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Amazing Montage Magazine

for year's end, 1999

10 Best Comics of the Year

In no particular order--

BOX OFFICE POISON copyright 1999 by Alex Robinson! THE BIRTH CAUL-- Alan Moore's epic poem (illustrated by Eddie Campbell) is one man's oddysey from death back to birth. Rarely has a comic so boldly attempted to summarize the human experience in its entirety as this one successfully does. See the September Amazing Montage Magazine for a review of the book.

BOX OFFICE POISON KOLOR KARNIVAL-- Alex Robinson makes great use of color, and provides one of his best stories in this special promotional edition of the quirky series. See the June Amazing Montage Magazine for a review.

FINDER-- Issues 1 thru 15 of this SF saga by Carla Speed McNeil are an absorbing graphic novel that builds to a devastating climax. McNeil has created a unique and fascinating future city, and populated it with some of the most memorable characters in recent comics. Her most recent release, Mystery Date, is also terrific-- see the July Amazing Montage Magazine for a review.

Cover of WHITEOUT, copyright 1999 by Frank Miller WHITEOUT-- The collected version of this 1998 series takes comics into fresh territory with a superbly-realized mystery thriller set in the chilling landscape of Antarctica and starring a memorably tough and unglamourous heroine. Steve Leiber's art and Greg Rucka's script create credible suspense. See the June Amazing Montage Magazine for a review.

MEASLES-- The standout in this all-ages anthology is Gilbert Hernandez, who's Venus stories are small gems of adolescent insight.

VOYEUR-- This Hitchcockian meditation on romantic obsession and the invasion of privacy is a standout Manga graphic novel by Hideo Yamamoto. See the June Amazing Montage Magazine for a review.

AMY UNBOUNDED-- Rachel Hartman's simple drawing style and mini-comics format may put off some readers; too bad for them! This charming series has the most beguiling young heroine in current comics, and its stories (often stories-within-stories) have an intelligence which belies their simplicity.

Cover of UNDER A SLOWLY SPINNING SUN, copyright 1999 by Marcel Guldemond UNDER A SLOWLY SPINNING SUN-- A minute dissection of only a few moments in time, Marcel Guldemond's Xeric-award comic embraces the past and the present, the cosmic and the microscopic, the abstract and the immediate. See the December Amazing Montage Magazine for a review and an interview with the artist.

TOM STRONG-- Aimed at a younger audience, Alan Moore's Doc Savage-like 'science hero' nevertheless works in some subtly-expressed adult themes. Chris Sprouse's art on the first three issues is a perfect combination of eye-catching layout and strong storytelling. Honorable mention to THE LEAGUE OF DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMEN, also by Moore for the ABC line. See the August Amazing Montage Magazine for reviews of both.

Cover of Weasel copyright 1999 by Dave Cooper. WEASEL-- Dave Cooper's latest anthology series is a watershed in this young artist's career. It pushes his bizaare/friendly style into exciting, innovative directions that may well kick-start the next trend in comix-nouveau!

Note: Dan Clowes and Chris Ware also had impressive ongoing storylines this year; but since these are scheduled to complete in 2000, I haven't considered them yet (or even read them.)

Review Wrap-up

Faith, A Fable

A disillusioned newspaperman stumbles across the story of a lifetime in a small Wyoming town. But what should he make of a 12-year-old girl who finds herself the center of a quasi-religious cult? What is the secret of her extraordinary personal power, and how will all this attention affect her?

The markedly offbeat story is handled in a richly-detailed realistic style by former American Splendor artist Bill Knapp. Best known for his self-published adult superhero series THE FURIES, Knapp compliments his superb illustrating style with sensitive, complex characerization. This new graphic novel is probably his finest work to date.

Knapp puts the emphasis on credibility. The characters, the settings, and all the events of the story are carefully grounded in convincing reality.

The young girl's powers are well within the range of the possible. You can't really tell whether something supernatural is going on, or if she just has an extraordinary gift for persuasion. Knapp leaves it for the reader to decide-- in fact, that's the whole point.

This 66-page graphic novel is the kind of project the creator-owned press was invented for. It represents a substantial marketing risk: The main characters have an innocence and gentleness that underground comix fans may find off-putting. And born-again readers who might be attracted by the title and the cover (in which the young girl looks expectantly at a hazy light from above) will no doubt be disappointed by the story's worldly sophistication and ambiguity.

