Generally the comics I discuss up here are books I happen to come across (or finally get around to reading) in the prior week, but sometimes I have things recommended to me as well. For example, my editor Tim happened to notice a press release making the rounds from one Mark Sroufe of ThunderCloud Studios LLC, trumpeting the receipt of a 2013 Publishing Innovation Award for Best Graphic Novel App by ThunderCloud's iOS app 2084; my recent adventures into digital comics reading apparently marked me as somebody who might be predisposed toward checking this thing out.
As it turned out, I was interested in more than that. Nothing grabs me faster than interesting fusions of old and new comics traditions, and 2084 boasts two of 'em. First, it's an example of what I like to call 'neo fumetti,' which is to say it's a photo comic that makes little effort to hide the photographic origins of its character images, yet surrounds those images with drawn or (more often) computer-generated imagery. The UK artist Clint Langley exemplifies this practice today, and it looked like 2084 -- Orwellian title and all! -- would advance that style.
Plus, it's a 3D comic... by which I mean a 1950s-style anaglyph 3D comic, red & cyan glasses required. To obtain a pair of said glasses, you download the $2.99 2084 app from the iTunes app store, and then you punch your address in to a field inside the app itself, and then Mark Sroufe of ThunderCloud Studios LLC physically mails you the glasses in a white envelope bearing a stamp. That is unbelievably cool to me, this blend of physical and digital media, delivered through mixed physical and digital means, and it really got me stoked to read the comic itself.
What immediately becomes apparent upon starting up 2084 -- and I guess now I'll state I'm running an iPad 2 with the newest iOS -- is the effort made to place the reader inside the world of the comic. I've read some 'immersive' digital motion comics before, primarily from the UK's Madefire, but all of those lack the illusion of depth afforded 2084 by its 3D process. When you think 3D, you think objects leaping out of the screen to get you, but some of the more impressive 3D cinema I've experienced has focused on the presentation of theatrical events -- think Wim Wenders' solemnizing Pina, or its more populist predecessors like Julian Napier's Carmen in 3D -- which employ the 3D process to blow out the back of the screen, so to speak, creating a sensation of live presence in the cinema-bound audience member.
2084 does this throughout the confines of the app, even the menu screens, as you can see above; a 2D variant on the whole project is due this Spring, though I suspect that'll sap the project's amusing premise - that you, citizen of the future, have obtained your very own shiny new highly invasive VIVO (Virtual Interface Vision Overlay) system of interaction with the world entire, a full-body nano-makeover connecting you to all manner of manufactured virtual spaces and curated information "feeds," most of them market-designed to serve the needs of the arch-capitalist future. Micro-targeted advertising is the true Big Brother of this future shock, as anyone who's come across pop-up ads while playing their favorite free-to-download endless runner game from the app store can doubtlessly sense.
As a result, 2084 is heavy on background and cheeky verisimilitude; by far the most entertaining writing of the project comes from a huge "History of the 21st Century" supplemental text feature, extrapolating world events from 2015 onward in a reasonably plausible and frequently funny manner. It's furious Bible-writing, a background extensive enough to render the ultimate shortcomings of the actual comic a little less frustrating.
I knew the 3D worked okay when I tried to put my finger up this guy's nose. This is from Feed 1, which is to say issue #1; three Feeds are included free with the app, while Feeds 4 and 5 come in a bundled in-app purchase of an additional $0.99, with Feed 6, the latest completed to date, priced at $0.99 on its own.
The first thing you notice... okay, the first thing you notice is the lettering fonts, which I presume are meant to remain as large and 'friendly' as possible to accommodate reading through red & cyan glasses. Some aesthetes will be offended. The second thing you notice is length: most of the Feeds take about three minutes to read, with the comparatively larger Feed 6 topping off at about five or six. This, frankly, is a tablet issue all around, as even the higher-end IOS-original games that have overcome the limitations of touch-screen interfacing tend to value brevity as a means of keeping their striking visuals both inexpensive and liable to fit on tablets which, in my case, still only carry 10 gigs of space for apps. 2084 faces the same space issues for its photographic action, and this does not leave a lot of room for much of a plot to get started.
Feed 1 is a murder scene. Feed 2 introduces a hero cop character walking the beat of the future. Feed 3 introduces corporate villains, who are up to no good. Feed 4 is the abbreviated backstory of the hero cop, who took on the corporate villains and saw himself busted down to noir detective status. Feed 5 depicts a corporate murder. Feed 6 introduces a few supporting cast members and a little in the way of on-screen animation, but ends before a murder investigation can quite begin. If this is a television show, we're maybe just past the first commercial break in the pilot episode, and narratively this is not a groundbreaking program.
