The Private Eye

Ah, my choice again and this time I kind of copped out by choosing a book written by arguably the best modern scribe in comics, Brian K Vaughan. However, the twist with this series is that it is published as a webcomic.

BKV and his artistic partner in the venture Marcos Martin released the series as periodical downloads via a new comics portal called Panel Syndicate, where they allowed the reader to pay whatever they wanted for the book, basically giving the book away for free. However, the pair have claimed much financial success from the gamble and have now begun a second series on the website, as well as also publishing Albert Montays’ SF comic UNIVERSE. Of our group, one chose to pay nothing while two others paid an amount they would happily pay for a discounted collection on ComiXology.

Vaughan & Martin always said The Private Eye would remain a webcomic only, an ironic nod to the story’s future world where The Internet and The Cloud are no more. However, Robert Kirkman eventually convinced them to release the series in print through Image and the deal even allowed the webcomic creators to do a one-off issue of Kirkman’s own Walking Dead series on their digital platform.


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

This is probably the best book I have read this year. The story rips along at a tremendous pace and kept me wanting to turn the page / swipe the screen and read more.

@tomwe


The print edition of The Private Eye is a hardback book unusually bound in landscape format matching the layout of the strip as it appeared online. This was the format I read the book in, though I have also looked at the webcomic to compare and contrast. I personally felt the series read better digital because of the sheer number of page turn reveals BKV packs into the storyline and also the slightly awkward way the book must be held to read, with the pages sliding down slightly.

Dan was frustrated with the digital format. He doesn’t pledge very much worth to webcomics and prefers to hold his iPad portrait. His instinct was that he had been shortchanged by the apparent half pages he was looking at and he said the lettering was cock. Jake also sees little value in webcomics, but Kelvin was happy with reading on his iPad and found it akin to Sunday Funnies as far as the layout was concerned.


:star::star::star:

This is Saga slightly turned down and made into normal stuff with a weird mask on.

@dandineen


Although I loved it, Jake felt let down by the story. He hates PI stories like Chinatown and The Big Sleep and saw many of the genre’s tropes at play here, like plasters on character’s noses. He coined the term Neo Noir for this futuristic detective story. Dan and Kelvin both saw it as similar to Vaughan’s series Saga, where a mundane concept is presented through an utterly bonkers lens, only here it was less so and suffered as a result. Kelvin loved the story though, and wondered what went on outside the bubble of the city, beyond ocean barrier The Wonderwall.


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

I like the setting. It’s a dystopia but a bit safer than the one in Lazarus. I can buy this happening but it’s not such a terrible, post-apocalyptic future.

@chao_xian


Dan said Martin’s art was Meh. Kelvin did like it thankfully, both he and I had read his stuff before on titles like Batgirl Year One, Daredevil, and Doctor Strange The Oath (a previous collaboration with Vaughan). I thought the layouts here were exquisite and something only this landscape format would allow. The drawings capture just the right moment of the action, and when you add to that the sometimes dramatic, sometimes muted but always fitting colours by Marcos’ partner Munsta Vincente the dazzlingly bizarre world is one you can study for hours. Jake compared it to Kevin O’neill in that regard and found the colour pallette reminded him of the Channel 4 series Utopia.


:star::star::star:

The Webcomic format is intrinsically worthless, were this a book on the shelf I would read it again.

@tygertale


Overall Dan liked the big idea but didn’t think the characters were developed properly, something I disagree with. I thought Vaughan fleshed them out at a good pace and in doing so drip-fed us facts about this future. We had conflicting opinions about PI & his assistant but all liked Grandpa. He reminded Dan of Warren Ellis’ Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan, and I suspect we see something of ourselves in him as he is of our own generation in this future. He is constantly wondering why he can’t get online, and in fact both Kelvin and I wanted the villain to succeed at the end (spoilers!). Jake thought the baddie was rubbish.

I have been a little vague with the actual plot in this review as I hope readers will seek it out and experience this new world for themselves, you could even do so for free so what are you waiting for!

Klaus by Grant Morrison and Dan Mora

Jake hosted a double dip for our Christmas bonanza. We even feasted together for a Christmas meal for the occasion. The two books were Vertigo Pop’s Tokyo Days, Bangkok Nights featuring art by Seth Fisher. This was followed up by Klaus, a festive tale by Grant Morrison.

