Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reviews: Blink, Cownt Tales, Fearless Dawn and Spandex

Blink: Breathe in the Beat (Onward Studios) This 2009 mini-comic from writer/artist Max Ink contains two short, previously published pieces—the first a 2007 piece from Oh, Comics! #16, the second from a smaller 2006 minicomic.

Both are short vignettes featuring Ink’s characters Blink and Sam more or less just hanging out and talking, and sandwiched between a prose “creatorial” and a longer, four-page “Sketchbookery” section in which Ink walks reader’s through some of this process and, finally a neat little page featuring some local history on the settings his characters pass through.

Sam and Blink, like Ink and I, live in Columbus, Ohio, and one of the many appealing aspects of Ink’s work for Columbusites is recognizing places in our hometown and seeing how well Ink captures and renders them.

In the first story, “Beatnik Picknik,” the ladies walk around the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library (where I get all those trashy super-comics trades from!) on their way to a poetry reading, while chatting.

Ink is a hell of a draftsman. The story opens with a drawing of the front of the library. Check this out:
His characters aren’t quite as representational, but they’re certainly well put together, and Ink’s pages generally remind me of ‘80s independent cartooning. This one, for example, I think has a pretty strong Dave Sim vibe: At the end of the story, there’s an equally gorgeous pin-up of the girls reading in the topiary garden next to the downtown library.

The second story, “Space to Breathe,” lacks the same strong sense of place, but is perhaps a slightly more focused narrative. The ladies are outside at night, looking up at the sky, and talking.

This particular comic may be out-of-print at the moment, but you can find out for sure—as well as learn more about Ink and his work—by checking out his website here.

Cownt Tales (Cahoots Studios) Chances are you’re already familiar with the writing of Michael May, who blogs at Michael May’s Adventureblog and contributes reviews to Comic Book Resources’s Robot 6 blog, but did you know he also dabbles in bovine-based horror comedy comics?

It’s true, as Cownt Tales readily attests. The title character is a cow who is a vampire cow, and if you’re wondering why a female cow (udder and all) is going by a male title (instead of, oh, The Cowntess), well that’s actually addressed in the three short stories collected in this 18-page black-and-white comic.

May works with three different artists, each given their own story, and each of those stories is introduced by a different barnyard EC-style horror host (Billy Z. Bub, Farmer McBones and, um, Frankenkitty).

The first is by Gavin Spence, and tells the origin of The Cownt, which involves Count Dracula himself getting his ass killed by a bull, and bleeding his potent vampire blood all over the grass where a cow was grazing.

Spence’s art looks like this:
That’s followed by “Udder Nonsense,” a story drawn by Paul Taylor (who I think may draw the best cows of the three) in which The Cownt visits a plastic surgeon in the middle of the night to discuss an udder-removal surgery (it’s just not that scary, in addition to being too female for the now male-identifying vampire cow).

The final piece, “Lactose Intolerance,” is illustrated by Jessica Hickman and tells the tale of a scantily clad vampire slayer attempting to destroy The Cownt, who finds a pretty good (if gross) use for his/her udder after all.

Rounding out the book are pin-ups by Patrick Gleason, Kate Cook and Spence, and an explanation by May of the character’s extremely nerdy real-world origins.

I can say without reservation or qualification that Cownt Tales is certainly the best comic anthology about a gender-confused vampire cow I’ve ever read.

Fearless Dawn #2 (Asylum Press) As with the first issue of Steve Mannion’s rock ‘em, sock ‘em, tongue-in-cheek adventure series, the story is so straightforward as to be uninteresting, but is saved by Mannion’s artwork. If someone else were drawing this, it might be so uninteresting as to be boring, but Mannion’s so skilled at drawing curvy ladies, muscley men, goofy faces and silly action scenes that it hardly matters—the script is mostly just something to hang his panels on.

When we last left Dawn and her would-be rescuer Number 7, they had injected themselves with a “combat drug” that turns people into monsters in order to break out of the prison where they were being held by sexy Nazi Helga and her small army of straight-from-WWII Nazis (including one big hulking monster guy). They do a lot of fighting, and, just when it looks like they’re about to be re-captured, a new character enters the fray—Mannion’s Betty, who looks like Betty Page and here is given a purple version of Lady Blackhawk’s duds, with a cartoon chicken where the Blackhawk symbol would be.

There’s not really much too it other than great drawing chops, so I suppose you’ll now whether or not this is a comic for you based on how highly you value an artist’s ability to just draw things really, really well.

If you need a reminder, here’s what Mannion’s art looks like:

Spandex #1 Martin Eden’s Spandex, his self-published comic about an all-gay super-team that operates out of an abandoned night club in England, received a ton of press a few months back, either because Eden is really good at placing stories in the press, or the press is really excited about the idea of gay superheroes.

While I remember seeing a lot of articles popping up in my Google News feeds about the book’s existence, I don’t recall seeing a whole lot of reviews, so this is my very late attempt to rectify that.

Spandex is actually really, really good super-comics. It’s bright, it’s light-hearted, it’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s dramatic-bordering-on-melodramatic, it’s got a few shocking twists and hooks to get you interested in the next issue—it is, honest to God, everything superhero comics should be.

Oh yeah, and it’s actually a superhero comic that is actually created for adults specifically, not for the same juvenile PG-13 audience that the vast majority of DC and Marvel’s “serious” superhero works are aimed at. Characters use swear words! Human bodies are anatomically correct! People have R-rated sex!

Eden seems to have consulted the rainbow (an appropriate symbol) when creating the roster for the team Spandex (which I have a hard time believing no one ever used as the title of a superhero comic before…it seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it?). Diva, Glitter, Mr. Muscles, Butch, Prowler, Indigo and Liberty (The first transvestite superhero?) each have their own color of the rainbow they work...
...and Eden gives them all nicely simplified costumes and designs (Perhaps the relative lack of clothes many of them wear helps contribute to that simplicity).

There’s a pleasant simplicity to Eden’s artwork in general—it seems stripped down to the basics, but not necessarily amateurish at all. Certain images look stronger than others (I got the sense the pages in this book were created over a long span of time), but the lead feature is quite well drawn, and if its lacking in detail or filigree, it’s apparently an intentional stylistic choice.

That lead story is one in which the team does battle with a fifty foot-tall lesbian, introducing themselves and their powers during the course of the conflict. Meanwhile, similarly colorful and apparently alternative lifestyle-living villains watch from afar.

Eden does an excellent job of integrating the basic elements of old-school superhero comics into this story, lending the entire endeavor an aura of the subversive. It’s because it is so familiar and normal that the differences stand out so.

That 15-page adventure is followed by an eight-page sequence in which the heroes return home and become themselves again, and two-page Mr. Muscles story in which the action is equally split into two parallel threads sharing the same captions; in one, our hero goes to a clinic to get tested, in the other he battles alien invaders.

If you’d like to learn more about Spandex, and/or order the first issue, this is the site you want to visit.


Phillip said...

Those two girls walkin' and talkin' from Blink remind me of Jeremy Dawson's work (Freddie & Me).

Michael May said...

Heh! Thanks, Caleb. :)

James said...

Had to add the "gender confused" I guess to make it more specific than the vampire cow story from the old Howard the Duck eh?