European and British comics

In one of my last comics-themed posts, I would like to round it out with my forays into European comics.

Let’s not forget there is a whole planet Earth of this medium. There’s Japan, obviously!

 

Interestingly, Scott McCloud in the brilliant essay Understanding Comics studied the basic underlying structure to Western and Eastern sequential art forms. McCloud concluded that American and European storytelling is fundamentally the same even if the subject matter varies; while Japanese comics from romance to space opera use an altogether different mindset of “directing” techniques.

 

Anyway: America tends to get the most attention with all the expensive superhero movies these days. But for decades the problem in the West was that comics were assumed to be for children and not given serious thought by social critics.

Meanwhile in Europe, graphic novels have had a strong tradition of recognition by adults and kids for decades. It’s that avant-garde sentiment, y’know.

Firstly, Great Britain. Those originators of the English language tend to be better at writing in general. Ever noticed that? All the great writers are British, from Shakespeare to Vertigo and Image. They called it the British Invasion, the comics version not the rock version, ’twas the 80s not 60s. (Like rock music, America invented it and the British improved it.) As I’ve written about extensively.

What I haven’t mentioned in those extensive writings is the sci-fi anthology series 2000 A.D. Almost everyone, from Moore to Morrison, got their start there. I’ve read the occasional B&W shorts in reprint form.

Furthermore, if I am getting into 2000 A.D. then I must get into Judge Dredd.

wpid-20150507_131732.jpg

Yes, the Stallone movie was awful. Sorry about that. However the 2012 film was quite good.

What you may not know is that the comic is legendary. Going all the way back to 1977, the fascistic judge has had a prolific career. Written by John Wagner, the saga of Mega-City One is one of the most hardcore dystopias ever portrayed in fiction. I came across the graphic novel Tour of Duty, and was impressed enough to go back and read a whole lot. That good. Robot Wars, Cursed Earth, Judge Death, The Apocalypse War, Day of Judgment. Lots of mutants and genocide and critiquing the American dream and so forth, ain’t no harsher more biting stories than those. Dredd is the quintessential outsider’s take on Americana, and what a take those Brits can scribe.

 

Then there’s the continent. The French-speaking world in particular.

Belgium is famed for Tin Tin by Hergé. Even living in China, I found some English-translations of the classic albums. European comics tend to come in a certain oversized slim album-sized editions.

It’s fun and all, as Tin Tin and Snowy traverse the world. But wasn’t my favorite. Stories like The Blue Lotus are a bit racist, admittedly. Won’t even get into the African stuff.

I’d recommend The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure because of the very fine 2011 Spielberg animated film.

The_Adventures_of_Tintin_-_11_-_The_Secret_of_the_Unicorn

 

My favorite French comic ever would definitely be Asterix.

Luckily, I happened upon the Shenzhen Children’s Library which contains a great collection of the albums. Free to borrow! I must have read about twenty. Written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, the complete series is totally funny and hold up well today.

10696424_10152506784418411_6545953453448679408_n

Many of the best hail from the 1960s and 70s. Asterix and Cleopatra, Asterix at the Olympic Games, Asterix and the Roman Agent, The Mansion of the Gods, The Great Crossing. Gotta love that Obelisk, and I wish I could get ahold of some potion…

 

I even found some second-hand Smurfs comics in Shenzhen. Also from Belgium, by Peyo. Not bad, and very nostalgically indicative of the 1980s Hanna-Barbera cartoon from my childhood. Read a couple of them in English, and the library even has plenty translated in Chinese so as I can brush up on my 中文.

WP_20150114_003

“La la la la la la. la la la la laaaa!”

 

Hey, didn’t I say European comics were for grownups?

Continue reading

Advertisements

Time for Warren Ellis, comics writer

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636-ray?shelf=warren-ellis

 

DSC00563

That’s just a blurry pic I took at Comic Con ’07 or ’08. He is SO funny in person.

 

Warren Ellis is a damn interesting writer.

He’s British, smart, and touches on occulty themes, and yet he was not part of the original 90s “British Invasion” of comics writers such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison.

His work is violent, intelligent, sometimes dark, with a wicked sense of humor.

