Essex County by Jeff Lemire

This book broke me. And then it fixed me.

essexcountyWith Jeff Lemire’s name and this bright artwork on cover, I was expecting something heartwarming. It was warm, in fact a bit too warm that my heart got melted away.

Like the title says, it is the story of Essex County, of it’s people and their lives spanning over generations. There are three separate volumes, that subtly segue between various characters and time periods. There is a prevailing sense of loneliness and longing in every character, be it the introvert boy ‘Lester’, one hit wonder ‘Lou’ or the Nurse. Jeff easily characterizes these emotions through art; through fonts, shadows, inanimate objects, snow and even the eyes of characters. The artwork here is more or less sequential, strictly minimal and monochromatic. And it was impressive how the concatenating narrative unraveled complicated relations in sheer simplicity, evoking strong emotions in the process. To each person Essex means something different, and they all have their passions to hold on to when the world around them slips.

212I found a lot of my confused childhood in ‘Lesters’ eyes, the awkwardness and loneliness and escapism in comic book reality. Even in the absence of colours and detailing, little incoherent circles that formed his eyes, and single line that formed his facial expression, conveyed a lot to me than usual words would. Like brightening of the circles and downward curving of lines, when ‘Lester’ was running around in the farm, in his red cape.

CaptureThe second story was too intense for me, it hit me so hard in my feels that I had to close the book more than a few times. Though it is a singular story line, the sequence is jarred, and we are switched through povs and timelines, almost effortlessly. As depressing as it sounds, I somehow identified myself the most with ‘Lou’ in his loneliness, nonchalance and melancholy. Jeff was honest in his literature and artistic depiction of guilt and loss, and their aftermath. There was a lot of similarity between Lester and Lou, mostly on the pleasant side, and for more than once in the surreal business of flashbacks I suspected the latter being the elder version of former. The simultaneous loss of love and friendship drives Lou to strong guilt, the kind that doesn’t allow you to move on or be happy. He tries to make sense of my his lonely life by holding on to the only thing that matters- Hockey, to which he was a one hit wonder of; yet his life somehow finds its way back to the focal point of tragedy.

Picture1.pngThe subtle difference between grief and guilt was addressed in surprising detail here, like how others move on with their life and you are left with a perpetrator guilt that runs simulations of ‘what if’ scenarios in your head over and over. And even after eons, the first thing that gets to your head about a broken friendship would be that focal point. You will be looking for excuses, trying to fix something that is permanently broken and that no one anymore cares about. Guilt keept Lou in a state of perpetual ‘Merlin Sickness’; shrinking him mentally towards the traumatic past, and physically away from it.

xczscfdasfThe last story, involving the Nurse was the one I connected least with even though it was the most communicative among the three. Yet, in a way, it was the story line I needed most. The whole book is predictable, occasionally surreal and even melancholic. But there is an element of magical realism in it, an unreliability in the narration that bends reality between characters, time zones, dreams and memories. There are moments that make you smile, moments that make you ponder even if it’s something as insignificant as the appearance of a crow, and moments that make you sad, but fills you with hope. Jeff does a great job in making characters as real as possible, they age, they feel and they respond like a normal human being than someone sketched out on a paper. And above all, it is beautiful.

22310023._SX540_As I was nearing the end of my reading, the book had left me devastated, badly in need for a hug. And surprisingly, by the time it all ended, the book itself became the very hug that I badly needed.

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The Arrival by Shaun Tan

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‘Beautiful’ would be an overused adjective for this magical visual narrative. There is literally nothing to read in the graphic novel, no written words, no colours, no page numbers; but each panel speaks a lot more than what a conventional paragraph would do.

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The graphic novel opens and closes with detailed portraits of people from all over the world, celebrating the diversity and harmony of magical world of immigrants in story.

