Small Press Round-Up (Part 1)

In an effort to catch up from Comic-Con, I thought I’d group a few short reviews together and just start blasting them out. I think I’ve got enough material for two or three of these posts, so stay tuned.

The Homeland Directive (Top Shelf): Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston deliver a strong package that intensifies the privacy vs. security debate in a post-9/11 world. The only real downsides to this project are that it reads very much like a movie pitch and in spots the dialogue feels overly staged and stilted. Huddleston’s artistic choices are particularly interesting. There’s an unkempt quality to the art that matches tonally very well what is transpiring. For example, when we’re introduced to the redheaded female assistant, her hair color is not quite contained within the lines of her figure. It’s like when a child colors outside the lines, and the effect is great. It isn’t quite contained, and that underscores the notion that factions of the government are equally a mess, operating outside their supposed charters. The narrative revolves around a manufactured epidemiological threat, in which currency is infected with a bacterial agent. Our CDC protagonist must find her way through a government conspiracy with the aid of agents from the FBI, Secret Service, and Bureau of Consumer Affairs (BOCA), an underutilized agency which is used to great affect in this taut thriller that hums with a sense of urgency. There’s convincing protocol around the manhunt and even some subtle nods, like Secretary Keene, which I assume is an Orwellian callout to Senator Keene of The Keene Act in Watchmen. With bold art and biting social commentary, The Homeland Directive is certainly one of my contenders for best of the year. Grade A.

And Then One Day #9 (Elephant Eater): Despite reviewing single pages online, this is the very first time I’m reading the print version in one sitting. Immediately, I understand that I very much still prefer the tangible object; I just don’t see myself as a digital comics guy. I like the feel, the smell, the contours of the paper. I need to feel the sensation that something is a literal objet d’art vs. something pixelized on a computer screen. It’s obvious that the artist’s hand is more present in a print copy, and that’s a necessary part of the experience for my particular taste. New to this is the intro page, and I’d forgotten how much I like Ryan’s intro pages. I enjoy the whimsical breakage of the fourth wall, it’s like talking to Ryan directly. Beyond me forgetting small flourishes like the awesome homage to different drawing styles like Crumb, the biggest noticeable difference was that it just reads more cohesively. The line of thought around the discussion is much more linear and direct without big time gaps between pages. I can see the point more clearly about the presentation of autobiography being skewed by whatever approach the artist chooses to take. Nothing is truly objective, you’re only getting the illusion of objectivity on a sliding scale. I still enjoy the bit about critical POV not being objective either, and the encouragement to critics to offer their critiques in the form of a comic! So, that’s my secret project idea, to write a review and then have Ryan illustrate the review. On page 14, there’s still an incorrect (for the US) British spelling of the word “arguement” with that extra “e,” where “argument” should stand. I also noticed that the book is funny! There are quite a few instances of humor when you add them all up. Once this three part saga is collected, it makes me wonder… what’s next for Ryan Claytor? Grade A.

The Escapologist (Self-Published): Simon Moreton has really been improving his craft lately, and The Escapologist is no exception. The style is full of his usual intricate fine line, with generous backgrounds and crosshatching technique on display. Where he really pours it on is the confidence with which he tells the story. There are several pages without any sort of dialogue, all capturing the disconnect between body and soul. It seems he’s fascinated by our ability to consciously experience the world around us with these different parts of our being. There’s even some suggestion that reality is merely an illusion, being a man-made construct. It’s a terribly quick read, but extremely thought-provoking, and I quite liked it. Grade A.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969 #2 (Top Shelf & Knockabout Comics): Man, the title just keeps getting longer and longer. I can’t say that my reaction to this book was very positive. I have no recollection of the events that took place in the first issue, which came out in, oh let’s see… May of 2009! I think $10 feels quite steep for this package. I still enjoy Orlando, and the art is great, and there was a very overt Rolling Stones reference, and something about contemporary artist Robert Irwin. But uhh, wading through this endless litany of literary references and ancient pop culture Easter Eggs is such a tiring chore. I feel like Moore is sacrificing story for flamboyant displays of his voracious reading habits. It’s just not fun. I have no idea what the objective of the characters is. Something about Haddo? And black magic? In London? I guess? There’s also lots of gratuitous tits and foreskin. To use the idiomatic parlance of the creative team, this book is “too smart by half.” Grade B-.


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