Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Trade Waiting - The Black Well by Jamie Tanner (and why the Kindle Fire HD)


Jamie Tanner is one of those cartoonists who defies being typecast to any specific genre. His dry wit leads to absurd comedic scenarios yet his books aren't necessarily comedic, and the situations that his characters find themselves in are horrific but are not horror in any sense of the word. In his previous book, the Eisner nominated The Aviary, Tanner used a group of seemingly unconnected characters and stories to introduce us to both his writing and his art style. Sprawling and unsettling, The Aviary was pocket dynamite, staying with you long after the book was finished. Can lightning strike twice for Tanner? Find out after the jump. Also, the Kindle Fire. How does it work for a comics fan and is it worth it? That too, you will find after the jump.

The Black Well by Jamie Tanner
Self Published (with help from Kickstarter)
(Can also be read online at www.jamietanner.com/theblackwellbook but I heartily recommend you purchase a copy from Amazon.)

One morning Mr Cane wakes up with a strange affliction; his head has turned into one of a dog resembling a pug. His wife Lillian recommends he goes to a doctor that she has been researching for her new detective novel, one that deals with specific and odd ailments. Instead he decides to drink himself into a hole, both literally and figuratively, until his wife's twin sister, Gillian, insists that he goes to see this medical practitioner of odd ailments. From there the story spirals out of control, headless vampires, very literal controlling bosses, shadowy organisations and more all feature in a story that comes to a head on an island not too unlike a cross between paradise and Summerisle. To give any more away would spoil the mystery and the fun that can be found from experiencing the characters involved first hand.

The Black Well is at its heart a mystery but it offers no conclusions regularly associated with the genre. Like an onion, the story unfolds layer by layer but also like an onion, once you get past all the layers there is nothing but more questions. That's not to say the book is not enjoyable or has enough meat on its bones to be interesting, in fact quite the opposite can be said for The Black Well. The supporting cast are wonderfully realised and suitably off kilter, particularly in the case of Old Man Leashman and The Z Twins, and Cane himself is an intriguing enough protagonist for you to want him to win or at the very least survive his odd ordeal. The Black Well is also an unforgiving book, forcing you to keep up with its strange and fast paced nature but what that actually does is make the story one that rewards upon multiple reads. Tanner peppers the book with clues as to what is going on in the tale that you will not pick up the first time round but on a second and third read there will be quite a few 'AHA!' moments that make you feel smart and envy Tanner for being smarter than you.

When it comes to the great independent cartoonists working today, it's a crime that Tanner's name isn't mentioned as much as it should be alongside the likes of Ware, Clowes, Tomine and the like. The Aviary, a book just as odd and exciting as The Black Well, proved that he is a creator to keep a close eye on and The Black Well just cements that idea. His ideas are not only absurd but exciting as well, and seemingly is more willing to take his influence from other mediums rather than his peers. Like The Aviary, Tanner leaves it up to the reader to make their own conclusions about the world he has created, thereby making the experience different for each reader. His artwork is also a thing of beauty, strong, clean lines to depict his characters and settings are matched with manic cross hatching used for shading, effectively sucking you into the world these characters inhabit. His line work is deceptive too, making a frankly, group of horrific ideas seem almost comical, again keeping the reader on their toes. With Tanner, it is best to expect the unexpected.

Verdict - Buy It

Part Kafka, part Cronenberg with a whole lot of The Wicker Man thrown in for measure, The Black Well is a comic that doesn't necessarily conclude, more beat you into submission with its weirdness. Tanner has a strong vision and while that vision may not make complete sense, it definitely does entertain. A strong, strange cast help keep your interest levels up even when you aren't sure where the book is heading. Add to that some beautiful line work and The Black Well is money well spent.

The Kindle Fire HD (and other tablets,) and comics

The Kindle Fire HD is an impressive piece of kit, with the ability to play movies, let you check your social media accounts and, wait, you know that already right? So, how does it play out when reading the mightiest medium of them all? Well not too bad actually, but not perfect. Fortunately the Kindle isn't the problem, more the comics that you read on it. Having purchased the book reviewed above, Wolves from Becky Cloonan, and a DC comic that was so bad I refuse to mention it by name, there were differing degrees to how well the books read, and it comes down to one thing, the double splash page. If the major companies are willing to get behind digital wholeheartedly, the double splash page is something that, unfortunately, is going to have to go the way of the Dodo, particularly when it comes to digital comics. It just doesn't work, and that's a shame as, like everything with modern superhero comics, was something that Jack built and was perfected by countless others. It's a problem that has no answer; I for one would be sad to see them go. One of the best comics on the stands at the moment is the sublime Godzilla comic by James Stokoe and part of what makes it so good are the crazy double page spreads that Stokoe is so good at putting out. To lose them would be losing part of what makes that comic so magical so what is the middle ground? Well Stokoe and some others notwithstanding, there are quite a few artists that seem to use the double page spread (including the unnamed DC comic) to just fill space and that is going to have to be nipped in the bud, as is the Brian Bendis reading panels across both pages style, a style that personally as a trade buyer, I have never enjoyed as you always lose the panel in the middle of the page to the binding. Ultimately what this means is there are just some comics that are meant to be read on paper, and long may it stay that way. Anyway, the Kindle does have masses of positives, the resolution is exquisite and the colours really do pop off the screen. Also it is a great piece of kit for reading comics online and webcomics. The Study Group website and the books contained within look sharp on the Kindle, as does Giannis Milogiannis' Old City Blues, (a book you all must read,) and the touch screen makes everything easy to navigate. There is one other issue and again is is nothing to do with the hardware but with comic book publishers; apart from DC and a peppering of creator owned comics there is just not enough content available on the Amazon store to purchase, (yes, you can download the Comixology app but if you have an Amazon product you want to purchase stuff directly off the Amazon store.) Hopefully this will change as the weeks and months go buy but, as a call to publishers, please, people want to buy your product legitimately so stop making it hard for them to do so. So there you have it; the Kindle Fire is a great cheaper alternative to the iPad and whilst they are only baby steps, show that some creators and publishers are willing to embrace the inevitable future.


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Anonymous said...

Great post.

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