THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/18/11 – Transformer)

I was reading some Alejandro Jodorowsky comics last week - stuff relating to The Incal, mostly, since that's the material that's gotten re-released/completed lately. What interesting in reading a lot of the stuff at once is observing how much the art can change over the course of a story - a lot of these French albums take a year or more to see release, after all, and techniques are bound to shift, even as the collected editions typically released in the U.S. recall the quicker production pace of superhero comics.

One particularly striking case is that of Zoran Janjetov, a Moebius devotee who actually served as a colorist on The Incal itself. Pretty much immediately after the series finished, Jodorowsky wanted to begin on a prequel series, Avant l'Incal, and Janjetov became the artist, initially working in a manner close to Moebius' own, but gradually moving into a beefier look as the series went on. Following its conclusion, in 1998, Jodorowsky launched a spin-off especially for Janjetov, The Technopriests.

As you can see if you stare intently at the Mortal Kombat-looking fellow at the bottom, Janjetov is working with a good amount of line shading on some of the creature designs; some early pages evidence a type of stippling effect, or tight cross-hatching. These stand in contrast with other elements of the page - not just the digital lightning effect, but the near-photographic hair texture on the bottom character's mask and especially the eerie computer smoothness to the faces of the bottom-right characters. That last part in particular is a hallmark of the series' colorist, Frédéric "Fred" Beltran, himself a comics artist since the late '80s. By '98, though, Beltran had begun working heavily with digital textures and 3D modeling, debuting his own series with Jodorowsky, Megalex, in '99.

Megalex was initially created entirely through the use of digital modeling, as you can probably tell from the backgrounds. What's striking, however, is the female character (I mean, aside from the obvious; and yeah, pretty much every woman in the series looks like that) - she looks remarkably similar to Janjetov's humanoid female characters in The Technopriests, where Beltran was limited to the use of coloring, texture effects and presumably some modeling. He was also the cover artist for the series, so he'd be used to creating art that looked a bit like Janjetov's. Yet as the series went on, a transformation seemed to occur inside:

As Janjetov stated in an interview, when asked why The Technopriests seemed to begin resembling more of a Fred Beltran comic than his own: "Working the way I do with FB for a while now, I've come to familiarize myself with what I can expect from him. Now I know almost exactly which parts have to be done my way, and which should be left open for "Beltranization". It's a collective effort, and all three of us have learned to adapt to each other's needs in order to make the whole experience more enjoyable."

Essentially, a type of parity had been struck between 'artist' and 'colorist' - certainly Janjetov began using less inky techniques, focusing on forms that could be smoothed over with Beltran's digital stylings. Yet because the latter party had focused so much on transforming his own solo art into a digital construct, to the curious (and English-only) reader he can seem like even less a co-artist on The Technopriests than a dominant force, this despite not apparently being the first party to create visuals on the page. It's interesting, this trend - Beltran was also instrumental in the early '00s re-coloring effort on The Incal and Avant l'Incal, replacing the original colors' brightness with a dimmer, more 'realistic' set of environmental effects. Ironically -- and while Beltran did not personally handle all of this re-colorization -- this eliminated Janjetov's own presence as colorist on The Incal, and put his Avant l'Incal work a tiny bit more in line with his later, Beltran-associated art.

Perhaps some further, interesting material comes from the artists parting ways. In 2008, two years after The Technopriests ended, Janjetov again participated in a related project, taking over for artist Travis Charest on Weapons of the Metabaron. As far as the credits go, Janjetov appears to have done his own colors on the project, a little brighter than Beltran's, with figure work that leaves his recent art behind to return to a strong Moebius influence, perhaps in recognition of the Metabaron character's origins in those original comics, and maybe to set himself apart from Charest all the easier. These two artists were certainly not collaborations.

As for Beltran, the third and final volume of Megalex was released the same year, '08. It has yet to see English-language release, but I don't think words are necessary to convey the new evolution in his own work:

The 3D models are gone, replaced by a good deal of 'traditional' drawing. Oddly, it doesn't look so much like Fred Beltran, as if the 'Beltran' that seemed to wash over The Technopriests was only ever a possibility, a construction of tools used at the time. A specific identity for a specific time, that worked best, I think, with two actors playing the role, and could later be retired in the manner of any collaboration giving way to a series of other things.


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.



Paying For It: Greetings, and welcome to Chester Brown Week at the Comics Journal! We've got a lot of stellar features lined up, from my own close reading of It Came From... Higher Space! to - oh shit, that was last week, wasn't it? Jesus. This is especially bad after I tripped over that extension cord yesterday and unplugged the website. Nonetheless, this is the official week in which a whole lot of comic book stores will be displaying their copies of Brown's "comic-strip memoir about being a john," as thoroughly visible a comic book release as anything yet in 2011, and probably anything left to come. I enjoyed recent reviews by Matt Seneca and Noah Berlatsky, and this site has perspectives from Naomi Fry and R. Fiore, along with a huge Sean Rogers interview; $24.95.

Pinocchio: On the other hand, here's a consummate connoisseur's choice, the 2009 Fauve d'Or winner at Angoulême, spoken of only in whispers of anticipation until suddenly this Last Gasp NA edition started making appearances at shows like MoCCA. It's a 192-page dialogue-free production by Winshluss -- probably best known in English-speaking regions for directing (as "Vincent Paronnaud") the Persépolis movie adaptation with Marjane Satrapi -- seeing the familiar story become "a rich tale of greedy fools, lust, sadness, redemption, and hope," in the publisher's words, with Pinocchio envisioned as a robot creature and other children's fable favorites turning in perverse appearances. Looks really lush and pretty, no doubt to better contrast with nasty content. Here's a review by Hayley Campbell from this site. Samples; $29.95.



