Monday, June 4, 2018

Escape the Cape Part 5 - Drama

This is the fifth article about comic books without superheroes.

Written by Peter Milligan and illustrated by Brendan McCarthy & Carol Swain
I always enjoy authors who write unlikable protagonists, and the guy in this book is certainly no traditional hero. Not only is he a deformed Thalidomide baby (a real condition) but he's also a skinhead. Yeah... this is a book about a crippled neo nazi.

It sounds terrible, and it is. But the great thing is that the book portrays this guy as both a victim you naturally want to empathize with, as well as the most disgusting asshole that you would beat the shit out of... had he not been a cripple.

It plays tricks with your mind, and might even make you reconsider some of your values. And is that not the mark of genius?

Fashion Beast
Written by Alan Moore & Malcolm McLaren and illustraded by Antony Johnston  & Facundo Percio
Okay, so I know Alan Moore is recognized as one of the greatest comic book writers in the world, with his Watchmen being hailed as the most influential graphic novel of all time. But let me tell you a secret: I think he's quite overrated. Everything he does is so heavy and self-indulgent that I often find his books a bit tiresome to get through.

So it's not without reason that the only comic of his that I've ever really liked, is the one book he actually didn't write himself. Fashion Beast was apparently actually a movie script Moore wrote sometime in the 80s, and it wasn't until Malcolm McLaren adapted it to a comic book that it became published. And what a good thing that was, 'cause this thing is friggin awesome!

It has the feel of a Tim Burton movie, with clear similarities to Edward Scissorhands. The plot revolves not only around fashion, but also around who we are and how what we wear defines us. There's also a whole clusterfuck of twists that always keeps you guessing who's who.

Paying for It
Written and illustrated by Chester Brown
On the more controversial side of things, we have this little book which details the author's true experiences with prostitutes. Tired of having to deal with all the troubles of romantic relationships, he just decides to start paying for sex instead, and is all the more happy for it.

Naturally, this sparked quite a bit of protests, with some people calling the author all kinds of nasty things. However, anyone who actually sits down to read the book will have to admit that he does make quite a few excellent points. And if you don't agree with them, you are welcome to partake in an open discussion, which was just what the author intended.

Essex County
Written and illustrated by Jeff Lemire
Jeff Lemire is a favorite of mine (his Sweet Tooth being a must read for any comics fan) and Essex County was his first big hit.

It's classic drama in its truest sense, with fantastic characters that you really care about. They go through life with ups and downs, and I wouldn't be surprised if you found the pages smudged by a tear or two.

His illustrations have a distinct minimalist style, which fits perfectly with the icy setting of the Canadian Essex County. So if you're a winter person, then this is definitely one to pick up, especially if you also happen to be into hockey.

Written and illustrated by Ed Brubaker
Here's another auto-biographical work that will shake you with its honesty.

It's a coming of age tale about a pretty messed up kid who you probably once used to know. Maybe you went to school with him, or maybe he kept chasing you through the playground, or heck, maybe you played this part yourself. In some form or another, we all knew that one guy who always got in trouble and kept saying the most horrific things at the worst times.

In short: A lowlife.

The great thing is that the author doesn't try to make excuses or paint certain episodes with rosy colors. Instead, it's a true story about all the shoddy kids will do while still figuring out who the hell they are.

Written by Blair Butler and illustrated by Kevin Mellon
Anyone who's into MMA, UFC and all that jazz, will find something of a hidden gem in this book. It tells the story of an up and coming fighter who gives it all to become the best.

Kind of like an illustrated version of Rocky, the great thing is that the comic book goes way beyond the victories, and dives into the darker side of competing professionally. Accepting failure and learning to know your limits is something these Hollywood movies always likes to skip, but that also makes this book all the more interesting.

I've got one more article to write about comic books without superheroes, but it might take me a while to finish it because it will be the longest one. You veteran readers of this blog might have already guessed which genre it will explore ;)

Friday, May 25, 2018

Escape the cape Part 4 - The funnies

This is the fourth article about comic books without superheroes.