Jake’s full write-up can be found on his lovely website as part of his Christmas Advent Calendar series of posts.

Gyo - The Death Stench Creeps

As Christmas creeps ever closer I felt The Comic Book Club needed an injection of something a little more… grotesque to balance out all this goodwill to all men stuff.

I was looking for something a bit different to what had been covered so far. We’d mainly stuck with American publishers with a solitary, brief visit to Europe way back in July. We needed to head east.

Whilst hunting for inspiration I stumbled upon an article on polygon.com on Guillermo Del Toro’s aborted Silent Hill film. In the article Del Toro referred to The Death Stench Creeps author and artist Junji Ito as a master of Japanese horror.

Sounds perfect. Let’s do this.

Note: I initially suggested we read volume 1 only. However 2 out of 4 of us elected to purchase the 2 volume hardback edition. The other two purchased the 2nd volume after completing the 1st. This write-up assumes knowledge of both volumes. With this in mind there may be spoilers ahead :-)

Jake

Jake had read some manga previously but came into The Death Stench Creeps with no real idea of what awaited him. In general he enjoyed the book but found the characterisation wooden and the leads hard to relate to. Jake also commented on the apparent horror derived from the mundane items such as plastic bags and gastro-intestinal upset.

He was much more of a fan of the short stories after the main story feeling that they were much darker and more engaging than the main storyline.


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

It was worth it for the fart cannon.

@tygertale


Tom

Tom wasn’t a big fan of the main storyline, feeling that it wasn’t horrific or scary at all. In fact he described it as ‘bordering on laughable’ rounding particularly on the bio-mechanical shark that forms one of the main set pieces in the first volume. He found the end pretty unfulfilling and abrupt.

As with Jake, Tom found that the short ‘backup’ stories provided more enjoyment than the main event, likening them to the classic 2000AD Tharg’s Future Shocks.


:star::star:

I’m the Craig Revell-Horwood of comic book reviewing.

@tomwe


Kelvin

Kelvin grew up in Malaysia reading comics from Hong Kong, China and Japan so he had no problems adapting to the reversed format (unlike the rest of us who kept struggling with the back-to-front panel order for the first few pages).

Kelvin had a similar issue to Jake, Tom and I finding the two lead characters shallow and unlikeable. He wasn’t surprised by the unfortunate depiction of women citing the cultural background of the author.

Kelvin was the only one of us to really get spooked by the subject matter as the insectile nature of the mecha-fish played upon his own fears of insects.

Tik! Tik! Tik! Tik! Fwwwwwsssshhhhh


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

I’m pleasantly surprised you picked some proper manga.

@chao_xian


Dan

My general feeling was that this was really rather weird. I struggled with the reversed reading order for quite a while until getting into the swing of things. Once I was there I have to admit to being slightly disappointed - it was far less horrific and gratuitous than I expected (although things do start to ramp up in volume 2).

There was a lot of farting in this book, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen (heard?) as much flatulence in a comic before. This approach to body horror was fairly unique.


:star::star::star:

I’m sure there was a chase sequence where some people ran away from a plastic bag.

@dandineen


Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 1

If you’re a fan of hip hop and comics, how can you not like a comic book about hip hop’s history? Eisner Award winning Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree has been on my radar for a while. But this first volume into his cultural epic was a nervous choice for me.

A nervous start

As the instigator of this club I made the first pick a few meetups ago. But that book was a disaster of a choice that no one really liked (Dan hated it).

The creator of Transformers vs GI Joe was Tom Scioli and we roundly berated his art and storytelling at our first meetup. Meanwhile Ed Piskor, the creator of Hip Hop Family Tree, is a contemporary of Tom Scioli. These bros share a studio together and hang out.

That was my first reason to feel nervous. The other was the subject matter. Or rather how the subject matter may not be Dan’s cup of tea. I knew that Tom and Jake are fellow hip hop fans, but I wasn’t sure of Dan’s appreciation for the genre. And he’s a picky guy.