In my youth I read some of his Marvel work, like Thor and British X-spinoff Excalibur. I had mixed feelings, because it was that kind of “grim and gritty” style of postmodern comics. Ellis, similar to another (Irish) writer Garth Ennis, clearly hates the superhero genre. He has no use for it, other than a method of making a living sellilng comic scripts. In a perfect world these authors could do other genres without having to slum it among the capes. So they write heroes, all the while cynical and despising what heroism stands for. Still, makes for interesting stories at times.

Warren Ellis is a much sought-after writer for both DC and Marvel, but he rarely does mainstream work anymore. And that’s good.

I became a real fan of the Wildstorm era. Wildstorm, if you recall, was Jim Lee’s company within Image Comics, after all the big name stars left Marvel in the early 90s. Those early comics more than often shit, but Lee ended up with more staying power than, say, Rob Liefeld.

One of those Wildstorm books happened to be Stormwatch, which wasn’t anything great. Seemed another overblown X-Men rippoff about a government team or something. Warren Ellis came upon the title with little fanfair, and it soon gained critical acclaim. No one saw that coming.

I missed it the first time around, but around the mid-2000s I was ruffing it in Los Angeles and enjoyed going to a downtown library. They had an extensive graphic novel collection. I had little money and lots of free time. So I decided to catch up and see what I’d been missing.

Authority_Widescreen_by_Hitch

Stormwatch was cool, but eventually all the characters were killed off and something new came along: Authority. That’s what it was truly all about.

Authorty, illustrated by Bryan Hitch (of Ultimates fame) was one of the first “widescreen” comics. Every issue was epic. It starred Apollo and Midnighter — a gay version of Superman and Batman, and Jenny Sparks the spirit of the Twentieth Century. Unapologetic in its epicness, they fought gods and aliens and were always high-level high-concept.

 

Moreover, Warren Ellis’s greatest legacy would be Transmetropolitan. Those graphic novels I ever so cherished, as they kept me going during my starving artist years…

Transmetropolitan_2

Published by Vertigo, and that’s more like it. Actually was originally published by DC’s “Helix” imprint, but that went under and only Transmetro remained to become one of Vertigo’s most successful.

The story of gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem in that Hunter S. Thompson vein, but in an unidentified bizarre sci-fi future. There were crazies with alien DNA, a Nixonian character affectionately referred to as “the Beast”, and an even worse President called the “Smiler.”

Each issue punched you in the face and laughed loudly while doing that. Anarchy and journalistic integrity and weird post-science concepts. At 60 issues, by far a record for Ellis. Well done, sir.

 

In the 2000s Ellis continued with some Marvel projects in the midst of the more mature Quesada era. These weren’t quite rated R books from Image or Vertigo, but better than anything else out.

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. was a cult hit, full of B-list characters like Machine Man and Boom Boom fighting against the Beyond corporation’s ‘Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ H.A.T.E. being a hilariously biting satire of S.H.I.E.L.D. The whole comic was full of pithy one-liners, nothing else like it from Marvel. First arc was about the dragon Fin Fang Foom and had many comments about purple underpants and lack of genitals. Only lasted 12 issues, which is unfortunately typical for Ellis.

Delicious art by Stuart Immonen.

hlwq5li7zeou1uygycoz

 

Meanwhile at Marvel, Mr. Ellis wrote the Iron Man: Extremis storyline. You may recognize the nanotechnological elements in the film Iron Man 3, based off the comic.

 

Outside of the superhero world, we have Fell. This award-winning comic simpler in scope, starring detective Richard Fell in a very dark crime drama.

Fell_-1_cover

 

There were other little books here and there I read, miniseries from Image and Wildstorm post-bought out by DC.

Global Frequency, pretty cool. Typical Ellis, an elite team of agents fighting the secret forces of incomprehensible technology and great mysteries (un)revealed at the end.

Ministry of Space, an alternate reality take on what if proper British gentlemen won the space race.

Red, more spies. The bad movie was based off that, sorry.

Supergod, apocalyptic religious-transhumanist themes published by Avatar Press. I’d recommend a lot of his latter years work from Avatar.

Yet even Warren Ellis sometimes misses the mark. Personally, I had to give up on the webcomic FreakAngels

 

The ultimate Warren Ellis opus would absolutely have to be Planetary: Continue reading