Liar's Kiss: A prime original graphic novel for the week, in the crime comics category. I'm unfamiliar with creators Eric Skillman & Jhomar Soriano -- the former appears to have done design work on various books for publisher Top Shelf -- but it looks like a potentially neat thing, with a detective getting embroiled in a murderous situation involving the woman he's seeing and the client he's ripping off. Preview; $14.95.

Rocketeer Adventures #1 (of 4): Being a new IDW miniseries anthology of stories featuring the late Dave Stevens' signature character. Expect handsome, straightforward visuals and throwback movie serial stuff from contributors Mike Allred, John Cassaday, and Kurt Busiek & Michael Wm. Kaluta (who did some layout work on the latter run of Stevens' comics). Note that IDW will also be releasing a $1.00 sampler of original Stevens' material taken from its extant Rocketeer collection, with revised Laura Martin colors. Interview/samples; $3.99.

Image Firsts: Orc Stain #1: Also now a dollar - the first issue of James Stokoe's very fun series. There's one for Paul Grist's Jack Staff this week too; $1.00.

Walt Disney Treasury: Donald Duck Vol. 1: A new 160-page Boom! collection of treasured Duck comics, which translates to a chronological arrangement of Don Rosa stories, which is probably worth a glance; $14.99.

DC Comics Presents: Batman: Dark Knight, Dark City: Another one of DC's low-cost reprint efforts, this time dedicated to a well-regarded 1990 Peter Milligan/Kieron Dwyer story from Detective Comics (#452-454), concerning the Riddler and diabolical secrets hidden away. Grant Morrison has referenced this one a bunch in his own Bat-tenure. Also included is a '91 Milligan/Tom Mandrake one-off (#633) on the classic theme of 'Bruce Wayne thinks his life as Batman is not real'; $7.99.

Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965: I mentioned this Joe Kubert project last week, unaware that it was due out in softcover. It's one of those systemically uneven books where its very uncertainty as cohesive unit makes it interesting, pairing these pretty amazing, unrefined Kubert pencil markings against a cold, digital, visually jarring narration of activities in Vietnam leading up to a battle. The writing, therefore, is heavy on detail and stiff in characterization -- there's an extensive text section in the back expanding greatly on the facts of the matter, and its flavor isn't particularly different from the odd in-story caption -- while the art strips all but the most immediate sensations from Kubert's specialty rendering of military action. It's like a comic some found, and patched together into a historically-based narrative as a means of making better sense of these snap impressions, severing much of the connecting fiber of words and pictures, despite being the product of a writer/artist. Not that much of this effect was intentional, I don't think, but it fascinated me nonetheless; $19.99.

Gantz Vol. 17: It feels like a while since we've seen anything from this tongue-somewhat-in-cheek Hiroya Oku decadent action series, but rest assured its premise of random folks whisked from the moment of their deaths to fight strange invaders in a weird full-bleed murder game on the streets will continue to facilitate many volume-length combat scenes in shiny digital environments, as vol. 31 just hit Japan last month (taking the supposedly soon-to-finish series neatly back around to its original red cover designs).

Also, the second live-action Gantz movie, Gantz: Perfect Answer, opened in Japanese theaters last week - the first one, as I've mentioned before, was a weird, not really successful attempt at taking the source material as seriously as possible as a critique of callous gaming/action violence, although it dragged some decent production value out of what had to be a pretty limited budget. But Oku's more of the type to acknowledge the absurdities in which he deals so as to more affirmatively indulge in gruesome nonsense; it was all sort of the opposite of what tends to happen with movies based on Mark Millar comics, which file down the critical edges as much as possible. That alone might be interesting fuel for comparison, although I stress it's not all that interesting a move experience. Preview; $12.99.

Biomega Vol. 6 (of 6): In which Tsutomu Nihei draws another inky-black saga to a close - speaking of transformation! This guy seems to push himself into a visual shift with every project, and his current Knights of Sidonia looks to be making a more mainline youth manga push; $12.99.

I'll Give It My All... Tomorrow Vol. 3: One of the odder of Viz's SigIKKI line of online-first series, a mix of slice-of-life despair and hard sentimentality as a middle-aged man pursues his dreams of comics success. From creator Shunju Aono. Online here; $12.99.

Agonizing Love: The Golden Era of Romance Comics: Finally, your book-on-comics for the unyielding rains of Spring - eh, actually I'm not entirely sure how to characterize this, as publisher HarperCollins promises "crucial stories from Fawcett, Marvel, DC, and many more comics publishing giants" along with commentary by editor Michael Barson, which brings to mind last year's Abrams ComicArts release of The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read!, which placed the commentary of editor Jim Trombetta at an arguably higher presentational priority than the comics. Still, that only makes the 208-page package all the more intriguing to flip through; $29.99.


CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Diamond oversees the long overdue Direct Market entrance of Brian Chippendale's 800-page If-n-Oof, published by PictureBox; $29.95. Or did they release this earlier? Adding to the mystery, a whole bunch of Fantagraphics releases imminent to Midtown Comics are not listed -- Johnny Ryan, Lewis Trondheim stuff -- save for Eye of the Majestic Creature, a 128-page collection of stories by Leslie Stein; $18.99.