Monday, 19 April 2010

Oh My God, That Volcano Killed Comics!

UK retailers have been told that they will not receive US comics with their deliveries this week thanks to the volcanic prison cloud blanketing the UK. The delivery has not been able to make it to our island shores from the US. As you will no doubt be aware, US imports make up the vast majority of any given week's new comics. This is not very good news. This is even worse than the impending volcano-fuelled banana shortage.

No-one likes a pessimist, though, so I'm turning to the silver lining on that black, lightening-tickled ash cloud. I will be taking the opportunity to catch up on my reading backlog - namely the graphic novels and TPBs I've been meaning to get around to but haven't because I'm usually too swamped by singles. I've got The Beats, written by Harvey Pekar, to finish. I also want to try out DC's R.E.B.E.L.S., mostly because I've recently been turned on to Andy Clarke's art by Batman and Robin. I also intend to hassle Jared at OK Comics (my sometime workplace) to tell me about something good I haven't read. I've never really ventured into porn comics, for example.

But, enough about me. In the spirit of nerd camaraderie in the face of the Great Comics Drought of 2010, I'm also going to put up a series of posts recommending GNs and TPBs to fill the void. Many of them will be culled from my past Leeds Guide Columns, so if you read those already you should go back to surfing for pictures of Karen Gillan.

First up, awesome hipster douche comics (superhero stuff to follow). It's Asterios Polyp:

Anyone seen David Mazzucchelli anywhere? No? That’s because he’s been out in the comics wilderness, casting aside his superhero roots (Batman: Year One, Daredevil, both with the celebrated Frank Miller) and crafting a work that stands as his magnum opus.

Asterios Polyp (Pantheon, £24.99) is a beautiful, whimsical and highly intelligent original graphic novel recounting the life of its namesake (yes, that’s the name of a person). If I was forced to sum up what it’s about, I’d say that it’s about an architect who forged himself a career and reputation based on a series of designs for buildings that have never been built, before dropping out of his life to rebuild it from the ground up. If you caught me in a more reflective (or pompous, you choose) moment, however, I’d tell you that it’s an investigation of the point at which art intersects with life. It's about everything.

Mazzucchelli uses the space offered by his first OGN to probe the form of comics with an eye for storytelling that's both impeccably precise and warmly endearing. His panels flow seamlessly into one another with what appears to be casual ease, but closer inspection reveals that there's not a line in the entire book that isn't there for a reason. His art style and colour palette change constantly throughout the book, but the changes blend so perfectly with the story beats that, as with great special effects, you probably won't think to question them.

While Mazzucchelli has devoted painstaking attention to the mechanisms he employs to move us through the story, don't think that Asterios Polyp is a slave to form at the expense of content. As the cartoonist goes about enamouring us with a man who should be unlikeable, he takes us wandering down paths that effortlessly weave the 'real' with the decidedly surreal and cross the tracks of art, architecture, philosophy and religion.

If there’s a complaint to be made about Asterios Polyp, it’s about its length. It weighs in at a hefty 344 pages, but they’re 344 fast pages. Still, it's a read that justifies the asking price and won't soon slip out of your gently massaged brain.

If you have any recommendations of your own, please go nuts in the comments. Also: !!!

(Also: volcano pic from here).

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