Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's Haalllllloweeeen

Halloween themed reviews for AICN.  Both very different but very good.  THE GREEN WOMAN is for adults only and gruesome.  SCARY GODMOTHER is for all ages, especially kids, and beautiful. :)


Writers: Peter Straub & Michael Easton
Artist: John Bolton
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics

“You could call this the last act. Hell, you could call it the encore, it's pretty much the same to me.”
-- Fielding “Fee” Bandolier

Vertigo has released THE GREEN WOMAN just in time for Halloween and it's a treat for fans of mature horror stories. Full of graphic gore and violence throughout, this book is not for the faint of heart. This is a serial killer story, so any reader needs to know that up front. For whatever reason, we seem as a culture to be fascinated by the insidiously macabre nature of the serial killer. Neil Gaiman made use of it in SANDMAN, Hannibal Lector has practically become the adult "boogey man" go to for evil, and DEXTER thrives as the ultimate anti-hero juggling life as a father and also as a man who fetishistically needs to kill people. So, yes, we are fascinated by serial killers. In THE GREEN WOMAN, Straub and Easton resurrect a serial-killer character Straub created in his "Blue Rose" trilogy of books (KOKO, MYSTERY, and THE THROAT). Fielding "Fee" Bandolier was believed dead at the end of THE THROAT, but as THE GREEN WOMAN makes explicitly clear a number of times...writers are never to be trusted with telling the truth. And in Straub's case, the implication is that the apparent death of Fee was just that -- apparent.

Anyone who wants to read of the final fate of Fee needs to read THE GREEN WOMAN. Which begs the immediate question for fans of graphic novels: do you need to read the "Blue Rose" trilogy first to enjoy THE GREEN WOMAN? The answer is a resounding "No." In fact, prior to reading THE GREEN WOMAN, I had only read Straub's GHOST STORY and his 2 collaborations with Stephen King. But I have now picked up the "Blue Rose" books to read as a result of THE GREEN WOMAN. Similar to Easton's manner of storytelling that I recognize from his SOUL STEALER graphic novel, THE GREEN WOMAN is non-linear storytelling. So, the reader needs to commit to the book as Straub and Easton let all the puzzle pieces that are shuffled around come together by the end to finish with a complete picture of each character's place and purpose in the universe.

At a glance, the plot is your standard hackneyed plot of the tortured cop on the trail of a serial killer who then gets drawn into the twisted mind of the killer. There's so much more, however, to this book than mere plot. In fact, most plots, when culled to their base concept, are rarely original. What matters in fiction is how that plot unfolds. Bob Steele is the cop. Fee Bandolier is the killer. The "Green Woman" is a pub that provides the location that bookends this story. "She" is also personalized by the image of the "Green Woman" carved into the wall and her stunning beauty and dark eyes pierce the soul (if he has one) of Fee. Her image haunts him as much as his lost love. But the "Green Woman" does more than just haunt...she tempts...she entices...she embodies the perfect representation of the darkest thoughts of man. By jumping back and forth through Fee's life, we gain insight into his repulsive, yet charismatically appealing nature. There was a time when he basically experienced joy in his "calling," but now he's getting old, he's getting tired, and like a once great hunter wolf....he is lashing out and he's losing satisfaction in his actions because within him he feels the pull to accept that his time is nearly at an end.

There is a malevolent force at work here that transcends just a mere "man's inhumanity to man" type of story. Fee survives because evil thrives within him. Steele is pushed into a heroic role he does not desire nor is he capable of fulfilling. Both are pulled down into the depths of hell within themselves and they leave a trail of horror behind them always trekking toward...the "Green Woman." In the end, both Steele and Fee confront whatever "reward" their lives have earned them. And the "Green Woman"? I swear there is just a hint of self-satisfied smile as Fee's story comes to an end...but the spirit that drove him has taken root once again.