I really tried to not worry about it. :worried:

But then I started to read it and f***!

I was struggling. I thought I had again failed to pick an enjoyable book.

Stop, evaluate and listen*

*(Yes I know it should be “collaborate and listen”)


:star::star::star:

This book needs a soundtrack to listen to while reading.

@chao_xian


I ambled through for 3 weeks and got halfway only 2 nights before the meetup. On the final read I had a revelation. The book was about a culture predicated on music. I needed to feel the music in order to feel for this book.

I hit Google and found this YouTube playlist featuring an interview with Ed Piskor.

I could feel Piskor’s passion as he spoke of his motivations for this book. But more importantly I could feel the beats.

Up until then I wasn’t connecting with the book. It felt like an endless cycle of introducing a new MC or DJ, new party jam, new rekkid, repeat. Sometimes I’d vaguely recognise some of the characters but this was way before my time. I needed to get into the 90s which was when my love for hip hop began. Given that Piskor is spending a lot of time on the 80s though, I’ll be waiting for quite a while.

Check out this 10 hour Hip Hop Family Tree Spotify playlist.

Step into my world

Events in history can be uninteresting if you don’t realise their significance. I had an extraordinary history lesson as I read Piskor’s depiction of how the video for Blondie’s Rapture was produced.

Blondie's Rapture]

At that same moment the video came on the telly.

The saga continues

Immersing myself in the music as I was reading saved the book for me. I accept that as Piskor began this series he was finding his feet on it. The book is far better in the second half than the first.

Turns out Dan did the same thing. He too had struggled (aw no!) and had to turn to the music to feel more for it too. But he still struggled. For him the book was hard, monotonous and rigid. The panels were too fixed in the square sequences and it’s telling that it was originally a serial collected into a book. The story just goes on and on and he didn’t see these as characters, more as people for whom life just happens.


:star::star:

Reading this was like cramming for a GCSE on hip hop. It’s like a textbook with some pencilled in swear words. It lacks joy: I just got facts. Exhaustive and exhausting.

@dandineen


He felt that when there were big events they were too constrained by the tiny square panels, guessing perhaps it’s because of the real estate Piskor is given on BoingBoing. It would’ve benefited from a few more splash pages and half page panels. Frustrated Dan describes hip hop as a vibrant political, social and cultural event and it doesn’t convey that impact enough for him.

The structure also doesn’t suit the collected editions compared to other strip compendiums, where each entry has a defined beginning and end. Hip Hop Family Tree has a non-deliniated timeline that has no sense of time. It’s one long thing.

Dan admitted he lacked the passion for the subject matter, but also that he’s not a fan of real life stuff. He wants explosions, spaceships and 3-boobed alien women. He craves unreality as we all have enough of reality. This book isn’t it (sorry Dan!).

Dan was also the only one of us to read the digital version and was astonished to feel a little bit jealous when he saw the lovely hard copies the rest of us turned up with. We all loved the texture and smell of the pages.

Double trouble

Tom read the digital version too. He alerted me to the Fantagraphics sale on ComiXology (£6!) and I felt that if people wanted to give it a go then the sale was a good opportunity (lucky for Dan). But then Tom bought the real life book as well. Then he bought Volume 2…!

The book was also hard work for Tom but he took the appropriate step of reading it a bit at a time.

Tom's version of Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 1

Tom didn’t have more to add to what we’d already said but had a lovely anecdote of his brother once breakdancing. Then his grandad decided to breakdance too!

He also had a different edition of the book to us featuring some lovely spot varnishing.


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

I liked it so much I bought the next volume straight away. I had to have more of it.

@tomwe


Butter

Jake had researched hip hop for a documentary on music history last year so knew the story already. Jake was really impressed by Piskor’s detail. Hip Hop Family Tree excels over the biographies that he had already poured over. It caught in detail the graphics of a graphical culture.

He also liked the characterisation. Piskor sees these luminaries as superheroes but you also get a real sense of them. He sensed that Grandmaster Flash was slightly bitter and nasty. It was also amusing to hear that Russel Simmonds doesn’t speak with a lisp or have a lazy eye at all from his own research!

He forgave the flaws that we’d already touched on because he was nerding out so much. He did find it hard to read and could see that as a weekly serial it’s probably better.


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

I loved it from page one right to the end. A stirling job. A man embarking on an insane life of detail that can only get better. I’m jealous of Tom’s Volume 2.

@tygertale


Ya don’t Stop

This book has received the biggest variety of scores we’ve awarded a book so far. I’m glad that most of us enjoyed it and I am looking forward to reading more of the series as it was clear that the story was improving. Tom had indicated that volume 2 was a far better book. That’s good news given that it won Piskor an Eisner.

Daytripper

Daytripper is the story of Brás de Iliva Domingos’ life, told in a non-linear fashion via ten single day snippets. He is a writer, a father, a husband, a son. A friend and a lover too. Brás’ life could be considered ordinary, and part of the narrative drive is one of encouragement to reach for the extraordinary; to make something of your life rather than settle for what you have. There is also an unusual aspect to the story in that Brás dies at the end of every chapter, but is alive once more when the next chapter begins with no explanation as to why.


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

I really enjoyed the book. A Hauntingly Beautiful tale that is appreciated more once you have had your own Early Life Crisis and decided if you are living your life to the fullest.

@chao_xian


It had mixed reviews from the group, though most were positive. Kelvin had not read a Vertigo comic for some time & felt it was appropriately Mature for the Mature Readers imprint. But rather than the Horror/Sex/Violence sometimes associated with such a label, it was beneficial to be the age we are (approaching/just past 40) to be able to appreciate the self-reflective part of the story. We may have suffered our own Early Life Crises before becoming the people we are now.

The fact it was Vertigo too meant a certain quality (or lack of) to the paper stock and colours of the printing. Most of the group had bought the standard TPB, though my own copy was the Deluxe Edition so we got to compare how it looked. The colours were certainly more vivid in that book. Dan felt more could have been done with the colour to emphasise the mood of the story. There were definitely changes in pallette but not to the extreme of, say, Southern Bastards which Dan described as “Sweaty”.


:star::star:

I am a cold and unfeeling monster to have not enjoyed this book. Realism in comics can be hard to process unless it affects you directly, and to me this was simply a fascinating technical thing.

@dandineen


Dan was not favourable of the art at all really, expecting to see more from Gabriel Ba rather than just covers and the four pages or so he did in Chapter 9. Personally, I loved Fabio Moon’s work and felt he brought an incredible authenticity and real feel to the locations and characters in the story. You could always tell it was Brás at the different ages he is portrayed. Secondary characters like best friend Jorge, lover Olinda & wife Ana all have distinct looks too that help them feel alive on the page. Having said that, we all felt these characters were at times too secondary, the story being so much about Brás himself.


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

The book was great despite its flaws, and those flaws are only there because I am well read. The narrative device of Brás’ dying could be left out and it wouldn’t matter. Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life did it better.

@tygertale


The narrative device of having Brás die at the end of each chapter was grating to most of us. Jake thought they were superfluous, Dan felt it became like an episode of Casualty where you were just waiting to see how he would die this time. The youngest death (11, by electrocution) was particularly cheap as it was one of the most authentic parts of the story, showing large family gatherings. Jake referred us to the book Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which used the device more sucessfully. He felt the writers got out of their depth as the book went on and into the later parts of Brás’ life.


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

An extremely well wrought piece. Slick artwork and an incredible authenticity of place. I was searching for an explanation for the deaths. Was it connected to his job as an obituary writer? Was he always dead since he was a ‘little miracle’ for surviving his difficult birth?

@tomwe


Since reading the book I have listened to an interview with Gabriel & Fabio where they say the concept came from living a block away from a neighbourhood where gunshots could often be heard, and the feeling of just how easily their lives could be ended by a stray bullet. We all die in one way or another, so they decided their character would continue to die each issue. We all felt the best chapter was the one in which Brás did not appear at all, focussing instead on wife Ana and son Miguel. It pulled hard on the heartstrings to see the family’s reaction to his death.

The best thing about this club is when your friends enjoy your pick. I wasn’t sure if this would be too long at 220 pages, but Jake read it in a day. I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading beyond the fantastical stories that tend to fill the pages of comics in the American market.