Reviews and commentary #3… Tim Bollinger and Leo Hupert

My Absolute Favourite Comic At The Moment

by Tim Bollinger

Lucky Aki

‘Lucky Aki in the Stone Age’, by Barry Linton

Auckland comic writer/artist Barry Linton is an autodidact – a self-educated artist. But then, that’s not so unusual in New Zealand comic book circles, where self-published comics are the norm. What is unusual about Linton is the extent to which he immerses himself in his material, the exacting standards he applies to get his stories and artwork technically ‘correct’, and the length of time he has been working on his (now sizable) body of comic work, dating from the mid-70s, much of it unpublished.

This 40-page comic from 2003 is just the first in a series of (so far) three volumes. Its sequel ‘Aki in Tiko’ featured in an exhibition at the Centre of Contemporary Art (or CoCA) in Christchurch in 2008 (see: http://www.coca.org.nz/exhibitions/56/), and the third volume, ‘Aki Marini’ (or ‘Aki at Sea’) – a promised full 140 pages – is still in progress.

Yet the only copy I have is a self-published ‘bootleg’ of the artist’s original. Linton’s comic artwork is an immaculate collection of clear cross-hatched lines and full-body blacks, while the story describe the somewhat prosaic ‘adventures’ of a Neolithic youth sailing around the oceans of prehistory, with a strong sense of journey, mapping and maritime technology.

Linton has never travelled outside New Zealand (and rarely beyond his own doorstep these days) but immerses himself in the world he describes. Through his character Aki, he builds boats, sails the oceans and explores vanished island geographies of his own creation.

Lucky Aki

Anyone familiar with Linton’s early work (see ‘Fem lib I do’, now part of Auckland Art Gallery collection: http://collection.aucklandartgallery.govt.nz/collection/results.do;jsessionid=9CCA449B06BCA4E4686550833C7E4BE0?view=detail&db=object&id=12824) may be surprised at the length of the ‘Lucky Aki’ narrative, as well as its complete absence ‘sexual’ content, so prevalent in many of Linton’s other comics. In the ‘Aki’ series, the artist has traded sex for sailing. The maritime technology of the ancients is lovingly described in obsessive detail, right down to the cut out model boats in the inside back pages.

Lucky Aki

His treatment has the grandeur of a mini-epic. These are not ‘big’ stories, but the concepts are vast.

There are many possible reasons why these comics have not yet found a commercial home. It is not a commissioned work and has no apparent market audience. It is not a ‘gen-x’ comic that might be hip with the kids, nor the sort of ’old school’ underground fare bought up by the older, more wealthy comic-buying public. Like R. Crumb’s retelling of the Bible, ‘Aki’ is an exercise in self restraint, and the pace and lack of easy ‘pay-offs’ for the reader make it a strangely comparable work.

But it’s a comic that’s worth reading, and until it finds its way past a photocopier near you, you’ll have to be satisfied with these few meagre excerpts.

Lucky Aki

Lucky Aki

There’s also a sprinkle of other Linton artwork peppered across the net, some of which I’ve linked to in this story. Here are a few others:

David Eggleton: ‘Letter to Barry Linton’ Published in Dunedin 1979: http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/authors/eggleton/epistles02.asp

‘Lucky Aki in Tiko’ 2008: http://www.coca.org.nz/artists/73/

Selected ‘Red Mole’ posters (c.1980s):
http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/authors/brunton/brief/rmposters2.asp
http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/authors/brunton/brief/rmposters4.asp
http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/authors/brunton/brief/rmposters6.asp
http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/authors/brunton/brief/rmposters8.asp
http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/authors/brunton/brief/rmposters11.asp
http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/authors/brunton/brief/rmposters14.asp
http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/authors/brunton/brief/rmposters15.asp

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Some other recent local favourites:

‘Arrow Town’ and ‘Peach 101’ by Sam Thomas

This young Aucklander’s comic books read like Timothy Kidd on ‘art’. The artists has an apparent liking for Hokusai-style turbulent seas and disconnected characters, all drawn with a thick felt nib. These evocative, if meandering stories capture a certain home-made comic book magic of their own. Check him out at the High Seas (website, bookshop and venue): http://blog.thehighseas.co.nz/2009/11/sam-thomas-city.html

 Sam Thomas

‘Pig’ by Jerome Bihan

Continental-kiwi cross-over, Jerome Bihan has injected new life into the Auckland underground comics scene. When he’s not editing Fleet FM’s ‘Radio as Paper’, Bihan does comics of his own like this one.

