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Month: September 2020

Book Review: Battle Born Lapis Lazuli by Maximilian Uriarte

Book Review: Battle Born Lapis Lazuli by Maximilian Uriarte

Battle Born Lapis Lazuli by Maximilian Uriarte

Little, Brown and Company
Pub Date 28 Jul 2020  

Description

From the bestselling author of The White Donkey, a heartbreaking and visceral graphic novel set against the stark beauty of Afghanistan’s mountain villages that examines prejudice and the military remnants of colonialism.
In this hotly anticipated new work from Maximilian Uriarte, creator of the popular Terminal Lance comics and The White Donkey, tells a “thrillingly cinematic” (Publishers Weekly) story of the personal cost of war and the power of human connection.Lapis Lazuli is a rich blue semiprecious gemstone found deep in the Sar-i-sang mountains of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province. For thousands of years it has sustained the nearby mining villages, whose inhabitants lived peacefully in the mountainous landscape–until the Taliban, known in the region as the Horsemen, came to seek the riches stored deep beneath the earth. Taliban rule has turned the stone into a conflict mineral, as they steal and sell it for their own gain.At the behest of the fledgling Afghan government, seeking to wrest back control of the province, United States Marines are sent into the mountains. A platoon led by their eager and naive commander, First Lieutenant Roberts, and a stoic, fierce squad leader, Sergeant King, must overcome barriers of language and culture in this remote region to win the locals’ trust, and their freedom from Taliban rule. Along the way, they must also wrestle with their demons–and face unimaginably difficult choices.A sweeping yet intimate story about brutality, kindness, and the remnants of colonialism, Battle Born: Lapis Lazuli is an epic saga from the voice of a new generation of military veterans.

Review:

Mild spoilers. I have mixed feelings about Battle Born Lapis Lazuli. In many ways Uriarte latest is stunning. The artwork is magnificent. The linework and flow of the panels are elegant, capturing both the intimate moments of camaraderie and violence of battle equally well. A particularly memorable sequence sees a parent lamenting the loss of their child as American soldiers stand by helpless unable to offer comfort. A lot of research went into crafting the story, paying respect to the culture of the people of Afghanistan and to the sacrifice that foreign troops made there. Battle Born is not afraid to show the ugliness of people, the way that war degrades and dehumanises us all. There is a cinematic quality to the landscapes as well as the action sequences. It feels like part-war movie, part-western. It captures both the sense of being trapped by chaotic, unmanageable geopolitics of an unwanted soldier in a country with a rich and complex history and, the frustration of being a hampered by locals who are highly suspicious of any foreign presences.

The main characters all feel like lived-in characters. We get a glimpse of the inner lives of every character that has page time, there are no two-dimensional stereotypes, everyone has an internal driving force that affects the way that they react to the awful conditions that they are put in. Sergeant King, who is our protagonist, is a compelling figure, equal parts stoic and vulnerable, Uritate imbues King’s eyes with a deeply ingrained sadness. King is fierce, intelligent, and, inspires loyalty. Chavez and Forest as sporting characters well-grounded and provide King with a platform for levity and pathos.

Pretty positive so far. Where my problems with the book arise is with its tacit approval of torture and war crimes. I am going to say this three times: Torture does not work. Torture does not work. Torture does not work. There is a sequence in which a prisoner of war is beaten. My reading of the story is that due to high emotions that these actions were justified or understandable. In a tragic book, one of the recurring themes is how we in the West use our “civilised” view of ourselves to justify cruelty to those who aren’t. Maybe Uriate was trying to get across the point that even the best of us can do unjustifiable things. I don’t know. I did find it disturbing. In addition to being morally repugnant, torture does not produce accurate, reliable information. Any story that propagates the myth that it does is lessened in my eyes. There are further war crimes later in the book, but by then, the damage to my experience was already done.

It’s unfortunate that a few pages so marred my enjoyment of the whole. Maybe it’s my regret that the character didn’t take. This is first-class stuff, but I just can’t get on board with some of the messages it puts forward. It deserves to be read and probably read widely.