It is the story of a man immigrating from his strange world to another in search of job and livelihood, leaving his family behind. New beginnings can be scary as well as exciting; the gorgeous art effortlessly conveys conversations, passing of time, flash backs and emotions through our man  and people whom he encounters. Migration and multiculturalism are recurring themes in this book, with every character being like the protagonist sometime in their life, an immigrant looking for a new home, with his/her whole life and dreams in a suitcase. Worlds illustrated in this graphic novel are strange and steampunk-y, with monsters and pokemon like creatures. And everybody speaks distinctly different languages, but it is barely a barrier for the ‘melting pot’ they live in, like how the absence of wordings in the book isn’t a barrier for readers in following the story.

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Four pages that capture ‘time’ through simple sequences. This belongs to the flashback back story of one of the character our hero meets, who was the sole survivor of an old war.
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Titanic reference, in one panel somewhere after the first arrival. Other similar inspirational throwbacks are there in the book, undecipherable for me though.

In the artist after note Shaun directs to various immigrant anecdotes as his thematic inspiration. There were subtle artistic throwbacks as well towards some of the world’s most famous pictures, like the panel of newsboy announcing Titanic catastrophe. Another aspect I noticed about the art was the meticulous attention for detail, for every time I revisited the book it offered something new, something that made me smile. The panels often panned out into a birds eye view, thus reminding reader of all others who follow protagonist’s same plight and insecurities. Analyzing even from a primitive artistic pov, the sketches are definitely nothing easily reproducible, and the usage of inanimate objects and single focuses to convey passing of time is rather phenomenal and unconventionally cinematic.

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This panning out panes are a recurring occurrence in Tan’s visual narrative. First page is from protagonist’s first journey away from his family, the zooming out of perspective represents the departure. Similar usage in second page is a bit more interesting, it captures the similar plight of other immigrants around him, in that apartment complex.
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Though this leaf/flower/plant is alien to readers, this single page brightly conveys the sense of time that has been passed through over seasons.

This extensive work of 4 years could easily be completed in 10 minutes, or one could dwell into the side quests for long absorbing it’s cycles of departure, alienation, fear, assimilation and growth. No matter which path you take, you are bound to revisit for the beautiful feels.

/Above video provides a good insight into the mind and artwork of Shaun Tan./

Nameless by Grant Morrison

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In our solar system, between Mars and Jupiter, there is an asteroid belt, which some people see as an anomaly in place of a should-have-been 5th planet. This hypothetical planet is named as Phaeton by scientists, and the pseudosciences behind it are collectively referred to as ‘disruption theory’. This comic bends that theory and use it in its multi layered narrative, with one completely unfitting element – occultism.

Nameless is a name. Its the name of our protagonist who identifies himself as an expert on the occult(like Constantine). Story opens with a seance, of cosmic proportions, where Nameless is contracted to obtain an archaic key off someone’s dream, by inducing dreams inside dreams. Pretty much like Cobbs from Inception, but with a Lovecraftian touch and Legion(X- Men) psychology.

Meanwhile a huge asteroid- Xibalba (Mayan underworld reference) with a weird Enochian symbol on its surface, is on a collision course with Earth, with a margin of 33 days. A group of scientists are stationed at the Dark side of the moon, to act as Planet’s Michael Bay-ish ‘Armageddon’ crew. Things get weird and trippy when Nameless is recruited to decipher the asteroid symbol and solve the first murder on moon, which turns out to be more or less an Event Horizon scenario. Wrapping my head around this plot is still an ongoing process. It is a non linear acid trip with intertwined ‘unreliable narratives’, that borrows reality realms off Kaballic Tree of Life for plot; and from comic’s own panels, Nameless is Exorcist meeting Apollo 13 in Dantes Inferno.

There are fish people, door to an anti universe and exposure to Elder ones. Also you get to see serious people in space suits with Gravity Falls symbols painted all over, doing Randezvous with Rama and Mountain of Madness. By later issues, it reminded me of Warren Ellis Injection in quality and mind blowing wtf contents.

