Modernist Library: Blue Monday vol. 2 – Absolute Beginners

img338Title: Blue Monday: Absolute Beginners (plus webisode scripts)
Script: Chynna Clugston-Major (edited by Jamie S. Rich; intro to webiside scripts by Rich)
Illustration: Chynna Clugston-Major
Published: Oni Press, 2001; (original comic book miniseries, 2001)

You know, for some reason, I just didn’t like this increment in the Blue Monday series as much as i liked The Kids Are Alright. In general, the quality of the story structure is just as good, like like the fact that she’s developing the other characters a little more, and even introducing new ones, but here are the main issues i have with this:

The general plot for this installment is “Bleu gets humiliated by the boy who likes her”. OK, for a high-school setting and dramady, but the specifics are something I find kind of beyond the pale. As it’s such a central thing to this four-part book, I doubt it’s going to count as a “spoiler” to anyone who doesn’t expect a complete blank-slate for their stories, so I’m just going to say it: Alan and Victor, the primary supporting male characters in TKAA, covertly take a video of Bleu getting undressed and taking a bath, and quickly spread it around the school. Now, OK, this is set in the early 1990s, before even tame staples of childhood, like the naked-on-a-bearskin-rug photos of us as infants were considered “child porn”, much less a more-or-less fully-developed fifteen / sixteen-year-old young woman, who just happens to still be in high school, and since Alan and Victor are in her class, there’s no “pedo factor”, but for hell, this is just ineffably creepy on so many levels, and I can’t really get into it played for comedy in the way that it has been. Now, how the video incident played out, i can totally see within the realm of believability for 15-20-year-olds (I mean, hell, I did something similar in New Dance), but I dunno, maybe I’ve seen too much SVU lately to see the comedy in this sort of thing (at least when I did a similar thing, it played for drama).

I’m also pretty unfond of the character development for Erin O’Neill (who finally has a surname) morphing from The Good Bad Girl into a Bitch in Sheep’s Clothing. While it certainly lends to drama, this is not only a development I’ve seen several times before (and for clearer reasons than we’re given in this volume), it’s a development that’s pretty predictable at this point, and honestly, this was a character that I wanted to like as I was reading the first book.

While I like the new character of Rissa, she’s just sort of sprang on readers and feels less fleshed out that Erin was in the first volume; aside from how she’s drawn, we know pretty much nothing about her personality other than that she likes football (soccer, to Americans). Now, Ms Clugston addresses this, humorously, in a filler comic at the end of the fourth chapter, which is a nice touch.

Another positive is the “mini comics” in the margins. Having never seen this in anything but GN form, I assume at least some of these were added for the compilation into graphic novel, as there’s an “aside” about Clugston mislabelling a song by The Beat as being by General Public that lasts several pages, to much amusement. When the next edition comes out, she needs to point out that she misspelled “Dexys Midnight Runners” on a t-shirt Clover wears as “Dexy’s Midnight Runners” –no, seriously, there’s no apostrophe.

I was also really enamoured with the introduction of Seamus, a pwcca taking the form of a six-foot-tall otter and who is apparently only visible to Bleu and clover, though he can clearly interact materially and psychically with other characters, even though they can’t see him. Again, I’ve done something similar in Peacocks & Fairies, so this not only serves as a reminder to crack down on myself and schedule in more writing time, but now I’ve got confidence that this sort of thing has appeal to more people than myself (which is a nice thing for a writer trying to stay in booze money to learn).

So yeah, in structure and development, it holds up as well as the previous book, but I didn’t like Clugston’s decision to play a borderline-assault for comedy, and I was disappointed with her character development choices for Erin. I would’ve rated about a full target higher if not for the video incident. It happens.

