Tag Archive for women

Review: Insufficient Direction

insufficient-directionManga artist Moyoco Anno and husband, anime and film director Hideaki Anno are just like any other married couple: They binge-watch TV shows, try to find shelves to accommodate their collections, eat junk food (although they really try to eat better, with mixed results) and sometimes drink too much.

You know, all the normal couple things.

Moyoco Anno’s Insufficient Direction (Vertical, 2014), is a charming and hilarious look at a couple who happily indulges each other and creates a happily equilibrium.

Moyoco draws herself a baby she refers to as “Rompers;” she calls Hideaki “Director-kun” and presents him round-faced, wild-haired overgrown kid. Clearly, this is how the couple sees themselves.

The stories are small, episodic vignettes about married life without much consequence, but that’s the joy of them. Usually, “Director-kun” will get excited about something and “Rompers” will try to be the mature one (something she obviously resents). The ultimate conclusion is usually trivial but involves the two coming to some understanding.

But refreshingly, very few of these tales are a case of “patient wife indulges her silly husband.” The best moments of the book is when the two influence each other in the best and worst ways — singing along loudly to anime theme songs in the car, waking up early to watch children’s TV shows or embracing the joy of being lazy. It’s sweet and hilarious.

Moyoco renders scenes between “Rompers” and “Director-kun” in a loose, exaggerated style that suits the childlike world they inhabit. While it’s almost always just the two of them in these stories, Moyoco draws everyone else in a much more realistic fashion, further placing these two in their own world. It’s adorable.

The Vertical edition has extensive annotations about the references made in the book, and while I appreciate them, I didn’t mind not knowing about everything. Hideaki Anno’s essay about the book and Moyoco is sweet and heartfelt and makes the perfect cap to the end of the book. The only thing I question is including a short biography and filmography of Hideaki, putting the focus on him, when the book is much more about both of them.

And that’s ultimately what I take away of Insufficient Direction – it’s the story of a couple whose playful affection and obvious love for each other is a beautiful thing. I’m sure that Moyoco and Hideaki Anno’s relationship is not always easy (because no relationship is), but as presented, they’re so well suited to each other, it’s impossible to not find joy in getting to know them.

Copy of Insufficient Direction provided by Big Planet Comics.

Review: Alone Forever

aloneforeverAre you enjoying your Valentine’s Day or are you wishing you could just spend the whole thing in bed? Do you try to find a balance between ignoring the day entirely with your partner and the over-the-top show of chocolates, roses and Teddy bears?

Do you have no actual idea how you really feel about romance in general?

If you go back and forth about loving and hating the whole idea of being in a relationship, Liz Prince has you covered.

A collection of mostly humorous autobiographical comics, Alone Forever (Top Shelf, 2014), chronicles Prince’s adventures in love and lack thereof. She crushes on every boy with a beard she sees (there are many!) and cuddles with her cats. It’s a playful look at modern romance.

Prince never shies away from making herself look silly. Her detailed descriptions of outfits (usually including unwashed hoodies and band T-shirts) provide a certain self-awareness about why she’s unlucky in love. But she also shares the dates that go well and the dates that go just OK. It’s not just comics about feeling sorry for herself. Even in her darker moments, she keeps a sense of humor and in her brighter moments, her joy is clear. I love that it’s a refreshingly full picture of a life.

Since they’re autobiographical comics, a few feel do feel a bit tossed off and rough, as if it was just a quick attempt to get a moment down, diary-style. But Prince’s style is warm and friendly, and there’s a bold sweetness to the way she draws herself, her friends and her love interests. Prince feels like someone you know (or she may remind you a bit too much of yourself), and her comics feel like hanging out with a friend.

It’s maybe a bit slight but it’s a quick, fun book to read. Alone Forever is going to be what you need this Valentine’s Day, whatever your opinion of the holiday is. No matter your success in love, you’ll find a kindred spirit here.

Near Miss: White Tiger: A Hero’s Compulsion & Black Widow: Homecoming

There was that strange moment in the last decade where Marvel and DC were looking to novelists to expand their pool of writers. Mostly, it was an experiment that didn’t work out — neither comics fans or fans of the writers seemed to respond too well (and it’s likely the writers discovered that writing comics isn’t necessarily the easiest thing).

But I still have to admire this brief attempt at trying something new, even if the results ended up being mixed. New voices in superhero comics are always welcome, in my mind.

White Tiger: A Hero's CompulsionWhite Tiger: A Hero’s Compulsion

If you were a young woman of a certain age, Tamora Pierce was probably a pretty big deal to you. Her Song of the Lioness Quartet should be the standard by which all other young adult books are judged. You have magic, gender issues, a fully-realized world, a likable and flawed heroine and a pretty awesome and effective love triangle that doesn’t feel forced.

