Tuesday, March 23, 2010

comix o'the decade: Episode Li'l Noodle

Alan Moore—writer
J.H. Williams III—pencils
Mick Gray—inks
Jeromy Cox—colors
(ABC/Wildstorm/DC Comics)

Blah blah blah Alan Moore. Blah blah blah genius. Hurdy gurdy machine.

Looking for pulp fantasy action and adventure? It's here. Looking for a dissertation about the nature of reality and fiction, where they intersect with our minds, bodies, and spirits? Look no further. Moore has cleverly wrapped up a philosophical discussion of the origins of storytelling and its purpose in the guise of a sci-fi fantasy. It can be a difficult read. There are a lot of big, abstract ideas that Moore bats around. Some of the dialogue can be stilted and dry. But at the same time, the ideas it's floating are fascinating. In the world of Promethea everything has metaphorical meaning—whether literary or sexual or mythical or religious, which for all intents and purposes, in this comic, are the same. Moore has worked up a unified theory of everything that's not based on science, but on history, humanity, and mysticism.

It's one of a few comics that encourages you to really think about the world around you, your relationship to the work in your hands—it can make you think about every story ever spun in a new light.

What helps steer it clear of dreary philosophic pedagogy and make it truly palatable and amazing is the art. The team of J.H. Williams, Mick Gray, and Jeromy Cox (with appearances by Jose Villarrubia and Charles Vess among others) construct the most innovative and imaginative page layouts printed by a major comics publisher. Each page visually underscores the themes in the script, whether its using historical or cultural motifs (see above) or clever circuitous action (see infinity layout at top). Moore is notorious for writing obsessively detailed scripts with very specific page layouts, so a fair amount of credit is due to him. However, it'd be tough to find other comics artists who would be able to translate that vision to the page with as much diverse technique, daring, and verve as this team of artists. Plus it's fun to navigate and pretty to look at.

There are just a ton of moments like this one that make my mouth drop. The artwork beautiful, yes, but it's also completely insane. It kind of explodes everywhere. Speech bubbles become like little fireworks, The color palate makes it borderline illegible, but this one page is part of a larger interconnected whole.

There's more here than one would expect.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The List: Portland Pizza I've Sampled

Just counting them off in no particular order:

1. Gladstone Pizza
2. Pyro Pizza
3. Wy'east Pizza
4. Ken's Artisan Pizza
5. Apizza Scholls
6. Bella Facia
7. Al Forno Ferruzza
8. Pizzicato
9. Give Pizza a Chance
10. Pizza Depokos
11. Firehouse
12. Nostrana
13. Tastebud
14. Escape From New York
15. Bella Gioia
16. Pizza Schmizza
17. Good Neighbor Pizza
18. Flying Pie Pizzeria
19. Dove Vivi
20. Bellagio's
21. Carboni's (Closed)
22. Lovely's Fifty-Fifty
23. Hammy's Pizza
24. Hotlips
25. Roma (SE Woodstock)
26. Kindle (N Mississippi)
27. Slice Brick Oven Pizza (SE Division & 32nd)
28. Pizza Contadino (St. Johns)

My current favorites (12/15/10):
1. Ken's Artisan
2. Apizza Scholls
3. Pizza Contadino
4. Pyro
5. Slice Brick Oven Pizza

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Comics o'the Decade: Episode Li'l Playa

Bone (Jeff Smith, Cartoon Books)

If there's one comic that's almost universally guaranteed to please, this is it. Three bone creatures (from Boneville, of course!) accidentally stumble upon a valley with talking woodland animals, cow races, and that gitchy feelin'. I don't want to give away any major plot points, so in trying to avoid that, I'll just say it's equal parts Pixar and Tolkien (or what I imagine Tolkien is like... I've never actually read the ring trilogy)—incredibly accessible, thoroughly engrossing, with a great balance of adventure, mystery, and humor.

Of course, the art is ridiculous (none of my picks of this decade's best have less than stellar art). Jeff Smith is a master of comics storytelling. He manages to pick out the right angles, expressions and poses at the right times for the maximal dramatic and comedic effect. And what's especially noticeable in the uncolored version is his beautiful brushwork and how well he spots his blacks. His ability to set the mood and give his figures weight based on how he varies his line thickness and places shadow is remarkable.

