Time seems to be a great sieve, separating the valuable from the trash. This is often true whether one is thinking of music, literature, art, oratory, or architecture: that which lasts the test of time seems to be the great and the magnificent. While certainly not always true, this rule can help with music (think of the greats: Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky) and you will rarely be disappointed. In the realm of art, look for Hokusai, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and others, and likewise we are rarely left with anything but admiration. I have also found this to be true in the realm of comics (albeit the medium is much younger than the aforementioned). Following this train of thought, I recently began rereading the series “Asterix and Obelix” first published in 1959. Featuring a fearless duo of Gauls who resist Caesar and his Roman army, Volume 1 opens with the friendship of Asterix and his friend Obelix being established, the introduction of the village druid Getafix, the village bard Cacofonix, and many other characters (including Roman legionaries Crismus Bonus and Ginantonicus). Below is a brief introduction to the series I wrote a few years back. Enjoy!
In the vein of older European comics, which was introduced with Tintin, I now present Asterix. Asterix is an entertaining comic series written by R. Goscinny and A. Uderzo. Both men were born in France and published the Asterix stories in French publications. The comics follow (big surprise!) Asterix and his friend Obelix, two Gauls who live in a small village surrounded by Roman legions. They spend their days eating boar, hurling menhirs, smashing Romans, and having many adventures.
Even though the stories were originally published in French, the dialogue is still very clear and witty in translation. The stories make plentiful use of wordplays in the dialogue, and all the names carry some humorous reference to the character of their owners. Asterix is largely character driven, and the interplay of personalities in the different situations is always humorous to read. The stories provide a good mix of wit, both historical and mythological settings, and an ancient Roman cast of characters to continually keep the adventures interesting.
Not only are the dialogue and stories well done, but the comics are also splendidly made from a visual standpoint. The panels are laid out in a grid pattern and are easy to follow. The artwork is very clear and well rendered, and Uderzo does an excellent job of exaggeration in his art, adding a humor outside of the dialogue. These factors make the comic very easy to read. Finally, regarding color, either the comics were originally printed at a very high quality, or the illustrations have been masterfully re-colored. Needless to say, these comic books do not look like they were printed nearly fifty years ago, but are sharp and vibrant.
If you want some humorous, light reading, give Asterix a look. With witty dialogue and stories –accompanied by a superb cartoon style –you can’t go wrong.
If any of you were fans of the Daredevil series put out by Marvel earlier this year, you have probably already heard of the recently released Jessica Jones. Although I came into this series expecting much of the same that Daredevil had delivered, I was surprised to find a new, but fascinating, superhero story told in the style of a psychological thriller. Featuring characters that drive the story and a narrative that is suspenseful, Jessica Jones proffers a show that will give those tired of over-the-top action films a chance to come back to the superhero genre.
Jessica Jones is the, you guessed it, main protagonist of the show. She is a former superhero who has traded a life of using her powers to police New York City for the more reclusive life of a private investigator. With an abusive past that is gradually revealed through the show, the series paints a picture of someone trying to initially run away from her problems, and then turn to face her demons, not only for herself, but for her friends. The supporting cast for the tv show is absolutely superb, and I would say that the way the writers make use of all the characters surpasses the job they did with Daredevil. There are no two-dimensional characters in this show, for even the cast that play only insignificant roles come across with realism – the writers make the best of each line of dialogue and action to give information to the viewer. As a result, the show is rich with depth. Characters such as Trish, Luke Cage the bar owner, and Malcom the druggie from down the hall, are interesting to watch, and they come across as sympathetic and relatable. However, in addition to Jessica herself, the villain, Kilgrave, is probably the most fascinating part of the show. Played by David Tennant, Kilgrave is a complex and intriguing, though insidious, character. However, more on him in the next section…
Jessica Jones continues the trend of telling a dark and twisted story much like its earlier sibling. However, unlike Daredevil, Jessica Jones is notably less violent, and plays out much more like a psychological thriller than traditional action show. That being said, the show features an arguably darker story line than its predecessor. I will admit that I doubted David Tennant as a villain when I first saw him listed on the cast. However, he executes the role flawlessly. Kilgrave’s ‘power’ is the ability to control people. He can tell somebody to perform an action, and they comply without question. Throughout the series Tennant does a masterful job of capturing the insidiousness of his character: a man who can get whatever he wants and is willing to manipulate those around him to his own ends. This leads to some grim and twisted moments throughout the series, and is why I consider Jessica Jones to be a much darker story than Daredevil.
