The Arts Team discuss their favourite comics

DESPITE THE increasing popularity of movies based on comics, the Arts Team feel that comics tend to get a bad reputation or that people don’t consider them to be anything beyond superheros and violence. We’ve chosen give you readers a brief breakdown of some of our favorite comic/graphic novel stories that diverts away from your standard heroic superhero saves the day deal, towards tales that we feel get overlooked.

Comics - 250px-FablesFables

By Andrew Noel

Nothing sends the heartbeats of comic fans racing like reinventions of classic texts. With Bill Wingham’s Fables, that’s exactly what we got. When a group of legendary characters from the likes of fairy tales and fantasy literature are forced to leave their homeland after it is invaded by the forces of evil, they move into our world – specifically, New York City. What’s so great about Fables is it takes all your favourite stories you grew up with as a child, and turns them on their heads. When you were seven years old, did you ever imagine The Big Bad Wolf solving crimes and running a town for a living? Or The Three Little Pigs getting beheaded? Or Snow White brandishing a gun at Shere Khan from The Jungle Book?

Cultural references aside, Fables is an extremely exciting and interesting comic series. The adaptation of these famous characters from their natural setting to our world will force the reader to completely change their expectations of them and will, of course, lead to some humorous outcomes. However, there is a darker side to the comic, dealing with strong themes such as murder, political corruption, and rebellion. All this makes for one of the most interesting and popular comic series to emerge in the 2000s, and well worth a read for any comic enthusiast.

Comics - Y The Last ManY: The Last Man

By Sam Halford

I’ve always found it disappointing that graphic novels/comics very rarely expanded into a widespread audience, but when they do it’s usually for a good reason. Two of the most popular graphic novels, Watchmen (even before the movie adaption) and Maus, had managed to gain success outside the comic fandom audience because they were well-crafted novels with a deep political message. They had earned their place as not only successful graphic novels but as culturally-influencing books – they had become part of the zeitgeist. Which is why I’m disappointed that Y: The Last Man, while infamous in the fandom and moderate sales outside of it, hasn’t become more recognisable as a novel with an important message. This series speaks volumes not just about gender equality, but provides so much social commentary on issues such as gay rights, modern infrastructure, crime and punishment, and so much more.

The story centres around Yorick. After an unexplainable event left every animal with a Y chromosome dead he, along with his pet monkey, are the only living male survivors. The series highlights the problem that a very small percent of high responsibility jobs ranging from public office, to transport, to military are taken up by females and what issues this creates with no males around. Of course the problem isn’t just that not enough women hold these jobs but also the trouble with having half the population die and the scare of not being able to reproduce the species. This series has so much to say and despite coming out in 2002 the issues raised are just as valid today. There’s been talk of a film for a while, but the amount of times it’s been cancelled and restarted it looks doubtful.

Comics - MausMaus 

By Alex Pike

The misconception that graphic novels are all about guns and cleavage is infuriating. Not only is it untrue, but it doesn’t give the medium credit for the capability it has to tell such a wide breadth of narratives. For example, Glyn Dillon perfectly delivered a modern-day tale of mental health, relationships and alcoholism in the form of graphic novel The Nao of Brown yet, on the other side of the spectrum, I can’t imagine ingesting the film noir style tales of anthropomorphic private detective Blacksad without seeing the expressive illustrations of Juanjo Guarnido. Though, my pick for this article tells the deeply moving story of a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Poland.

Maus is written from the perspective of two time-frames – the author Art Spiegelman interviewing his father during the 70s, inquiring about his experiences during World War II. It’s also the depiction of the events that Spiegelman’s father experienced between the mid-30s and 1945 (the same events he describes in the interviews).The use of these two time periods allows the story to demonstrate the feelings of this particular Holocaust survivor at a deeper level. The inclusion of the interview scenes are written in such a way that they add another dimension to the book, the father-son relationship, without detracting from the primary plot.

The art isn’t as precise as the Marvel bestsellers that line the highstreet bookshops, nor the printing quite so glossy, but I can’t help but think that that wouldn’t be fitting. The minimalist, grayscale drawing is perfect for portraying such a harrowing story. Whether you have any interest of graphic novels or modern history is irrelevant – Maus is a highly engaging demonstration of the influence of possibly the most horrific events of modern history on a much more personal level than any documentary you’ll watch on TV.

Comics - ChewChew

By Jozef Raczka

Imagine we lived in a world where swine flu had wiped out 23 million Americans and made it illegal to sell, cook or consume any form of poultry.  Now imagine that you followed the adventures in this world of a detective for the FDA (US Food & Drug Administration) special crimes division who also happens to be a cibopath (someone who can tell where food has been from tasting it) so is regularly forced to consume dead human flesh in order to solve murders. Also his partner is a great hulking man best described in the book as a combination of ‘Orson Welles and a Grizzly Bear’. Honestly, I think I could end this review right here because if you’re not solved by now, you probably never will be.