Serious students of the comics medium, however, will celebrate this book as one of those rare occasions when a skillful craftsman at the top of his form is expressing the ideas that are closest to his heart.

Carbon-Based Book
2304 Oakland Dr.
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
www.carbonbasedbooks.com

Banks/Eubanks

Tom Hart is exemplary of a renewed aesthetic in comics that favors simple, direct images that convey the story quickly and clearly. Like a latter-day Charles Shultz, Hart employs a childish drawing style to convey subtle ideas and mature themes.

Cover, Banks/Eubanks copyright 1999 by Tom Hart Banks/Eubanks is a showcase of Hart's work in the graphic novel format. With 160 pages, Hart is able to mount a fairly complex drama even though individual pages may only take a few seconds to apprehend. The book has a page-turning rhythm which makes it lively reading.

The story begins strongly with a harrowing portrait of lonely Big Apple bachelor Barney Banks. A frustrated movie critic who hates his job as a movie-poster shipper, Banks' only friend is his ailing dog Oliver, and his only pasttime is watching videos. His life is full of petty frustrations, including an annoying housefly and a stuck refrigerator door. He's sexually frustrated too, and his coarse manners are a turn-off to women.

His depression reaches crisis proportions when Oliver dies and he receives a letter from his sister, also dying. In desperation, he decides to travel to some exotic place; but the most he can afford is a train-ride into central Florida, where a dangerous tropical storm (also dubbed 'Barney') is brewing.

Part two of the story, set in Florida, is unfortunately a jumble of half-realized characters mixing it up with Barney-- a cynical filmmaker, a priest, a group of Kiwanis' wives, an attractive young woman with a backpack, and a puzzled foreigner.

As for the tropical storm, the filmmaker promises, 'You will see destruction without reason,' but Hart doesn't deliver. A simple style can be used to portray the elements impressively, as Hart's sometimes-collaborator James Kolchalka has shown; but Hart's nervous specs of rain and thin scrawls to represent wind are unconvincing and awkward.

Nevertheless, this is an engaging and innovative book, well worth a look.

Top Shelf Productions
PO Box 1282,
Marietta, GA 30061-1282
www.topshelf.com

Hey Mister-- Behind the Green Door

It's gratifying to see a new issue of Pete Sickman Garner's classic series. Garner's work is reminiscent of the glory days of the underground comics, Gilbert Sheldon in particular, with dense, scathing satire and side-splitting humor.

The standout story this issue is 'What Do People Do All Day,' in which two slackers try to figure out, and then distract, a perversely-dedicated coworker. They stop at nothing, even stripping down and making love on her desk in front of her; but she steadfastly continues plugging away at her meanial tasks. Trust to Garner to give her the last word.

Also this issue, a jaw-dropping variation on Jack and the Beanstalk, and a 'Love Story' that's as far from 'You Got Mail' as you can possibly get; Garner's one of the few cartoonist who can show a woman puking into a toilet and make it look cute.

Top Shelf Productions.

The Ballad of Utopia

Cover, Ballad of Utopia #1 copyright 1999 by Mike Hoffman Only a few pages into this revival of the comic book western, I was struck by a revelation-- newcomer Barry Buchanan is a damned good writer!

His saga of an eccentric frontier town plagued by a mysterious killer is by turns funny, bizaare, and suspenseful. Utopia is steeped in historical authenticity, but it's like no Western town you've ever visited before. Without being over the top, Buchanan treats us to a kind of horse-opera Twin Peaks, with a cross-dressing station keep, a young girl who puts the bite (literally) on strangers; and a gunslinger enamoured with the fleas that infest him.

As an artist, Buchanan is very promising, but not quite there yet. He has terrific storytelling skill and good layout, but his draftsmanship falls short, in spite of a great deal of obviously conscientious effort.

However, on the artistic front there's an interesting development-- pro artist Mike Hoffman, an extremely able craftsman with a Frazetta-like style, is beginning with issue one and re-illustrating the series. So with the new issue 1 we'll have the best of both worlds-- a first-rate story combined with seasoned professional art. Watch for it in your comics stores soon!

Black Daze Publishing
PO Box 817
Golconda, IL 62938
www.blackdaze.com