Al's Baby
Written by John Wagner and illustrated by Carlos Ezquerra
So it turns out that the comic books about Judge Dread, is not actually about Judge Dread. That's right, both the original comic where he first appeared, 2000 AD, and even the titular Judge Dredd Megazine, are books filled with strange stories which often have little or nothing at all to do with the tough superhero.

Some stories are quite dramatic, while others border on horror, and yet others are pure fun. Al's Baby is such a tale, which blends mafia with male maternity. Think The Godfather mixed with Schwarzenegger's Junior and you're on the right track.

It's every bit as silly as it sounds, but also quite a bit smarter. And the whole thing has been collected in a stand-alone book that's available on Amazon.

Lenore - The Cutest Little Dead Girl
Written and illustrated by Roman Dirge 
This is one of those childish little treats that's not really meant for children. The titular Lenore fully lives up to her claim of being just as cute as she is dead, and she's accompanied by a set of strange friends which may or may not be supernatural.

It's a bit like Calvin & Hobes set in a Tim Burton world, with stories that often ends in messed up moral lessons. The writer also like to spoof famous fairytales and has a soft spot for Edgar Allen Poe, so don't be surprised if there's also a bit of poetic injustice.

Officer Downe  
Written by Joe Casey and illustrated by Chris Burnham
If guts and gore makes you laugh, then this comic is for you. Similar to the fantastic film Dead Heat, Officer Downe is about a zombie cop that keeps coming back to life.

This guy is not a exactly a good cop though, as he basically just goes around slaughtering anyone who stands in his way. It could have been just another over the top policeman series, but what makes it so fun is how the artist does shy away from showing the brutality in all its brilliance.

Apparently they also made a movie out of it, but from checking out the trailer, it looks like it's not at all the same gorefest as the comic. But please do tell me if you've seen it and think it's worth seeking out.

The Pro
Written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Amanda Conner
Even though this comic is actually about superheroes, it's more of an anti-superhero book, as the wonderfully crude Garth Ennis explores the genius concept: What if the person who was selected to wear a cape was not actually a goody two-shoes prude, but rather a tired old whore?

The whole thing is filled with dick-jokes and fart-humor, poking fun at the ridiculousness of the whole superhero genre. Ennis would later go on to expand on this whole idea in a much longer series called The Boys, which is also somewhat entertaining, but feels quite dragged out. So you're much better just jumping into this one-book deal, and get a quick laugh at all the silly spandex-people.

Everything Can be Beaten
Written by Chancre Scolex and illustrated by Crab Scrambly
Some weird kid with a mask is stuck in a cellar where he spends his days smashing little kittens with a giant hammer.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Killing kittens? That's not funny!"

But trust me, in this book it really is.

Written and illustrated by Ivan Brunetti
Onto the hardcore stuff.

Ivan Brunetti is not afraid to go to the depths of depravity and find humor in such dark places that you should probably be careful who you let see what you're reading.

The title is perfectly fitting, as we follow the insane ramblings of a fucked up psychopath, who is often uncomfortably relatable.

It is extremely text-heavy at times, with some whole pages filled with meaningless babble, but every once and a while he presents something which you can't stop laughing at, even though you know that you really shouldn't. Like this:

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Escape the cape Part 3 - The Beauties

This is the third article about comic books without superheroes.

Hard Boiled
Written by Frank Miller and illustrated by Geof Darrow
Have you ever heard the expression: "Read until your eyes bleed"? Well this book will pretty much redefine its meaning, as every page is an explosion of details that will take you hours to admire.

There's just so much stuff!

Here, have look for yourself:

Written and illustrated by brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
If Hard Boiled is full of details, then Daytripper is the polar opposite. Each panel tells exactly what it needs to do, while focusing on the beauty of its simple lines.

As the title suggest, the series is a trip. Or more precisely, it's a whole series of trips, as each of the 10 issues explores on a new story. All dreamy and engaging and wonderfully weird, with often tragic endings which fits perfectly with the beautiful artwork.

And if you want more, you should check out the rather similar book called De: Tales from the same guys.