Modernist Library: Two-Step by Warren Ellis, Amanda Connor, and Jimmy Palmiotti

img226Title: Two-Step
Script: Warren Ellis
Illustration: Connor & Palmiotti, colours by Paul Mounts
Published: Wildstorm, 2011 (original comic book miniseries, 2003-04)

I’ve enjoyed the comicbook writings of Warren Ellis since a friend introduced me to Transmetropolitan via the “holiday special” in collected volume three. Ah yes, Scott and Edé’s housewarming, I had passed out in a chair, our friend Aeric on the couch, and I woke up to the sound of Edé’s girlfriend coming downstairs and asking Aeric, “what’cha got there?” and Aeric replied, “I’m not sure, but it’s psychotic. Ru, are you up yet? You have to see this when I’m done.” Everyone else should be so lucky to have such an introduction to Ellis. So imagine my intrigue when I saw this title with the indies at my local comic shop on a day I had a full punch card.

Two-Step’s cover also promised “a weird romance” and leads consisting of Tony Ling, a Zen gangster, Rosi Blades, a bored camgirl, something about riding a classic Vespa down a one-hundred story building, and the promise “they don’t fight crime” –which is important to me.

The story is set in a sort of “alternative universe” London in the year 2001, where you can apparently get curry skunk, cosmetic surgery has taken some transhumanist turns, and cybernetic technology is such that implants of webcam tech (which I think is how that floating orb camera gets to follow Rosi around) is fairly common. The atmosphere for the alternative London created is part crime noir, part cyberpunk, and it’s presented with an odd but cute Bollywood style song-and dance —which, when you consider that nearly every page since Rosi is introduced has at least one “strip” of four panels, each representing one of her live webcams, the translation of such a number to the graphic story really works for it. If you don’t have the imagination to create your own music for these pages, just sit down with the book and a record of late 1960s psychedelic or 60s pop music from Mumbai of your choosing, it’ll work.

The story is another relatively simple one and, for the most part, kind of starts out the way a lot of such romantic comedy crime dramas of this sort do: Tony was contracted to steal something important from the Quarry gang, and is on his way to do it and be done when Rosi, allegedly the most-clicked camgirl in London and looking like a busty, corporate logo’d cyber-rave dreamgirl (of indeterminate ethnic background, though the concept sketches in the back of the book suggest she might be of African diaspora ethnicity –the sketches also suggest that the corporatised outfit is where part of her financial income comes from), wanders the streets bored and contemplating leaving the city when she stumbles upon Ling chasing another man. Rosi, mistakenly, believes thst the item Tony is after was stolen from him, rather than something Ling himself is hoping to steal. Ling would’ve gotten away with it, too, if Rosi hadn’t been streaming the whole thing.

Needless to say, the next two chapters are pretty much all a direct result of Rosi streaming the ordeal live, and while it certainly takes some crass turns, and the colours aren’t perfect, it’s certainly a tasty little read. The sketchbook selections are a ni e addition to the collected mini-series, as is the wcript to chapter one / the first issue, neither are really qll that necessary after you’ve just read it all. The ending has been done before, in this kind of story, and while I’m unsure if it works or is just the tiniest bit too predictable, I also realise that I have no superior ideas and that the characters work well for a one-shot miniseries. It’s not Transmetropolitain, but it was many times a more enjoyable read than Long Hot Summer, which I had little good to say about. Furthermore, where Transmet is a cynical look at society, politics, journalism, celebrity, and the cyberpunk setting, Two-Step is clearly optimistic for all its shootings and its absurd and grotesque take on the rape gag. The stock Zen references reinforce this, but not in any way that’s been overplayed yet.

All this said, certainly there are going to be those who may question its inclusion here, but personally, I think it’s pretty obvious: Tony’s suit seems drawn a little bit big on him, but the style shout be recognised as sharp to any fan of Quadrophenia, the classic scooters, London, taking on the crime genre, the casual philosophy… Seems pretty clear to me.

Santa is…

Santa is a… by *humon on deviantART

Just thought I’d share one of my favourite installments of one of my favourite comics.