At a book sale last year, I stumbled upon a haul of recently withdrawn graphic novels, including some very strange ones. They seem to have a very distinct feeling of homage, of nostalgia, or of parody, looking back to the great geek fads of the ‘80s, fantasy/sci-fi cartoon shows, D&D, over the top fights, overwrought dialog, superheroes, etc. All those adventures you can experience vicariously on a day where nothing really interesting is happening in the real world. So come into these weird worlds of monsters, robots, space ninja, and convoluted plots!
With their idiosyncratic art styles, purposefully naive story and dialog, and weird characterizations, these comics can be difficult to review. They are, for instance, extremely masculine. I think you can count the number of female characters who appear in all of them put together on one hand. On the other hand, none take themselves too seriously and, as celebrations of childhood obsessions, revel in their own bizarreness and adherence to genre tropes. I could see any one of these being some great mind candy for a hot summer afternoon, just like summer vacation or Saturday morning cartoons.
From the South African artist Joe Daly, Dungeon Quest is probably the strangest, crudest comic in the lot. Reminding me of an gloriously crass juvenile delinquent iteration of the classic SNES game Earthbound, Dungeon Quest meshes together classic TRPG style (random quests, bizarro monsters, stat blocks) with contemporary suburban malaise. Young chromed domed Millenium Boy dons his headband and underoos and sets out from his mom’s house looking for adventure, armed with his esoteric book “The Lands Beyond the Suburbs of Glendale.” Along the way, he joins up with some compadres, beats in the heads of monsters and muggers alike, gets magic items like the Brometic Pipe of Awareness and the Woolen Beanie of Insulation, and levels up. There is a strangely uncomfortable theme of homophobia with homoerotic overtones as characters seem oddly consumed with each other's penises and the sole female character, Nerd Girl, says nary a word. Guess that's par for the course for the adolescent gaming mindset, though!
Death-Day Volume One and Tiempos Finales are two comics by the enigmatic Twin Cities comic artist Samuel Hiti. Both have breathtaking and innovative art, full of intricate alien creatures and landscapes. Death-Day tells a story of military science fiction with a platoon of doomed space marines infiltrating dangerous alien territory against some unstoppable alien foe. Mixed in with the high tech combat is some philosophic discussion, but it is the art that really brings you into the story. The same is true of Tiempos Finales, my favorite of the comics I read; a strange, Southwestern infused occult thriller starring the demon hunter Mario Román, in mixed English and Spanish! The demons are horrible and baroque, the Western overtones suitably dynamic, and the desert and canyon landscapes lush. The only problem with these two books if that they are like lost chapters of longer works that don't seem to exist (at least, in this timeline)!
Beginning as a webcomic, American Barbarian is absurdly amusing Saturday Morning Cartoon '80s cartoon in print follows young red-white-and-blue haired Meric, the American Barbarian through his adventures in Post-Post Apocalyptic America, as he attempts to avenge himself on Two-Tank-Omen, a robot pharaoh with two tanks for feet who murdered his entire family and conquered his homeland. Yeah, I know, right? Things get even weirder from there, but Scioli's writing and art certainly don't take themselves seriously and things start to get seriously surreal; my favorite part is a distraught Meric carving the word R E V E N G E ! ! ! on his ten fingers to remind himself of his mission. It really does feel like some forgotten ‘80s TV-show with a line of weirdo toys that you can dig up on Youtube and say, “now I remember that, I thought I made it up!”
A spin-off of the Franco-Belgian Sword and Sorcery parody comic series, Dungeon: Monsters was also quite weird. A medieval fantasy world people by various animal people, mythical beasts, and plenty of magic, Dungeon I have not read any of the other books in the series, but I have read comics by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim before and their typically Gallic humor is displayed here. Like Dungeon Quest, a lot of D&D references show up, though the jokes here are a bit drier and darker, though still a bit misogynistic. To be honest, I was a little lost as the Monstres series deals with minor characters from the setting, and I haven't read any of the others- I'm sure a lot of the references and jokes went over me head here.
While I never was a fan of the Transformers growing up, Jeffrey Brown's affection and feel for the giant robot cars genre is infectious, and his kind of absurdist take on the daily lives, relationships, and emotions of such characters as Balls (a golf cart), Shootertron, Siren (a squad car), her lover Honkytonk, and Microwave (with his little buddies Soupy and Popper) is always a funny read, good for kids, adults, and adults who are kids. This send up of this seminal tv cartoon genre is nuanced and his art great for the action packed mix of epic gravitas and droll comedy; this mix showcases all of the weirdness and wit of the series.
Canadian James Stokoe had the most colorful, detailed, and vibrant art of any of the comics I read, with zany, expressive characters, organic looking technology, wild cityscapes and alien planets, and actually alien looking aliens ; there is a definite manga influence here, though Stokoe certainly has his own unique style; his comics are easily identifiable. There is a definite over the top pulpiness to Wonton Soup, which is complimented well by Stokoe’s dynamic, action-packed drawing style.
A pair of Space Truckers, the budding chef Jonny Boyo and his horndog buddy Deacon, travel the universe dodging space ninjas, encountering aliens friendly and grumpy, and sampling all manner of bizarre, space delicacies. There are cooking battles, high tech escapes, giant beasts, and absurdist, surreal humor. It it reminds me of some of the sci-fi anime series I used to watch on Cartoon Network, like Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop, in particular, with a healthy dose of Iron Chef, of course.
Jason Hall and Matt Kindt’s homage to the crime noir genre and radio dramas is a This highly stylized work follows a cast of typical noir characters, the hapless stooge, the private eye, the femme fatale, et. al., through a convoluted caper involving murder, money, and music- but is everything as it seems? The art here is the most abstract of the comics read for this, nearly impressonistic, the dialogue is clipped and no-nonsense, perfect for the hard boiled genre, and the character motivations full of shades of gray. The only issue may be a certain confusion about the complicated, recursive plot which involves a certain questioning of reality itself.
*Musical theme for entry: "Ready to Roll," Flashlight Brown, My Degeneration, 2003