Last Days of American Crime
Written by Rick Remender and illustrated by Greg Tocchini
Reading this 3-issue series is like walking through a magnificent art gallery. Greg Tocchini really puts the art in artwork, as each of his paintings is simply mind-blowing.

The story is quite pulpy and made me think of the fantastic sci-fi flicks of Paul Verhoeven. It also creates a fun contrast to the stylistic high-art.

And if you want more, then check out Tocchini's single issue Sequence Shot. Additionally, he does some fantastic work on the underwater-series titled simply Low.

Aladdin Legacy Of The Lost
Written by Ian Edginton and illustrated by Stjepan Šejić & Patrick Reilly
Anyone who's read Arabian Nights knows that Disney really raped Aladdin.

Luckily Radical Comics lived up to their name, and created a fresh adaptation of the story which is filled with monsters. There's rabid dogs, giant snakes and humongous sea monsters, in addition to the murderous genie.

The series is dark and violent and even sexy at times, creating a perfect fairytale for adults. And the artists obviously enjoyed themselves, as they must have spent ages laboring over each glorious panel.

Oink - Heaven's Butcher (Remastered 2015 Edition)
Written and illustrated by John Mueller
This little piggy went to the comics shop. And what he found there was pure splendor.

Oink is like a mix between Animal Farm and The Matrix, drawn in the style of Vincent van Gogh. And while the original publication was truly something else when it came out in the 90s, the creator kept getting so much feedback about it over the years, that he went back and redid the whole thing in even more spectacular style.

This remastered edition is so pleasing to the eye that it creates the perfect conversation piece whenever people asks about this particular book on your shelf.

Written by Brandon Graham and illustrated by Simon Roy
This series is perfectly described as "style over substance", and to be honest, I really don't understand much of what it's supposed to be about. Some heroic characters fly through space and do... stuff.

To add to the confusion, the story starts up at issue 21, with the preceding 20 issues seemingly about an entirely different character all-together.

However, the creative ingenuity of the artist just has to be seen to be believed, as he draws up alien worlds which feels truly alien. With so many movies and comics just portraying other planets very similar to earth, it's truly rare to find something filled with concepts which just boggles your mind.

So I guess it's only fitting that it's not entirely coherent.

Tokyo Ghost
Written by Rick Remender and illustrated by Sean Murphy
I cam hardly remember the story in this book. Something in the future... bla, bla, bla.

That doesn't matter though, 'cause the illustrations are what it's all about. It mixes machinery with samurais, sci-fi cities and gorgeous jungles into a whole new sexy genre of its own.

I mean, just look at this stuff:

Muse (2012)
Written by Denis-Piere Filippi and illustrated by Terry Dodson
Speaking of sexy: let's go all in (pun intended) with this fun steampunk erotica.

Muse tells the story of a woman who travels through famous fairytales, meeting midgets and monsters, cyborgs and sultans.

All that's beside the point though, as this book is just one big excuse to draw women in skimpy outfits. Luckily, that also happens to be one of my favorite things.

Because oooooh, do they look good!

The Wrenchies
Written and illustrated by Farel Dalrymple
Like an illustrated version of William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, this drug infused fable is utterly stuffed with beauty to the point of running over with minute details of wonder.

Sadly, the hallucinogenic symbolism doesn't stop there, as it’s just as incomprehensible. The story drowns in different realities and characters which continuously speak their minds before wondering if they just spoke out loud, or if it was all a dream.

However, the visual presentation is still some of the best artwork in comic book history, and you can pick any page at random and have an amazing experience getting lost in the scenery, if you just stop trying to make sense of it all.

Freaks of the Heartland
Written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Greg Ruth
Be sure to keep a handkerchief close by when reading this one. It's about a boy and his freak of a brother with superhuman strength. 

This superhuman is no hero though, as his mutated shape has his parents keeping him locked up in a barn. Of course it's only a matter of time before he breaks free, sending him off on a violent escape through prejudice.

You can read all sorts of political symbolism into it if you want, but personally, I just loved to get lost in the artwork.

