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Trading Up: Freakangels
Lowdown - Article
Posted by Lee Newman on Nov 17, 2008
Tags: avatar, duffield, ellis, freakangels, trading up
Freakangels is a webcomic that is written by Warren Ellis and Illustrated by Paul Duffield. It is also one of the more exciting things that Ellis has written in quite some time.
All too often, the masters of their craft fall into easy territory, choosing to rehash the same material over and over. Ellis has done this to a certain extent. How many times can one writer take Super Heros to their most (il)logical extreme? How many times can one writer use conspiracy and techno futurism to expose the problems in current society?
Certainly, these motifs have been prevalent themes in comics since before Mister X, but anyone who has purchased Dark Horse’s anthology of that landmark independent book knows that Ellis holds that book in the same kind of awe that most fans look at Watchmen. It is no wonder then that so much of his work has had an esoteric and skeptical tone to it. Twenty-five years later, he is trying to match that work. No matter how different Black Summer, No Hero, Planetary, and The Authority are, they are at their core thematic synonyms. The execution and actual mechanism may be different, but the ideas presented are much the same. Certainly the same can be said for works like Doktor Sleepless and Transmetropolitan.
What is refreshing about the story here is that while there is an amount of power corrupting absolutely in this work, the work itself seems to center on the characters who have been thrust into a post apocalyptic world. Sure, it is slowly revealed that their powers led the world to its desolate stature, but here the characters are forced to deal with the ramifications of what they have done. In other books, there are consequences faced, but most of the time Ellis is dealing with how the meta beings came to have gone to far.
Freakangels instead deals with characters who instead of feeling above the normal people, are plagued with guilt over what has happened. The reader must assume that over time the cataclysmic events that got these folks to this place are going to be explained, but for now he must delve into what motivates these characters after they have done the worst they could do. The story in its milieu and pacing has an almost Miyazaka flow to it. The great auteur of Japanese Anime uses location, culture, and history to create something that resonates at a deeper level then much of the popular art form. Here instead of shocking sexual orientations and brash escapades (although it is an Ellis book so there is plenty of that there) the reader is lost in this post informational society’s devolution into steam punk mechanics and tribal social groupings.
It is almost as the worst that could have passed in Princess Monoke did and Humanity is left in an intelligent place but lacks the resources to continue life as we knew it. It is what the world would have been like ten years before we met Mad Max or the Mariner. Ellis takes this setting and populates it with his familiar archetypal characters creating something new and fresh in their story.
This reader is unfamiliar with the work of Paul Duffield, but his express lines and creative scenery make this book a delight to read. There is definitely a European animated influence on the work and if the artist is not drawing and coloring on plastic cells then he has developed a photoshop technique that generates much the same effect. The exuberance of his playful character designs helps us remember that Ellis’s characters here were stunted in their emotional development. It is easier to take in their playful childlike behavior when they look like children instead of post Armageddon worn adults.
Not since Ellis started working with Ryp has he teamed with such a perfect match as an artist. Together they bring a fantastic steam punk world to life. It is almost enough to make me read a comic book on the computer, instead I think that I will wait out the larger story chunks this way. I am sure that the two creators appreciate the money flowing their way.
Warren Ellis (W), Paul Duffield (A), Avatar Press, $19.99
Trading Up: Bayou Volume One
Lowdown - Article
Posted by Lee Newman on Jun 10, 2009
Tags: bayou, love, zuda
Zuda's inaugural winner sees print publication and it is a worthy introduction to those not hip to the website as well as all the awards it has taken home.
Lee Wagstaff is a young African American in Mississippi in the 1930s. She has a loving father and plays with the rich landowner’s daughter. When their normal childhood antics result in the abduction of the little white girl, Lee’s father is arrested and she embarks on a magical journey through the folklore of the South.
Jeremy Love does something remarkable in Bayou. He takes the racist setting of the Depression era Bible belt and weaves it into a Wizard of Oz-like fantasy world. The beginning of the story is steeped in reality. The history of the Civil War and the difference shown to the former slave community is heavy in the background of the book. However, Love is not proselytizing on the evils of the South. It is easier to exorcise some demons be merely shining the light in their direction. The author knows he does not need to beat the audience over the head with these ideas. Bayou Volume One
Lee is an analogue of Huckleberry Finn. She is an independent soul, good at heart but prone to trouble. Instead of pure mischievousness, her problems stem from her inability to see the difference in skin. Sure, her father has explained to her that being black means she has to be careful, but Lee can’t fathom why being friends with a white girl would be a problem, or even more to the point, why her truth should mean less than a white lady’s lie.
In the more tactile world, we are also given characters with dubious moral compasses. Calvin, Lee’s father, knows what is right and wrong, but also knows that he has to balance that with the reality of his world. He needs to survive and raise his daughter the best he knows how. The more tragic moral figure, is the local sheriff. He knows that Calvin and Lee are good people, but he must cater to Mrs. Westmoreland, the rich landowner, even if she is a bit misguided and prone to abuse the system for her convenience, despite what is right or its consequences.
Once Lee sets out to find Lily, her missing friend, and to also clear her father’s name; the reality of the piece shifts. The book takes on a more fantastic quality. In many ways it becomes a Southern Fried version of Fables. Br’er Rabbit is very much real. Cotton Eyed Joe is an actual person and the Bayou is personified as a mythic force of nature who is reined in by the ambiguous Bossman. Bayou reaches out to Lee, but his appearance shocks her and he is left to overcome her fears through his compassion and care. Then they become entangled with not only the real monster of this volume in Joe, but an even more ominous agent of a fallen Confederate General and his hooded henchmen.
Love works a magic realism that allows heady commentary on the South and its past evils. He also shows off the wondrous nature of both the geological region and the heart of its people. It is the kind of study that will go a long way to overcome the centuries old feud that causes the racial tension in the area to this very day. As seen in Bayou, there is as much to praise about this culture as there is to condemn. If we as a people were more open about it all, maybe real healing could occur.
This attitude makes the censoring of one notorious word all the more disturbing. It is being used in a historical context, not unlike the use of “Nigger Jim” in Huck Finn’s story. Of course, we live in a politically correct world where it doesn’t matter that the venom of the term has been curbed through its embrace in modern African American culture. The people have refused to give it power and it has lost its offense, but it is possible that in a historical context it might still hold some bite. It is then curious that the Uncle Remus stories should play a role here, given their own nefarious history. Is it possible that years of subversive contextualization has overpowered the stories’ origins.
As smart as the script is Love’s playful illustration. His character designs have a welcome similarity to Powell’s The Goon, but when the artist reaches further to butterfly winged spirits, living swamps, and anthropomorphic dogs - it is all just as real feeling. That is the true magic at work here, the world both visually and conceptually are rich and just familiar enough to allow for the fantastic to seem reasonable.
Bayou is a potent mix of fantasy and cultural history. It is an unflinchingly brave view of a maligned world. Like all powerful literature, it extrapolates a powerful truth in a thoughtful manner while entertaining relentlessly. Imagine if Alice in Wonderland were mashed with Mississippi Burning and you would be close to the feel of the book. It is an important and unique voice in the world of graphic narrative and one this reader can’t wait to hear more from.
Bayou Volume One is available now. It is written and illustrated by Jeremy Love, published by DC Comics and retails for $14.99. Bayou can also be read at www.zudacomics.com.
Mr_Batman wrote:Just read every webcomic made by Comic Critics. Not only do they make fun of a lot of comics (or superhero comics because superhero coimcs are mainstream ones), it's hilarious. Seriously good stuff
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