Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
With Comic-Con International beginning today, I thought I’d recommend a few new books for you to look out for, specifically Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae, Street Angel by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca, and The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew. These are all books which might appeal to new comic book readers, so if you’re attending the convention you might consider bringing one back as a gift to get your loved ones excited about the medium… Or if you’re stuck at home, these should impart a little of the variety and excitement in new comic books coming out now.
Andrew Rae’s Moonhead and the Music Machine is a beautiful, strange, funny story about an unusual boy going through the strange ritual that is American high school. Emphasizing the importance of finding your own passions, availing yourself of the resources at hand, and maintaining friendships with the people who really know you, Moonhead is a book which subtly and sweetly presents a variety of coping mechanisms to creative outsiders. This is the daydream-filled life of Joey Moonhead, a boy who’s head is a moon, which can float away (literally) when his focus wanders.
Filled with weird little characters, each one perfectly formed in every ridiculous detail. This is an evocative, bizarre, delightful tale. It is so much fun, and despite the obvious fantasy overtones, this is a book which closely echoes my own flights of imagination. High school wasn’t painful for me or anything like that, instead it was just very dull. Most of my high school experiences and lessons were so far outside of anything I could even begin to relate to or use and merely left me confused and disinterested. I spent a great deal of time staring out of windows, wondering when I could leave to go make something, anything. Like the protagonist, my mind was always elsewhere and I was frequently chastised for my daydreaming.
I hate to say this, particularly about a book I enjoyed so much, but the best words I can come up with to describe Moonhead are: wacky, whimsical, and even sassy! Nothing wrong with those words, but they aren’t qualities I would usually seek out in a book. Yet here we are, with this wonderful, inventive, silly, funny, adorable, detailed book which is definitely the wackiest thing I’ve read in ages and I loved it. Moonhead appropriates a visual language and tone which I’d usually associate with darker, bleaker teen-targeted books, and uses it to describe the protagonists fantastic journey to self-realization through creativity.
Moonhead and the Music Machine is published by Nobrow Press.
Jam packed with Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s wonderfully wild sense of humor and observational skills, Street Angel is the story of a young homeless girl who is, (or fantasizes about), a career as “a dangerous martial artist and the world’s greatest homeless skateboarder”. Battling evil on the streets, we join her for one wild story after another as she confronts all manner of opponents, including poverty and loneliness. Jesse Sanchez is a lone warrior, sometimes battling society, but often called upon by men of power to save us all. She is constantly reminded of her lone status by a cruel and uncaring world, but nothing gets this girl down.
When you see the description of a “homeless skateboard punker girl”, you have to remember that this is still a Rugg book, so while he unflinchingly depicts her crappy life, he also allows her to live in a world filled with ’50’s style politicians, science villains, time travel, gods, ninja, conquistadors, religious zealots, astronauts, riots, satanists, robots, and more. In fact, the guest stars are part of what makes this such a hilarious read, and so I won’t want to tell you about the best ones and ruin the surprise. Suffice to say it is the human interaction and how it evolves through the book which reveals the most about Jesse and her role in life.
The stories are inventive, funny, entertaining, and violent. But it is in the artwork where Rugg excels, taking each story and pairing it with the appropriate style, he perfectly apes a broad variety of incredibly talented, contemporary classic, independent comic book favorites in this gritty black and white comic book. By incorporation so many styles and genres, Rugg’s versatility is abundantly utilized and rather than just telling a series of amusing stories, Rugg uses it to comment on the entire genre, dismantling it for us and subtly explaining the strengths and joys in each. A little like the way Gilbert Hernandez has occasionally implemented a Peanut’s style one-page strip to show his characters as kids, or the way Dan Clowes juggled with comic book genres in his book Wilson, Rugg uses each of these incarnations to reveals the aspects of Jesse’s existence and the moods which go along with them. Along the way Rugg and Maruca give us a very thoughtful comic book about comic books and that’s a rare thing.
Street Angel is published by AdHouse Books.
This is Gene Luen Yang’s marvelous origin story of a Chinese superhero, Hank Chu, created by his mother’s inspiration and his father’s mysterious shadow. His beautiful first person narrative makes us fall in love with this immigrant family and their strange dreams, while Sonny Liew’s richly flowing art brings the crowded environs of early mid-century Chinatown to life. Yang and Liew give us the Golden Age Chinese superhero, one which almost was and should have been.
On a visual front, the book uses a beautiful color palette, and the characters really pop from their perfectly chosen 1940’s era background colors. This might not mean much to you, but I kept thinking that the colors would make a gorgeous palette for an interior designer – all chalky and warm, which is a difficult combination to create! With an appropriate feel (in both the art and the writing) of Kyle Baker’s irreverent work on The Shadow back in the late 1980’s, the Shadow Hero has all the components of a purely silly, fun ride. Yet somehow, Yang finds a way to touch on race relations, violence, duty, gender politics, and familial structure… In a superhero comic book. This is what a great writer can do; work within the metaphors of a chosen medium to play with ideas, to give us new ways to think about the world around us and how we live, all the while letting us enjoy the experience.
There’s really no getting around it, Gene Yang writes truly great superhero comic books, ones which make the world a better place. Okay, I’ll admit that he writes great comic books, of any kind. But his superhero comic books manage this crazy juggling act of being truly inspired and new, while also being packed with loving references to everything that has gone before in the genre. Basically, he manages to bring all of the love and warmth he imbues his biographical books with to a genre which is often missing a heart. Yang reminds us why we dream about superheroes, and why we need our dreams.
The Shadow Hero is published by First Second Books.
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