The Arrival
Written and illustrated by Shaun Tan
I've saved the best for last, and this is somewhat of a hidden gem. A passion project of a single man, it took Shaun Tan four years to complete this surrealist story. And once you open the book, you'll quickly understand why it too so long.

The plot revolves around some unnamed character who comes to a new place where everything is alien. There's no text and you could easily run through the whole thing in a few minutes, but you will not want to. Because this book will dazzle you with some of the most brilliant drawings you have ever seen.

It's by far the most beautiful book I have read, so instead of saying anything more about it, I'll simply let this image speak for itself:

There's still more comics to talk about and the next article will focus on the ones which made me laugh.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Escape the cape Part 2 - Crime

This is the second article about comic books without superheroes.

Criminal - Written by Ed Brubaker

You can't talk about crime comics without mentioning the granddaddy of them all: Criminal. This classic series incorporates everything you love about crime stories, and packs it together into a fist of gritty noir.

There's lowlifes and hustlers, gangsters and dope fiends, and of course the obligatory femme fatale.

It's not revolutionary in any way, but rather an all-encompassing love letter to the genre, making meta jokes out of tropes you know all too well.

Stray Bullets - Written and illustrated by David Lapham

While Criminal portrays a semi-organized gangster world, Stray Bullets is, as the title implies, more about messy delinquents. There's drunkards, strippers, goons and general fuck-ups, with several innocent bystanders thrown into the mix.

If you ever checked out the movie At Close Range (and I really hope you did) then you have an idea of what kind of universe Stray Bullets explores.

Since it's produced by a one-man team, it's also a little bit rough around the edges. However, that actually works to its advantage, as it perfectly fits with the grimy characters.

I especially love issue 19, which tells the story of a girl we all once knew. Check it out.

Scarface: Scarred for Life - Written by John Layman

Who woulda thought that a comic book sequel to the classic 1983 film would be anything else than a belated cash grab? But Scarred for Life is actually way better than it has any right to be, much thanks to the great writing of John Layman.

The story picks up right after the end of the movie, and has Tony Montana survive the huge shoot-out, only to start building up his empire anew. The tone is rather light hearted, and it's actually quite funny at times, with fun nods to the movie.

There's also another comic sequel, titled Scarface: Devil In Disguise, but that does not have the same magic.

The Killer - Written by Matz

If you ever wondered what it was like being a hired killer, then look no further. This book almost works like a tutorial, as we get to know a methodical hitman on the job.

It's a very simple story which spends a lot of time having our hero waiting in a window with a rifle. However, the fact that something so simple can become so engaging, is only testament to its greatness.

It does derail after a while, and I would actually recommend just sticking to the first volume. But do check it out!

My Friend Dahmer - Written and illustrated by Derf Backderf

Now we're onto the darker stuff, as this comic tells the true story of what it was like going to school with real-life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

It's a coming of age story like no other, which tries to explore how such a depraved psychopath came to be. Because even though Dahmer himself is in no way portrayed in a positive manner, neither is anyone else. He's bullied at school, harassed by teachers, and tormented by a mother who is also off her nut.

The comic makes no excuses about anyone's behavior, and at the end of the day there's so many douche-bags in the story, that Dahmer was not the first suspect once people realized there was a killer in their home town.

The comic was also recently adapted to a movie, but that failed to capture any of the surrounding assholery, and made it into a more standard serial killer fare.

Why are you doing this? - Written and illustrated by Jason

Jason is a Norwegian writer with a peculiar minimalist style and a flair for classic noir-horror. He's made a whole bunch of brilliant comics, but after much deliberation, I've come to crown this as my favorite.

It tells the story of a man whose life is so boring that his girlfriend breaks up with him, right before he's entangled into a web of mystery and murder.

It's sad and funny, and surprisingly touching for a comic that makes a point out of not being interesting.

And if you like this one, you should be happy to know that Jason has a whole range of similar comics, most of which are just as good. I especially recommend checking out Emily Says Hello, from his anthology Low Moon.

Come back tomorrow to check out my a bunch of comics that are simply too beautiful to miss.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Escape the Cape Part 1 - Adventure & Sci-Fi

This is the first article about comic books without superheroes.

