Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Blankets, Gorillas, and Robots: Comics Have Everything!

After my comic-memoir kick in 2008, it was only a matter of time before I tackled Blankets, by Craig Thompson, which my brother got me for my birthday last year, not even realizing I wanted to read it. Blankets is notable for several reasons: it won three Harveys and two Eisners, it was one of Time's Top 10 Graphic Novels, and it's nearly 600 fucking pages long. A true graphic novel, it tells the story of Craig Thompson's coming-of-age by focusing on several key relationships in his life: that with his little brother, his extremely Christian parents, his first love, and God. He struggles with his beliefs and how they may direct his life. The main focus of the book, however, is a very sweet love story, and his relationship with Raina helps him learn a lot about the world and his place in it.

The writing is very natural, but Thompson gets poetic when the occasion calls for it, although it sometimes takes you out of the story when it seeps into the dialogue. Teenagers don't talk like that! The art is simple black-and-white but lovely: while Thompson mostly draws in a realistic style, he also gets surreal and metaphoric to great effect, using the graphic medium to his advantage. I was most impressed with his ability to convey so much emotion with facial expressions.

Blankets, like life, doesn't give you all the answers, but it asks the right questions.

In contrast, The Annotated Mantooth, by Matt Fraction and Andy Kuhn, collects the adventures of Rex Mantooth, a talking gorilla superspy. My interest was spurred by seeing Matt Fraction at Comic-Con, but Strega had been wanting me to read it for yonks. It was Matt Fraction's first published work in comics, and his first line of dialogue is a talking gorilla yelling, "Shit the bed!" He broke into the scene with a spy who fights ninja robots, lesbian commandos, and zombie Nobel laureates.

Mantooth is off the fucking wall, you guys. Each issue is only thirteen pages long since it shared space with another comic, but those thirteen pages are packed with ridiculous dialogue, hilarious captions, and plenty of explosions. And then the annotations are sometimes even funnier than the comic. That Matt Fraction, he's a funny guy. It's a book well worth picking up. Even the introductions are funny!

I was introduced to the wonder of Atomic Robo, by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, by kali921, who linked to "Why Atomic Robo Hates Dr. Dinosaur," which you may remember mutinousmuse and I did a dramatic reading of. I think I can pretty much stop there, because after reading that, if you're not going out to the comic book store and buying Atomic Robo, I don't know what is wrong with you. I mean, I pretty much blind-bought the entire series at Comic-Con. But, okay, I will continue pimping.

Atomic Robo is a wisecracking, self-aware robot created by Nikola Tesla in 1923. Over the decades, he faces giant robots, giant monsters, ghosts, vampires, and other strange horrors. He tends to throw cars at things, and there's no problem he can't solve with another explosion. After founding Tesladyne Industries, he acquires a team of Action Scientists who can accompany him into the field as they fight monsters with SCIENCE.

Atomic Robo is pure entertainment. It does not seek to comment on society's relationship with technology. It does not delve into the meaning of consciousness and intelligence as bestowed upon a mechanical being. It does not dwell on the plight of an essentially immortal creature fighting beasts for decades. In fact, the creators have made several simple promises about the series: no angst, no "cheesecake," no reboots, no filler, and no delays. That doesn't mean that the writing is superficial and light; on the contrary, because Robo's adventures span decades, the stories jump time periods constantly, but the timeline remains consistent, and there is clear continuity. And even though there isn't a series-long arc beyond a pesky nemesis or two, each volume typically has a common thread that ties the stories together.

One of the greatest things about the book—besides the colorful, crisp art, the hilarious dialogue, and the generally wacky sensibility—is that it's made for science geeks. Volume Three, which features Robo facing a Lovecraftian horror with the help of H.P. Lovecraft and Charles Fort, includes a prominent guest role by Carl Sagan. There's a mini-story that takes into account the rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Stephen Hawking makes a cameo. One issue has an entire page of science puns. And Robo reacts to impossibly giant monsters with, "Why do we even have the square cube law?"

The world is better with Atomic Robo in it, so I urge you to check it out. You can even read some free comics. The first four volumes are collected in trade, and the first issue of Volume 5 just came out, so it's the perfect time to get caught up!
Tags: books, comics, family, lj friends, pimpings, real life friends
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