(Maybe that’s the memories of 13-year-old me talking, but those books are great and I will stand by that.)

Pierce is known to be a huge comics fan who often sneaks in references into her books, so her writing a comic series seemed like it should be a perfect fit. I just wish it had been.

White Tiger: A Hero’s Compulsion, a six-issue series co-written with husband Timonthy Liebe, deserves to be so much better than it is. I wanted to like this but it missed its mark for me.

To be fair, I don’t think much of that was Pierce’s (or Liebe’s) fault. I imagine too much editorial influence wanted to place this firmly into continuity. It faces the twin problems of too much exposition that slow the action down and too many references to the storylines that were happening in the Marvel Universe at the time. Angela Del Toro never quite got to shine in her own story.

There are glimpses of a great character, though. I like how Angela isn’t a really reluctant heroine and has a large “family” — both blood and chosen. She wants to use her power and responsibility to do what’s right. I just wish I had gotten to know her a bit better.

I liked the humor — Angela, in her White Tiger outfit, keeps getting mistaken for Emma Frost — and she’s fast and smart with quips. I like the respect that Pierce and Liebe give to Angela’s Hispanic heritage. But the glossy, generic superhero art by Phil Briones, Alvaro Rio and Ronaldo Adriano Silva (with inks by Don Hillsman) does this book little service, especially in contrast to the quietly beautiful covers by David Mack. In the end, there’s not much that’s distinctive here. Pierce’s gifts as a writer are muted by a standard superhero story.

I wanted more, sure. But I also think Pierce deserved better. I still hope that she’ll one day be able to write the kinds of comics she has in her.

Black Widow: HomecomingBlack Widow: Homecoming

I love Black Widow: Homecoming and I will recommend it to everyone forever (the collection is out of print, but it’s not hard to come by. Neither are the original issues. But Marvel? Reprint this now.)

It is, without a doubt, the most blatantly feminist mainstream superhero story I’ve ever read. It’s possibly the most blatantly feminist mainstream superhero story that exists.

Writer Richard K. Morgan had this to say about it:

“A brief foray into sequential art, feminist subtext and overt political anger – welcome to a twenty first century reinterpretation of one of Marvel’s iffiest ‘heroes’. Just how does a superannuated Soviet female super-spy feel about life in the era of corporate power, glossy marketing and lad mag sexuality? Find out, but be warned – in terms of comic sales, this one flew like a brick.”

Which is pretty accurate.

In Morgan’s hands, Natasha is a complicated character — she clearly straddles the line between “good” and “bad” quite often. She’s not afraid of her sexuality but also resents having to use it. In one of my favorite passages, she get dressed up to go out on the town — “Dressed to kill is a strange expression. Heels you can barely walk in, let alone run in. Skin exposed all over regardless of the weather. A look that says ‘Take me, I’m yours.’ Dressed to be killed, more like.”

Yet, she does this because she knows it works. She has no other choice. That Morgan acknowledges both sides is refreshing.

The overall plot is a little heavy-handed in some ways (it involves an evil cosmetic company, basically), but the sensitivity and understanding Morgan provides to his lead character is wonderful. She’s smart and capable but also fearful and thoughtful as she digs deeper into her past. She’s not always likable (she’s quite often brutal) but she’s always fun to watch.

Unlike White Tiger, Black Widow: Homecoming suffers from generic covers that don’t indicate that Bill Sienkiewicz is the lead artist for this comic. His sketchy, dreamy art is the perfect compliment to this story. It’s sexy without being leering and the dirty darkness of it gives the appropriate noir feel.

This is what I wanted from a Black Widow story. I think it’s probably what you do too.

(There is a follow-up series to this, also by Morgan and mostly Sienkiewicz. It’s also worth picking up but it’s not as good as this one. But seriously, find this and read it.)

Near Miss is a semi-regular feature that will be appearing on Comicsgirl throughout 2013-2014. This project is sponsored by Big Planet Comics.

Review: Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a HalfAny time Allie Brosh would post something new to her blog, Hyperbole and a Half, it felt like an event. All productivity would stop as people would post the link to Twitter or Facebook, or even email it (some of us still do that, by the way). Offices would be full of repressed laughter as we read stories about little girls pretending to be wolves, Simple Dog having a wild adventure, or her theories on Internet grammar.

Then, after posting Adventures in Depression two years ago, Brosh disappeared until May of this year. Depression Part Two effectively explains why.

Although I’d say that her book Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened (Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, 2013), helps to tell the rest of the story.

While the book does include several of her pieces available on her website (the Depression comics are here), the bulk of the book is new material and is a witty look into a strange and complicated life.

