warren ellis

Four comics and some very disturbing fairy tales

Yesterday, I mentioned that I got to see the works of some of my beloved impressionists. What I didn't tell you was the the highlight of the day, hands down, was the Natalie Frank Grimm's Fairy Tales exhibition. I've always known, on an abstract level, that the original versions of these stories were very dark and extremely carnal in nature. I've never read the originals, but I've read several which hinted at the more adult version of the stories. The second collection of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman," The Doll's House,  changed the way I looked at the Red Riding Hood story.

Natalie Frank takes that to a whole 'nother level. She is a visceral artist in the most literal sense of the word. She doesn't merely illustrate the stories; she gets at the disturbing, gut-level...horror? Is it horror? That's not quite the right word, but it's in the ballpark. Her work is unflinchingly bright and she borders it almost like a circus freak-show poster. Rather than listening to me continue to try to describe it, I urge you to check out her work for yourself. I found it unforgettable in the way a really excellent nightmare is hard to shake. 

This weekend's comic book haul was the most literal representation of a "mixed bag" one could hope for. The first one I read was issue 6 of Grant Morrison's "Annihilator." This final issue was classic Morrison in that I'm not going to be certain I've understood what was going on until I go back and re-read the previous issues. Re-read them several times, in all likelihood. With most writers, you might think that this was meant as a complaint, but if you're at all familiar with Morrison, you know that this is part and parcel to reading his work.  Frazer Irving's art is stunning. I didn't much care for his earlier work with Morrison on Klarion the With Boy, but that as more do to with the specific book than Irving's ability. He produces almost psychedelic images that are very much his own, which, given the history of comic book art, is very impressive indeed. I'm very nearly certain that this book is a work of genius.

The next one in the pile was issue 3 of Warren Ellis' "Injection." We're only just now starting to get a tiny peek at what's going on and it looks like it's going to be spectacular. Ellis reminds me of one of my favorite sci-fi authors, Larry Niven, in that he can take a really weird idea or two and craft a compelling story around it. Add in the fact that Ellis has become a true craftsman at telling the story, which isn't at all the same thing as having a compelling story to tell, and you get the start of what promises to be a hell of a book. The dialog crackles without getting corny, the beats land reliably, and you find yourself really wishing the whole thing were already available in a collection. Oh, and Declan Shalvey's art fits like a glove He and Ellis worked together on a spectacular Moon Knight run which featured some of the best art the character has every seen (and Moon Knight has always been more about look that story.) This is a very different story with sprawling locations, huge exteriors and tight interiors. It's got to be a challenge and he seems very much up for it.

It's been far, far too long since I've been able to pick up a new Jhonen Vasquez comic book, and it's been too long since we've had any new Invader Zim material to devour. Both of these problems are now official solved with the release of Invader Zim #1. The weight of expectations made me a little nervous about picking this one up, but it's a worthy successor on all levels. That is to say, it's funny. It's really, really funny. Now, I suspect it's even funnier if you've seen the old Nickelodeon show a gazillion times. You won't be able to read the dialog without hearing the voices from the show in your head. But, I suspect this would work for readers who've never seen the show. If anything the tone and voice of the characters is even stronger than in the original. I'm not 100% sold on Aaron Alexovich's and Megan Lawton's somewhat streamlined take on the art, but I'm pretty sure it will grow on me. Vasquez' visual style has always been busy to an almost distracting degree, and I suspect that once I get used to the change, I'll grow to like it.

The last book wasn't anywhere nearly as successful. I picked up issue #1 of J.G. Jones' and Mark Waid's Strange Fruit. Let's start with what's good: Jones' art is absolutely stellar. It evokes an era and a point-of-view beautifully. It's been compared to Norman Rockwell and the comparison has some merit. I think that the intent here is to write a powerful story on race relations and I think that this is a project the writers believe in deeply.