Y - The Last Man - Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Whenever adults get into comics, Y The Last Man is usually one of their first discoveries, and I was no different.

While the premise might at first sound like something you've seen before (every man on the planet dies, except one) what makes this comic so brilliant is that the whole thing is also a road-movie of sorts.

We follow the last man on earth as he travels the globe and sees how the surviving women try to cope on their own. There's murderous cults, lesbian man-ladies, samurais, pirates, zombies and astronauts, all sprinkled with a hefty dose of humor.

The whole thing is 60 issues long, but believe me, the series is so wildly entertaining that you'll sprint to the finish line way too fast.

 Transmetropolitan - Written by Warren Ellis
If you're a fan of either cyberpunk or Hunter S. Thomson, then this series is for you. Set in a not too distant future, a renegade journalist with the catchy name Spider Jerusalem is on a quest to expose corruption, while slapping people around and doing a lot of drugs.

Oh, so many drugs.

It's a colorful and freaky tale with all sorts of fun prophesies made in the innocent 90s. Still the series has aged extremely well (except for a few bulky laptops) and is often on point when describing the politics and censorship-hysteria of today.

Sweet Tooth - Written and illustrated by Jeff Lemire 

To say that Sweet Tooth is sweet, would be an understatement. Affectionately called "Mad Max meets Bambi", it tells the cutesy story of a mutant boy-deer who tries to find his way in a sort of post-apocalyptic winter-world.

But even though both the characters and illustrations are equally adorable, the story does not shy away from blood and violence. The result is a comic that is brutally awesome, but also manages to yank on your heart strings.

When I first started reading this, the series had not yet finished, and it was agonizing having to wait for the ending to get published. Luckily you can now fly through all 40 issues in a week. And trust me, you will.

Niourk - Written by Olivier Vatine

This is a bit of a rare one, but I highly recommend you make the effort and seek it out, because the story is fantastic!

It's another post-apocalyptic story where we follow an innocent kid through a desolate landscape.

Try to imagine Mowgli traveling to Planet of the Apes, and you might have an idea of what awaits you. The artwork is also quite amazing at times, as seen in this whole page spread:

The Incal - Written by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a filmmaker famed for his surrealistic movies, most notably the outrageous Holy Mountain. However, he's also written a whole myriad of comic books, of which The Incal series is arguably the most successful.

Part of that success comes from the artwork of the legendary Mæbius, who's illustrations are both simple and precise, as well as wild and imaginative.

The story is quite out there, and it continues across a whole set of spin-off series which tells the same tale from different viewpoints. I wouldn't say it's an easy read, as the weirdness sometimes gets a bit hard to follow. However, if you're searching for something that's the total opposite of your typical Hollywood fare, then look no further.

The Exterminators - Written by Simon Oliver

The Exterminators is much campier and light-hearted than the others I've written about here. However, it's also a sort of goofy satire, which I rather enjoyed. At least the first couple of books are quite on point, when we follow a couple of exterminators tasked with killing off a slew of cockroaches. And gradually we realize that maybe the cockroaches are not the pests.

The series got derailed somewhere along the way, resorting in faltering readers and a rushed ending that's not at all in line with the original tone. I wouldn't really recommend you read all 30 issues, but simply enjoy the first 10 or so, when it's still about exterminators and human cockroaches.

Trigrammaton - Written and illustrated by Kristian Hammerstad

The beginning of Trigrammaton is super-boring. There's a few people in a business meeting discussing old politics, and it's portrayed in a very bureaucratic fashion. It's like looking at a video of an ancient share-holders meeting, and you start to wonder what the heck it is you've gotten into.

Then, slowly but surely, things start to get weird. And weirder. And weirder.

Finally, you're time-travelling between dimensions filled with murderers, zombies and fucked up mutant babies. At the end of it all you'll wonder if someone slipped something into your drink.

As far as I know, the graphic novel has only been released in Norwegian, but here's hoping it will soon get translated so that the rest of the world can also go on this wild ride.

