Archive for September, 2009

Mini review of Manga Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on September 28, 2009 by comicmole

It seems life has taken away most of my review time of late, so rather than write a few semi-decent notes about a UK manga such as ‘Much Ado’ on my Goodreads page and promise myself I will write more here on Comic Mole at a later date (but then never get the chance), I will try to write a proper mini-review here instead, so sorry for the shortitude. (yes ‘shortitude’ is now a word..)

Note: this review was also written for REDEYE Magazine 2.2

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(William Shakespeare, adapted by Richard Appignanesi & illustrated by Emma Vieceli, 208 pages, A5 softback book, Self Made Hero, £7.99)

Benedick and Beatrice are old flames who are now at each other’s throats in an on-off battle of cutting remarks on each other’s characters. When Benedick and comrade Claudio come back from the wars, Claudio proceeds to fall madly in love with Hero, daughter of the local governor. The villainous Don Jon has other plans though, meaning to put a stop to Hero and Claudio’s wedding using trickery. With a backdrop of hijinks as police constable Dogberry investigates what is really going on between Hero and Claudio (with a fake death thrown in for good measure), another plot is hatched; this time to see Benedick and Beatrice fall in love and marry happily…

If you couldn’t already tell from the somewhat convoluted plot description, ‘Much Ado’ is one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies. I might not have been able to successfully bring it across in so few words, but the pacing and story elements of this play really complement each other. Yes, it’s a collection of crazy antics and melodrama, but it never falls into confusion and always remains amusing to read.

Unfortunately, as I’m not a scholar of English Literature, I can’t comment on Richard Appignanesi’s adaptation of the original text to comic form. However, I can say that Emma Vieceli’s artwork suits this particular play very well. Emma’s character designs appropriately pick up on each character’s unique personality traits. The strong and witty Beatrice keeps her hair done up out of the way and has a slightly more sharp look to her face than the beautiful Hero, who keeps her hair down and flowing, and has larger, more ‘girly’ features. The artist’s light touch with the pen throughout also suits the comic’s sunny setting of period Italy.

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The production values for ‘Much Ado’ are very high. It has glossy, full-colour covers and interior pages are printed on good-quality white paper. If someone wanted to use this book for study purposes (i.e. read it through many times, scribble notes in the margins etc.) it seems like it would hold up well to that treatment, whereas a book printed on the newsprint-style paper you get with a lot of mass-market manga wouldn’t.

PWANDA! from Dimensional Entertainment

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , on September 22, 2009 by comicmole

This is a lengthened ‘director’s cut’ version of a short review originally written for REDEYE magazine issue 2.2

Created by Dil, 300+ pages, A5 digest format, Dimensional Entertainment, £9.99

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In a fantastical land beset by demonic powers from other worlds, one small village holds the key to stopping them:  the pyramid vortex.  When the village is all-but-destroyed by the sorcerer Adurag, presumably not from another world but still bent on using the pyramid vortex for his own evil whims, a young villager called Hoshi becomes determined to help his people.  He is ordered to guard the village rather than leave on an epic quest, but Hoshi is distracted on one of his rounds by a small panda-like creature: Dipsyfear, the Pwanda.

Hoshi was told that if he went outside of the protective influence of the pyramid vortex, he would go mad.  After chasing the Pwanda all the way out of the village, he hears a voice telling him not to be so sure of the teachings of his people, and not to be afraid of seeing what else the world might have to offer.  Thus begins the adventures of Hoshi: across many realms, and befriended by an assortment of Pwanda allies.

Overall, ‘assorted’ seems like a good word to describe Pwanda.  What makes the comic unique is the sheer amount of different cliches, parodies, crazy character designs and crazier situations that are present, all tied together with a massive dose of off-the-wall philosophical ramblings.

“’You’ are now inside your oneness…the point of creation.  At this level, everything in existence is connected…you have access to all knowledge and understanding beyond your structured mind…” – pgs. 136-137

Unfortunately the main thrust of the comic – the parody element – wasn’t made evident straight away.  My initial impression of the comic was that it was pretty much a collection of tired clichés that lacked in enough comic exaggeration to distinguish them otherwise.  The creator uses an incredibly mainstream main character design coupled with some well-trodden storytelling methods: Hoshi is a young man with spiky hair and a giant sword, a la Bleach’s Ichigo Kurosaki or Final Fantasy’s Cloud Strife, and chapter one includes a section where a character who had passed away comes back to speak to Hoshi via clouds in the sky, as played seriously in The Lion King and subsequently famously parodied by The Simpsons several years ago.

