Bevan


Moomin and the Comet

Review by Matthew Nielsen

The Finnish characters the Moomins have been featured in numerous comics, novels, animated shows, and even theatrical performances. However, the book we’ll be looking at today is from the original newspaper comics by the Swedish-speaking Finlander Tove Jansson. Moomins are creatures that somewhat resemble hippopotamuses, and live in the surreal valley of Moominland, along with many other unique creatures and peoples, such as the very small young woman Little My, who is in fact not human but a “mymble.” The era the characters live in is somewhat timeless, but you will see modern things such as jam, radios, and guns now and then. The Moomins are very well known in not only their homeland Finland, but also Korea, Japan, and many other nations. In Finland the Moomins can be found on stamps, postcards, stickers, magazines, and everywhere else. Back in 1945, when the first Moomin story was published, Finland was still a young nation, and the Moomins became a big part of the country striving to achieve a national identity.

The particular book I’m reviewing is a collection of the newspaper comics that covers the Comet Saga, and one of the collaborations between creator Tove Jansson and her brother Lars. Tove Jansson based Moomin and the Comet off the second Moomin novel: Comet in Moominland. In this particular saga, a comet is fast approaching earth. The heat is so intense that it even starts drying up the land itself. Moomin, his girlfriend Snorkmaiden, and their friend Little My go forth to find out more about the comet and discover if anything can be done. Even though both the comic and the original novel were written and illustrated by the same person, there are some differences to accommodate the different chronology of the comic. For example, this is the novel where Moomin actually meets Snorkmaiden for the first time, whilst in the comic, he already knows her.

It helps having some familiarity with the Moomins before diving into this particular saga, and if you don’t, prepare to be a little perplexed with some of the visual designs and the world. Despite this, there is always a lot of humour, adventure, and fun. Jansson’s line art is full of expression and freedom, and there are oftentimes creative approaches to panel gutters (such as using an electric cable to divide panels). Because this story was original individual newspaper strips, the pacing is different from, say, a comic book, since some kind of standalone point has to be made every three panels or so.

Though the comic was originally printed in black and white, spot colour has been added for this collected version. This added colour works well for me. I appreciate the distinct ambiance in both the story’s original black and white, and its updated colourised format.

If you’ve become wondering about the surreal, fun and surprisingly true-to-life world of the Moomins, you can find out more by picking up Moomin and the Comet or one of the many, many other Moomin comic collections or novels. To learn more about all things Moomin, visit the official Moomin website.


Seraphim

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Seraphim: A Tale of Love and Courage is a pair of concurrent ongoing webcomics by Anat Rabkin, updated with one page for each comic each week. At the time of this writing, both A Tale of Love and A Tale of Courage have just over 200 pages each.

The two stories are set several centuries apart in a warrior’s guild in Constantinople. Both stories follow young men, orphans who have been taken in by the guild to be trained as knights’ squires. The world is that of an alternate reality: A Tale of Love takes place around the late medieval period, whilst A Tale of Courage takes place in more modern industrial-age times. Throughout the two stories there are occasional parallel moments, such as a shared character’s first appearance occurring on the same chapter and page number of both comics.

A Tale of Love follows the story of Clou, who, aside from being an orphan and squire, is also a very kind-hearted individual. Despite being looked down on by most of his peers, he is also gifted in his academic abilities. So far much of the story has been spent dealing with the challenges he faces in day-to-day life, and the secrets he has locked away within. He has a strong attachment to his knight, Becker, who has enough trouble trying to deal with his squire’s philosophical questions of morality, let alone the other problems that come along the way.

A Tale of Courage centres around Gilad, who is more willing to express anger and frustration than Clou is. The knight he is training under is very different from most. Sir Altor, a blind man who gets around disguised as an old beggar, is a very tough and demanding teacher. As the story continues, we learn more about both Gilad and Altor, and meet some of their friends along the way, including Gilad’s childhood friend Nav.

So far I have very much enjoyed the characters and their development. Rabkin keeps avoiding the traditional fantasy cliches by instead going through different, more interesting, routes. I liked what I’ve seen of the story up to this point and want to see more, as well as find out what choices these characters make as the stories continue. I already have a long list of favourite characters, and can easily picture this story being told in even more detail, such as through a written novel. On top of that, the full-colour aspect is very appealing (including the use of textures throughout the stories).

When it comes to the art and style of the story, I feel that Seraphim could benefit from more world building — not just more detailed background information but also more clues as to just how much impact the characters have in the world. Also, whenever blood is spilled in the story, it would benefit from being grittier and more realistic.

But aside from that, I’m keen to see where Rabkin will take Clou and Gilad next, and so far I’ve very much enjoyed the Tales of Love and of Courage. You can read Seraphim yourself on the official Seraphim website.


No Cloudscape Meeting Today Due to Snow

You may have noticed that Vancouver has been receiving a startling amount of snow in the last few days, causing numerous accidents and transit problems. This is especially a problem at night. Because of that, Cloudscape has cancelled today’s meeting. We don’t want you stranded in Vancouver East tonight! There will be a regular Cloudscape meeting next week — as long as we don’t get a huge blizzard or something.

Sorry for the inconvenience. See you guys later, and have a safe week.