Part essay and part comic, Brosh has a clear, smart voice and a deep appreciation of the absurd and the ridiculous. Her text and drawings are perfect compliments for each other and she transitions easily between the two, always knowing when something will be better told through words or through images. She’s able to pace her stories the way that is the most effective.

Her Paintbrush drawings are deceptively crude. Always draws herself as a pink tube with bulging eyes and a triangular ponytail (and tellingly, Brosh draws herself the same whether she’s an adult or a child), her presentation of herself is disarming and approachable. Other characters (such as her parents, friends and boyfriend) look more recognizably human, and drawings of animals, sense of movement and setting show she does have a good understanding of art. These aren’t just some silly drawings she’s done without any thought.

But don’t get me wrong — there is plenty of silliness. Many of these stories fall into the “you couldn’t make this stuff up” category, like when her mother takes her and her sister for a walk in the woods and gets them lost, or how Brosh, due to a variety of circumstances, became known for liking hot sauce even though she didn’t. The stories about her two odd, neurotic dogs are among the best (and it’s good those dogs have Brosh to love them).

It’s not all silliness, though. There’s unexpected poignancy underneath the hilarity. Beyond her two pieces about depression, she also chronicles her struggles with what it means to function as an adult (making yourself go to the bank when there’s the Internet to look at!) as well as trying to reconcile the vision she has of herself as a good person with the reality of worrying she’s not. Somehow, even when dealing with these darker issues and insight, Hyperbole and a Half never stops making you laugh.

And I think that’s why we all share Hyperbole and a Half’s pieces with each other. We recognize ourselves the stories of this woman who draws herself as a pink tube, even if she’s quite a bit weirder than we may be. Her stories painfully funny in both the literal and metaphorical sense, much like life itself. Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened is our story, or close enough to it.

Review copy provided by Big Planet Comics.

Review: Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest ColorAt this point, it may be hard to approach Julie Maroh‘s Blue is the Warmest Color (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2013) without some expectations and preconceived ideas about it. After all, as the cover clearly states, the movie based on this book did win the Palme d’Or this year at the Cannes Film Festival. Most of the press about the movie surrounded the lengthy and intimate sex scene between the two main characters, as well as Maroh’s own mixed reaction to the film (link is to the original French. Here’s PDF of it in English). As the U.S. release for the film approached, the two actresses have turned on the director somewhat, saying they didn’t feel respected.

All of those things made me less and less interested in the movie. After reading the graphic novel, I lost all desire to do so. Touching, beautiful with just the right amount of melodrama, I want nothing to take away from the experience I had reading Blue is the Warmest Color.

Framed by Emma traveling to Clementine’s parents’ house after Clementine’s funeral, most of the book is told through Clementine’s teenage diaries — her first encounters with boys, her relationships with friends and her first chance meeting with the blue-haired Emma.

What begins as general intrigue soon turns into something more. For the tentative, unsure Clementine, the artistic and bold Emma represents something she could become. The friendship is sweet and beautiful initially and when it bursts into romantic passion, it feels absolutely perfect.

Later complications with friends and family tend hit the expected plot points, but Maroh lets the drama happen organically. Her story is not meant to speak of the experiences of all young lesbians in France; it’s just meant to be about these two women and their lives. While the final melodrama of Clementine’s death feels a little like Maroh wasn’t sure where else to go with her story, there is a sweetness and poignancy to it. After all, these women were so tied together, what else could actually separate them other than death?

Maroh’s art follows in the tradition of a lot of French comics, but her round faces and big, overly expressive eyes point to an obvious manga influence. While the book is narration and dialogue heavy, her characters’ body language and posture tell more of the story. Her characters are very physical on the page and she uses silence well. When Clementine’s parents chase her and Emma out of their house upon discovering the relationship, it’s done in frenzied, dialogue-free pages. Knowing what was said who minimized the impact and shows how quickly it all happened.

And yes, there’s sex in this book and Maroh is not shy about presenting it. It’s not for titillation, though, or even eroticism. The sex is gorgeous and moving and communicates the intimacy of Clementine and Emma like nothing else could.

Maroh also uses color masterfully. Pages in flashback are washed-out sepias, with pops of blue (usually Emma’s hair) as the only color. More modern scenes are in color, but are muted in tone. Throughout, blue is the color that is the most predominant. While that could come across as being obvious, it neatly ties the past to the present and creates a consistent emotion throughout.

In Blue in the Warmest Color, Julie Maroh has created an intimate portrait of two intertwined lives. It’s thoughtful and it’s heartfelt and I love the time I got to spend with Emma and Clementine. Those are the images and experiences I want to keep with me. You can go see the movie if you want, but trust me when I say I already know the book is better.

(My friend Steve reviewed the movie at his blog, Unseen Films, today. He didn’t like it much.)