Chew is the Eisner Award winning work of writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory and ever since a friend recommended it to me last year, it has become one of my favourite series. What I love about it is that it never takes the easy route out. Often the events that we see throughout the series are incredibly visceral and nauseating but it never forgets to be disgustingly funny. That said, whether you find it funny does entirely depend on how much you laugh at the idea of someone eating a corpse with the sound effect ‘nom nom nom’ above it. It also benefits from the fantastic artwork of Rob Guillory whose bright, angular style offsets the dark, cynical tone of the writing to fantastic effect.

I’d also like to note that Chew is published by Image Comics, possibly my favourite current comics publishers. Best known for The Walking Dead, they also have many other series that are current favourites of mine including Jonathan Hickman’s brilliant work on The Manhattan Projects and East Of West, the only comic series to make ASM’s best books of 2013 and also Matt Fraction’s incredibly popular Sex Criminals series. It is a relatively major label still willing to take risks in what it publishes and by avoiding any form of house style it has allowed wonderful, varied, brilliant work like those I’ve mentioned to flourish. If anyone is trying to find a place to start reading if they want more than just super-powers and spandex, Image Comics might just be the place for them.

Comics - Orc_stainOrc Stain

By Joe Michael Fairweather

Orc Stain is a comic written and drawn by semi-independent Canadian comic book man James Stokoe, who drew the latest Godzilla comic book series. His art is commonly associated with huge vistas, a bright colour scheme and absolutely tons of detail on the landscape and characters.

Orc Stain is a comic series set in a fantasy world that is plagued by an endless war between legions of orcs. The story is that The Orctzar, the most powerful orc in the land, has somehow unified the southern tribes together and is invading the north. He receives a prophecy that a one eyed orc will be the downfall to his empire, so he scours the land in search of this specific orc. The main protagonist is the aptly named One-Eye, an orc with the special ability of being able to locate any weak point in anything and destroy it with a single tap.

What makes this entire comic interesting is the premise. The world Stokoe creates is equal parts revolting, humorous and fascinating. For instance, the orcish economy is based on “gronches” AKA the penis/foreskin (mainly foreskin, although the penis is also valued) of animals and other orcs. One-Eye goes into great detail about how some of the greatest orcs ever – whose graves are so numerous that they are just numbered – became so legendary because they cut off the penises of dragons, legions of orcs or giants. Be warned, the penises are fully drawn and coloured, where relevant, so the book is certainly not for the squeamish!

Another defining facet of the world is how it is characterised. Lots of the objects in Orc Stain‘s universe has a character or is at least a living thing. Cans of grog are things that scream in pain once opened, safes are giant stupid bears, drugs are Lovecraftian crabs that screech in some incomprehensible language when burnt and guns are silent, weeping, unidentifiable creatures. It is just brimming with clever and imaginative design that could only come from a slightly disturbed mind (in the best possible sense).

The writing is simply superb. The orcs are incredibly stupid but in an endearing way. They are crude creatures who love nothing more than to fight and get gronches. Stokoe’s characterisation makes them identifiable but simultaneously alien enough to give Orc Stain a very unique style. It’s rude, simple and not for the faint hearted but the comic never stops being enjoyable to read.

Sadly there isn’t much else to say about Orc Stain as only five issues, of the seven produced, have been collected into a tradeback. But it has a very strong start, the world is wonderfully realised and the story is intriguing. Well worth a look.

Comics - FreakAngelsFreakAngels

By Andrew Monk

By far one of the most intriguing comics I’ve read recently, FreakAngels is written by Warren Ellis, set in Whitechapel, London 5 years after an apocalyptic event which ends civilisation in presumably only the UK, the story follows 11 twenty-something year olds (the titular FreakAngels) with various super-power type abilities including telepathy, healing, and others that have yet to be revealed fully.

Having only read the first fifth of story, by far the most compelling aspect of the comic is the plot which slowly reveals how 11 heroes in fact caused the events that led to this post-civilisation state, and are seeking to redeem themselves by helping those in their community. Along with this, there is a 12th exiled FreakAngel who is making overtures of returning for revenge. The best part of this is that it is all described while still being exposed to new aspects of this interesting new world.

The visual style by Paul Duffield is also very striking in its bleakness. This is done without being completely void of all colours, yet still has a blandness which makes this apocalyptic world remain rather distinctive and unique in comparison to other portrayals.

Despite actually being published and distributed like any regular comic, the best thing about FreakAngels is that it is actually also a web-comic, making it free and convenient to peruse at one’s leisure.