Gipsy - Written by Thierry Smolderen 

If ever you wished there was a sequel to the movie Big Trouble in Little China (1986) then look no further.

It follows a truck driver on his adventures through exotic countries, where he fights bad guys and has sex with beautiful women.

The stories are more raunchy and the characters more ambiguous than what you might be used to in American comics, which makes it all the more interesting. It also features wonderful brutality, creating a tremendously entertaining series akin to the great action films of the 80s.

(Yes, I know there is also an official comic book sequel to Big Trouble in Little China, but honestly... it's not very good.)

Missing your favorite non-superhero adventure comic? Please let me know in the comments.
And do come back to see more of my personal favorite non-superhero comics.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Escape the Cape: Intro

In these days of superhero mayhem, where every obscure man with a cape gets to save the world over and over in their own films (and subsequent sequels, prequels, reboots and threeboots) it seems like absolutely every comic book ever written were about the same goody-two-shoe muscle heaps in ridiculous outfits.

At least that's what I used to think.

And thus I never saw the appeal of the comic book medium, which I thought to be an extension of children's literature.

But as Hollywood made more and more money on these superhero flicks, the movies also got bigger and more expensive. This in turn meant that filmmakers had to whittle away any adult ingredients, to be able to fill the cinemas with children and thus make back their money.

So today, every single action movie has to be light-hearted, inclusive and safe. There can never be any blood or a single nipple, because that would apparently ruin the audience's fragile sensibilities. Always with the same strong female characters, diverse cast, positive messages, and a load of other bullshit which just serve to reduce these films to boring politics. And it's gotten so bad that there's nothing left but the infantile dadaism of the latest Avengers/Superman/Star Wars-extravaganza.

These aren't even films anymore, so much as animated colors flying across the screen. All with the same soulless "happy ending" tacked on, making Tinseltown akin to a back-alley masseuse which leaves you more ashamed than fulfilled.

However, as Hollywood continues this insane trend of forcing every action and sci-fi story into a PG-13 format, it also creates a huge crater in the pop-culture jungle they used to pump full of violent entertainment. And what was once edgy genres that relied specifically on shock and absurdities to comment on contemporary issues, have disappeared into a childish rabbit hole.

So where can adults go when they want to see messed up sci-fi and horror movies, like to the great classics of the 80s and 90s? In a state of bored desperation, I picked up a comic book. And to my surprise, I discovered that it was not about a man in spandex.

So I read another one. And another. And another.

And the deeper I went, the more I discovered that there is actually an abundance of comics which cater specifically to adults. For the first time in years I was filled with joy and inspiration, all thanks to remarkable graphic novels telling mind-revealing stories about the human condition.

Since comics are much cheaper to produce than movies, they also have room for being rowdy, ridiculous and explicitly violent. They can make pitch black jokes and laugh at the obscene, while at the same time be deep and thought provoking, without needing a voice-over to spoon feed explanations.

So in the next week or so, I will make a series of posts about the greatest comics I've come across sans superheroes. We start off tomorrow with all the best adventure and sci-fi comics.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

68 Kill (2017)

Did you love Cheap Thrills? Of course you did! So now you want more, right?

Well, that's exactly what 68 Kill is: More fucked up comedy gold, from Trent Haaga. This time around he not only wrote, but also directed the film, and will have you slap yourself silly with laughter, from things which really are no laughing matter.

I don't want to reveal much, but I'll just say that it has the funniest snuff scenes I've ever seen. So if that's something you think you'll be able to laugh about, then you've just found the golden goose.

Honestly, this was the best movie I saw in 2017. So don't miss out!


Friday, May 4, 2018

Freaks of Nature (2015)

Vampires, werewolves, zombies and aliens: This one's got it all!

At the same time, it's also a goofy high-school comedy with the standard "shy boy falls in love with hot girl"-storyline, reminiscent of John Cusack movies from the 80s. So whatever you're in the mood for, this film is sure to have you covered.

It obviously has a rather large budget with impressive production values for such a silly concept, and quite frankly I'm surprised the movie is not more talked about.

So take it for a spin, and do tell me what you think =)