Moreover, conceptual limitations quickly become obvious. Naturally, because these Feeds ought to be a certain size, so as not to cause one's tablet to explode or inspire murder sprees from severe download times, all dialogue is plastered in text onto each full-screen page (there are no panels, though you still turn the page by swiping your finger right to left). Jolly sound effects, as you can see above, denote certain actions, insofar as a lack of animation can't quite sell the sound effects provided to accompany the scene. David Lloyd, no doubt, would demand better framing of the action to convey all activity without recourse to lettered sfx, but that's tough when you're working all-splashes with live actors - realism that detracts from realism, given the circumstances.
Moreover, 2084 is loaded with non-diegetic music, presumably added by whichever entity of the future curated the Feeds that I, Floyd Farland, appear to be watching on my future VIVO. Much effort is made to have the music rise and fall with the action onscreen, but this wound up creating the most trouble for the smoothness of my virtual future experience. The music in 2084 appears to be coded in small samples, one or more per 'page,' some of which loop if you allow the page to sit still while you read it 1,000 times, though you can't exactly do that all the time if you want a dynamic-sounding score. As a result, some of the samples fade to silence rather quickly, only to pick up again once you turn the page.
I tried to avoid this situation as much as possible, as the score was obviously not composed to fade in and out at varying moments. However, to do this you must essentially rip through the pages like a particularly jaded salaryman devouring the new Big Comic on his train ride home, which disallows you from soaking in the details of team 2084's digitally-enhanced scenes (a James Haskins is credited with the virtual overlay art, while a Darren Simpson is credited with 3D modeling; if anyone's the writer besides Mark Sroufe himself, I can't figure it out). Pause to linger on the details of this first-person perspective from the aforementioned hero cop, and the whole world fades to silence, environmental noise and all, as if you've entered into a fugue state.
Or, I suppose, the guy providing you with this feed didn't have a lot of space to work in, and happened to be testing new technologies.
The charitable read of the concept of 2084 is that only the app as a platform is meant to gesture at the illusion of total immersion, while the Feeds are -- by their very positioning as external experiences in the wider world of 2084 -- necessarily less-adroit. It's a good bit of conceptual ass-covering, that, though it doesn't do a lot to improve the reading of this very short, very simple, often basically awkward Graphic Novel (in progress), which at times can't balance its action scenes well enough so that a man reaching out to grab another man bound to plunge down an elevator shaft, see above, doesn't appear to have a ton of space and time to rescue his guy before he proceeds two and a half paces into the portal of doom.
Maybe the white-haired guy takes really big steps? Maybe his underling was busy reading comics on his VIVO, and didn't want to upset the flow by moving his hand in the wrong way, at the wrong time?
That said, I do see how 2084 won its award - it's pregnant with possibility, and it does manage to spark the imagination, despite its many and obvious limitations as a five-dollar comic. Frequently, I imagined what sort of citizen of the future I was. Am I an activist, reviewing covert footage of corporate chicanery? Is society so jaded now that even major crimes are nothing more than reality entertainment for a placated mass? Am I part of the fictional problem, in this fictional world?
The real problem, I think, is that I felt more advanced into the future than the 'meat' of this app, and I'm the kind of guy who thinks it's really fun to play with an iPad while wearing red-and-blue 3D glasses; I hope continued advancements are made, so that ThunderCloud Studios LLC can draw nearer to enveloping future it wants to join too, though tomorrow hasn't quite arrived.
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.
Knights of Sidonia Vol. 1: All this talk of the '80s of the future puts me in the mood for a 1980s sci-fi flashback, and nothing could have possibly done the trick better than this, a 186-page Vertical-published debut for the newest series by Tsutomu Nihei, he of the scratchy black transhuman sprawls of Blame! and Biomega. Except, Knights of Sidonia sees a new Nihei at work - a composed Nihei, who's traded in his semi-realist style for a stripped-down high-contrast look, his characters now cartoon outlines with eyes like pools of solid ink, his backgrounds over-'lit' as if to blast them free of excess detailing, sometimes reducing them to artfully manipulated dabs and smears. It nonetheless looks much more classically 'manga' than anything the artist has done before - the equivalent of Nihei suddenly showing up for work in a shirt and tie, ready to pound out a zillion-volume saga of handsome war beyond the stars.
