Tag Archives: Dark Horse Comics

Tonci Zonjic on Lobster Johnson

from zonjic's blog: lungbug.blogspot.com

I read these comics while sitting on a park bench, under a comfortably warm sun, class behind me, with college girls in short shorts and retro sunglasses passing by, and still, even with all these pleasantries, this Lobster Johnson mini series felt like the most important thing I could partake in at the time. Looking back, this was probably a pathetic reaction, but I’d like to think I gained a little mental stimulation from the experience. Plus, I have all summer for girls in retro sunglasses.

Aside from the pulpy spirit, Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand sports a wonderful tempo and evenness which seems overwhelmingly welcoming. The comic comes off as an item comfortable with what it is yet neither is the book afraid to reach for achievement, carrying the standard Mignola mindset which is aware of craftsmanship and structure. There’s a script here that drives the story in a very determined, episodic fashion with character development clearly in concern, but I’d say it’s the work of Tonci Zonjic who really shapes this Lobster Johnson tale into a comic book worth owning.

Zonjic’s work on Who is Jake Ellis? puts forth a tone of Jason Bourne  espionage and a Moby soundtrack song by mixing sexy blacks with saturated colors. In fact, I’d maybe say most of his work on that project was more tone-centric than anything, and while I’m not suggesting one attempt is better than the other, this work on Lobster Johnson chisels out a more technical focus by relying a lot of the artwork’s impact on panel composition and raw storytelling.

from zonjic's blog: lungbug.blogspot.com/

Take the base panel on the above page for example. Your eye starts out with the charging Native Americans, jumps to Lobster Johnson, flows to the gun, follows the bullets into the other Native American, and you follow the shot Native American’s falling arm to the fleeing couple, ending the story contained within this box. Or, something like this:

I love Paint

What’s odd though is that I read this work on the same day I listened to an Inkstuds interview with cartoonist Frank Santoro, in which he discusses how most budding comics creators are so obsessed with style that they lack the skills to construct and maintain a simple narrative. Reading these issues, and then hearing that interview, really reminded me of the comic book artist’s true mission: moving the reader’s eyes.

We live in this era where surface appearance matters so much we forget about the mechanics. I’m guilty of this quite often as I enjoy falling victim to aesthetically charged elements like style and color, and while it’s important to possess unique examples of such things … a story needs a storyteller. Zonjic exemplifies such a thought in Lobster Johnson, and I think some of that focus may come from the script itself because, if you look at it, a majority of Mignola’s books work on the basis of mechanics and grinding gears rather than spunk or sexy spy swag. Zonjic’s illustrating this book rather than making it look cool. He’s telling the story, first and foremost.

Yet, while all of this is true, he does possess a style – a style that evokes certain well known cartoonists like Alex Toth or Sean Phillips, yet while the aesthetic pleasure resides present in the work, Zonjic doesn’t sacrifice anything for it. He’s blended both attributes of his art together for a full effect. I must admit though, Zonjic’s line really hits me. I love the way it blends to what’s contained within it, especially on his figures where the blacks of an arm fold or something mash with the line, making it appear almost nonexistent.

As I did pump up the notion of attitude over mechanics in a previous blog post, I must say, well-functioning mechanics can certainly hit a sweet spot and push a comic beyond common muck. I like that such a thing can remind me of the time and work put into a comic book. The visibility of the artist’s storytelling can really, almost, connect you to that moment when the lines were laid down at the drawing board, and the thought was first thunk.

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Neal Adams super-science. Dark Horse Presents. “And nobody listened.”

Dark Horse Presents once again. Does anyone care? I ask that out of sincerity rather than snark or rhetoric. Does anyone really care? Or, maybe “care” is the wrong word to place in that question. Maybe “like” fits better? Does anyone like this newly relaunched, anthology comic?

I only ask because most reaction seems either non existent or “meh.” Granted, I don’t read every blog or bit of comics criticism, but from the usual circles I follow I see little to no comment, and if comment appears it’s of the “meh” type. The most detailed comment my ears have stumbled upon sounded something like, “it’s a showcase of a bunch of once great creators doing mediocre stuff.” Not the most flattering critique.

Not that any of this upsets me or even remotely keeps me up at night (trust me, I ❤ sleep) because I follow the crowd in this case and really only offer the “meh” comment. It’s a “meh” kind of comic book. Frank Miller brightened the picture and gave DHP #1 some sort of flare and Chaykin’s Marked Man looks great, but the story so far does nothing for me. Corben, same case. I’m clueless as to what the fuck Paul Chadwick does in Concrete. The “new” talent feels like filler except for Carla Speed McNeil and Patrick Alexander. And Neal Adams…yeah.

I’m all for the concept of Dark Horse Presents, or really just the concept of anthology in general. I like short stories, and I like the idea of artists, new and old, telling random stories they see fit. Of the few anthologies I’ve read though, the case never works. I’ve read a few, though. Mainstream ones at that. Maybe you cool kids know where to find the good shit and can set me straight. I don’t know.

Point being, Dark Horse Presents could bring real energy to the medium via new talent and old school class acts, but the comic falls flat by way of its wonk content and finds itself largely overlooked. Again, overlooked from where I’m standing. DHP stood significant once. The anthology ushered in a new publisher and presented notable works like Miller’s Sin City and Byrne’s Next Men. 157 issues were published over the span of 14 years, and, through hindsight, DHP seemed to pump variety into the industry. Like a little blip where surely something interesting could be found. Now, it wafts about like the comic’s current line up of talent. There’s more of a connection between the artists and the comic than just sharing the same page. Both seem out of their era, yet oddly present hope for a desired quality or artistic push.

