This Week’s Reading Round-Up : 10/15/2017 – 10/21/2017

Plenty to look at this week, so let’s dive right in —

Berserker #1 is a recent sci-fi anthology from Breakdown Press in the UK that seems to be aiming to combine the sensibilities of 2000 A.D. with those of American “alternative comix.” Edited by Tom Oldham and Jamie Sutcliffe, it’s an impressive 64-page volume with a high-gloss cover that’s printed on heavy paper stock and is roughly evenly split between comics and text pieces. On the comics front, far and away the strongest strip is Anya Davidson’s “The Night Timers In : No Rest For The Wicked,” the first installment of a topical and dynamic long-form series that successfully splits its attention between genre action and “real-world” social and economic concerns, while Jon Chandler (with colorist Sarah-Louise Barbett) contributes an interesting “virtual reality” conversation strip that comes up a bit short in terms of its execution in “Sword Of Sorcery,”, Lane Milburn’s “The Gig” serves up a nicely-illustrated and just-as-nicely scripted tale of a video streamer who’s working freelance for a decidedly unsavory content provider, Hardeep Pandal’s “Bang Bros” is batshit crazy in the best possible way (a pacifier-headed entity in a death race to the top of the Statue of Liberty? Wow!), “Odnal’s Pral” by Lando goes the wordless route as it delineates a surrealistic and highly imaginative sequence that demands the context that future chapters will hopefully provide, and Benjamin Marra’s “Drug Destroyers!” — well, it does what Marra pretty much always does, only far less successfully. Props to Leon Sadler for his interesting watercolor work on the strip, though.

Whew! As far as the text articles go, my favorite was Sutcliffe’s overview of Alan Jefferson’s amateur sci-fi electronic music opus “Galactic Nightmare,” complete with several previously-unpublished concept illustrations, but Sammy Harkham’s interview with visionary illustrator Robert Beatty ranks right up there, too, as does Phil Serfaty’s conversation with techno-biological artist Joey Holder. Adham Faramawy’s overview of Octavia Butler’s Xenogensis trilogy of novels is interesting, if foreign territory for me, and Peter Bebergal’s account of golems and his own attempt to create one has really gotta be read to be believed.

All in all a fascinating package sent my way courtesy of the aformentioned Ms. Davidson (thanks so much, Anya!) whose generosity, I assure you, didn’t sway my view in any way. I hope we’ll be seeing issue two before long here.

I wasn’t as impressed with Koyama Press’ collected edition of Sophia Foster-Dimino’s Sex Fantasy mini-comics as I gather I’m meant to be, given the absolutely glowing notices it’s received elsewhere, but that may be down to pure economics. As individual publications selling for a buck or two (or whatever) apiece, Foster-Dimino’s clean, smart, visually literate illustrations alone would be enough to justify the price, but for $18.00, this book, while certainly thick, offers very little value for money given that each page is taken up with a single-panel drawing. The material improves as the book progresses, with the first three issues/chapters being devoted to overly-cutesy celebrations of individuality, uniqueness, and the inviolate right to one’s own agency (all noble themes, to be sure, but as played-out at this point as intentional irony), the middle chapters/issues offering interpretative strips that touch more directly on subjects  connected to the publication’s title, and the last few coalescing into less-abstract and frankly thoroughly absorbing relationship narratives. I like what Foster-Dimino is doing, don’t get me wrong, but from here on out I think I’ll be picking up her ever-evolving and increasingly-challenging work in single installments.

Laura Kenins’ Steam Clean is another one that actually came out a few months back (courtesy of the Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics co-publishing venture) but that I’m just getting around to now, and it’s a reasonably evocative and absorbing piece about a group of queer women (as well as one individual in the midst of gender transition) who rent out a sauna for a private party and end up with an unexpected guest — the Latvian goddess of fertility. Kenins’ figure drawings are quite good and her use of colored pencils and pastels gives this 84-page (damn, I’m gonna say it, sorry in advance) graphic novel a unique and striking look, but her narrative is let down by some weird pacing choices, ill-handled scene transitions, and clunky, expository dialogue. The women have a lot to say — all of it important — about unfair challenges they face in the workplace, sexual harassment, and other subjects, but many don’t have much by way of an individual voice and Kenins seems to struggle not so much with what she wants to say but how she wants to say it. Worth a read, absolutely, but worth a buy at ten bucks? I can’t quite go that far.

Ditto for Hazel Newlevant’s Sugar Town (which has also been out for a month or two now), a genuinely charming little book from Alternative Comics that addresses issues of polyamory, BDSM, and relationships between bisexual and heterosexual partners with disarming frankness and honesty, and even weaves a bit of a spell over readers — but damn, it’s over all too quickly. Newlevant’s breezy, expressive, anime-influenced illustrations are fun and help put the reader at ease with unfamiliar (for square old-timers like me, anyway) situations fraught with fluctuating boundaries (to the extent they even exist), but each of the four “chapters” (which lead me to believe this was serialized elsewhere previously, probably online) is a two- or three-minute read, and $9.99 is a lot to pay for a comic that has just over 40 pages of story and art. I loved it, no question about that, but it’s not worth the hefty price tag.

Okay, that’s it for this week! Next time out I promise to try to keep things confined to “brand new” publications, if at all possible.

 

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