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It becomes more evident that the comic is trying to be funny at around page 15, but overall throughtout Pwanda the main stumbling block is that it doesn’t know whether it’s a goofy parody comedy, or an introspective philosophical epic. The comedic style reminded me in part of zany anime series such as Excel Saga or Abenobashi Magical Shopping Arcade, but incongruously mixed in with a dose of Ghost in the Shell (if Ghost in the Shell had been written by someone a lot younger and more naive than Masamune Shirow).

“My biggest goal began by creating stories that no-one else has ever seen.  Through this exploration I discovered that there were big fundamental points and concepts that I wanted to share with people – like the importance of showing you that a structured/complex mind is not necessarily as good as having a simpler mind like [the Pwanda] Dipillow.  This is probably the reason why there is so much war and conflict in the world today” – pg. 289, from the creator interview at the back of the book.

Initially the idea of a book like Pwanda seems like it would make for an interesting (or at least different) read.  However, the writing style often involves a very large amount of words per page, which slows the pace of the comic and makes it come across as clunky.  Sometimes its actually hard to tell if the writer is being serious or whether it is part of the parody, such as the massive overuse of quote marks, or passages like this:

“…stepping outside of the range the vortex held for many years, would make you insane, mad and even hallucinate!” – pg. 21

In the past, storytelling master Ozamu Tezuka managed to mesh comedy with philosophy in works such as ‘Black Jack’, but unfortunately in Pwanda they act a little like oil and water.  Crazy situations and cutesy Pwandas mix uncomfortably with long, wordy sections detailing the thinking behind Hoshi’s journey.

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Though it hasn’t been 100% successful, it is still nevertheless admirable that Pwanda’s creator has set out to make a comic that has a little more depth than a run-of-the-mill comedy.  If creator Dil really wants to share some more fundamental and eye-opening concepts with his audience in the future, along with trying some new genre-bending experiments in writing, I can’t say that would be a bad thing for indie comics on the whole.  It would certainly be more interesting than some of the generic ‘lets pick a popular genre and make somthing similar to what’s already out there’ style small press comics you can get.  What I would hope that he would do though is learn from the audience’s reaction to books like Pwanda, perhaps read more comics that include philosophical elements, and work out how authors like Shirow manage to include these aspects in their work whilst still retaining readability.  Its a difficult thing to do, and personally I don’t think even Shirow managed to come across as particularly readable by Ghost in the Shell 1.5, but that doesn’t mean that creators should stop trying.

The art team should certainly keep at it, they’ve done a good job (the front cover says ‘created by Dil’ but it was drawn by 3 different artists and a letterer).  On the whole, compared to quite a few other small press works, the art is a solid effort.  The proofreading is also very good, there are barely any spelling or grammar mistakes in the book.  The cute mascot Pwandas themselves could have had more personality injected into their designs (vacant stares are a bit scary for supposedly adorable characters), and there are also some anatomy and proportion problems here and there with the characters and animals (e.g. wolves with human shoulders), but there are also a lot of very imaginative page layouts, and the pacing of the panels never falls into a rut.

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Once you get to the end of the main story there are many pages of extras at the back of the book (I count over 110, though admittedly 34 of those are a bonus side comic).  Now usually I’m a big fan of extras: a page of notes by the author or some character design sheets adds to the unique personality of a small press comic.  However, with this many pages devoted to them it feels a little like padding the size of the book.  Some of the extras are quite interesting: there’s a one-page explanation of Dimensional Entertainment’s storytelling ‘Dimensions’ and a 4-page interview with creator Dil to get your head around, although the interview might have come across better as an author’s notes section written directly by Dil himself – I’ve not seen a lot of creators interviewed in their own books before.

If reading lots of text-heavy extras isn’t your thing, the bonus comic ‘Quantum Sheep’ by Philip Knott will probably appeal to you.  The comic is an amusing and cute read about quantumly displaced gruff-looking sheep appearing all over the place, and is really quite entertaining.