Book Review: Strange Skies Over East Berlin by Jeff Loveness & Lisandro Estherren

Book Review: Strange Skies Over East Berlin by Jeff Loveness & Lisandro Estherren

Strange Skies Over East Berlin
by Jeff Loveness & Lisandro Estherren

BOOM! Studios

Pub Date 18 Aug 2020   |  

Description
A chilling and intense thriller about an American spy who encounters a terrifying inhuman threat at the heart of the Cold War.

East Berlin, 1973. Herring, a disillusioned American spy, has spent the entire Cold War infiltrating the inner circles of East German intelligence for a cause he barely believes in anymore. He’s seen everything and done anything his government asked, but his latest mission pits the brilliant, embittered operative against an enemy force so vast it could obliterate all of humanity.

The Space Race had greater consequences than even the Soviets could have guessed, and when they sent the first human ever to the stars, something not quite human followed them back. When a mysterious alien probe lands outside East Berlin and into Soviet control, the Americans send their top spy in to investigate. But as Herring gets ever closer to the truth at the heart of the conspiracy, he may find that the power he so desperately seeks is too dangerous for anyone to control or contain.

Writer Jeff Loveness (Judas) and artist Lisandro Estherren (Redneck) present a chilling and intense thriller about a terrifying inhuman threat at the heart of the Cold War – and the one American spy who can save the world…if he can save himself first.

Review

This is marvellous. Strange Skies Over East Berlin is an exceedingly delightful genre mash-up. It is Harry Palmer meets The Thing. Weirdly, it reminds of Robocop in that almost perfectly does what it sets out to do. It is not the best comic ever written, but this is a book I think that I’ll probably end up reading again and again. There is something comforting about reading a story that cranks up the tension. The stakes are high, and I relished that battle of words between characters trying to outwit each other under terrible pressure.

Set in the cold war, our hero Herring must find out what the Russians know about an object that has fallen from space. It all goes downhill from there.

The art here is fantastic, Lessandro Estherren work as the lead artist shows a mastery of storytelling that intelligent and engaging. Patricio Depleche’s colouring is particularly notable for the moody atmosphere it establishes. I read this in one sitting, eagerly turning the pages as the story zips along at a quick pace.

This could have been much messier and hokier. It could have been b-movie style shlock. Loveness’s script manages to pull together different genres and hang the tale on characters who you want to survive. The dialogue had me on tenterhooks, and one-liners made me grin.

I could wax lyrical about the characters, art, and, story for several more pages, but I did a podcast explaining why I enjoyed this book so much (See Through Panel episode 10). My recommendation is that you read it. One of my books of the year. I had fun reading it. Despite being provided with an ARC from NetGalley, I’ll be purchasing a hardcopy to keep.

Book Review: Rampokan 1: Java by Peter Van Dongen

Book Review: Rampokan 1: Java by Peter Van Dongen

Rampokan 1: Java by Peter Van Dongen

Europe Comics

Comics & Graphic Novels | Historical Fiction
Pub Date 17 Jun 2020   |   

Description
1946: The Dutch have been driven out of Indonesia by the Japanese invasion, but they refuse to recognize the country’s declaration of independence. In an attempt to regain their former colony, the government mobilizes the Royal Dutch Indian Army. When they fail to take control, an unofficial force is sent to subdue the “terrorists.” Among the volunteers is Johan Knevel, who has personal reasons for joining: he wants to find out what happened to his Indonesian nurse. But far from rediscovering the lost idyll of his youth, he is confronted by the complex realities of a country in turmoil.

Review

I have been reading a lot of biographical or historical fiction graphic novels recently. When done well, they can be both entertaining and a fantastic way of learning about the past. They can be universal stories that remind us of what went before and how we must strive to be better today and tomorrow.