Indeed, Knights of Sidonia is very specifically a genre riff, strongly evoking the '80s anime classic Super Dimension Fortress Macross -- later massaged into English as early episodes of the American tv conglomeration Robotech -- with a shiny modern city cruising through space and scrambling jets to battle alien threats. But you can't quite take the Nihei out of the stuff; deep down, this is a severely odd, aloof comic, sauntering past genre cliches in elliptic, dialogue-sparse scenes, trusting the reader to understand these archetypes in spite of their puppet-like limited emotions and same-y faces, grist for the mill of bio-organic space monsters that transform this volume's central space sortie into a grotesquely sexual operating theater of hand-to-tendril combat that leaves the hero puking all over the sweet post-gender boy-girl he fancies back home. This project has been getting *very* mixed reviews since its scanlation days, but no recent manga has transfixed me quite so fast... I guess it clicked in Japan too, as it's up to vol. 9 and still going. Crank up the Muse and check this one out; $12.95.
GENGA: Otomo Katsuhiro Original Pictures: An alternate definition of high-explosive Japanese comics of the economic boom comes from the oft-cited author of Akira, who's been mostly absent from recent manga - some of you might recall promises of a longform period opus coming soon to the shonen idiom, but nothing's actually been published. Still Otomo did enjoy an exhibition of his pen & ink drawings in Tokyo last year, and this is a new North American-targeted edition of the accordant catalog, 256 pages of illustration art presented at 10" x 14", for your pleasure. From the capitalization enthusiasts at PIE BOOKS; $85.00.
Susceptible: Being a new slice-of-Canadian-life from artist Geneviève Castrée and Drawn and Quarterly, an 80-page hardcover "about the heartbreaking loss of innocence when a child is forced to be the adult amongst the grownups," per the back cover. I confess I'm mostly familiar with Castrée's contribution to Drawn and Quarterly Showcase vol. 3, so I look forward to this longer work. Preview; $19.95.
The Manara Library Vol. 4: The Adventures of Giuseppe Bergman: The subtitle's maybe a little misleading; this isn't a comprehensive collection of Milo Manara's more-or-less career-spanning solo series, just 228 pages of earlier material, with the remainder to follow in vol. 5. Still, this is the stuff often isolated as the apex of Manara's visual aptitude, with the original HP and Giuseppe Bergman standing as an amusing send-up of fannish enthusiasm for the adventuresome fantasies promulgated by ultra-influence Hugo Pratt and others. Samples; $59.99.
Ariol Vol. 1: Just a Donkey Like You and Me: Elsewhere, the exact opposite of the Milo Manara oeuvre manifests courtesy of writer Emmanuel Guibert and artist Marc Boutavant, who launched their Ariol series as a children's magazine feature in 2000; various books followed, and an animated television program debuted in 2009. It looks like a good-natured funny animal everyday-kinda series, and this 124-page, 6 1/2" x 8" NBM/Papercutz softcover now brings it to English. The publisher seems to be ramping up its Eurocomics-for-kid[z] line, with a first-ever translation of Peyo's kid superhero series Benoît Brisefer (localized as Benny Breakiron) due in May, and a line of omnibus hardcovers for The Smurfs (aimed more toward the adult Golden Age of Reprints market) to follow in June. Preview; $12.99.
The Initiates: MORE FRANCE. This is an NBM translation of a 2011 Étienne Davodeau album (Les Ignorants), a popular hit seeing the artist exchange roles and vocations with a neighbor and winemaker. Very mainstream comics, probably worth a peek. Preview; $29.99.
An Enchantment: Enchanté! Another one of NBM's translations of comic albums released in association with the Louvre, this time a 72-page, 10 1/2" x 11 1/4" Christian Durieux joint telling "the tale of the retiring museum director on a fugue from his retirement dinner through the vast halls of the museum, eloping with a muse." Samples; $19.99.
The Last Call Vol. 2: Every so often Oni pops up with a new volume of a graphic novel series absent for a long time - I think it was 2007 in which this series debuted from writer/artist Vasilis Lolos, who'd drawn an Image series titled The Pirates of Coney Island. He's since done some Marvel, Vertigo, Dark Horse and minicomics work, but now comes another 160 pages of solo work, seeing youths navigating a ghost train of mysteries 'n shit. I like his faces. Preview; $12.99.
Hiroaki Samura's Emerald and Other Stories: Hey, Blade of the Immortal just wrapped in Japan, so why not celebrate with longtime English-language Samura publisher Dark Horse's new 228-page collection of miscellaneous short stories and one-offs culled from throughout the artist's career? The title story is a particularly fun little romp through the American West - a genre exercise in the purest sense, in that Samura apparently just wanted to draw a cowboy comic, and then did it. I think this puts all of Samura's long(-ish)form non-doujinshi manga into official English, save for the hugely violent and upsetting (and sentimental, and noxious, and generally troublesome) Bradherley’s Coach, which I don't expect to ever see formal publication around here, so it's mostly a game of waiting for Blade to finish and wondering what its creator is planning next. Preview; $12.99.