Apart from these, some of the more redundant extras include about 20 pages of character profile information, 12 pages of ads, and 13 pages of ‘Dipillow’s Dictionary & Encyclopedia’.  This covers a silly-sounding language that was made up for the Pwanda character Dipillow.  The language harks back to Star Wars’ Jar Jar Binks and is incredibly annoying.  Words are either cutesified, e.g. ‘rock’ = ‘wocky’, or just said with a lisp, e.g. fish = fithy or sausages = thotheetheeze.

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Pwanda is presented in chunky tankoubon format.  It’s a professional-feeling production: a little smaller than A5, about the same size as a standard Tokyopop manga volume and a bit thicker.  It has glossy colour covers.  Interior pages are printed in black and white on newsprint-style paper. The comic is marketed as a “Feature: a whole movie storyline in a book”.  This doesn’t seem to address the fact that a decent-sized comic should be able to cover at least as much storyline detail as you could fit into a movie, usually more, so its a bit weird – are they saying that they consider movie storylines to be better than comics? And they consider this a viable way of marketing to an audience of comic-lovers?

Personal confusion aside, I can’t say that many readers would enjoy this book at face value.  The artwork and production values are nothing to be sniffed at, but the storyline and writing style let them down: the adventures of Hoshi and the Pwandas which parody films and video games don’t mesh well with the more wordy philosophical elements of the book.  However, that said I found at points that the book made me think.  I wondered about what the creator was really trying to say underneath the waffle, and why he chose to say it in the way he did.  I then wanted to talk about it with those around me so I could better understand my own thoughts on the matter.  So in conclusion, if you’re after a solid story that’s a lot of fun to read, don’t buy this comic.  But if you don’t mind a challenge (and perhaps want to annoy those around you with some rants about philosophy and storytelling), then give it a go.  At the very least it will probably be quite different from anything else you’ve read recently.

Elephant, Elephant, Hippo, Rhino…? by Mary Beaird

Posted in Review with tags , , , on September 6, 2009 by comicmole

(This review was originally written for REDEYE magazine issue 2.2)

By Mary Beaird marybeaird@hotmail.com , 24 pages per issue (3 issues available), A5 booklet format, Panic Room Comics, £1.50/issue

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‘Elephant, Elephant, Hippo, Rhino…?’ (or ‘EEHR?’ for short) is a comic strip series about a long-suffering Rhino called Dave and his hyperactive neighbour, Keanu the tapir.  They live in zoo enclosures that face each other, and somehow manage to cause rather more chaos than you’d expect.

The strip sits comfortably between being cynical and adorable.  Jokes are often intelligent and deadpan, but they are coupled with super cute characters that should appeal to a wide audience.

Stand out strips are ones that bring in completely unexpected references, such as ‘Schrodinger’s Tapir’, or completely mad circumstances, such as when cute-yet-icky aliens invade on a slow day at the zoo.

The way the zoo and characters are drawn is incredibly simple and graphical.  The basic positioning of the two main characters remains almost entirely the same throughout each issue of the comic.  However, whereas in other styles of comic this might not work, EEHR? is a gag strip so the art suits it – any more complicated and it might get in the way of the punch lines.

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Writing-wise, for the geek contingent there are references to films, TV series and anime to look out for.  However these are mixed in with enough gags based on more general subjects to keep non-geeks happy too.  There are also handy dandy facts about rhinos and tapirs scattered throughout each issue.  These are a unique touch that make you realise that the author didn’t just choose her characters randomly – she really does have an interest in rhinos and tapirs.

Each issue is printed clearly on good quality white paper with colour covers printed on light card.  The lettering is always readable and at the right size for the comic.  Extras include: character profiles in issue 1, an introduction by Helen McCarthy (of ‘Anime Encyclopedia’ fame) and extra rhino and tapir facts in issue 2, and a ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ Q&A session with Mary in issue 3.

EEHR? is not an epic, but if you have a random 5 minutes to spare, or if you’re feeling tired or down, this is just the kind of comic to enjoy as a pick-me-up – it’ll put you in a good mood.