Jerome Bihan

Some more of Bihan’s work can be seen in pictures from the recent Wellington launch of ‘Radio as Paper #3’, along with the work of other contributing comics artists, here: http://awrycomics.blogspot.com/

‘Sour Service’ by Imogen Taylor

True accounts of waitressing in Auckland eateries by this very good and funny artist, Taylor’s latest effort does not appear to be available online. Still, you can try asking them for it at Cherry Bomb Comics, where her earlier ‘Why Women Have Kittens’ can still be found: http://www.cherrybombcomics.co.nz/shop/why-women-have-kittens-2-p-45.html.
Taylor also does some of their publicity material (see scanned flyer below)

 Imogen Taylor

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Che

Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon
Published by Hill & Wang
$48.95

reviewed by Leo Hupert

ChePicking up the book Che I did what I often do with graphic novels and comics — put it back on the shelf. It’s happened so many times, sucked in by the cover, the promise of something interesting, and then disappointed by the interior not being, in my opinion, up to scratch. I don’t care if the blurb says it’s by the New York Times bestselling authors of The 9/11 Report.

The dust jacket blurb also says Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon’s book ‘gives a galvanizing portrait of Ernesto Che Guevara de la Serna’ and the ‘beautifully rendered’ biography captures his entire life. It must be using a definition of galvanizing I’m unfamiliar with and the beautifully rendered term must apply to the actual book – a lovely 100pp 16cm by 24cm hardcover published by Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It is printed in the US and sells for $48.95 here and $22 in the US.

Jam-packed with information the book covers Che’s much touted so-called formative consciousness-awakening motorcycle trip through some of South America in a mere 11 pages. The Walter Salles directed movie took two hours to cover the same trip. The book of the same name made the New York Times best seller list on a number of occasions and obviously would be a more comprehensive source for information about Che Guevara.

Fifteen pages of Che have been devoted to a synopsis of the political machinations of South and Central America that lead to the situation Che found himself in in the 1950s with a few more pages providing background explaining the Cold War mentality, more background covering the non-aligned nations and yet more covering Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin, and of course a few more pages on the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s a lot to cover. The United Fruit Company, US copper miners in Chile, US intervention in local politics particularly with the building of the Panama Canal understandably enraged Che and fuelled his anti-US rhetoric.

Che, in spite of suffering severe asthma attacks, appears to have lead a charmed life. He was, judging by this book, lucky in all things – love, money, health, contacts, looks, fighting – but his luck turned after Fidel Castro sent him to Africa. It was not clearly stated if either Fidel or Raul Castro saw him as a threat and got him out of the way – or that his forthright comments about the duties of socialist countries to underwrite the fight for liberation annoyed Russia in particular. Consequently Che lost his role as a speech-making revolutionary acting as Castro’s ambassador, and found himself in Africa.

Jacobson’s writing saves this book. Considering the huge amount of information needed to explain the life and times of Che Guevara he has painted a better picture with his words than Colon has with his artwork. Sort of a reverse of the Chinese adage that a picture is worth more than a thousand words.

Jacobson and Colon have collaborated on such titles as Diary of Anne Frank, Vlad the Impaler, After 9/11, and Harvey Classics 2: Richie Rich to mention a few, but I suspect they all, due to Colon’s uninspired artwork, have that boring Classic Comic look. I thought the art flat and dull. Some panels stand out from the rest of the page – or, more likely, a panel would be ruined by a bad background. I feel bad rubbishing artwork that is far better than anything I could produce, but I have to say I think Colon can do better.

The book tells us how Guevara got his nickname Che, but fails to mention how most of us know and saw Che, and that is from the legendary poster published shortly after his death in Bolivia in 1968. The iconic image was created by Jim Fitzpatrick from an Alberto Korda photograph of Che at a memorial service in Havana, Cuba, in 1960, when Che was 31. Fitzpatrick attributes the poster’s phenomenal spread throughout the world to the fact he made the image copyright free. However the striking red and black image had a practical benefit – it was really easy to silkscreen.

The image has been named the world’s most famous photograph, and the claims have been made that it is the most reproduced photographic image of all time. In view of this it seems odd that it doesn’t get a mention in the book. In fact its omission perhaps provides insight into what value the creators of Che place on the visual image.

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Wonderful World 1 & 2

Carlos Wedde
$5

Reviewed by Leo Hupert

Wonderful WorldNot long ago I visited a friend in Los Angeles and took off west in search of the North Rim of The Grand Canyon. Among things I stumbled across was the Hoover Dam, that lake near Page where they filmed some of the original Planet of the Apes (the only one worth seeing), Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River, Las Vegas and lots of trails winding down into the Grand Canyon.