So should you watch Jessica Jones? That is going to depend on a few factors. The story is much darker than its earlier sibling, but I don’t know that I would categorize this as a fault. Certainly it may require a certain mood to want to actually sit down and watch, but good tales can be told with both happy and dark narratives. However, at least for me, the bigger factor is that it contains strong sexual content (of which Daredevil had none). That being said, I personally found it to be an entertaining and refreshing approach to the superhero genre, and after talking to others I would say that the biggest draw for the show are the characters: they have depth, they feel real, and their backstories, actions, and emotions are masterfully played out in a meaningful way. If you are looking for a dark and suspenseful thriller, or just a break from the flashy superhero films, look no further.
Comic books have been read and enjoyed for a long time here in the United States. Even with the slow demise of their original platform, the newspaper, they have blossomed into their own standalone publications. Unlike today where the term ‘newspaper comics’ conjures up images of slapstick or satirical humor contained in four small boxes with simplistic artwork, it was not always so. In the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s long form story arcs were masterfully played out in the pages of the daily papers. Today I would like to share some of the “greats” of this genre. I have not had the opportunity to read all of the below listed, but still appreciate the artistic and storytelling excellence they have provided in the small excerpts I have had access to.
Terry and the Pirates (1934-1973)
Written and rendered by the artist Milton Caniff, this series follows Terry and his buddies through their adventures in China –primarily focusing around their interactions with a woman known as the “Dragon Lady” and the pirates that she leads. During the years of World War 2, the comic strip took on more patriotic and anti-Japanese themes as Americans battled in the Pacific. Terry and the Pirates was released as a daily strip, as well as having Sunday color pages. The artwork is impressive given the volume of work that Caniff had to create for the series, and the stories he weaves are entertaining.
Secret Agent X-9 (1934-1996)
This series was begun by Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and Alex Raymond, the illustrator best known for Flash Gordon–another piece of artistic greatness. My experience with this series lies only between the years 1934 and 1936 when Raymond was the illustrator. Featuring exquisite artwork by Raymond, and a 6+ month story arc by Hammett, along with subsequent shorter ones, the adventure strip follows the nameless secret agent X-9 as he battles evil.
Prince Valiant (1937-present)
For many, this comic strip does not even require introduction. Begun by Hal Foster in 1937, it follows the exploits of a Prince called Valiant as he adventures in the world of King Arthur. Featuring many characters from the Arthurian legends including Merlin and Gawain, the series tells a tale of integrity, honor, and chivalry. Hal Foster does an impeccable job illustrating this masterpiece, and his stories are engaging and wholesome. Unlike the previous two series, Prince Valiant was only printed once a week as a color strip. However, Hal Foster spent more than a full 40 hour workweek on each print, and it definitely shows.
Going into the sequel Avengers film I had mixed expectations. On the one hand was the consideration that superhero movie sequels, with the exception of the Chris Nolan films, have almost endemically been worse than the original. Also, balancing multiple superheroes in one movie can prove tricky, and although Marvel pulled it off well in the first film, could they do it again? Read on to discover how Marvel did in this continuation of their franchise.
While enjoyable, the Avengers: Age of Ultron plotline is remarkably similar to the first film’s in many respects. Most of the same characters are present, and the movie follows the same path as the first by showing how the Avengers are broken up by internal strife and then re-unite at the end with a common goal. However, beyond these high-level similarities, there are some interesting twists: Hawkeye, who was largely eye candy in the first film and had no real depth as a character, is fleshed out more in this film (more than anyone else for that matter), and we gain insight into who he is and his relationship with Natasha Romanoff. Also, a romance subplot between two major characters adds some unforseen plot and character situations. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are very interesting, and have some of the most complex motivations of any of the characters.
Overall, while the story bears many similarities to the first film, the plot is different enough to be enjoyable and also fleshes out the character of Hawkeye who takes a more prominent role in this film than in previous, and also introduces two new players to the scene.
