Monday, 6 June 2011

The jewel in the crown

I'm just back from a week on the continent, where I sipped cocktails and watched polo matches and slept in the bed of a member of the British royal family. But never mind all that; it's another story. What made the homecoming a pleasure, despite the water torture of an English summer after the dazzling blue skies of France, was the waiting parcel of Dark Horse titles from Avalon Comics, formerly my local comics store on Lavender Hill but now a mail order business with a difference. (Try them, you won't be disappointed.)

Any visit to the Mignolaverse is a treat, but this package of titles really stood out. "Being Human" in Hellboy 54 is another quantum of perfection from the team of Mike Mignola and Richard Corben. We previously had "The Crooked Man", which must be one of the spookiest stories ever. And "Hellboy in Mexico", in which the big red boy took on a masked wrestler who was the avatar of an Aztec bat-god, followed by the deliriously Weird Tales-y "Sullivan's Reward". Mignola's writing seems to inspire Corben to attain the very pinnacle of his art; having Corben there to realize his imaginings spurs Mignola to create stories that really matter. And when you have those two guys working at the top of their game, it really doesn't get any better than that.

Another treat in the package was the latest outing for Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder. The story itself in this case isn't anything special. Sir Edward himself is unconvincing as a character and, perhaps recognizing that, Mignola uses the story as a showcase for a bunch of new cowboy characters. It's like that old episode of Star Trek where Roddenberry was trying to set up a spy series spin-off. But any tiredness in the storytelling is more than redeemed by the art of comics legend John Severin, now pushing ninety and still able to conjure up atmosphere and drama with the best of them. It's actually the simpler touches that I like in Severin's art, like this:

But there's no denying that his action drawings have extraordinary power too:


  1. Er... beg to differ about the drawings. Is that a horse the chap is riding or a llama?

  2. Well, it's certainly alarmed, but not a llama.

  3. I've always meant to get into the Hellboy comics since Del Toro's movie adaptations came out, but haven't for whatever reason. I think I will have to start now.

  4. Conor, for my money BPRD is the place to start. Hellboy is great too, of course, but each month I turn first to the utterly dysfunctional family of Johann and co. Plus BRPD has Guy Davis art and John Arcudi writing. That's a sweet cocktail of comics genius right there.

    Wrt the movies: the first captures the spirit of the books, the second less so for me because of the dumbed-down version of the BPRD characters. But if you haven't visited the Mignolaverse in its original comics form yet, you are in for an amazing journey. I envy you.

  5. I stopped reading BPRD a few years ago (there were just too many frogs…), but I still get Mignola’s ‘Hellboy’ whenever a new one is released in trade paperback. I love how underneath all the outrĂ© elements and wee atmospheric vignettes (my favourite parts are when random skeletons talk to Hellboy), Mignola writes simple storylines, like modern folktales.

    I have read two Grant Morrison comics in the last few weeks: ‘Final Crisis’ and ‘The Return of Bruce Wayne’. I don’t think I have felt so furious with a storyline since I saw ‘The Prestige’. The plots were (to me) convoluted beyond comprehension. I mean, they were really, really bad. To the point that, by the end, I just had no idea what was going on.

    People talk admiringly about authors who make the reader work, who don’t present everything to them on a plate. I suspect some these simply need a really good editor.

    The only comic I still get by the issue is Phil Grist’s ‘Jack Staff’. His ‘Kane’ books are my favourites, but ‘Jack Staff’ is pretty good too. Of all the contemporary comic’s creators I think Grist comes closest to Eisner’s ‘The Spirit’ in his skilful playing around with narrative conventions. I think ‘Kane’ shows him at his best, but Jack Staff regularly has several strands of plotline, each occurring in different places and at different times, all being told all at once, yet somehow all quite coherent and each adding to the whole.

  6. That "making the reader work" thing is also a bugbear in this house, Tom. I believe that readers like to fill in a few little details for themselves, but if they're having to puzzle away to extract the meaning of what's going on then they can't be connecting with the emotion of the story.

    I'll check out Jack Staff. Btw the frogs in BPRD are all dead, though I wouldn't say it's exactly safe to get back in the water.

  7. It might be oddly proportioned, but it would make one hell of a good racehorse. Always a neck in front.