Neill cuts loose with his art. The rectangular panel layouts give way to irregular and organic shapes. The psychedelic visions Mina experiences are dazzling in the Peter Max mode, while simultaneously retaining the grotesque caricatures O'Neill has always drawn. It's erotically charged imagery without being remotely attractive or titillating. When the battle concludes, the end result is calamitous for the League, and the contrast between these pages with the coda that follows is gut-wrenching.
So the League leaves the year 1969 far more embittered than when they first entered it. One of the pleasures of reading crossovers is seeing how the writer is able to combine what are otherwise mutually exclusive stories into a convincing narrative. This latest chapter of LOEG certainly demonstrates that Moore is still very capable of fashioning intriguing alternate realities. But somewhere along the way he seems to have lost the desire to humanize, or to a least make his protagonists more comprehensible to readers. Meanwhile, Moore's propensity to shock and perturb only continues to grow. What remains is a certain meanness unleavened by humor. I wonder if hidden in this story of immortal but impotent heroes, Moore is commenting on the continued publication of classic comic book characters whose time has long passed. Or is he just becoming more pessimistic? If he's this cold-blooded with them in 1969, how much worse will things get for Mina, Allan, Orlando, and the world as a whole when the story moves into the next millenium?
|The Slotbot 3000, a 16-foot-tall robotic representation of the New York Stock Exchange, squares off against Unemployed Man in a "Superheroes versus Economic Supervillains" event Monday in New York's Zucotti Park.|
|Gan Golan, left, author of Unemployed Man, poses as the title character from his graphic novel and Robert Segal poses as Krug Man for a superheroes march to the New York Stock Exchange on Halloween.|
|Alan Yang dresses up as Captain Generica for Monday's superheroes march to the New York Stock Exchange.|
|Betsy Richards dresses up as Wonder Mother for Monday's superheroes march to the New York Stock Exchange. Richards is a working mother of two children.|
Go to: Underwire by Nicole Martinelli. Photos by Bryan Derballa/Wired.com