Reading it, though, it didn't work for me. From a standpoint of mechanics, it was very much a typical superhero origin story: Set the stage, identify the villains, identify the need for the hero, and then unveil the hero at the end. However, trying to  paste tropes that work in ,say, Superman's origin into what is meant to be a very serious Book With A Message On Race feels off to me. There's a better, more thorough discussion of the problems with this book over at Women Write About Comics. J.A. Micheline makes a powerful argument that Strange Fruit shouldn't have even been made. I'm torn on that conclusion. I'm suspicious of arguments that tell writers what subjects they may and may not cover, but I do think when you're wading out into the realm of other people's experiences, you have an obligation to get it exactly, perfectly right. 


I'm not familiar with "The Six Swans" I think I ought to rectify that.

Warren Ellis and why "Book Reviewer" ought to be something one can make a career of

Let me be blunt: Warren Ellis writes about books in a way that makes me want to read them.

This is an exceptionally rare skill and it ought to be the sort of skill which provides one with a comfortable income, homes on several continents, cars so rare that racing games have never even heard of them, several ponies (because who wouldn't want a pony) and the absolute best chemical amusement aids money can buy. You probably think that I'm exaggerating, but I'm dead serious. The ability to make people make a point of seeking out and reading books is like alchemy in that it's a both a lost art and probably impossible.

I've always found most book reviews strangely bloodless. If you're passionate about something, you ought to feel compelled to bust out a few superlatives. Instead, you mostly get a generic plot-summary, some historical background, a personal anecdote, and maybe a few sentences on something like "voice." I've read very few reviews that made me more interested in a book than I already was. I don't want a book report; I want reasons to read it (or avoid it).

Check out this Warren Ellis write-up of Don Winslow's The Power of the Dog. Does that make you want to read some Don Winslow? I know it sure as hell works for me. I've never read Don Winslow, and now I feel like this is a serious failing on my part.

Thomas Pynchon's Against The Day wasn't really on my radar until I read what Mr. Ellis had to say about it. After reading that (and if you haven't, go back and please, please do so), how could I not read it? I'm halfway through it and it's utterly spellbinding.

See? "Spellbinding?" How does that make you want to read a book? That's what I'm talking about. It's not as easy as it sounds, is it? It's an under-appreciated talent that deserves more respect. And cash. Lots and lots of cash.

EDIT: Here's another one: Warren Ellis on The Water Knife

No, not  this  Warren Ellis. The other one. Don't feel bad; they get this sort of thing a lot.   

No, not this Warren Ellis. The other one. Don't feel bad; they get this sort of thing a lot.


In which my body gets it backwards (plus some Coffee Achievers stuff)

I was unwell last evening. Headaches, nausea, and just plain exhaustion put me in bed by 7:30 which is to say, last night might as well not have happened from my standpoint. I was prepared to call in to the office this morning, legitimately ill.

Of course, now I'm no longer legitimately ill, and I'm at the office. I need to have a word or two with my body about this. If it isn't too much bother, I would prefer to be sick during work hours and well during my time off. This sort of arrangements is one of the few perks of having an "exempt" position and I almost never take advantage of it.


On the plus side, while I'm reasonably sure I won't be able to salvage anything from the story I wrote the other night, browsing through my drafts folder brought my attention to another failed bit which is absolutely perfect for adaptation to the task at hand. There's probably a French expression for this sort of thing, but I have no clue what it might be. So, back to the task this evening, assuming my body is ok with it.

On the double-plus side, pouring my coffee this morning reminded me of one of the most awesome relics of the 80's: The Coffee Achievers!  Remember The Coffee Achievers? No? In the early-mid 80's, the coffee people decided to run a series of ads to try to get young people interested in their product. Coffee was on the decline while MTV was on the rise, so, they put two and two together and came up with The Coffee Achievers: A series of 30 second spots, set to the music of the incomparable Electric Light Orchestra, featuring:

Actress Cicely Tyson

Football player Ken Anderson

Musician David Bowie

Writer Kurt Vonnegut

Actress Jane Curtin

Musicians Ann and Nancy Wilson (Heart)

Read that list carefully and then try to tell me this wouldn't have been the most awesome crimefighting superhero group ever. And man, you want to talk about reboots? Try casting The Coffee Achievers of the 2010's. Imagine a crossover. I really want to take a stab at this, but I can't stop imagining how amazing it would be if this were one of Warren Ellis' secret projects.


A man can dream. A man can dream.