Elephantmen #46: So, the other day I got to participate in an Inkstuds critics' roundtable, which afforded me the special pleasure of stumping for The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred, my favorite superhero comic of 2012, and a somewhat under-discussed work in general. I was pleased that everyone seemed to appreciate the unique style of Shaky Kane, who just happens to be serving here as guest artist for another Image series, Richard Starkings' opus of serious animals in a serious future; $3.99.
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #104: Concluding a two-part run by the very good action artist James Harren, who can also be found drawing Judge Dredd this week in 2000 AD #1819, if you happen to be a digital subscriber (or a print subscriber) (or in the UK) (or Tharg). Preview; $3.50.
Creepy Comics #11: Much in the way the Halloween issues of the Simpsons line of comics tend to afford 'offbeat' cartoonists an opportunity to mount the franchise platform, it seems this special Valentine's Day edition of Dark Horse's revival of the Warren magazine (in comic book form) will be featuring new stuff by Gilbert Hernandez and Peter Bagge, among other lovey doves. An Archie Goodwin/Johnny Craig classic is promised too. Samples; $4.99.
Vampirella Archives Vol. 6: But if it's old-time Warren shit you're after, Dynamite has another 392-page shot of vanished Euro style, compiling issues #36-42. With José Gonzalez, Fernando Fernández, José Ortiz, Esteban Maroto, Rafael Auraleón, José Beá, Felix Mas, Ramon Torrents - the whole sick crew. And Paul Neary, representing the United Kingdom. British writer Mike Butterworth was in charge of the title serial at this time -- offering spritzy cynicism and puckish violence -- though Archie Goodwin pops in for a quick one, and Doug Moench & Jim Stenstrum are among the utility writers, the latter enjoying a comic book-length 20-pages for a nice haunted house saga. Plus: a complete Dracula serial by Gerry Boudreau & Maroto; $49.99.
The Curse of Dracula: ALSO IN DRACUL, Dark Horse (again?) brings a new 96-page, 7" x 10" hardcover collection for a 1998 collaboration between Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan, a sequel-in-spirit to their own tenure on the '70s horror comics scene. Preview; $14.99.
Marvel Firsts: WWII Super Heroes: And in older Marvel offerings, the House of Ideas itself presents a 456-page chunk of WWII-era Golden Age funnies, organized by character (I think) and probably reading like a fun, scattershot batch of period miscellany; $39.99.
Bone: Quest for the Spark Vol. 3 (of 3): Nothing quite speaks to the YA audience Bone has cultivated as the bestselling status of these Tom Sniegoski prose novels, augmented with illustrations by creator Jeff Smith and colorist Steve Hamaker. I'm just mentioning this to commemorate the completion of a Bone project completely under the comics radar, and to link to that Tom Spurgeon Hamaker interview, which was nice; $10.99 ($22.99 in hardcover).
The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook: This is also not a comic, but if I'm spotlighting that Otomo exhibition catalog, I guess I'll mention 128 pages of production work by Shaun Tan, published by Arthur A. Levine Books in a study-looking 6 1/8" x 8 1/4 hardcover album; $19.99.
Genius, Illustrated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth Vol. 2 (of 3): Finally, there's no doubt as to your book-on-comics of the week, because Dean Mullaney & Bruce Canwell have returned with the second part of their 9.5" x 13", IDW-published Toth trilogy, a 288-page sequel to 2011's Genius, Isolated, no doubt full of illustrations, production materials and treats, including (per the solicitation) a pair of full stories reproduced from the original art. If I'm remembering correctly, vol. 3 should be mostly drawn material, as the biographical portion of the program apparently ends here; $49.99.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Is there any conflict more obvious than The Comics Journal #302? Or is that the most natural fit of all for this like-minded web presence? All I know is that it's 672 pages, balanced on both sides with Gary Groth interviewing Maurice Sendak (samples here) and Kim Thompson interviewing Jacques Tardi (preview) - old-fashioned career-spanning Journal stuff. Plus: Dylan Williams remembered, Art Spiegelman & pals on kids' comics, Donald Phelps on Skippy, Bob Levin on Crumb and litigation, Matthias Wivel, Tom Crippen, Rich Kreiner, R.C. Harvey, Tim Kreider on Chester Brown, Warren Bernard on the '50s JD hearings (notes), Roy Crane on Buz Sawyer (interview too) and comics by Joe Sacco and Lewis Trondheim. They did *not* print my price guide for Eros Comix in the pamphlet format, however, so don't buy it; $30.00.