From the perspective of the theatre setting the movie was very enjoyable. Much like the first film, the movie offers big screen eye candy and massive battle scenes. If the film could be summed up in one sentence it would probably be: a continuous sequence of battles punctuated by witty one liners. And I’m not kidding about the one-liners, they are everwhere. The one-liners are so copious it is like Marvel took the idea of adding humor and multiplied it times ten. This humor works in the film for the most part. However, Ultron also cracks some one-liners, and this hurt the seriousness of his character. After all, what kind of artificial intelligence villain bent on world destruction would be cracking jokes?
If you can catch it in theatres the latest Avengers film is definitely worth seeing thanks to its cinematic battles and wittiness. However, the lack of original plot or character depth will prevent the film from ever making its way onto my super hero movie shelf with the Nolan Batman trilogy, latest X-men movies, and the Netflix Daredevil series.
Great comics, much to my chagrin, seem to have been dominated by the secular. Whether it be artists, storytellers, or publishers. I have often felt that comics, much like any medium that is hip (like rock ‘n roll, filmmaking, etc..), has been left with the world leading the way, and Christian storytellers largely following along in their wake. However, if first impressions are anything to go on, Doug TenNapel is one Christian storyteller who may be changing that. I recently read one of his graphic novels (one of the many he’s written), and really enjoyed the story, artwork, and worldview of the comic.
To begin with, TenNapel weaves an interesting story. His books are predominately aimed at boys (4-9th grade), and offer adventure, humor, and heroism -all the things that I enjoyed when I was younger (and still enjoy, for that matter). The story follows a construction worker who has lost his job, and is struggling to make ends meet. On his son’s birthday, the only gift that he can afford is a giant cardboard box -which he knows is pretty lame. However, events turn interesting quickly when the cardboard man that the father and son make comes to life -and the story rockets on from there. The story shows the value of family and the destructive power unleashed when we let the past hang over us and dominate our future. However, one of my favorite themes deals with the destructive nature of sin. Throughout the story TenNapel shows how sin not only is self-destructive, but also hurts those around the sinner. Sin is like a nuclear bomb -fallout will always occur from the initial explosion.In summary, the story is largely geared at younger boys, and promotes the values of biblical families, loyalty, and forgiveness. However, although the primary audience is younger boys, I personally found it very entertaining even as a college student, and TenNapel includes some plot-lines and themes that offer depth that adults may appreciate.
As far as artwork goes, the book is very well done. TenNapel manages to create a cartoon-ey and highly exaggerated style that keeps violence from ever becoming too graphic, but the images are still very effective in communicating characters’ feelings and emotions. TenNapel does an excellent job in visually designing his villains to make them -one of whom has pinkeye -very grotesque (don’t forget the target audience is boys). The panels are well laid out, and the action and dialog read smoothly throughout the pages of the book -making the reading experience enjoyable and engrossing. The comic is very well executed from an artistic and technical standpoint, and I can only applaud TenNapel’s skills.
Finally, worldview. Doug TenNapel approaches his stories from a Christian perspective. However, this story had a noticeable lack of any overt religious references. That being said, far from being a negative, I think that this gives the graphic novel a wider potential audience, and the lack of overt religious overtones does not mean that Christian ideals and values are not being expressed. TenNapel has themes of forgiveness and turning away from evil throughout the story, both of which carry strong Christian ties. He also has a plot line dealing with the need to move on from past events and living out our purpose in the present.
Cardboard by Doug TenNapel offers a blend of humor, adventure, and Christian values that any boy (of whatever age) will enjoy. From the entertaining plot, to well-executed artwork, to themes of forgiveness and change, TenNapel weaves a very effective graphic novel. So, if you’ve been wanting some wholesome and entertaining reading, don’t hesitate to pick up a copy of TenNapel’s Cardboard.
“There were voices… and thunderings and lightnings…and an earthquake.” Thus opens Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, an apocalyptic superhero tale which follows the preacher Norman McCay as he witnesses the events surrounding the punishment of the earth. Containing an engaging narrative by Mark Waid and sporting gorgeous pages of artwork by Alex Ross, Kingdom Come is a contemporary comic that offers excellent reading.
