Rust: Visitor in the field

It’s pretty rare that we get an almost complete consensus on a given book given our wildly varying tastes and interests. I can proudly say that my latest selection, Rust: Visitor in the field by Royden Lepp, managed just this.

To a man, we all agreed that this book is very, very brown.

Rust is so slathered in brown-ness that all of us found it hard to get past the monotony of the sepia colour scheme. There’s no respite from the mud-brown tones over 100 or so pages. No clever splash of contrast colour to draw the eye, no secondary palette to refresh the senses. The brown just goes on and on and on and on…

The palette

The vibrant Rust palette

We were browned out after page 2. Not a great start.

The art

We were mostly in agreement on other aspects of the art in Rust. I couldn’t help but find it derivatively angular and not very exciting. I’ll admit to kinda liking the design of the steampunk-style giant robots. No one else did though.

Hmmm. Bland.

Dan

Jake rounded on the artist’s (over)use of a single Photoshop motion blur effect and a lack of dynamism in general. He wasn’t very impressed with some of the faces, one scene depicting dinner around a farmhouse table eliciting the statement “That’s one of the worst faces I’ve ever seen”.

Tom spotted that the whole thing is laid out and designed like an animated cartoon, betraying Lepp’s origins as an animator.

When Tom, an animator himself, pointed out that the book is essentially set out as an animation storyboard it suddenly became clear why there are so many redundant panels or overlong sequences for minor actions.

The action in Rust feels drawn out and in slow-motion as if Lepp can’t break free of detailing every change of camera-angle in a sequence lasting a few seconds. Unfortunately, what works in animation frames is lost in comic book panels as the reader wades through treacle before anything happens.

Rust is full of slow-motion action

Tom also took issue with another of Lepp’s apparent hangovers from his animation past. He felt that every character, from small-town farmhand to giant war robot, was copied from a 3D reference model, posed each time. To Tom this is a ‘lazy’ approach resulting in visually consistent but mechanical, lifeless art.

I’m of the old-skool that says you draw everything by hand - especially if it’s hard

Tom

The story

The book itself is a remarkably brief and ephemeral read. We all blitzed through it in under 20 minutes, finding little of substance or originality to hold on to.

There are many hints of other, better, books such as Astro Boy and Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, it was hard not to want to sprint to the end and read those instead.

Jake persevered and read volumes 2 & 3, mainly because they were cheap digitally and just as quick to read as this one. At the end he still wasn’t convinced. And everything is still brown.

I first found it on some dodgy pirate site. It was vertical scrolling for 15 mins and then it just ends. I was a bit drunk

Jake

The summary

Too short, too brown, too little substance and too much like a lot of other, better things. Maybe read if you find them all cheap on Comixology and you really like brown.

Note: Kelv couldn’t make the meetup but provided a brief summation of his thoughts and a score at a later date.

The scores

- Dan ⭐⭐

- Tom ⭐⭐

- Jake ⭐⭐⭐

- Kelv ⭐⭐⭐

The Shadow Hero

The (Western?) World’s first Chinese superhero! Gene Luen Yang creates an origin story for a forgotten, subversive character from the Golden Age. The Green Turtle! It’s fair to say that he has found a golden nugget from that era.

AUTHORS NOTE: I am embarrassingly behind on write ups. The others have kept up pretty well but I’ve spent the past year just not bothering. So here is a listicle version of everyone’s thoughts on the book. These are the literal notes from the night, which I’ve edited for any faux pas.

Classic

Jake

  • Felt quite grounded.
  • People who become superheroes.
  • Breath of fresh air and uncynical compared to Mark Millar.
  • Didn’t know any background - a mystery until the end.
  • Doesn’t need the revival story - works as it’s own thing.
  • Felt like a story working for itself.
  • Funny.
  • Great characterisation.
  • Loved his mother.
  • Not a character you see in comics much.
  • Family relationship: heavy on that like Ms Marvel.
  • Bit cartoonish, didn’t love the art but didn’t put me off.
  • Serves the story.
  • The whole sequence of pushing the boy into chemical concoctions - funny.
  • Thing not normally fond of.
  • Gangster thing again not one of my favourite things. Don’t like them…
  • …but in the background. Father gets killed and he turns into a super turtle.
  • An uninteresting character but didn’t need whistles and bells.
  • Liked him - innocent.
  • Fight scenes with tortoise giving instructions - brilliant/great.
  • Having read the 40s character and the struggle of it being Chinese…
  • …looking back over treatment, seeing the back a lot and similarities.
  • A really sweet thing.
  • Hope it’s a standalone.
  • Series of 5 issues is enough.
  • Loved setting of 40s World.
  • Brought it to life.
  • Cute romance but not necessary.
  • Not a lot to say really.
  • Read in one lunch time - easy.
  • Unexpected and quite pleasurable.

:star::star::star::star:

A solid 4 stars.

@tygertale

Mother's dream

Dan

  • A lot like Jake…not a massive amount… not because awful or hated it.
  • When I looked at it, wondered whether I would connect.
  • Remarkably accessible.
  • Extremely funny in some parts.
  • Not lol’d at things that are culturally different just funny situations - witty.
  • Art - not my scene.
  • Chew - people very much like the same in that.
  • Interested to know from anyone who insight into Chinese families if the archetypes are real or how much blown out of proportion?
  • An archetype that must exist for a reason.
  • A lovely, unlovable woman.
  • Father loves her genuinely.
  • The kung fu uncle loves her.
  • Son does even she is weird and stand offish.
  • As long as not through a lens that is weird for people not aware of it…
  • …as in I map my own experiences to it, like in divorcing parents I cannot stand infidelity.
  • But relationships here are so unfamiliar that I’m forced to look at it from outside.
  • Bizarre why he puts up with her - no emotional feedback but still devoted.
  • Making her smile but is heartbreaking.
  • Jake says that felt really real: drawn on something.
  • Honest, not stretching too far or too clever.
  • A yarn with a different spin.
  • Fave: “She’s talking about his testicles…”
  • “Really made me want to watch Big Trouble In Little China which can only be a really good thing”.
  • What’s with the obsession about the mother’s bosom?!?

:star::star::star::star:

Really interesting little thing. Didn’t stress. Didn’t want to burn it which is usually how I feel about Kelv’s books…

@dandineen

Green Turtle

Tom

  • I would’ve read it again myself… except Kelv had to borrow my copy!
  • Missed first time: we see the Dad’s shadow, Turtle fulfilling the promise.
  • Interested to read it.
  • Both creators have books on Tom’s list.
  • I think this is fantastic.
  • Boxer’s and Saints - I will definitely go and read.
  • Charlie Chan’s Art of Hok Chye.
  • Hadn’t heard of this one.
  • Thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Really do have an issue with the big heads.
  • Will follow up on writer but not artist.
  • Just a style thing, calms down to a degree, settles on just the Mum.
  • A little too close to Rob Gilroy’s Chew which most of us don’t like.
  • Only the art holding Tom back
  • Read in 2 passes, as most of us - wanted to read it.
  • Not been able to watch much telly, but more time to read and this one was wanted.
  • Great touches how bullets scoot around.
  • Despite disliking how he designs people, storytelling approach is very good.
  • Dad death is a full page panel.
  • It’s dense yet reads really, really easily.
  • Jake loves all the silhouette work.
  • Wondered if the Tiger spirit is in the mother (Me: “No…!”)
  • Even though the dragon has a nice rivalry, the others weren’t needed.
  • 40s types superhero archetypes.
  • Really, really thoroughly enjoyed it.

:star::star::star::star:

If not for the art, it would’ve been a 5.

@tomwe

Golden Bravery

Me

  • Art and culture feel genuine.
  • Tiger mum - hateful.
  • Humbleness isn’t a thing.
  • Hate how she treats son and husband.
  • Pride makes her horrible.
  • Genuine feelings.
  • Real calligraphy.
  • Easy to read.
  • Back story intriguing. Love the subversiveness.

:star::star::star::star:

I didn’t really like the art either but enjoyed the story immensely.

@chao_xian

Cover

Black Hammer Volume 1

We are once again with Dark Horse for my most recent pick. I am feeling there is something about the publisher that allows its books to slip below our immediate purchase radars. In this case I became aware of the book as it was announced, being a long time admirer of the artist Dean Ormston, but I laid off buying in the hopes it would make a good choice for the group!

Black Hammer TPB cover: A page from Harke & Burr

As it turns out it was only Dan who also knew of it and although he initially seemed excited at the choice his review was mostly a downer. The cover especially he called a nightmare (above left), and not in the way you would want a horror artist like Ormston’s work to be perceived! I think he was over-reacting personally, as although it lacks the punch of some of the series’ later covers I don’t honestly see the problem.

The back-matter of the book gave us a bit of an insight into the book’s art though, it turns out Dean had a stroke after completing the first issue and it took him a year to get back on track. Whether this had a detrimental effect on his drawing is to be perceived by the reader but in Dan’s case he was thinking of early 2000 AD painted work and felt this was not the artist he remembered (above right, a page from Harke & Burr).

In fact, I’m surprised Dan ever thought he would enjoy this book, as writer Jeff Lemire is not his cup of tea either. He said he was bored to tears by breakout Vertigo book Sweet Tooth, and this was just more Americana.

“It’s a thing. A Jeff Lemire thing. It’s not my scene, but I’m glad Dean is on the mend”
-Dan ⭐⭐⭐

Golden Gail through the decades

Kelvin dug the way the series pulled established superhero character tropes together in a new pastiche and became more absorbed in the story than he expected he would be.

The series stars a Captain America, a Mary Marvel, what I believe to be an amalgam of both Adam & Doctor Strange, Madame Zanadu, The Martian Manhunter and an android in the tradition of Vision and The Tornado. Finally, the titular Black Hammer takes his roots from Thor and the creations of Jack Kirby.

We all loved Gail, the character who mirrors the Billy Batson / Shazam / Mary Marvel legacy character, her brattish behavior giving the series great comedy. Kelvin observed that the characters formed a dysfunctional family, with the de facto head and lead character Abe trying to tell everyone to act as normal as he appears to be- but that is impossible in an inverted world like the one seen in this story.

“Despite the artwork I really enjoyed it and want to know what happens next. I’m worried it’s all going to go horribly wrong”
-Kelvin ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Colonel brings the Weird : Dragonfly & a man of the swamp

In contrast to Dan, Jake is big into Lemire, namechecking Essex County, Underwater Welder and Sweet Tooth as particular favourites. But he was less aware of each of the Black Hammer character’s sources. He was worried Lemire might be trying to do too much at once with quite so many ideas whirling around, handling each character’s origin in five or so pages made it all so synopsyssy. There are some huge themes handled in the Colonel Weird and Madame Butterfly chapters and some of the subtext passed me by.

This book is just the beginning of the story and we all wondered just how long it was planned to go. Some of Lemire’s work tends to build small and only in the long game pan out to a truly exceptional story.

“The strength is in the small town setting and all the broken relationships. They all come together for support but then stab each other in the back. It’s too early to judge this as a complete story”
-Jake ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Lemire's own take on the heroes

Black Hammer was more than enough to keep me entertained though, and I enjoyed both the moody, autumnal art and the strong character writing. The idea of taking established superheroes and filing off the registration plate has been done quite a bit but this book has a unique enough voice to stand out.

My disappointment in my pick was that we only got so far into the world of the characters, and for this book club I want to feel we get a complete story to review and feel satisfied with even if we don’t enjoy it.

-Tom ⭐⭐⭐⭐

KaijuMax

I’ll be honest with you all here…

After my first read through of KaijuMax I felt pretty damn confident I’d picked something AMAZING. I’d seen the book appear on any number of ‘books you should be reading but probably aren’t’ lists and every review I read was a glowing tribute to a masterpiece of modern comic book fiction.

This is your time Dan. This is your moment.

This is a full 20. It’s in the bag.

You're the monsters!

This, ma lizzas, is the goj-damn ambergris

Dan

Funny how things don’t always work out how you think.

I’m not really sure how anyone could conceivably have an issue with a comic book that smashes together The Wire and Godzilla and then plays it straight, despite the fundamental ridiculousness of the whole thing.

There’s no concessions to playing nice, the main characters are pushed through (giant, tower block-sized) wringers over and over again, with the plot touching on some seriously nasty stuff.

Jake’s not a fan of prison stories and doesn’t have much history with kaiju either. This proved somewhat problematic for him and meant that he wasn’t really engaged with the whole thing at all. Tom’s foreknowledge of the big monster genre was mainly based on the awful 80s Godzilla cartoon (Die Godzookie! Die!) so didn’t have any massive expectations either way. Kelv grew up with this stuff and he knows his references off-pat. As soon as he got into the book Kelv was picking up on little hints of Ultraman et al. He was enjoying the pure nostalgia of it all.

KaijuMax prison guards go LARGE!

When the giant human guard got off with the monster - how did that happen?!

Jake

So with Kelv and I loving the setup, Tom wondering when something would fart radioactive fire and set someone’s hair ablaze and Jake thinking that he had 200-odd pages of this shash to get through before it was over, my chance of 20 stars was looking decidedly shaky.

Electrogor is so dull

Our lead protagonist, Electrogor, is some kind of giant radioactive bug moth-man thing. He’s also a dad, imprisoned for trying to protect his young family. He’s no hardened criminal and hasn’t stomped a city in a long, long time.

Newsflash - Electrogor is mega-dull.

But that’s the point. That’s the trope. He’s that bog-standard template archetype that serves as the audiences introduction to the nastier, darker, more evil monsters detained in KaijuMax prison. Which is a shame ‘cos he’s just so boring! We know he has to go on the usual arc of set-backs, redemption, fighting for his children etc. It’s a bit of a shame this is all so slavishly and predictably served up as something new and exciting.

Saw the cover and was immediately happy to get stuck in

Tom

As with the other aspects of KaijuMax we were all somewhat divided on our opinions of the art as well. On some pages there are rushed looking characters with sausage fingers wedged into uncomfortable, cramped and over-complex panel layouts. Then Cannon pulls out a truly magnificent splash page and, for me at least, almost every other artistic misdemeanour is forgotten.

Tom was immediately taken with the art and Kelv vibed on the colouring. Jake, on the other hand, felt the colouring was dull and boring, with it’s propensity for erring on the brown side of things.

KaijuMax on lockdown

As with everything in this book, the attempt to meld gangland slang with giant monster references had mixed results. I loved ‘megafauna’ and ‘ma lizzas’ but couldn’t help but feel ‘ambergris’ was a bit of a stretch too far.

It was clear to all that this is a true labour of love by Cannon and that there’s a huge amount of effort put into each episode. Given the depth of material available, both crime and giant monster-wise, the series is likely to run and run.

I think we all agree that the rap bits are pretty weird. We’re all still struggling with the showtime section of The Last American and this might’ve pushed us over the edge!

Dropping beatz

DEAR COMIC BOOK CREATORS, NO MORE COMICS WITH SONGS IN THEM PLEASE. WE DON’T LIKE THEM.

