Thursday, May 3, 2012

Trade Waiting - Dark Horse Double Header

Whilst the rest of the premier publishers continue to flog the dead dog that is the monthly periodical, Dark Horse Comics have been quietly releasing some beautifully presented, albeit slim, hard covers and trade paperbacks for the last few years from creators that are at the top of their game; and in some cases the top of the game (Dark Horse do produce monthly comics yet keep the production low).  What are these fabled books you ask? Pixu from Becky Cloonan, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, and Vasilis Lolos, as well as Mesmo Delivery from the man with the best name in comic books, Rafael Grampa. Click to find out how good these books are after the jump.


Written and Drawn by Becky Cloonan, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon and Vasilis Lolos

Pixu is a collaborative project between Cloonan, Ba, Moon and Lolos, fresh off their Eisner winning anthology with added Rafael Grampa, 5. (Far be it for me to speak directly to you guys but if you have a copy of 5, name your price!) Between them take turns to write, pencil, and ink the tales of a group of residents that live in what at first glance looks to be a haunted house. The book is split into short chapters where each creator focuses on one apartment in the building and the residents that live within, including an old man and his granddaughter, a volatile young couple, and increasingly disturbed young gentleman and an old widower pining for his lost true love. What follows is a study into the characters slow descent into what can either be seen as madness or something more supernatural.

Pixu is the very definition of unsettling, offering no answers to the horrific things that happen to the residents of the house, or more importantly why. The characters involved back stories are not fleshed out to a point of nausea yet the issues that they face at the start of the book are real, giving the characters a rounded out feel that would have been hollow in lesser creator’s hands.

A main issue of horror comics as opposed to horror films is the pacing. Horror films are paced in a way that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat whereas comics are paced to the speed you choose to read them thus, frankly, making them not particularly scary. Pixu sidesteps this issue by hitting the ground running and using dialogue conservatively, forcing you to read the book at a fast pace. This means you don’t have time to prepare for the horrific thing that inevitably on the next page turn. Whether or not this was a conscious decision on the creators part or deemed necessary due to all creators involved being artists first and writers second is unsure, yet whatever the reasons were it has worked to the books benefit.

The book is a high watermark for how comics should be drawn. Each artist, master creators in their own right, compliment each others style by all utilizing thick black ink strokes and no colour, adding to the sense of horror. Twins Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon are two of the hottest creators working today, fresh off their universally acclaimed Daytripper, and their style shows consistent displays of quality. For anyone unfamiliar with their work the best description would be a juxtaposition of Mike Mignola, Guy Davis and Quentin Blake, the master illustrator of Roald Dahl’s sublime children’s novels. Becky Cloonan and Vasilis Lolos have a similar style to each other. Evidently influenced by manga and in particular the horror side of manga, Cloonan and Lolos steal the show when it comes to showing the grotesque and horrific situations that occur in the second half of the book. One or two of the images will stay with you long after the book has been put down.
Verdict – Must Buy. Short, sharp and horrific, Pixu will no only appeal to fans of the creators involved, yet more importantly fans of unsettling visceral horror. Plus where else are you going to find a story with such high calibre talent all together singing from the same hymn sheet in this decade.

Mesmo Delivery

Writing and Art by Rafael Grampa

As well as being the purveyor of the coolest name in comics, Rafael Grampa created Mesmo Delivery back in 2007. Originally published by future independent comics powerhouse AdHouse books, Mesmo Delivery fell out of print and was impossible to get at cover price for a few years until Dark Horse reprinted it last year. The book tells the tale of two men, past his prime boxer Rufo and psychotic Elvis impersonator Sangrecco, driving a mysterious cargo across country to a non determined destination. More importantly, the book is a showcase for Grampa’s peerless artwork and his ability to choreograph panel to panel storytelling that is amongst the best that this last decade has seen.

Mesmo Delivery is best described as an action story, given that most of the scant page count is taken up with a continuing fight, yet elements of horror creep around the edges. Even so the horrific parts are delivered with a nudge and a wink with realism put on the back burner to make way for entertaining and sometimes completely ludicrous fight sequences. A good example of this is when a butch man unscrews his hand to attach an even bigger hand onto his stump to then beat Rufo within an inch of his life. The dialogue is easy to read and at times very amusing and the plot zips along at a nice pace, unfortunately the multiple twists fail to hide the vague nature of the ending which is mildly disappointing.  The main draw here though is the art and anyone who is picking up this book solely based on story is painfully missing the point.

Mesmo Delivery is not a long book yet the amount of detail that Grampa crams into every panel, let alone page forces you to take you time with it, making the story seem weightier than it truly is. His style is consistent yet he pushes that style to the boundaries of what it can be, often on a page by page basis. At times his art looks like a Max Fleischer cartoon, at others a Moebius strip, but always like Grampa. He also has no problem depicting the gorier and distasteful moments of the story and even those have certain panache to them. Under Grampa’s pen even a female character wetting herself looks stylish and graceful. One can only question how long it takes for him to get a page finished as no corners are cut to get the page done, and it can be said his gift is also his curse as there is no doubt his name would be mentioned alongside other modern masters if he was a more prolific artist.

Verdict - Must Buy. If you are a fan of artists there really isn’t anyone out there making comics like Rafael Grampa. Confident, brash, rude and over the top, Mesmo Delivery is an assault on the senses that requires you to suspend your sense of disbelief but once done rewards you time and time again. Second and third reads really do pay off.

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joeblogscomics said...

Great write up Taylor, I've been considering picking up these books and I think you've pushed me over the edge. Anything Ba and Moon draw is fantastic and Grampa should be encouraged by more people throwing their hard earned coin at his books. Thanks for spotlighting them.

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