A tale among stars

As a kid I never really found sci-fi appealing. I was raised on fairytales so fantasy was my natural first choice as far as genres go. When I was about eight years old I discovered I liked horror as well and to this day, those two genres are what I constantly look for regardless of medium. What they have in common is that there are elements of the fantastic in them – supernatural beings, magic, and everything that humans can’t create or become.

Sci-fi (or at least the common notion of it) is about technology, steel, everything artificial and fabricated. Even when it deals with distant worlds, it is nothing unreachable. No matter how out-of-this-world the stories are, they are still grounded on science. And science is what humans do so I never saw it as anything special. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I got to read this comic book series called Saga that I became more interested in the genre.

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Written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, Saga is about as sci-fi as you can get. It is a true space adventure spanning an entire galaxy. It has all manner of life forms from people with horns and wings to biomechanical robots with TVs for heads to large cats that can tell when you’re lying. It is a reality where space bounty hunting is a lucrative career path and spaceships are a common form of transportation; so common that they literally grow on trees. There’s even an entire planet that deals in interplanetary sex trade and a giant flaming gorilla (because why not?).

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So what makes Saga any different from other sci-fi stories? Well, BKV wrote it, that’s what. Like Vaughan’s other works, his character development for Saga is top-notch. First he lets you fall in love with protagonists Alana and Marko, who got into a forbidden relationship in spite of being from rival races that are locked in an endless war with each other. Despite their biological differences, they actually end up having a baby and get chased throughout the galaxy for it (hence the space adventure).

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Then, Vaughan introduces you to their would-be captors: a bounty hunter named The Will and his trusty sidekick Lying Cat. You’ll end up liking them, too, just because they’re a cool pair. There will be parts where you want the protagonists to get away, but at the same time you also end up worrying about what happens to the bounty hunters. It feels like the good guys are good guys and the “bad” guys don’t seem so bad so part of you roots for them, too. And that’s one of the things I enjoy about this story – even the bad guys are likeable.

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Oh, and then there’s Prince Robot IV. He’s a bit of a douche but he does make the story that much more interesting. I guess you can say he’s the main bad guy of the story.

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Beyond all the weird elements of sci-fi, Saga is packed with humor, action, serious and heart-felt moments, great characters and so much more. This series made me realize that genres aren’t always what make stories enjoyable, and that the best stories are the ones that are able to transcend those delineations anyway. It’s no surprise that Saga is what many believe to be the best comic book on the shelves today. And if you know comic book fans, you know that that compliment isn’t something that gets thrown around lightly. This series really does live up to its hype.

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Welcome to the Rez

Last week I read the third volume of Scalped, the highly acclaimed series from writer Jason Aaron and artist R. M. Guéra. The story follows Dashiell “Dash” Badhorse who, after running away from the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation fourteen years ago, returns as an undercover agent for the FBI. His mission: to investigate suspected crime boss and tribal leader Lincoln Red Crow.

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The first three volumes of Scalped: The Deluxe Edition from Vertigo Comics.

This series was an unlikely favorite since crime isn’t really a genre I’d go crazy for, and the only reason I picked up the first volume was because there was so much praise behind it. But as soon as I started reading the novel, I was hooked.

What I really like about this series is that it feels very real. A lot of the story’s elements are grounded on Native American history, and the richness of their culture makes the novel that much more compelling. I also love that the art fits the story really well. The mixture of dark and vibrant colors adds so much to the comic’s gritty atmosphere.

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This is definitely one of the more serious graphic novels I read, but Aaron’s masterful writing is sure to have you turning pages with all the twists and turns. You’ll find yourself deeply invested in the characters, constantly worrying when they get into trouble and breathing a sigh of relief when they pull through.

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You know a story is good when it evokes real emotion, and that is precisely what this book does. Scalped capped off with issue number 60 back in 2012, and the hardcover compilations which I’m collecting will have two more volumes, set to be released later this year. With consistently solid and intense story arcs, I’m sure the conclusion to this sordid masterpiece can only be explosive. I can’t wait to read it.

