Monday, July 22, 2013

Bandette, Reporter, Totems

Bandette (Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover) - Like a lot of people I'm sure, I checked this out since it was the only one of this year's Eisner-nominated ongoing series that I wasn't already reading. Obviously Eisner knew what they were doing with this one, because it's a total delight, a really fun and beautiful comic that's bursting with humor, energy, and sweetness. The concept and the overall attitude owe a lot to the Fantomas serials, focusing as it does on the titular robber girl, an outlaw who steals from other criminals and also helps out the police on occasion, doing it all with a wink and a cheery grin and a hearty, optimistic attitude. Tobin's writing is breezy and witty, making Bandette and her colorful enemies and rivals instantly likeable — the fourth issue's duel between Bandette and the villainous Matadori is sprinkled with so much witty, almost friendly repartee that it begins to seem less like bitter enemies battling than a couple of friends lightly sparring.

As fun as this spirited attitude is, it would be nothing without Coover's bright, cartoony art, which renders a larger-than-life fantasy Paris in which Bandette (who looks much like Coover when she's out of costume) can have her carefree adventures and innocent flirtations. It's all styled almost like a kids' book, though it's not without a few elements that suggest more adult themes. Mostly, though, it's just so much fun, a perfect mesh between Tobin's brisk writing and Coover's luscious, lively art — this is a husband-and-wife collaboration and it feels like their love and admiration for each other is encoded in these pages, perhaps in the gentle affection Bandette feels for her friend Daniel, or the more dangerous feelings that seem to exist between Bandette and her rival thief Monsieur. It's a great series, and I hope it's collected soon since it definitely deserves to be seen beyond its current digital-only format.

Reporter (Dylan Williams) - Dylan Williams was best known, before his passing a couple years ago, as the man behind Sparkplug Books, a small-press comics imprint that put out lots of fine, under-the-radar books over its years of operation. Williams was also a cartoonist and writer, and the Reporter series (started in the late 90s) was his most sustained work. It's a series of loosely connected tales centered around the town of Willoughby, set in 1956. Williams' influences are obvious, as he blends film noir and 60s European art films alongside a clear appreciation for old-school cartooning in the vein of Ditko or the EC stable. Much of the art is rough and shaky, though he gets better with each issue. His line is fairly thick and he favors lots of dense shadow, giving his pages a dense, raw, intense look. At times I'm reminded of British cartoonist Chris Reynolds, not a bad comparison point in general.

Coupled with Williams' bluntly philosophical dialogue and tendency towards pointed commentary in caption boxes, this aesthetic lends itself well to these tales of people trying to figure out their place in life, grappling with career and love and ambition and the workings of one's own mind. It's pretty good stuff. Issues 3-5 are interconnected in interesting ways: #3 shows the aftermath of a bloody robbery (very reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs); #4 shows the robbery itself, first in reverse and then again chronologically, all without words; and #5 is a flashback to the Korean War experiences of the robbers. The silent issue, #4, is a great concept that's executed a bit clumsily, but the rest of this interwoven tale is quite well done.

The highlight of the whole series is #6, the final issue, a standalone story based on Antonioni's La Notte, in which a couple — one half of which is Adam, a newspaper reporter and the closest thing the series had to a main character — go to a party and have some wordy but ultimately inconclusive conversations with the guests. It's fascinating because Williams is really risking alienation here, delivering all these lengthy dialogues about philosophy and choice and politics and religion, but instead of seeming pretentious he gets across how desperate these people are to understand themselves, how behind their grandiose words is a real desire to find meaning or a common ground with other people. No matter how much they talk, the other person in the conversation never understands, never agrees, because he or she is coming from an entirely different perspective. It's a great portrait of the ways in which we're all united in a quest to understand things, and yet separated by that gulf between our individual outlooks.

Reporter was a fine series, the work of an artist loaded with raw ambition and talent. It will now forever be unfinished, though its anecdotal structure never really seemed to be leading towards a concrete ending of any kind — what's more important, and sadder, is that the promise revealed in these pages will now never be realized, never be developed further.

Totems (Tom Peyer & various artists) - A one-shot released as part of Vertigo's pre-millennium V2K series. On one level it's basically Peyer's celebration of the Vertigo aesthetic and the characters associated with it, a massive party with Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Constantine, Robotman, Shade, and Black Orchid attending. Peyer was mostly associated with DC's mainstream universe, particularly with more lighthearted characters and series, so this was his opportunity to cut loose with something totally different. It's also a surprisingly poignant tale about how desperate some people are for meaning, excitement, something of substance in life — Peyer ties that desire to all the conspiracy theories and paranoid end-of-the-world hysteria that was in the air around the turn of the millennium.

His main character is an ordinary guy who grows obsessed with aliens and government coverups and all the other weirdness that some people want to believe is hidden beneath drab ordinary reality. In desperately pursuing these secrets and mysteries, he foresakes his own ordinary life, his family, the happiness he might have had from simply enjoying what was already in front of him instead of searching fruitlessly for something more. Apparently this was widely panned when it came out, but it's pretty fun, a slightly skewed, off-kilter look at all the Vertigo mainstays and the dark world they inhabit.

No comments:

Post a Comment