Greetings Fellow Comic Lovers,
My name is Nick Gazin, and this is my comic review column. If you don't like it, tough. These are my reviews, and you have to do what I say and agree with everything I write, even the typos.
Alvin Buenaventura died. He was a great guy who published great comics and championed the medium. He battled tirelessly in the war against mediocrity. The first time I met him in 2009, he introduced me to Lisa Hanawalt, whom I had never heard of before. Then he asked me to draw in his sketchbook, which had sketches by Crumb, Burns, Swarte, Speigelman, and other luminaries. He was a true enthusiast for comics. Dan Clowes wrote a great piece about him for Boing Boing.
Here's the portrait I did of Alvin seven years ago in his book.
Here are reviews of five things. I provide links for where to buy these things, but please try to seek them out at your local comic store first.
#1. Jem and the Holograms: Twilight in Paris doll
By Hasbro and Integrity Toys
I begged for people to send me cool free Jem stuff in my coverage of the Jem party, and it worked. Some people have complained that I'm reviewing too many dolls and not enough comics in my comics-review column. To those people: I am very tempted to just turn this into a sneakers, knives, and cat-food review column, so be happy that I'm just chatting about dolls now.
In recent years Hasbro has expanded from just making toys for children and moved into the high-end adult collectibles market as well. It has produced a new series of Jem dolls that go for about $140 a doll and present modern renditions of the characters from the 1980s cartoon show (which was released in conjunction with a line of toys). This particular doll comes in a really well-made display box that resembles the Eiffel Tower. Inside the giant cardboard tower casket is a Jem, lifeless and perfect. On the right half of her cardboard cage is an interchangeable head and dress so that you can transform Jem into her mundane Jerrica Benton persona.
This particular doll looks an awful lot like Taylor Swift. The box makes it easy to want to just leave the doll in and display it as it is, although if I get real sad I might display the Eiffel Tower box in its fully completed form.
Thank you for the doll. Please send more Jem dolls. Thank you.
#2. The Divine
By Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka, and Boaz Lavie, published by First Second
Tomer Hanuka is a giant star of illustration, and I've been watching lesser artists build careers imitating him for about a decade. When I first met Tomer half my life ago, he was selling comics he'd made with his brother, Asaf, called Bi-Polar. They've joined again creatively to make this new book, The Divine, with Boaz Lavie writing the thing.
The Divine is about a poor expectant father with training in explosives. In an effort to improve his quality of life, he takes a mysterious job blowing up a mountain in a rural Southeast Asian country, which puts him in contact with a macho psycho, jaded, telekinetic child soldiers, and a dragon. The story is basically Avatar, but instead of the magical natives being sexy, blue, cat people, they're magical Asian kids. The kids are more appealing than the Avatar aliens were, and the comic is infinitely more beautiful to look at than the plastic-toy, video-game CGI of Avatar. What really makes The Divine valuable, though, is the rejoining of the Hanuka brothers making beautiful comic-book moments. The things that they draw are things that can't be written about or explained. You can only experience it by seeing it, and it's worth looking at.
You probably know what this thing is from all the mainstream news about it, but if you don't, it's a remote-control robot toy based on a character from the recent Star Wars movie. Controlling it via an app, you can steer the BB-8 like a remote-control car, or press a few buttons that will make it appear to nod in agreement. You can even record a holographic message video like in the Star Wars films. It's clearly a very cool toy. I tended to accidentally knock its head off when it would ram into walls, but it goes back on with magnetic power.
When I asked the inventor of this robot, Adam Wilson, about his life and what led to this, it became clear that I was talking to the living embodiment of the American dream. I asked him if his parents were proud, and he mentioned he only had one parent. I asked him about what Star Wars toys he'd had as a child, and he mentioned his family not being able to afford toys but that he played with his uncle's Star Wars collection. Despite his troubled teens, he'd gotten good grades in high school and got a scholarship to MIT, where he studied robotics. Now he is the king of making cool robots.
#4. Adult Contemporary
By Bendik Kaltenborn (Drawn & Quarterly)
Bendik Kaltenborn is a Norwegian cartoonist known by some as the artist behind Todd Terje's album covers. The comics he makes feel like they're made up one panel at a time with no thought to the future or the past. They read like jam comics made by multiple people riffing on what the previous person drew. This book collects Kalterborn's work over the past five years including illustrations, sloppy sketchbook comics, more finished work, and a comic strip he did called BUM, complete with the annoyed Facebook comments by people who hated it.
The art is very nice, and the stories are weird and dreamy. It's definitely a quality book, but I find the comics frustrating, like dissatisfying dreams. The drawings are often very funny and fun, though.
#5. Judge Dredd Classics: The Dark Judges
Written and drawn by various people (IDW)
Judge Dredd is a fascistic and scary cop in a dystopian future that you wouldn't want to live in. It's supposedly heavily inspired by Star Wars, but it feels more like if Blade Runner was much, much worse. The Dredd stories that are most popular are the ones that incorporate the discorporated Judge Death. A large reason for this is because the flawless comics genius Brian Bolland drew them. This book includes all of Bolland's great run in color and then a few other stories drawn by artists that are not Bolland, so I didn't read them.
That's this week's column. Tune in next week, and follow me on Instagram.