The protagonist dies (and that’s not a spoiler)

I just finished reading Daytripper, the 2011 Eisner Award winner for best limited series, written and illustrated by Brazilian twins Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. I must say, I didn’t expect to be THAT entertained by it. Partly because it’s about everyday life, partly because I haven’t read anything from the duo before so I didn’t really know what to expect.

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Daytripper deluxe edition from Vertigo Comics. Collects all 10 issues of the award-winning series.

First of all, let me praise Vertigo Comics for producing such a beautiful hardcover volume. I’ve always liked their deluxe editions but this is definitely one of my favorites as far as physical appearance goes. The art on the dust jacket is very inviting – colorful in a most soothing way, dynamic but gentle on the eyes.

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The design for the hardcover is the exact opposite, being black and white, but it is equally delightful. I like the clean white surface with the Bá’s illustration of Brás de Oliva Domingos, the book’s main character.

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I also like the black spine, accentuated by silver lettering, which gives the book its simple elegance.

Now, on to the story. Or, more accurately, stories. The book revolves around Brás who works as an obituary writer for a local newspaper. He dreams of someday publishing a book and following the footsteps of his father, who happens to be a world-renowned Brazilian writer. Sounds normal enough, right? Except each issue tells a different story from a different point in Brás’ life, and what makes it more interesting is that he dies at the end of each chapter. (Yes, you read that right.)

In one issue, Brás struggles with his job and his relationship with his father, and then he dies.

In another issue, Brás is a kid without a care in the world, and then he dies.

In another issue, Brás is a successful writer, recognized by everyone, and then he dies.

And each of his deaths happen at the most inconvenient, unexpected moment. You might find it weird, unappealing or even nonsensical, but taken as a whole, the book expounds on the fleeting nature of our existence, invites us to question the things we value, and ultimately dives head-first into the discussion on what living life really means. It is one of those rare works that can be considered a must-read for everyone – truly an emotionally-charged masterpiece.

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My favorite quote from the book: “There is no one way to live or to die. Will the choices you make to do the former affect how you’ll do the latter?”

Check out more from the creators on their blog: http://fabioandgabriel.blogspot.com/

The early works of Jeff Lemire

I still remember the very afternoon when I first encountered one of Jeff Lemire’s works. I tend to spend my lunch breaks at the mall and as you might guess, I frequently end up checking out bookstores during such trips. So there I was, carefully examining what’s new on the shelves, looking for things I might have missed during my last visit. That time, I checked the bottom shelf of the graphic novels section hoping to find a hidden gem; I was not disappointed.

I pulled out Lemire’s Underwater Welder from a row of books that seemed to have been forgotten, tucked away beneath Superman, the Walking Dead and the other more popular books that were deemed worthy of the more visible shelf space. At the time, I had no idea what it was about. I don’t have any particular interest in underwater construction either, but the cover just drew me in.

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The story is about a man who struggles with the demands of his job while trying so desperately to be a good husband as he deals with the pressures of his impending fatherhood. As everything seems to be falling apart, a supernatural encounter at the bottom of the ocean sends him to a Twilight Zone type of world.

I would describe Lemire’s art as rugged – not the most technical, not the smoothest drawings you’ll see in today’s comics. But his style communicates the human emotion so strongly. The brilliance of his drawings is that they have the ability to be so striking, so effective in delivering the message in spite of being remarkably simple. The impeccable use of the eyes, some well-placed lines on the face and you find yourself empathizing with the character.

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The use of black and white also adds to the emotion of the book by creating an eerie atmosphere, characteristic of his earlier works.

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Lemire can write about the most mundane things and still manage to captivate his audience through his emotionally charged works. Later on I picked up Essex County, his first graphic novel under Top Shelf Productions and a predecessor of Underwater Welder.

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Again I got more of those expressive looks and Lemire’s trademark gloomy atmosphere.

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It never gets old though, and it’s no surprise he was able to transition into mainstream comics with his masterful storytelling. Since releasing his earlier works under Top Shelf Productions, Jeff Lemire has worked for various comic book publishers including Vertigo, DC Comics and Image.