Archive for August, 2010

Random review time

August 18, 2010

Children of the Sea Vol. 1. Daisuke Igarashi. Viz, 2009. $14.99, 320 pages.

HP Lovecraft hated fish. No, scratch that — he hated all sea creatures; he was nothing if not an equal-opportunity hater. To Lovecraft, our finny friends were monstrous, alien things; or, as he might have put it himself, they represented an unspeakable horror, a nameless revulsion and were all round just plain icky.  You can find this in various of Lovecraft’s works, but most notably in The Shadow Over Innsmouth  and Dagon.

This sentiment was echoed in manga by Junji Ito’s Gyo (not, incidentally, the only time Ito has echoed Lovecraft — witness the Cyclopean freak-out at the end of Uzumaki). In Gyo, sea creatures are horrors of the id, swelling up from the depths and irrupting into the natural order of things. They’re also, again, just kind of icky.

Children of the Sea represents the complete opposite of this sentiment. This is a manga about the wonders of the sea, and how its mysterious life-forms have their own otherworldly and sublime beauty, a beauty at risk but well worth saving. Igarashi’s art is serviceable at best when it comes to figure work and above the waterline, but below the surface, in the underwater scenes, displays an unpretentious and unobtrusive sense of wonder.

It’s also the most thoroughly YA manga I’ve ever read and, indeed, the most YA comic I’ve read since Chynna Clugston-Major’s Queen Bee. I’m so not the target audience for this; in the end I had a hard time appreciating it because of this. The low-key atmospherics and gentle plot development didn’t grab me enough to make me come back for a second volume, but it’s easy to imagine younger readers glomming onto it.

Recommended? If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably too old to appreciate this manga.

DMZ Vol. 8: Hearts and Minds. Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, Ryan Kelly, Jeremy Cox and Jared K. Fletcher. Vertigo, 2010. $16.99, 192 pages.

There was a bit of debate in the blogosphere, a few months back, about whether the eponymous protagonist of Dan Clowes’ Wilson was unsympathetic; and, as a corollary, whether narrative art requires sympathetic protagonists. I’m in favour of saying no to that latter question — Cerebus, for instance, spent long periods of his comic being pretty unlikeable but the series never suffered for it. (Insert obligatory disclaimer about Dave Sim’s political views).

With DMZ, many readers think we have another example of an unsympathetic protagonist. That is, a lot of people think the series protagonist, Matty Roth, is an unsympathetic, simple-minded douchebag in over his head. They’re wrong: Roth is a sympathetic, simple-minded douchebag well out of his depth.

At least, I thought so until I got to this volume. And now there’s a major plot twist which has me questioning not only whether Roth is still sympathetic but whether I actually want to keep reading a series where the protagonist has done what Roth has done. To keep reading after this, feels like an act of complicity in the darker side of US foreign policy.

Which is an odd sort of conjuring-trick on Wood’s part, since his politics seem to be even further to the left than mine. He’d surely be the first to condemn said darker side. And certainly Wood isn’t condoning Roth’s actions here…even so, I’m not sure I can keep reading a comic book where the lead character has become

[SPOILER]

a war criminal.

[/END SPOILER]

Maybe that’s just my hang-up, man, but if so, then so be it.

Recommended? No.

The Poor Bastard. Joe Matt. Drawn and Quarterly, 2001. $16.95, 176 pages.

Oh hey, speaking of unsympathetic protagonists…well, you can say this much about autobiographer Joe Matt: he’s not afraid to paint himself in the worst possible light. In this collection of stories from Matt’s Peepshow, he depicts himself as a tightwad, a creep, a jerk, a schmuck, a lowlife, a loser, a bum, a deadbeat etc. etc. etc.

And, brother, do I mean “et cetera”.

Seriously, has there been an autobiographical cartoonist since Crumb who has been so devoted to telling us all what a despicable character he really is? This is less “warts and all” than “all warts”.

Recommended? I enjoyed it, but, boy, your mileage sure may vary.


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