I wanted to like this book much more than I did. The history of the Dutch empire and its relationship with Indonesia is something I knew nothing about, and it seems to be potentially fertile ground for an engaging story. There is some good stuff here. The story explores how imperial ideals often produce hypocrites who commit barbaric, inhumane acts in the name of civilisation. It is its own way also explores what happens to generations of occupiers who love the country they live in being potentially forced back to a homeland that they have never lived in. Racism, corruption, incompetence are all themes that run through the story.

BUT, I felt it was all rather messy. For someone with no knowledge of this historical context, I felt that I was lost at the purpose of the political machinations of some of the characters. I struggled to read some of the pages due to the panel layout, which seemed to rely on the same structure repeatedly, which was rather frustrating. The pace of the story seemed odd; it never fell into a rhythm.

The art was serviceable. Van Dongen does a masterful job of creating a sense of place, that characters melt under the heat of the sun and colour palette sublime. That said he does things better than people. I genuinely struggled to tell some of the characters apart. There is a case of mistaken identity that occurs over in the story that did not work for me. Our protagonist Johan Knevel is a character I struggled to care about. I neither wanted him to succeed or fail. Which I think is where the book floundered. It is pleasant enough to look at, and action was good enough for me to keep turning the pages. However, without a character or set of characters that you can engage with I didn’t finish the book with much enthusiasm. There is some interesting stuff here, but it wasn’t as engrossing as it should have been.

There is a good story to be told about colonial powers seeking to hold onto their lands in Asia. This is average stuff that doesn’t do enough with historical material. One to borrow from your local library if they have it.

Book Review: Karmen by Guillem March

Book Review: Karmen by Guillem March

Karmen V1 by Guillem March

Europe Comics

Pub Date 17 Jun 2020   

Description

This is a graphic novel about death and suicide… but not in the way you think. It’s about death that can be reversable, when and if the right angels are looking. The dead person here is Catalina, a self-absorbed student who kills herself out of heartbreak. The angel is Karmen, an angel of the facetious, unusual sort. Her capacity for empathy is so great that she leads “her” dead on a journey toward redemption and, believe it or not, back to life! Full of surprises, metaphysics, and beautiful women, this graphic novel is tender and not devoid of humor.

Review

Last year I sent travelling around Spain for a month. The architecture around Andalusia left a lasting impression on me. It is one of the first things that struck me about Karmen is that the book has a powerful sense of place. This story unmistakably takes place in Spain. Also, for a story that explores the themes of suicide, regret, and, relationships, it is not dour. It treats these themes with the seriousness that they deserve with becoming maudlin or mawkish.

The art is splendid. I particularly enjoyed the colouring, which plays with a palette that gives the pages a subtle otherworldly ambience. Karmen takes place in a lived-in world. Mallorca where the story takes place wonderfully presented here. The characters designs are also notable for the bold choices March makes. For a comic where one of the leads is mostly naked, it rarely seems voyeuristic. Indeed the nakedness is a rather blunt metaphor for the character’s vulnerability. However, any comic which prominently features naked woman is open to accusations of the male gaze. Yet most the panels are composed in a way that I think manages to avoid this.

Catalina is a rather unlikeable character. I felt relatively little sympathy for her and did not understand her reasons for taking her own life. It isn’t easy to enjoy a book where you don’t enjoy spending time with one of the leads. This is made up for with Karmen who is reminiscent of Death of the Endless from Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Karmen is playful, almost mischievous as she guides Catalina into the afterlife. Karmen gives Catalina a chance to see the world and the life she had through a different lens. I think the book is about how we can empower ourselves to make better decisions. Part It’s a Wonderful Life, and part Kore-eda’s After Life Karmen is a comic that is a skilfully accomplished character study that blends the fantastic with the mundane.

I enjoyed Karmen a great deal; however, the nudity and themes explored might make it unsuitable for some readers who might consider it exploitative and excessive. I can understand this argument to a point.

Some of the panels in Karmen are exquisitely composed, giving real weight to the story where relatively little actually happens. This is a book about accepting the consequences of your actions and dealing with the aftermath. The importance of conversations and what is and is not said to those we hold close. The final conversation between Catalina and Karmen is especially powerful. There is a sense of wonder and tragedy that runs through the book. Dan Christensen did a commendable job with the translation. This is an outstanding comic that I hope finds a broader audience.

