Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Trade Waiting Double Header - Cinema Panopticum and Queen Crab

Rather than go for one long review today, I have chosen two shorter length titles that are still worthy of your time. They both have spines so while they are not exactly trades, I have deemed them within my remit. Find out if they are your cup of tea after the jump.

Cinema Panopticum by Thomas Ott
Published by Fantagraphics

Due to the way that comic books are consumed, horror is a genre that is incredibly hard to pull off. Sure there are a lot of (excuse the pun) creepy books out there but how many can you really say gave you trouble sleeping like the best horror films can? Seeking to rectify this is Swiss Thomas Ott with Cinema Panopticum, originally released in France by L’Association and now published for American audiences by Fantagraphics Publishing. The question is does Ott succeed where so many in the past have failed?

Anyone can be grotesque and horrifying. To truly get under the skin of the audience is an ability not many have. Someone who does is Thomas Ott, and he uses his ability to the highest effect in Cinema Panopticum. The book tells the tale of a young girl at a fun fair. Unable to afford to go on the big rides, the un-named girl uses what little money she has in the Cinema Panopticum; a collection of screens shaped not unlike coin operated arcade machines each with its own name above it. The titles are ‘The Prophet,’ ‘The Wonder Pill,’ ‘La Lucha,’ ‘The Hotel,’ and ‘The Girl.’ Our heroine proceeds to put money in to each one and the audience along with her experiences the short stories. Each one encapsulates the sub genres that horror has; we have the morality play, the humour tinged visual horror, the horror of tragic loss, and much more leading to the final screen where the girl gets more than she bargained for.

Echoing the silent films that are contained within, there is no dialogue in Cinema Panopticum and nor does there need to be. Sticking to a rigid four panel grid, Ott has a clear storytelling style that is easy to follow without being simple. He has a way with facial expressions that captures the sadness, or horror within that would render any form of explanation of the character’s feeling redundant. A skill that is unappreciated and often hard to come by in the comic book industry.

The book is a quick read and could be easily finished in less than ten minutes but to do so would be a disservice to the majesty of Thomas Ott’s stunning artwork. Using the unenviable scratchboard technique, (effectively using a knife to cut into black waxed paper, to expose the white behind,) there is no room for mistake but Ott is more than up to the task delivering panel after panel of quality, meticulously detailed art work. Anyone who has even seen a scratchboard piece understands how difficult this style of art is to get right, yet Ott has no problems doing so, at points showing even the smallest of details. It would be interesting to know what size Ott works at as the detail on display means he surely can’t work at the almost digest size that the book is presented in.

Verdict – Buy It

If you are looking for a dense story that will take hours to get through this may not be the book that will satisfy, but if you are looking for an unsettling horror story rendered beautifully by an expert craftsman there is no doubt this should be in your collection.

Queen Crab
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Artiz Eiguren
Published by Image Comics (with help from Kickstarter)

Superstar inker Jimmy Palmiotti has, for the last few years, been slowly increasing his writing output (mainly alongside friend and co-writer Justin Gray,) to a point where it’s arguable whether you can even call him an inker anymore. With the faith and assistance of DC comics and an affinity to a character in Jonah Hex that no one thought would sell copies, Palmiotti has carved a reputation for himself as a writer who can tell a well paced story with healthy doses of action. (All Star Western is without a doubt, one of the strongest releases out of the new 52.) Recently Palmiotti, mainly alongside Gray, have been releasing more creator owned projects through Image Comics to varying degrees of critical success. But now Palmiotti has gone one step further venturing out on his own with help from some generous donations through the Kickstarter campaign and has released Queen Crab.

Queen Crab tells the story of Ginger, a young woman who is due to be married to a man that seemingly, she doesn’t love. Stuck in a dead end job with a sexually abusive (female) boss and in love with a man she just can’t have, Ginger has a life that would make most fall apart, yet she takes it in her stride. Her life continues as normal until she finds herself in a horrifying situation on the first night of her honeymoon that changes everything. Palmiotti paints a picture of a human just wandering through life well and the idea of Ginger just accepting the path of life that has been set out for her rings true. For a story that incredibly dense with narration, Palmiotti leaves a lot open and invites the reader to interpret a lot of the motivations of the characters, and in particular Ginger’s, for themselves. Also, and quite refreshingly, he doesn’t hit you over the head with metaphors, something that is all too easy to do and a trap that many male writers fall into when writing female characters. It’s actually a strange sensation to read a female character that is neither strong nor submissive, but as a human being who, like all of us, make mistakes and ultimately just want life to be as easy as possible.

It’s hard to nail Queen Crab down to a specific genre. Is it Cronenberg level body horror? Is it a slice of life drama with added claws? By painting the story in broad strokes, Palmiotti has made Queen Crab, regardless of the subject matter, a very human story. None of the characters (including Ginger) are particularly nice or awful human beings, they just are, and as such can be selfish, vindictive, or kind. (Sometimes within the same character.)

Artiz Eiguren is a more than capable draughtsman, with a clean line and a storytelling ability that is easy to follow. True his style isn’t reinventing the wheel any time soon yet it never gets in the way of the story that Palmiotti wants to tell. You can tell there are some influences in certain panels, Cassaday in points, Jamie McKelvie in others. Unfortunately he never hits the high notes of the before mentioned artists and tends to rely too much on computer trickery such as ever intrusive water effects (see Frank D’Armata.) Having said that, there was never a point when his art actively pulled you out of the story, it would be interesting to see him handle a more fantastical subject matter. Adding to all that, the presentation of the book is beautiful, with a crisp hardcover without a dust jacket not unlike a French graphic album. Whoever’s decision it was to package the book this way, be it Palmiotti (as I suspect) or Image; they deserve praise of the highest order.

Verdict – Buy It

Queen Crab isn’t what you expect, yet it is all the better for it. Palmiotti has a style that is easy to follow and his dialogue doesn’t sound forced and Eiguren’s art suits the subject matter well. It may not be on many’s best of year lists come December but there is enough quality content to keep you more than entertained. Palmiotti is planning to do one of these every six months or so and there is no doubt that interest will be piqued to see what he comes up with next.

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