The story opens after Superman and his fellow heroes of yesteryear have largely withdrawn from society and relinquished the reins of justice to their children and the new generation of heroes. However, the story quickly makes apparent that the new generation does not share the values that the older generation held. The destruction caused by this “new” generation forces Superman and his fellow heroes to come out of retirement and repair the mistakes that they have left unfixed. Mark Waid tells his story with finesse and he uses the situations of his characters to make social commentary and expound his views all within the framework of a superhero story.
The story addresses many problems and ideas that are relevant to modern Americans and even Christians. Through the mouth of a character called Wesley, Waid talks about how modern people have lost initiative and the desire to excel, and instead, “asked a new breed to face the future for them”(17). Also, throughout the entire narrative, Mark Waid uses the old/new superhero dichotomy to show the shortsightedness displayed whenever current problems are dumped on future generations who have not been raised responsibly and yet are expected to make things better. Mark Waid also addresses pride and its consequences; as well as how whenever a person loses touch with their own humanity they lose their moral compass and good judgment. Despite having fairly evident societal messages, Waid does not become preachy, but tells a pure superhero story about good versus evil that is engaging and entertaining. Mark Waid rises close to the pinnacle of storytelling in Kingdom Come, combining a great superhero story and at the same time unobtrusively making an accurate statement about modern American culture.
As far as inappropriate content in Kingdom Come, there is not much to mention. Since this is a superhero comic there is obviously violence, and though there is some blood it is kept to a minimum. There is a small amount of swearing in the dialogue, mainly comprised of only one or two uses of three words. Overall, I foundKingdom Come very refreshing to read because it has so little in the way of objectionable content.
Finally, the artwork by Alex Ross is jaw dropping to say the least. He has a very painterly style that he uses to beautifully and realistically render all of Mark Waid’s characters and settings. This is the first comic book I have read that has this style of art, and it is a joy to look at. Alex Ross does an excellent job of portraying all kinds of action, and some of the panels in the comic book are so complex that it boggles the mind how anyone could render everything so clearly and effectively. The panels in the comic book are well laid out and are easy to follow without getting lost.
Kingdom Come offers a great read to those interested in the superhero genre or anyone who just wants a fun and clean story. The story is very well told, and the artwork is nigh impossible to surpass. By far this is the best comic that I have read in a while. I highly recommend it, and close with the words of Mark Waid’s character Norman McCay:
Note: Due to being in the middle of finals (only two days left to go!!), this is a reposting of an article that I wrote for another blog. The original post can be found here.
Well, I know all you normal people out there are still in the middle of a semester, but here at La Tech we are already heading into finals. However, whether you’re heading into last days of class and overwhelmed by your workload, or just cruising along through your semester, college life always demands a little satire/humor, and today I want to share one of my favorite webcomics with you for the next time you feel the need to read something humorous but truthful.
Adam4D is a digital comic published by Adam Ford (hence the title) who expresses a Christian, Bible-centric critique of different subjects. Although he deals with serious topics in his comics (sin, total depravity, justification by faith, etc…), Mr. Ford’s unique art style and dialogue keep things relatively humorous and lighthearted. Here is one of my favorite examples titled If We Talked To People the Way We Talk to God:
However, as was made apparent in the previous image, Mr. Ford also uses satire effectively and makes biting critiques of viewpoints or ways of life. I found the following critique of the modern ‘prosperity gospel’ to be quite effective and somewhat uncomfortable –as it should be:
I find Mr. Ford’s art style to be very effective. Its greatest strength is its simplicity. In the previous panels, the main thing that changed was the expression of the person listening the ‘prosperity gospel’ being preached. Since the images are so clean and uncluttered, it enabled Mr. Ford to effectively communicate ideas and emotions without having to use the extreme exaggeration found in other art styles.
Well, I need to get back to studying for that final. Have a great week, and the next time you need some good, generally lighthearted, Christian reading, just head over to Adam4D.com to see what new things Mr. Ford is up to.
Good writing, while missing in much of modern culture (regardless of medium), always struck me as particularly missing from much of the comic book genre. However, every now and then a creator comes along who far exceeds the genre’s norms, and this past week an excellent newspaper strip called Speed Bump by Dave Coverly found its way onto my computer screen.
The strip follows a similar format to Gary Larson’s Farside newspaper comics, and offers excellent single panel hilarity. Coverly does an excellent job of using limited space to convey his ideas in text and pictures. And now for two final Speed Bumps to wrap things up: