Category Archives: Reviews – Miscellaneous

Let’s Talk About Sex

nEuROTIC graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: John Cuneo
Editor: Kim Thompson
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Price: $19.95 US

Note: This review of adult material and should not be viewed by underage readers.

Fantagraphics Books is one of those publishers in the industry that’s difficult to nail down. It was once propped up by a profitable porno-comic line, but it now also produces a number of important works, notably archival ones such as the new Peanuts and Dennis the Menace hardcover collections of decades-old, classic comic strips. This book — named and oddly capitalized to capture the surreal and sexual tone of the cartooning within — lies somewhere in between. This book — not a graphic novel, really — is a sketch collection of unpublished artwork by noted U.S. cartoonist John Cuneo, whose recognizable style has appeared in a wide variety of publications, from the cerebral New Yorker to the more accessible Entertainment Weekly. It’s an interesting look inside the mind of a creator with a twisted bent. Cuneo’s work will seem familiar, and this book allows him to cut loose and transgress the taboo. To say nEuROTIC is pornographic is completely off the mark, though. This book does not titillate. It’s occasionally depraved, sometimes challenging and often funny. This is a coffee-table book for those who delight in shocking people, who see offending material as a means to enlighten rather than frighten.

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EC as One, Two, Three

The EC Archives: Shock SuspenStories Volume 1 hardcover
Writers: Bill Gaines & Al Feldstein
Artists: Jack Kamen, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, Graham Ingels & Wally Wood
Colors: Marie Severin, Anna Bolhis, Cory Dunnihoo, Joshua G. Jones, Tracy L. Morris, Leona D. Cahoj & Liz A. Rost
Cover artist: Wally Wood
Publisher: Gemstone Publishing
Price: $49.95 US

There have been a number of online comics news reports lately spotlighting Gemstone Publishing’s decision to scale back its offerings, specifically its line of Disney comics (featuring both new and reprint material). However, I certainly doubt that translates into a doom-and-gloom forecast for the publisher, especially when it’s now offering material such as The EC Archives. As other publishers have found in recent years, there’s a clear demand for high-end reprints of classic stories and art from the industry’s past, and one would be hard-pressed to find material that suited the term “classic” more than the crime and horror stories of EC Comics of the 1950s. As a testament to the importance of this material, this inaugural hardcover volume of Shock SuspenStories — featuring the first six issues of the original series — comes from filmmaker and Hollywood mover and shaker Steven Spielberg. The stories found within this attractive, oversized collection can be predictable and clumsy, but they’re nevertheless entertaining, and not just on a campy level. Perhaps what’s most interesting about the storytelling is how it paints a picture of Western society from half a century ago.

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Sex Cells

How to Make Money Like a Porn Star original graphic novel
Writer: Neil Strauss
Artist: Bernard Chang
Publisher: HarperCollins/Regan Books
Price: $19.95 US/$25.95 CAN

I hadn’t heard of Neil Strauss and Bernard Chang’s previous collaboration, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star (a book listed as being written by porn icon Jenna Jameson), but it seems this is the spiritual sequel to that book. In his introduction, Strauss makes it clear that this cynical, dark, violent satire arose from his contact with porn stars in preparation for the previous book. In his observations in the introduction, it’s clear that there’s a strong, character-driven drama to be told about the damaged people who populate the adult film industry. But that’s not what this book is about. Strauss exaggerates the victimization and circumstances to the point of disbelief, and any degree of effective satire is lost in the lack of focus and flow in the storytelling. The good news is that artist Bernard Chang demonstrates some real growth and development in his art, and I’d love to see his work on higher-profile and more thoughtful comics in the future.

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History Lessons

Island of Terror: Battle of Iwo Jima original graphic novella
Writer: Larry Hama
Artist: Anthony Williams
Cover artist: Gary Erskine
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Price: $9.95 US/$13.95 CAN

This may strike some readers as shocking, even shameful, but my initial education on the Second World War stemmed from comics, specifically from Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron. As a result of my participation in a French immersion program throughout my grade-school years, my social studies courses were all presented in French. That meant a focus on Acadian and Quebecois history. World wars weren’t a big part of the curriculum. With this project and others, Osprey Publishing sets out to combine comics storytelling with history education, specifically when it comes to teaching younger readers about significant armed conflicts, key battles from world-changing wars. This graphic novella about the Battle of Iwo Jima is the fifth in the Osprey Graphic History series.

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