So many times I saw scenes from either movies or could imaginatively place in comics — Carl Barks’ Seven Cities of Cibola searching for arrow heads springs to mind. Bought some stone arrow heads, two for a dollar – not real ones mind you, these were made in Mexico. Real ones would raise archeological antiquities issues as I was earnestly told when asking after real arrowheads. Even after all these years since reading the stories ( or watching the films) the experience of seeing these places seems to add an extra layer, a greater depth, to the original story.

The in-flight movies on our return included Next, set in places we had just been to and back here Transformers came out. Jumper left someone stranded on Horseshoe Bend. New Zealanders have recently experienced this dimension of personal experience enhancing a film with the activities of Peter Jackson and a few others. As you probably know people come over here and tour the sites where LOTR was shot. And it wouldn’t surprise me if the number of claimed LOTR film sites continues to grow.

I doubt that anything like this has been conveyed to readers of Che, though the opportunity was there, but it certainly has been in a small comic by Wellingtonian Carlos Wedde. Published in 2004 (I’m sorry it took me so long to get to it) The Wonderful World 1 and 2 portrays student life in Wellington.

The 10cm by 15cm format is small but well worth the $5 read. Flatmates are looking for a new flatmate and it all has a very familiar ring to it until…. The story is full of puns and clever and witty lines. I don’t want to give anything away so you’ll just have to try and find a copy.

What I like about Wedde’s comic apart from the fact that he likes to use a lot of black, Wellington’s favourite colour, is that he has used photographs in the comic. He has blended well-known and easily recognised scenes into the panels. Not so many in the first issue but a few more in the second issue. It’s a good job with a good storyline and I look forward to finding further issues, somewhere.

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Insomnia Café

M.H. Perker
Published by Dark Horse
$33.95
Reviewed by Leo Hupert

Insomnia CaféAlso out in in black and white is a new graphic novel by Turkish illustrator and New York Times and New Yorker contributor M K Perker. The book, a hardback Dark Horse publication the same size as Che with slightly fewer pages, is called Insomnia Cafe. Unfortunately it is printed in China.

Insomnia Café tells a story about rare book expert Peter Kolinsky, an unlikeable character, who finds himself in a boring job after getting the sack from a reputable auction house after he was discovered having business associations with a dodgy lot. One sleepless night he finds the Insomnia Cafe, a place where you can get a cup of terrible coffee if you’re having trouble sleeping, and meets a woman. She introduces him to a strange and secret library called the Archives and all hell breaks loose when he steals one, the dodgy lot want him to do some more work for them, the police are after him and his boss just wants him to turn up to work on time.

Those who try to befriend him get treated badly. Sure he’s under a lot of pressure but he does make some bad decisions. However it’s all in keeping with the story and even though the action takes place in the America (I guess) it feels like the Continent.

Perker has drawn Air for Vertigo and Cairo also for Vertigo. His work has a distinct European atmosphere and is thoroughly engrossing in both black and white and colour.

Insomnia Café

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The Amazing Spider-Man Election Day Collection

$12.50
reviewed by Leo Hupert

spidermancartoonThose of you who frequent a particular comic shop in Wellington’s Cubacade will probably have noticed a special deal sitting quietly on the shelves. They have copies of The Amazing Spider-Man Election Day collection for only $12.50 (pretty much the cost of the airfreight). This hardback book normally sells for $US29.99. It reprints Amazing Spider-Man issues 584-588, including a special Inauguration Day edition ‘Spidey Meets The President’ from #583 and a President’s Day special ‘Gettysburg Distress’.

The Spider-Man storyline is about an election in New York. Marc Guggenheim wrote the first three, Zeb Wells wrote Spidey Meets the President and Matt Fraction wrote Gettysburg Distress. Artwork is by John Romita Jnr, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Patrick Olliffe, Marcos Martin, Todd Nauck and Andy Macdonald. Lots of others were involved with inks, colours, letters etc.

Now, if you’re like me and haven’t read Spiderman for sometime you might well be surprised by the Spiderman stories both with art and storyline but ‘Spidey Meets The President’ is lame – about what you might expect to find in a breakfast cereal box giveaway aimed at pre-schoolers. The ‘Gettysburg Distress’ cutely pictorialises Abraham Lincoln’s 278-word Gettysburg Address. Thankfully it’s a nice presentation lacking only some stirring patriotic backing music. I haven’t got a harsh word to say about it – so I should have no trouble getting back into the States sometime in the future.

spidermancartoon

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ENDS