Comic Reviews

The Quest for the Big Woof

quest-for-the-big-woof-coverReview by Matthew Nielsen

The Quest for the Big Woof, written by Lenny Henry and illustrated by Steve Parkhouse, is a British comedic graphic novel from 1991 about the life and mind of Lenny Henry.

The story is pretty straightforward: Henry is in the process of writing gags for his upcoming stand-up tour, but he is hit with a severe case of writer’s block. So one day God shows up to help him. Not in a religious praise-Jesus kind-of-way, but more like a wise teacher Gandalf kind-of-way. This makes for some interesting little adventures into the mind and imagination of Lenny Henry.

A great part of the jokes are British cultural references. However, though I lived in Britain for the first 22 years of my life, because Big Woof was written the same year as I was born, a lot of the pop-culture specific jokes didn’t connect with my cultural experiences. Those jokes would be better understood if you were touch with Britain’s comedy and were born, say, before 1980. However, the rest of the jokers don’t require such a knowledge of pre-90s British culture. That’s where I found myself laughing the most. My favourite parts of the book were when Henry talks about his childhood and personal history; short stories of a young man of Jamaican-heritage growing-up in England and experiencing discrimination or being tempted by peer pressure. Stories like these have quite an impact when juxtaposed with comedy.

The artwork syncs-up very well the jokes. Parkhouse manages to capture life, emotions, and absolutely hilarious faces. He has done a downright wonderful job in terms of artwork. The artistic references make even those unfamiliar with the exact references pretty intrigued at the styles produced. I found myself laughing so much at some of the quirky drawings alone.

Though I found much of the writing somewhat lacking, the number of cultural tributes, different styles and the highly energetic artwork of Parkhouse really push the book up again. It’s worth a little look if you come across it. It’s pretty obscure, but you might be able to get it used on I found mine when I was helping out in my high school library (more like a bookshelf, to be honest); they had wanted to throw it out! But I saved it, and it is mine now!



How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

how-to-understand-israelReview by Matthew Nielsen

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is an autobiographical graphic novel by Sarah Glidden that explores how she, an American with Jewish heritage, went on a birthright trip to Israel in March, 2007. The birthright trip is a charity-funded service that allows any Jewish person from anywhere in the world to receive a free trip to Israel, possibly in hopes that they may choose to move there.

During the birthright tour, Glidden is exposed to much of Israel’s history and many different perspectives about its political situation, as well as the everyday life of a lot of Israelis. Throughout the book Glidden weighs-in various differing points of views, some that challenge her preconceptions and some that confirm. It is fascinating how the various histories, ideologies, and life stories are explored through this journey. Glidden is able to describe everything from her deep political opinions to her feelings of sometimes alienation and sometimes assimilation, and lots of other stuff in between.

A lot of Glidden’s thoughts are told not just through captions and text, but also through more metaphorical imagery. This blurs the lines of reality, and connects us even more to Glidden’s personal journey.

The comic is done in both ink and watercolour. The lighting and colours are always spot on, and background objects and buildings have everything in the right place, nothing over-simplified. The people and characters are a tad more stylized, though without the lifeless uniformity. I like it; the more cartoony depiction of the people adds a sense of honesty and life.

So if you’d like to see Israel through the eyes of a questioning Jewish-American, then this book might be for you. There are several other books about the region and the situation, including Joe Sacco’s Palestine, and it’s always worth getting a lot of people’s experiences and points of views about things. I’m glad to have travelled to Israel once again through this writer’s journey.


Our Cancer Year

our-cancer-year-coverReview by Matthew Nielsen

Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner (illustrated by Frank Stack) is an autobiographical book by two writers at once. Harvey and his wife Joyce tell about a year in their lives in which they move house and work at their jobs, and then, as the title suggests, cancer comes along to make everything all the more complicated. What I love about this graphic novel is how detailed the narrative is! We learn about Harvey and Joyce’s living situation and the neighbourhood, but we also get into their heads to explore all the things they were going through. A very challenging time for both of them.

This graphic novel is more focused on the writing than the art. Stack’s art style is able to show everything that needs showing, but it’s also a sketchy mutating sort of deal that feels quite scribbly at times. From what can be gathered from the story, Harvey Pekar probably had an average income, and with that it’s hard to hire a whole team of artists to get to those immaculate levels of detail that some of us crave. Good job nonetheless. It’s like having a house when you want a mansion; in the end, a house’ll do just fine.

Anyway, if you want to share the challenges of Harvey and Joyce, if you want to get to know these two, and how they behave and think through seriously refreshing and brutal honesty, then give this book a read!

True Loves

true-loves-vol-1-coverReview by Matthew Nielsen

True Loves by Jason Turner and Manien Batoma is a romance comic set in Vancouver, Canada, that tells the story of True, the owner of a used clothes store, and Zander, a grocery clerk with a positive attitude. The story starts with True in a relationship with Dirk, a busy and well-to-do man, but the two aren’t on the same wavelength. When Zander comes into play, True finds that he’s someone she can relate to more. The book balances the perspectives of both True and Zander, equally following the life of one, then the other, while also presenting the times they meet up together.

The characters are likable, believable, and all-round good people. The story has a positive vibe to it, but plenty of realistic challenges come along as well.

The artwork, by Turner, whilst not at the level of detail of, say, the average manga or superhero comic, still shows everything that needs to be shown, and in a bold, clean, and clear style. The comic flows really well at a fine pace, and if you want to read it fast, that can be done no problem.

Be ready for a good little graphical trip to Vancouver with a short and sweet story. I’m looking forward to reading the next volume.

Cloudscape’s Top Ten Comics of the Decade 3

In true collective fashion, we over at Cloudscape headquarters put our heads together this week to come up with a master list of what we consider to be the top ten comics produced in the 2000s. Five of us each came up with our own independent lists (which can be found on the forum) and then those lists were compiled together through a top secret mathematical formula. The results are here! (more…)