Jeff Smith kicked off Bone roughly 20 years ago. But the series was completed only in 2004. It's been collected in one massive phone-book-sized tome in its original, beautiful black and white. Scholastic has reprinted the series in smaller volumes and in tasteful color.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

short rounds.

so i made this machine here at Laurel's urging. it's inspired by the "italia"—one of the pizza images on the pizza mania apron that my aunt gave me. that there is a ring of spinach on the outside. it was a little heavy on the toppings and the spinach could've used a little salt and garlic, but otherwise, it was okeedokey.

i'm gonna ride on the coattails of This is Pizza again for a moment, if i may. they recently posted a review of Pizza Depokos, a new pizza cart curiosity up in NoPo.

the good:
  • pleasant smokiness right outta the wood burning oven
  • nice char and chewiness on the crust
  • friendly service
  • our pesto, olive, fresh tomato, and cheese pie had a nice balance of flavors—the salty and sweet of the olives, the nutty-savoriness of the pesto, and the creamy cheese

the bad:
  • the tomato sauce was both too heavily applied and too richly seasoned for my taste—it's a thick, almost pasta-y sauce; some people will likely dig this, but it threw off the balance for me

the ugly
  • the blurtastic upskirt shot, which is unfortunate because the char is so purty

Friday, March 05, 2010

CoD: Episode Li'l Taco

Another Comic of the Decade:

Strangers in Paradise (Terry Moore, Abstract Studios)

SiP is the best melodrama comic book ever. Nothing else even comes close. It's the story of how Francine, Katchoo, and David redefine themselves after escaping separate pasts that none of them are proud of. We follow them through a tangle of romantic successes and failures, a good bit of multinational corporate conspiracy, and bit of time travel even (i.e., non-linear storytelling... not, like, an actual time machine). It's all here—love and heartbreak, fisticuffs, prostitution, gunplay, Hawai'ian beaches, laughter and tears.

Anyway, I already wrote about it. So I won't bore you with more jibberjabber. There are 6 pocketbook collections. You might even be able to find them at your local library. Go read it. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, March 01, 2010

comics of the decade, episode li'l uno

Not much in the way of comics news from these parts in the last while. I still read 'em, I just don't read 'em like the coke-bottle-spectacled, cape-wearing, adolescent nerd-bot that I was in my salad days. My tastes have rolled a little to the left since my awkward years and I read fewer fist-fights-in-tights pamphlets and more long-form narratives that are less about power fantasies and more about humanity.

I'm not in the shop every Wednesday, so I imagine I'm missing out on a good bit of reading material. That said, I'm fairly confident that I read, or at least sampled, most of the of the major mainstream comics publications of the past decade; and when I say mainstream, I mean comics embraced by book stores and book reviewers at places like the New York Times, and not what the comics industry considers mainstream, which is Amazonian Princesses through General Zod, not that there's anything inherently wrong with either, I'm just noting that there's a discrepancy between mainstream's mainstream and comics' mainstream.

Also, if anyone has suggestions regarding the best comics since 2000/2001, shout 'em out. I'm curious as to what y'all have been reading comics-wise, and if you've been reading comics at all. I'm sure my list is devoid of a few titles that I either forgot I read or completely missed.

It maybe is a little late for a Comics of the Decade! post, but comics are slow to make... and so is this list.

Notes regarding my picks:
  • This is in no particular order of preference.
  • The list is completely subjective, there were no specific criteria I was looking to fill other than my personal enjoyment and fulfillment in reading the book.
  • Some of these comics were originally published in pamphlet form back in the nineties, but weren't collected into TPBs until the aughts and so therefore were available to people who wouldn't go into a comic shop until this past decade, hence they're eligible for consideration.
First, but not necessarily best or worse...

... well, let's get the obvious one out of the way:

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth (Chris Ware; Pantheon)

OK. So here's the thing with this book: even though it can kind of drag narrative-wise, and the main character is pathetic and unappealing in every way imaginable, it is still MINDBLOWING. There's a reason Chris Ware's art has been gallivanting around the country in various exhibitions at fancy art establishments. It's a maze of delights. The line-art is sparse, obsessively clean and precise, yes, but the page layouts and panel arrangements are dense with information and require a very active reader to fill in all the action between the static images and make connections between non-linear scenes.

The storytelling is what I would call decompressed—there are a lot of small moments depicted, tiny gestures like furrowed brows and scratched noses. These are often unnecessary for the plot, but they have a huge impact on the mood of the story. The events of the page above could have been summed up in two or three panels—woman sits and daydreams; woman gets up; woman opens door—but then we would have missed out on the fidgitiness and the mundanity of the waiting room experience, not to mention the puzzle that is the interpersonal relationships of all the characters.

To cut into the somewhat serious nature of the story of this hapless loner stumbling through various disastrous and painful familial relationships is, thankfully, a great deal of humor, which while dust dry and often morbid, still helps keep the pages turning.

Obviously a lot could be written about this book, and I'm not going into a huge amount of detail (thematically there's a lot going on in this book, both story-wise and art-wise, which I'm sure some overly enthusiastic grad student has or will write their thesis on). Suffice it to say that the art is gorgeous and easy to lose yourself in. And the character of Jimmy Corrigan is hard not to stare at with some sense of awe and horror as you would an albino burn victim. Except the scarring is on the inside.