18: S2E18 -Dave Chawner answers my weird questions

18: S2E18 -Dave Chawner answers my weird questions

My guest today is Dave Chawner.

Dave is a number 1 best selling author, award-winning comic, presenter and mental health campaigner. He has been on BBC, ITV & Channel 4, presented a series for BBC’s Tomorrow’s World and has written for The Guardian, The Telegraph, Metro, Cosmopolitan, GQ and more. He uses humour in order to make mental health more accessible and open a dialogue with hard to reach groups

My Twitter is @DaveChawner and on Facebook I’m www.Facebook.com/Dave.Chawner.3

www.davechawner.co.uk

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Book Review: The Photographer of Mauthausen

Book Review: The Photographer of Mauthausen

The Photographer of Mauthausen
by Written by Salva Rubio; Drawn by Pedro J. Colombo; Colored by Aintzane Landa

Dead Reckoning
Comics & Graphic Novels | History
Pub Date 11 Nov 2020   

Thanks to Netgally for providing the ARC.

So many terrible things happened during WW2. It is vital that as many of stories of those that experienced it are remembered. This is as much for our sakes as it is for theirs.

This was a heartbreaking read. It tells the story of Francisco Boix and his time at Mauthausen, a Nazi concentration camp. The method of death preferred at Mauthausen was to work the prisoners to death.

I was not familiar with Francisco Boix before I read this book. He went through hell. A Spanish communist he was transported to Mauthausen. Because he was a trained photographer, he was given the “privilege” of assisting SS officer Paul Ricken. Ricken’s hobby was photographing the deaths of the prisoners in the camp. An accountant and administrator at the camp Ricken’s vileness is particularly notable. Here he comes across as a serial killer gathering trophies who is demented enough to believe what he is doing is high art. Boix spurred on by the fact he faces certain death wants to save the negatives and use them as evidence of Nazi misdeeds.

His attempts at gathering evidence of Nazi crimes puts himself and the entire camp at risk. This bloody-minded determination causes him to do things that cause rifts between himself and every other prisoner in the camp. This is a book full of tragic moments. There is a courtroom scene at the end of the book that moved me to tears at the utter unfairness of it all.

It says a lot that The Photographer of Mauthausen reminded me of films like Schindler’s List and The Great Escape. It’s not entirely like either of those. Still, it manages to portray the causal workmanlike cruelty of the Nazi and the sense of danger that prisoners attempting to something daring equally well.

Rubio does a truly admirable job of keeping you at the edge of your seat, fearful at what fate beholds Boix and his allies at the turn of every page. Colombo’s and Landa’s art is impressive. So much relies on the eyes of the characters, their hopes and fears, the need to hide their true feelings. Gory scenes are placed alongside intimate conversations, and it all just works. In lesser hands such a juxtaposition might not have. The Photographer of Mauthausen is a great accomplishment. There are a lot of graphic novels about WW2 very few of them are as good as this.

A Tale of Two Arthur: Book 1 by Nine Antico & Grégoire Carlé

A Tale of Two Arthur: Book 1 by Nine Antico & Grégoire Carlé

Description

A Tale of Two Arthurs is an impressionistic chronicle of two very different men: Jack Arthur Johnson, the black American boxer, and Arthur Cravan, the white French poet and provocateur. These two men fought an improbable boxing match in Barcelona in 1916 which acts as the pivot point of this double-portrait which is also a kind of mirror: for despite their differences they were both fiercely independent individuals who in their own ways defied the mores of their time with a mixture of bravado, intelligence, and brute strength. Accompanying both men on their journeys is a celebrity chimpanzee named Consul who serves as the uniting thread — as well as the unlikely narrator — of this adventurous and ambitious comic.

Review

Reviewers note: A lot of the story relied on double-page spreads that weren’t available to be viewed on ARC given. The flow of the story would without a doubt work better in a hard-copy.