  • Love Dan, Tom, Jake and Kelv

The scores

“FIVE RED-KING STARS MEGAFAUNA!”
-Dan ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“I enjoyed this”
-Tom ⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Just not my thing at all”
-Jake ⭐⭐

“I feel like a little kid when I read this”
-Kelvin ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Yotsuba&! Vol 1 (and Vol 2)

My daughter insisted I read this. I couldn’t find a book for when it was my turn to choose the club, so plumped for this and made the other dads read it too. It turned out to be a really pleasant surprise.

AUTHORS NOTE: This has sat on my laptop for many, many months so I’m putting my notes from the night out there for this writeup with as little editing as required. Removing anything offensive or embarrassing. We’re 4 cantankerous men in our 40s. It’s very likely. So here are the review notes, in as raw and awful state as I can present it. My own review however is written 6 months after the fact, as I never got round to it, so it’ll be brief.

Arrival

Dan

First impression: little book, cheap, cool £1.27 from eBay! Not precious about it - quite nice. 2 bits… First 3 stories, upto Global Warming and at that point my first impressions were “WTF is this???”. The dad was seriously weird. The treatment of Yotsuba is weird. No handle of who she was? Some nice casual sexism in there. Almost an upskirt panty shot of neighbour which is weird. But ok it’s manga.

Short skirt. But Tom points out another artist would have drawn the exposed pants.

The dad is a waste of space as far as I can gather.

Neighbours who are the plain one, you’re the boring one and generally ranking them by attractiveness.

Thought not sure I can get through to the end of this… Then I read the rest of it and I think I found some kind of rhythm and probably go so far as to say I probably enjoyed the rest of it. Some proper LOLs at the last 3 or 4 chapters. No real grip on the characters. Still don’t understand the dad and the kind of relationship. Established somewhere else?

My first impression was it was a book taking the piss out of a kid with learning difficulties(!). Why doesn’t she know what a doorbell is?

It was just bizarre.

Went past quite quickly and didn’t really have a problem with it. Not necessarily an earthbound orphan just from “somewhere else”. Liked that it didn’t really say anything about it. Found it a bit annoying that they won’t tell me where she came from but not curious enough. I’m left with this “Oh look at the green haired weirdo child”. Just kind of extrapolate with the question of “What’s wrong with her”?

The rest of it is just manga stuff. I said to someone else I know who reads quite a lot of mange that I’d never seen the blank eyes blank mouth thing. Other person said that it is a thing and not unusual as I seem to think it was.

Quality of finish, there were some quite nice things (pg 191). I liked Boxer Man when the dad became a dad. Dan got the feeling that he didn’t know what to do with her and is bemused by someone who’s completely nuts. Other than when he was making her food he got the impression that he was kinda out of his depth.

Boxer Man

It was a weird thing. I don’t have any desire to read anymore. The translator’s notes is interesting. I think I enjoyed the fact that it felt like a thing. Hon read 2 pages of it and went “No”. Though I (Kelv) think it’s because Dan gave it to her.

Won’t buy multiple volumes but definitely didn’t loathe it. And I really did like the format and enjoyed not feeling precious of it.

Really interesting.

:star::star::star:

Not awful but not going to go buy tons more.

@dandineen

Tom

I’ll quickly mention the right to left thing: it’s the first time I found it easy. Perhaps because it’s fewer words crammed into the balloons than Gundam. (Yay!) Not a problem at all on this 3rd manga choice which can only bode well. I found it hard to write anything bad about it because I didn’t want to offend her. She’s so nice. Found it odd that it immediately mentions that she’s strange. I found it more that she wasn’t being strange but maybe as the father of intense daughters. He’s obviously happy to write about teenagers (having seen the ad for Azumanga Daioh). If I were to write a story about P it would not be dissimilar to this. I liked her reactions to things. Like her arm waving out the window. Waving to everyone. That tickles me.

But having said that by the end of the first book I was burned out by her continual one level reactions to everything as it’s kind of intense but I still ordered the 2nd one. It started to put some flesh onto the bones and introduce maybe deeper themes on where the story can go. The last chapter was just about the neighbouring family. A bit like Sandman did. But the wiki page states this the only story that’s not about Yotsuba.