Gruesomely beautiful art by John Bolton tells the story visually with his unmatched ability to deliver images that are hauntingly sensual and brutally horrific without any sense of choppiness to the storytelling. Bolton's panels are at times starkly sexual and other times darkly introverted and emotional. I am sure this story could be told as prose, but for me the visuals accompanying this story allow it to unfold emotionally rather than intellectually. It is one of the benefits of graphic novels by their very nature. Reading prose requires an intellectual process first before it can connect with the heart. Art, however, evokes a visceral reaction first and then the intellectualizing can begin. In a book like THE GREEN WOMAN, the art is what hits first, therefore the first reaction is emotional and the text is taken in after that. Bolton, like all great painter-storytellers, understands this need to draw in the reader/viewer emotionally. There is a lot of blood and gruesome imagery, but it all serves the feeling of the moment and the story overall. Bolton's all-important choice of the face of the "Green Woman" is a beauty with a timeless sense of perfection but a burning wickedness behind her eyes. Bolton's art here is a masterpiece and along with the writing, THE GREEN WOMAN should satisfy any fan of intelligent and grisly psychological horror.



Writer/Artist: Jill Thompson
Publisher: Dark Horse Books

“Anybody who's all about monsters an' spiders an' candy is the perfect girl for me.'re never too old to be a new friend.”
– Jimmy

For ghouls and goblins of all ages, Jill Thompson's gorgeous new SCARY GODMOTHER book collection has hit the stands to usher in the Halloween season. Dark Horse has beautifully packaged Thompson's first four SCARY GODMOTHER children's books into a large hardback evocative of the classic MOTHER GOOSE book...complete with a “This Book Belongs to ____” plate on the checkerboard endpapers. SCARY GODMOTHER collects in one volume: “Scary Godmother”, “The Revenge of Jimmy”, “Mystery Date”, “The Boo Flu”, and adds in the short story “Tea for Orson.” Also included in this package are lots of treats including Thompson's initial sketch work for the characters, some of the original covers, and her character expression sheets for the animated specials developed for Cartoon Network based on her first two SCARY GODMOTHER books.

Fans of Thompson's comic book work may only be familiar with her Scary Godmother character through the series of comic books with the character. So, this book is an opportunity to encounter her in a different type of format that really gives Thompson's lush watercolor art the focus. And each story is a joy to read. Thompson really understands how to tap into that wonderfully open spirit of childhood and craft stories that will connect with anyone. The bottom line as to why I recommend this book so much is simply how much FUN they are. They bring a smile to your face and a chuckle to your throat as you read it. You can't help it. My own daughter is 13 years old and was instantly drawn to the cover when she got in the car after her gymnastics class. “What's that?” she asked with a crinkle of her nose. I replied “Check it out. I bet you will love it.” And needless to say, she didn't put it down until she had read the entire book and declared she “loooooooovvvvvvves SCARY GODMOTHER....especially Bug-A-Boo!” She just about jumped out of her skin with excitement when we came across a DVD copy of the “Scary Godmother: Jimmy's Revenge” animated special. Guess what daddy bought and we are waiting to watch together on Halloween night?

Scary Godmother is basically the patron saint of Halloween. She is the guardian of the spirit of Halloween and she comes onto the scene in these books to protect sweet innocent little Hannah Marie from the “monsters.” As each story progresses, Hannah Marie, her cousin Jimmy, and her friends become increasingly more familiar with Scary Godmother and all her friends who live with her on the “Fright Side”. The sweet-natured characters that populate the “Fright Side” include the closet skeleton, Mr. Pettibone, the ghostly cat Boozle, and the monster under your bed, Bug-A-Boo. Harry is a scene-stealing werewolf and Hannah Marie quickly becomes best friends with Orson, the bespectacled boy vampire.

Thompson's character designs are appealing with that slight creep factor that makes them all feel right for Halloween. I love the consistency in design elements that run through all her illustrations...including the cute curly-cue element that shows up everywhere including the logo design. In the age of digital art, I am particularly drawn to Thompson's colorful washes and brushed textures in the color work. I especially enjoy how she is willing to let the watercolors flow and absorb into the paper softening and stylizing many elements such as the moon in the night sky. Never a perfect circle, she lays down the deep purples and blues of the night sky around the moon but never makes the effort to tighten it up. I love that choice and she makes many confident artistic choices like that in her storytelling. She has the experience and the eye to always know the most effective (whether dramatic or comedic) way to communicate the scene to the reader.

Even though these stories were designed for book form rather than comic form, she is essentially working with a large-form panel design. So, the fan of comics and graphic novels should have no problem with her approach here. In fact, they may see this as a chance to expand their thinking as to what can be accomplished within the panel-to-panel style of story.

Halloween is the time for tricks and treats, and Jill Thompson's SCARY GODMOTHER is a treat that even beats finding a full-sized Snickers in your trick-or-treat bag.

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