Quick Snacks

April 21st, 2020

Sophie B – Last Orders (self published, picked up at Thought Bubble comic con, 2019)

A confident comic book debut from the talent behind 2018′s You Can Be Anything, Last Orders gives you attractive characters in an attractive setting then works to show you how much flavour can be achieved with just the right combination of ingredients.

Those elements being “Gays, Ghosts and Grub”, obviously.

Even a passing glance will tell you that every aspect of this comic has style to spare, but a more attentive eye will reveal a sense of purpose underpinning the design. After all, it’s not just the info boxes that tell us who Robin and Esther are.  The way their outfits reflect each other’s haircuts, the way their conversations move from friendly sparring to sparkling monologue by way of shared glances, the way that those info boxes drop down into the story itself as it progresses – all of this tells us the same story, with no single aspect overpowering the light feast of narrative detail.

That it manages all this and plot about unfinished business almost seems like too much to ask from a first issue.

I’ve no idea what the further adventures of Esther and Robin will looked like, how much the formula will be adhered to or in what directions much the characters and themes will develop.  The important thing for now is that I’m asking these questions, which is to say, that one taste has me anticipating the next.

IF THIS COMIC WAS A CULINARY EXPERIENCE IT WOULD BE…

A handsome new pop-up place with a small but perfectly conceived menu.  It would be impossible to order something bad from Last Orders.  You would tell all your friends about it after your first visit, and when you went to go again you would find that it had round the corner to a slightly bigger spot where they serve a couple of banging new sides.

Jem Milton – Magical Grill (self-published, obtained through Patreon subscription, 2019)

While it shares certain ingredients with Last Orders, from the brightly coloured paper base to the gentle queer toppings, Milton’s zine is a far more relaxed affair.  A collection of healing spells and horny hangouts that will take the stress right out of your day, Magical Grill was an absolute treat to receive in the mail after a hard shift last year, an excuse to spend some time alone that simulated some of the charms of spending time with your friends.

That Milton’s line is one of the most pleasing in town should come as no surprise – if we’re honest, if you’ve sampled Milton’s wares before it’s more than half the reason you’ve done so.  More than that, though, his choice of subjects here prompts the reader to luxuriate in the line work, to take a break from flipping through pages and just take it in.

Like Last Orders, Milton’s zine focuses on two characters Skye and Punam.  Unlike Sophie B’s comic, the relationship that grounds Magical Grill is sexual and the pleasures depicted within extend beyond those offered by platonic friendship, food and the fulfillment of interrupted business. Which is to say: there’s some shagging in this comic, if you can believe such a thing.

Still, even if some of the non-shagging elements of this particular comic aren’t to your taste – if you can’t be arsed with talk about crystals, say – it’s hard to grudge their presence when they give the company involved such pleasure.  It’s okay to feel good.  Try to let it happen where it can.  Incorporate zines, comics and whatever magics feel appropriate at any given moment.  Whatever gets you through.

IF THIS COMIC WAS A CULINARY EXPERIENCE IT WOULD BE…

A potluck you’d been invited to by a friend of friend, make-out sessions optional.

Ales Kot, Andre Lima Araujo and Chris O’Hallaran – Generation Gone #1 (Image Comics, 2017)

It’s great to talk a fun new food place up to your pals but as with all recommendations, the risk of disappointment comes built in.  That your friends might not rate the grub as much as you do is one thing – that might feel like a failure but shit happens and for better or worse your friends aren’t out there living your life.  The more depressing possibility is that you’ll go back and find yourself disappointed.  Maybe your own judgments are suspect, or perhaps you’re just being faced with the fact that you can’t live the same moment twice.  You should have learned these lessons long ago – hell, you probably have, dear reader – which only makes the fact that you haven’t even harder to swallow.

All of which brings us on to the author of Generation Gone #1, a comic about young hackers, military industrial dreamers and the games played between them:

This website has form for recommending Ales Kot comics – something of a reciprocal arrangement, given that his Wild Children quoted our blog right back at us.  I stopped keeping track of his work sometime around Wolf, which just didn’t really register on my taste buds at all.  To the extent that Generation Gone #1 registers, it echoes other tastes from an earlier period, with strong overtones of all those Warren Ellis comics where he would race his audience to see who could give up on the story first.

