Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Come on, Snicket! You call that a blurb?

Seriously Snicket, what sort of nonsense is this? It's supposedly a blurb extolling the virtues of his one-time collaborator Richard Sala's latest work, Cat Burglar Black. But Lemony Snicket—if that is his real name—instead just rattles off about 30 almost completely random exclamations that could be referring to just about anything.

I say almost completely random, because, as you read those, you'll notice they're in alphabetical order. See, rather than saying something about the book he's supposedly providing a back-cover blurb for, Snicket instead makes it all about him and shows off how clever he is.

For shame, Lemony Snicket, for shame.

Couldn't you have just followed that nice Dan Clowes boy's example and said something nice and simple about the book, like, "A deranged masterwork, jet-propelled from start to finish with spooky thrills?"

Aw, maybe I'm just being so hard on Snicket because I'm jealous. Not because his Series of Unfortunate Events books have no doubt made him a scroogeillionaire, or because Lemony is cooler name than Caleb (although, come to think of it, those are probably also pretty good reasons to be jealous of him), but because he thought of a way to say something clever in praise of Sala's latest book, while I found myself completely stumped when I sat down to try and write a formal review of it.

Part of the problem is that I guess I'm just a little too found of Sala at this point, making it hard to talk about how good his work is. In my mind, "Richard Sala" has long since become synonymous with "great art," so reviewing new works of his fill me with a sort of "Aw, what's the point?"-ism. It's Richard Sala, what else do people need to know, really?

Cat Burglar Black, an original graphic novel from First Second, opens with a typically shapely Sala heroine (I wholeheartedly agree with Snicket's V-word, "Va va va voom!"), dressed in a leotard and mask, running through a dark forest and leaping to safety in the twisty, curlicue-esque branches of a typical Sala tree, as her pursuer, a whild boar snorts and "rawnk"s at her heels.

It then flashes back to introduce us to the imperiled heroine, white-haired K., who has just arrived at a mysterious private school for beautiful teenage girls with interesting names who, she's surprise to learn, are all being trained as super-thieves. K. has plenty of experience with thievery, given that her late father was apparently an accomplished thief, and the headmistress of her orphanage was a villanous Fagin-type that forced her charges to serve in a kiddie crime gang.

As expected, it's quite good, and full of the things one comes to expect from Sala—beautiful girls, creepy, kooky character designs, old houses, a degree of timelessness in the setting that makes it seem as if the story could be taking place any time between the Victorian Era and tomorrow, Sala's signature lettering style, etc.

There were a few surprising aspects of the book (other than Snicket's terrible blurb, of course) though, which I could call attention to.

First, the title on the cover is shiny. Like, see the box in the lower right corner that says "Cat Burglar Black by Richard Sala?" That's all in a special ink with a slicker texture than the rest of cover, a special ink that reflects light and looks super-cool. I know, I know it's a sort of cover enhancement on a comic book and I'm supposed to reflexively hate such things, but damn it this one is cool! And it's on a comic book with a spine and doesn't seem to have had any impact on the cover price, so it's okay in this instance.

Second, it doesn't really wrap up all of the loose ends introduced. K and some of the other characters are involved in a much bigger story than the one between these covers, and the ending seems somewhat abrupt, given all of the unanswered questions yet resolved by the final page, on which our heroine determines to find out exactly what happened to some of the cast-members who disappeared throughout the course of the book. I would imagine it is purposely written this way to set-up future installments (or potential future installments), but because of the lack of a "Volume One" or "Book One" anywhere on the cover or spine, I just assumed this would be a complete story without any plot elements saved up for sequels.

And thirdly and finally, I was a little surprised at the tone of the book. Specifically, how much it read like a young adult novel. I shouldn't have been, of course, as that's how it was marketed, but I guess that when I think of Sala I think of Peculia waking up half-naked in bed, or the zombies ripping that poor gal's top off before eating her in Evil Eye #6 or Judy Drood swearing and beating up douche-bag teenagers.

I was reminded of Cat Burglar Black's tone an audience this past week as I was reading through the most recent crop of First Second releases. This book was released in the direct market on September 1, while on September 29 First Second released Ball Peen Hammer, Refresh, Refresh and Tiny Tyrant Vol. 2: The Lucky Winner.

Tiny Tyrant is an all-ages/kids comic, it's style, humor and format all perfectly suited towards grade-school aged kids. Cat Burglar Black is an all-ages book, probably geared toward readers 10-16 or so. Refresh, Refresh is a mature, adult graphic novel, but one that is probably also well-suited for older teens. Ball Peen Hammer is a dark, dark comic for adults that readers under 18 probably shouldn't read (and they probably wouldn't like it if they did anyway).

That's a pretty wide range of demographics covered by a single comics publisher in a single month's worth of releases, isn't it?

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