I must remind you of comic’s mature nature, with gruesomenese in levels with Martyrs movie, if it was a comic. Adding to the horrors is Morrison’s spinning writing – obscure and lunatic(and awesome), like its sci-fi premise. Nameless is further blessed by Burham’s gorgeous artwork- properly inked and meticulously detailed, like a Jodorowsky panel. Also, the reading experience may not be for every body(definitely, not for me if ever cinematic-ally adapted), especially with its vividly rendered physical violence, and existential (and arguably heretic) philosophy.

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Though intellectually demanding and deep, this limited series was a solid read; and weird fun, like all 6 issues in single sitting fun. To me, Nameless in its entirety felt like listening to Tool, while being relatively high.

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Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilger Trout

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Kilger Trout is a familiar name among Vonnegut fans, the fictional sci fi writer whose existence every reader secretly wished and googled for. Though Farmer’s version made Vonnegut cross, who according to internet overstatement legends, had dismissed the novel as a fakers drivel (mostly coz of creator ambiguity, which was later cleared by a by-line), I found it pretty fab.

This book is weird, comical, extremely absurd, reference filled and absolutely staggering. I was enraptured from the very introduction itself, and found it a worthy source(successor) material for that brief Trout plot from God Bless You Mr. Rosewater. Novel follows facetious accounts of Simon Wagstaff in his quest for “definitive answer to the most important question” (which I believe Douglas Adamas later payed homage to), with a peculiar Scheckley like sci fi humour. For a book that is propelled by its absurdness, it was delightfully scientific and philosophical at parts. Well, after fist few chapters fun seemed to dwindle and absurdity went a large, making me a bit Vonnegut-ish, only to have it compensated in long run.

rick-and-morty42Novel opened up with a Gunslinger like hero in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy scenario. Then on, it transcended into a series of Mindswap style adventures of our Space cowboy and his little Guardians of the Galaxy gang with Anubis the dog, Athena the owl, and his super hot alien robot girlfriend – Chworktap[anagram for Patchwork] (yes, arguments are invalid). There were tons of literary references during this loquacious honky-tonk, on which the novel hilariously craps on. Exploding Star creating a new religion, Titanic and Icarus Spaceship company, 2001 A Space Odessy conscious AI, even Westworld, Doctor Who Face of Boe feline society, Shaltoonian’s Assassins Creed, Hwang Ho for Millennium Falcon, Cowboy Bebop, Reichenbach falls and Sherlock Holmes with Ralf von Wau Wau are a few I had fun picking at. Oh and that uncanny resemblance between Sommers’ John Clayter series and Doctor Who porn parody.

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Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, figures

Venus on half shell is the Rick and Morty of sci-fi literature. It is like one of those day dream fantasy we devour as college sophomores and cringe on later in maturity. Anyway I found myself googling Jonathan Sommers III, Farmer’s Kilger Trout to fill the void left by this.

If you are weird and like weird things, this book is for you.

Mindsawp by Robert Sheckley

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Books like these are the reason I read.
Mindswap evoked a familiar, Lem or Douglas Adams feel, but this is one rare weird sci fi gem with a combination of meta realism and humour so unique of its own.

Marvin Flynn, a casual vacationer from hinterlands of Earth with innate small-town conservatism goes all wanderlust and decides to see the vastness of cosmos at minimal disposal of funds. He then Mindswaps with one Martian, a logically unsettling, but cheap process that allows individuals to swap minds with people light years away in mutual consent. Mindswap is basically Bester’s Jaunting without the body or a docile version of Matrix’s Agent Smith bodyswap or maybe little bloody Third Birthday possession.

But Marvin had to let go of the Martian body and swap along a series of near sorry situations all long the universe in bodies of various intelligent species, thanks to an Intergalactic body snatching criminal called Kraggosh. Meanwhile a stumblebum intergalactic detective ‘Urdrof’ with implacable will and utter self confidence is hunting Kraggosh, hoping Marvins body would break his protracted bad luck series of 158 lost cases so far.