This is perhaps not entirely fair, given that the opening scene shows a young couple talking openly and earnestly in the way more precisely formalised by Kot and his peers from the simulated interruption on the front cover to the endless ellipses just beyond:

For the rest of the episode, older flavours prevail, a mix of stale technobabble and montage that lacks the protein content to have curdled.  Now I’m with China Mieville, the infodump is an artform, but this is a description rather than a guarantee of quality.  From the the plot-heavy stuff about programming super-humans to stray chatter about “AI that would function the same way ants do” , this issue lacks anything genuinely transformative.  In the end it’s just a series of infodumps with no information, which is to say – genre fiction as a performance of the familiar.

The wordless character building sequences feel similarly rote, almost empty.  It doesn’t help that Araujo’s character work tends towards the mannequin-like, lacking in anything that might remind us of reality without either achieving the mania of a Kazuo Umezu figure, say, or the worried stiffness of some of the characters Jacen Burrows gave us in Providence:

Perhaps the approach Kot and Araujo are taking is cumulative.  Perhaps a close reading of Generation Gone issues #1-5 would backfill the first issue, render that which seems trite meaningful.  Trouble is, the first chapter left me struggling to finish what had been laid out on my plate.

IF THIS COMIC WAS A CULINARY EXPERIENCE IT WOULD BE…

A new branch of a small burger restaurant you’ve eaten at a fe times before, albeit never at this location.  On this visit, there would be little to recommend it, the patty  wouldn’t have much flavour in it, the and the pals you’d brought along with you would definitely be left wondering at your judgement.

How should that make us feel?  Well fuck – sometimes a bad meal is just a bad meal.

James Stokoe – Sobek (Shortbox, 2019)

This, on the other hand, is dinner.  But you knew that already.  If you’re sitting down with a James Stokoe comic in 2020, you’re sitting down to eat, and Sobek is nothing if not a feast of chewy details.

This is the sort of comic you want to come to with an empty stomach. You don’t want to approach these pages with eyes overstuffed with images after a six week streaming binge.  You want to come to it when you’ve done something to work up an appetite – you want to have shoveled some snow or dug a whole or hosted a big post-lockdown party, basically.  For a physical object that could be carried away by a strong breeze, Sobek feels heavy.

The story of the battle between two animal gods, Sobek’s action take place in a human settlement and is instigated by the Crocodile-worshipers who live there, but its true scale is monstrous and demands an appetite to match.  As soon as our emissaries have made their appeal to Sobek in the first 11 pages, we leave human perspective behind.  Everything after that happens in monster time.

As one of the world’s many victims of perfect timing, I’ve been watching a lot of Studio Ghibli movies in lockdown, and the thing that struck me when I sat down to reread Sobek this week was the way it shares a certain overabundance of life with the Miyazaki movies.  Everything in this book bulges with life, from the rocks to the water to the monsters themselves.  This isn’t a new sensation to have while taking on a James Stokoe comic – reading Orc Stain was like watching a zit pop in slow motion, Godzilla: The Half Century War hissed with uncanny energy and in Aliens: Dead Orbit every stray bit of piping seemed to be trying to writhe its way off the page – but the subject matter of Sobek put me more in that Miyazaki mindset than any of Stokoe’s previous work.

Come to think of it, there’s something to the thickness of detail that Stokoe achieves through the careful accumulation of thin lines that occupies a space between Miyazaki’s work on the Nausicaä manga and the lush landscapes of his Studio Ghibli work…

…but while Sobek shares Miyazki’s interest in a natural order that might not always align with our interests, Stokoe’s elemental forces are more louche and unfussy than anything you might find in Princess Mononoke.   Take the big lad himself, for example – when his followers make their request to him, he takes it on with less ceremony than it’s offered (“Hey guys”).  If the carnage that follows doesn’t entirely match their expectations, perhaps we can feel their pain.

After all, you’d feel worse about the fire that burned down your house if you’d had a nice talk with it before the first burger was done on the barbecue.

IF THIS COMIC WAS A CULINARY EXPERIENCE IT WOULD BE…

The perfect combination of raw flesh and fire, dangers as outlined above.

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