This was fine. The art while not to my taste did an acceptable job illustrating the drama of Jack Johnston’s life inside and outside the ring. Johnson’s life takes up the majority of the book and rightly so. However, Arthur Cravan shares top billing and his history as told here seem like an afterthought. To me, it felt like a cheap gimmick. The fight between the two, which was a freakshow put on to raise money, never felt like the books true focus. Caravan who had a fascinating life and it would have given the book more balance to have had more of it told. While we understand Johnson’s reason for taking the fight Caravan’s are just glossed over. We never get a sense of why the public wants to see these two collide and more importantly why they are willing to pay for it.

I’d struggle to recommend this but it is not a bad book. The fight scenes were well done and the dialogue captures Johnson’s brashness. I’m certainly interested in reading more about Caravan’s adventures both before and after the fight.

Book Reeview Strange Fruit, Volume II
More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History
by Joel Christian Gill

Book Reeview Strange Fruit, Volume II
More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History
by Joel Christian Gill

Strange Fruit, Volume IIMore Uncelebrated Narratives from Black Historyby Joel Christian Gill

Fulcrum PublishingComics & Graphic Novels | Teens & YAPub Date 1 Feb 2018   

Description

Like all legends, people fade away, but not before leaving an incredible legacy. Strange Fruit, Volume II: More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History is a collection of stories from early African American history that represent the oddity of success in the face of great adversity. Each of the eight illustrated chapters chronicles an uncelebrated African American hero or event. Joel Christian Gill offers historical and cultural commentary on heroes whose stories are not often found in history books, such as Cathay Williams, the only known female Buffalo Soldier, and Eugene Bullard, a fighter pilot who flew for France during World War I. These beautifully illustrated stories offer a refreshing look at remarkable African Americans.

Review

Strange Fruit is a superb anthology of telling the stories of overlooked black Americans. Having not read Strange Fruit 1, this book reminded me very much of Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu. I loved that book. While Strange Fruit doesn’t soar to quite the same heights of Bagieu’s Eisner award winner, it accomplishes what it seeks out to do expertly.

The comic anthology is a smart way of telling stories about people that, most of the figures in this book I had not heard of before. All of them have fascinating stories and that their narratives aren’t better known is a shame.

As with all anthologies, there are weaker sections, the Cathy William’s section seemed to me to be underdone. Another weakness is the art. I found it adequate for the most part, but it only really excelled in the Willie Kennard, and Tom Wiggins. To my eyes, some of the facial designs across all the characters were similar. This wasn’t helped by the colouring, which was uniform throughout, it might have helped to choose different tones for each era or figure. Anthologies for all their strengths do have the inherent weakness of not being able to explore the tales in depth.

That said I would very much recommend this book. The writing and dialogue effortlessly carry you into the lives that these people lived and it certainly sparked an interest in my to find out more about them. The stories of these black Americans are fascinating and Strange Fruit does a fantastic job of bringing them into the light.

17: S2E17 -Ryan Spielman answers my weird questions

17: S2E17 -Ryan Spielman answers my weird questions

Episode Notes

I talk to Ryan Spielman and ask him some silly questions.

Ryan is a therapist and yoga teacher. He has trained as an integrative humanistic counsellor. He has been an advanced practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga yoga since 1995.

He has studied self-exploration, mindfulness meditation, eastern philosophy and group therapy occasionally in highly unconventional settings.

He leads regular weekly groups and week-long workshops focused on self-awareness and authentic communication.

He is the co-founder of Wise Studies, an audio library for contemplative teachings. He writes and performs philosophical comedy songs.

Ryan has been a dedicated practitioner of Brazilian jiu-jitsu for the last five years.

http://www.trueryan.com/

https://www.facebook.com/RyanSpielmanAshtangaYoga

https://www.instagram.com/ryan_spiel/

https://wisestudies.com/

https://www.facebook.com/wisestudies/

https://twitter.com/wisestudies

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMNMUO8Iy3hjFY_McXyliDg

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