Adventures of Tintin: Breaking Free

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Tintin is such an iconic character in the comics medium, almost everyone has heard of him, and most have read at least a couple of his albums or seen one of his movies. But The Adventures of Tintin: Breaking Free by J. Daniels (a pseudonym) approaches the character from a very different (and utterly unlicensed) direction.

Produced by Attack International in 1988, Breaking Free takes Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Herge’s general drawing style, and puts them in an entirely new situation. Instead of the usual tales of a Belgian reporter and his friends exploring strange new places, we instead get the stories of a working class Brit with a lot of built-up anger deciding to stage a rebellion against the system.

At first it may feel like they’ve done some sort of “Tintin meets Trainspotting mash-up, with the graphic novel’s various acts of swearing and violence. But that is only part of the story; the rest is focused on the oppression of the working class by their bosses, union leaders, and law enforcement, to which the response must be organized strikes, rallies, and direct action.

The general politics of this graphic novel seem to be Anarcho-Communism, promoting resistance and rebellion against the government, as well as supporting the working-class community in numerous ways. There are also strong messages of anti-racism, anti-homophobia, and general anti-discrimination, so long as you’re not one of the “bosses” or otherwise part of the corporate system of persecution.

So yeah, this is very politically driven, and sometimes downright bizarre. If Tintin is one of your favourite characters, and you don’t want to see him engaged in this sort of politically-charged rebellion, then you’ll probably want to give this book a miss. On the other hand, if you’re just curious to see how Tintin handles a bar fight, this book might be worth a look. And if you agree with the Anarcho-Communist message, then there’s probably even more you’ll enjoy about this book.

Strangely enough, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Tintin converted into a foul-mouthed Brit. There was also an extremely obscure online video series called Teesside Tintin.


Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!

Review by Matthew Nielsen

Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! by Art Spiegelman is a big book. It’s about 36x26cm (roughly 10×14 inches), so when you open it, it’s going to be twice the width. However, the book’s comics make full use of the pages.

This book includes a brief biography of the artist, as well as examples of his early work. We even see the original short Maus comic that led to the world-famous graphic novel. With each project Spigelman seems to draw everything in a new style, paying homage to classic artists and constantly experimenting with the medium.

The book also discusses the artist’s quest to push comics further into the realm of fine art and away from the less-respected disposable view it got in his day and age. This results in cubist comics, rearranged panel comics, alternative romance comics, psychological enquiry comics, and many more. The result is sometimes be so splendidly random that what you see takes you totally by surprise.

All in all, a good book if you don’t mind a little randomness. Definitely read it if you’re interested in learning more about the man behind Maus.


From Hell

Review by Matthew Nielsen

From Hell, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Eddie Campbell, is one of the longest single-volume graphic novels I’ve read. With an average of 8-9 panels across 520 or so of those pages, the book features roughly 4400 illustrations, all meticulously researched with technical detail and history accuracy.

This is the story of Jack the Ripper, one of the most infamous serial killers of all time. It is also a story of the victims of the Ripper murders and of Victorian London itself. There are absolutely hundreds of different theories as to who Jack the Ripper was, and while we can’t say with definite certainty which one is true, From Hell is a powerful “maybe this?” story. For further historical accuracy, the graphic novel includes an appendix where Moore goes into incredible detail about his research across 42 pages of text: what parts have been invented, what things have been sourced, the books he’s read, his opinions on some of those books, and the locations he’s been to. For those new to the world of “Ripperology” (myself included), Moore provides an eye-opening introduction into the enormity of it all. Campbell’s artwork is also just as meticulously researched, and the pair have collaborated marvellously.

The book is dark, black, and rough. Campbell’s artwork captures all the details needed, but there is also a sense of corruption and speed to the way it’s all been drawn. This is the ideal art style for the gritty events depicted and the wet and miserable British autumn weather. At the same time, the beauty of Victorian London’s buildings and typography all remains clear and strong. The lives and deaths of the Whitechapel victims are shown in brutally honest detail. The murders are depicted with such intensity that they make far more impact than the kind you’d likely see in your average manga or superhero comic, but that’s all up to you, this is just my experience.

Now, there are some pretty jarring moments in the book that don’t seem to fit with the rest of it. For example, in the first part of the book, there are about three pages of an Austrian couple having sex, when one of them receives a nightmarish vision. They only speak in German with no translation, so the only context given is that it is Braunau, Austria, 1888. I couldn’t add the pieces together at the time, but in the appendix Moore explains that this scene is the conception of Adolf Hitler. A baffling part until you discover that Moore is linking historical events and coincidences together. There are many other moments in this book like this, when only prior knowledge of said event or reading the appendix explains what’s going on. This can easily lead to a confusing experience for the reader.

However, this is still an incredibly powerful graphic novel. If you’re ready for a long, violent and, at times, confusing journey into the world of Jack the Ripper, then take a dive into From Hell.


Writing for Comics classes at Langara

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Only a couple of weeks until “Writing for Graphic Novels & Comix” starts at Langara, but there are still seats available.  They are taught by Bevan Thomas, who has written and edited on numerous Cloudscape anthologies, most prominently the Gene Day-award-winning Epic Canadiana series. If you are interested in polishing off your comic writing skills, then give the classes a look. Of course Langara’s comic program also includes numerous classes in other aspects of comic creation, including drawing, inking, and lettering. You can take all of the courses as part of a full-on continuing studies certificate program, or just the ones that interest you in particular. For more information, check out Langara’s Graphic Novel & Comix continuing studies program.