As far as the art’s concerned it’s incredibly consistent. Always question if there’s a studio involved (I point out they have assistants). Probably the lightest casual sexism that it could ever be. Dan says they just can’t seem to escape that cultural expectation.

So many modern US artists are influenced by manga. I think there was a time they were trying to get people to draw in this way because that’s what they thought people wanted but now I think they’re employing people who just want to draw in this way.

Shows friend Dani’s pic and seems influenced and thought Yotsuba was exactly like it, but actually it’s much more toned down.

I enjoyed it but had enough, even though in 2nd volume there were hints of more.

:star::star::star:

An enjoyable read that hit some of the right buttons but exhausting as my own daughter is exhausting already.

@tomwe

Jake

I had no idea what to expect. Looked at the picture and thought it was a brave choice following John Blake which had been attacked as a children’s book (aw Jake!), with this one being a much younger one. A bit like Dan found it strange and not quite what I expected. It’s the way the kid was treated and the schoolgirl outfit.

A horrible relationship with the 16 year old girl? I was really worried. A strange relationships book that I didn’t want go near? But then it moves away from that and Yotsuba comes into her own. An alien? A robot? He’s created her? Or acquired her from somewhere?

I liked how it’s about nothing. Super mundane stuff and no particular pay off. Some funny jokes but nothing building. Her emotions are on a higher level than others which is nice. Similar to My Naughty Little Sister from 50s, and Lotta by Astrid Lindgrom about a pre-school girl with older sisters. And Charlie and Lola. Something appealing about pre-school girl with wide-eyed innocence and anarchy. With boys it feels kinda bully-ish but with girls it loses that edge.

By vol2 more depth, focus, funnier. One story that made me laugh all the way through - the sleeping dad and drawing on his face!

Drawn face

I get what Dan says about the casual sexism but by book 2 the characters are more fleshed out and the interplay is quite interesting. The pretty older sister isn’t just a princess, she’s kind of odd in her own way. She’s aware she’s pretty and it’s a real relationship. The sisters are a bit nasty to each other but with love. It feels realistic. The mother’s introduced and she’s not mother-ish. She had authority. The relationship is interesting. A dad mentioned but not there.

Quite interested to see how it continues.

I loved all the exclamations. Like Tom the right to left didn’t get in the way and that was pleasing. Liked the translation of the SFX. That was useful. The detail’s great - goes to town on the backgrounds like the temple countryside, the bugs. Contrasts to the the pop art surreal-ness. “Nice to meet you” (page 50). It feels like a nice thing in this format. Feels like the right place for it. You don’t long for something larger. The intro/outro thing is great. It lets the story flow.

C read it but said “I want a quest dad”.

I really loved it. Probably one of my favourite things we’ve read so far in the club.

:star::star::star::star::star:

Giving it a 5 because it’s Yotsuba and she thinks that everything is brilliant.

@tygertale

Me

I bought this pack of pre-owned volumes from Orbital Comics for my eldest daughter. She loved them so much and kept telling me that they were so good, and insisted that I read them too. I just never had the time. Making it a Comic Book Club choice was a good excuse to do it. I am so glad I did. She binged on these books and asked for more for her birthday (she has volumes 6 and 7 as well now). It is a hilarious book, happy, innocent, beautiful book. I don’t mind that there is no “quest” or a story. Many cartoons are like this. I think we probably missed that this likely started as a weekly serial.

Swing

What really surprises me about the creator of Yotsuba&! is that he is also a Hentai artist (DON’T google it!) yet can come up with this really quite sweet and… purely good story.

I’ve read volumes 1 to 5 and would love to read the newer volumes that I got for my eldest. I just don’t seem to have the time…

:star::star::star::star::star:

This book gave my daughter pure joy and that adds to my own enjoyment of it.

@chao_xian

Volume 1