“You forget that I am a detective,’ Urdorf said, smiling faintly. ‘I may have my troubles in finding criminals, but I have never experienced the slightest difficulty in finding victims”.

Marvin adventures includes talking eggs, poetic alien hermit who converse in sing-song fashion, intergalactic daily wage contract, Don Quixote references and acid trip reality benders. Previously referred Quixote fandom goes full swing in later chapters with totally absurd unnecessary anew characters fighting for chivalrous bullshit. It had me going ‘why is he telling us all this’ to ‘are these some printing errors’ to an eventually graduated emotion – ‘awesome’. Marvin – Kraggosh Twistedland boss battle so reminded me of the rotomodante slow motion fights I had with bro wen we were kids. Total high dope laugh out loud fun stuff.

f4ceb0002584f9dc49bbfaea267In terms of eloquence and adroitness, Scheckley’s humour is comparable to Lovecrafts horror. Tweaking Scheckleys own words, It was typical of books of this genre to overdo the youthful slang, thus losing any comic effect except the amazingly unintentional, but not this one. In fact Marvin Flynn is a cross of Arthur Dent and Gully Foyle, on the docile side, two puny Terra citizens lost in vastness of Cosmos.

 

 

This book is worth the reads and re reads and re re reads, not just for the laughs but for the deepness it cleverly hides.

Shiver Bureau : Welcome to London

Thanks to the author for sharing with me an early copy in exchange for an honest review.

Bit of Constantine, bit of Gene from Life on Mars, bit of 10th Doctor‘s hair n suit, bit of FMA style alchemy and loads of paranormal demons.
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This was a really refreshing, mad, fun book with stylized sleek artwork and funny comic dialogues; though I might complain about the inking now and then. Shiver Bureau is a paranormal detective mystery set in an alternative Victorian steampunk -ish London and ticks a lot of muddled crazy stuff. Loved the depiction of London through words as well as sketches, very neat and widely panned.
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This Welcome to London story arc reminded me of that Christmas Doctor Who episode, the one with Snowmen, thanks to the grand invasion plan. So about the plot,

 

A young Inspector arrives at London on his new appointment with Shiver Bureau, gets stuck with unconventional colleagues and fights monsters in a widely connected missing children case all over London. It is more fun than it sounds, there were situations that made me laugh; if only I could screenshot the premise for you. Story might seem to be going in familiar terrains with detective work, action, monsters and mystery, still it’s surprising at times. I really hope they don’t go Blue Exorcist on Pickle.

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And it was awesome to find the first drafts included at the back side of story, showing the transition in story line as well as artwork. Gave me a really good perspective from the writer’s and artist’s side. I must say Pickle and Todd were more John and Dave from John dies at the end than Sherlock and Watson.

Looking forward to further installments and a re-inked future edition, because colours 

and get more here http://shiverbureau.com/

SuperGod : Warren Ellis , a world where men create Gods

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Five stars to the first #4 editions and 3 stars to the finale. It was one really crazy, stupid, neo start with an ubercool apocalypse. Countries of the world being obsessed in creating their own Gods from mythos by superhuman experiments. And eventually earth becomes their battleground.

A perfect read to get stuffed in after the Brexit poll. I was past two issues while watching new puny , stab into our childhood, Independence Day movie and all through that destruction I could only think of the remaining issues of Supergod, waiting for me at home. 🙂krishna supergod
So Indian government creates Krishna, who decides that the only way to save India is by reducing the population and rebuilding from scratch. Pakistan getting obliterated by their own missiles on their try to save India from Krishna, The Russian supergod Perun is on a fight run to Delhi and so is the Iranian antigod. Amidst all these chaos the British one is an astranaut fused to some mushroom alien species deity and American one is a dead astronaut who is pretty much Captain America. I know what you are thinking, but If it sounds stupid and still entertains, It aint stupid.cthulhu supergods

Plus the name of American Supergod is Jerry. And really kickasss artwork and fights. I would pay double to watch it in big screen. Also the final battle involves an all organic frigging Cthulhu 🙂