Neal Adams, as much as I respect this man, symbolizes such an idea more than anyone else.

Adams integrated advertising illustration with four color pulp and transformed the expectation of super hero visuals. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I’ve had zero experience in the field of Neal Adams up until this year. His work affects me more through the pieces of criticism I read or medium lookbacks I hear on podcasts than actual comic books. Fucked up, maybe, but let’s face it, I’m 19. Neal Adams – the prime, industry breaking Neal Adams – came way before my time, and I only have so much money for comics.  Cut me some fucking slack. Still, I understand his place in comics lore. I understand, from a second hand account, what Neal Adams did. It’s not necessarily why I respect him, though.

My respect derives from Adams’ recent work, actually, as well as the man’s scientific reputation. We’re all aware of Neal Adams’ personal beliefs – the expanding Earth theory -, and we’re all aware that Batman: Odyssey is bat-shit crazy. Most now mourn Adams because of these choices in expression, but I don’t know, I see something fascinating and even respectable here. Here’s a man, a man who draws better than most, using comics completely for personal expression, as art is intended, rather than sloshing about in useless plots like most industry veterans seem to do these days (DC Retroactive, anyone?). This guy does what he wants and plays by no rule other than his own. This guy took Batman, in the current era of DC editoral comics, and made it completely his own. Neal Adams remains an artist – an honest to God artist and auteur producing content when most vets fade away.

Maybe I shouldn’t praise someone, especially a storyteller of all people, for having a voice – that shit should come standard – but, and maybe this speaks of our time, voice  has become more and more limited. Not every comic book or film for that matter presents an identity. Most forms of narrative are more common to follow the formula rather than an artist’s vision. The world finds fuel in product, and our commercial arts suffer. Voice, whenever present, deserves the recognition. At least a few points.

Especially when said voice shouts to the world, “planet Earth is expanding!” Takes balls to host an opinion most deem insane.

And this is where we arrive. Dark Horse Presents, volume 2, #2. The second installment of Neal Adams’ Blood. This 8-pager sums up the new era Neal Adams.

Here’s a base description:

-There’s a guy named Blood.
-He comes from an ancient source of alien power.
-This power known as the “animae,” which is basically a symbiote, attaches to selected humans and provides them with universal knowledge.
-Throughout time, the animae links itself to numerous people.
-Linked people have visions of a great oncoming threat and said people warn the human race
-Human reaction to warning is summed up by one caption – “And nobody listened.”

Then, at some point in this extended flashback, a Jesus stand-in instructs the Knights Templar on the notion of change. The comic then ends.

No grand points to take away from this. Another crazy Neal Adams comic with little narrative value. Except…guy with knowledge tries to warn the world and “nobody” listens…where have I heard this before?  Oh. Someone got self-aware. Blood chapter 2 is the Neal Adams reaction comic. Rather than ignore his reputation and the criticism he receives, Adams turns it around and fires back at us. The tone of this comic exemplifies a feeling of “I know something grand and world changing, but you and your ignorance prohibit anything outside the accepted norm.” If you could pin it down to a theme, Blood chapter 2 syncs well with “humanity finds comfort in conformity.” I feel the pseudo-Jesus speech says much.

Choose not to kill me? It would hardly matter. It’s a small thing not to kill me. At best, you will be stepping outside your machine, your premade place, for merely an instant of time. Everything you do after that decision will carry you back into the machine. You will be consigned to an obscurity of sameness. Men will know nothing of you.

To become an un-same, to make a change, an impact on history, you must find a path, a way of being that does not follow your preordained way. Only change brings new. How could you possibly learn to step out of your machine?

Does Adams, by way of his beliefs, feels he’s making an impact on history, or is that simply an exaggeration for sake of story? I mean, why use the Jesus image? It could be entirely for story purposes. A sense of symbolism. Or, maybe it says a bit more about this artist. There’s also the idea of men, men who conform, existing within what Adams calls “the machine,” and Adams, by way of the possible Jesus analog, suggests he’s outside or even above “the machine.”

It’s a loaded 8-pager, but as a narrative it fails. Adams tends to make the story’s message overbearing or “preachy” while allowing the actual plot, the fictional element, to drop into the background like it’s unimportant and almost in the way. The story really isn’t even the focus. The comic just reads like someone shouting at you. It’s an interesting way to execute a story, but it doesn’t work.

I still enjoy it, though. I’m a guy for which style overbears execution, and Blood chapter 2 is the poster child of such attitude. Even so, it’s only one section of the 80 page Dark Horse Presents, and I’m most likely alone in the enjoyment. As Adams puts it, nobody is listening. Listening to Blood or Dark Horse Presents. While both subjects could light a fire under the industry’s ass, execution is poor and holds back any attempt at game changing or award worthy quality. Once upon a time, Adams and DHP could do such a thing. Today, both Adams and DHP are revamped versions of themselves, laced with bits that sound tasty in passing, but when actually read pack no punch.

DHP’s only 2 issues in. Things could change. Maybe Brian Wood and The Massive can stir things up. Here’s hoping.

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