Tag Archives: Graphic Story

Hugos 2017, part 2

Best Graphic Story

Best Editor: Short Form

Best Editor: Long Form

Best Professional Artist

Best Semiprozine

Best Fanzine

Best Fancast

Best Fan Writer

Best Fan Artist

Best Series

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Nations of Zombies and TV-Heads — Wrapping Up the Graphic Story Category

Two more comics left to review. Let’s start with Zombie Nation.

Category: Graphic Story
Slates: Rabid Puppies & Sad Puppies

Zombie Nation by Carter Reid is a horror-themed gag strip webcomic. The information about what strips are actually included in the Hugo-nominated collection Reduce Reuse Reanimate is nowhere to be found, so I took a look at some random strips that were published last year.

Judging by the reactions I have seen elseweb, many Hugo-voters — especially those unhappy with the Puppies — are giving Zombie Nation the cold shoulder. And now that I checked, Vox Day himself is doing the same thing: he tells on his site that he is going for No Award in the Graphic Story category and has placed Carter Reid last in the Professional Artist category, below the only artist not on his preliminary slate.

Reid is truly out of supporters, it seems, so let me say a few kind words for Zombie Nation. It’s actually not that awful.

Zombie Nation is a gag strip, so you can’t expect an elegant storyline or the sort of a satisfying dramatic arc that’s possible in long form comics. There has to be one joke per strip and you have to deliver it in three or four panels. Gag strips are a hard to do, and amusing gag strips are infinitely harder.

Some jokes make me smile, most did nothing and only few are embarrassingly bad (many are just weird, which is better than bad). Technically, most punchlines are delivered decently, and the rhythm and timing usually work. That is all that I can realistically hope for when reading a gag strip. Zombie Nation is no match for the other comics on the ballot and it shouldn’t be there in the first place, but it is not a bad comic of its kind.

Score: 4/10

zombienation

Next: Saga Volume 3

Category: Graphic Story
Slates: None

The first volume of the science fantasy series Saga won a Hugo award two years back, and the second volume nearly managed to do the same thing last year. Now we have here the third collection and the third Hugo nomination.

During the summer, I reread the whole series after getting my hands on the nice hardcover omnibus that collects volumes 1-3, and I ended up liking the series even more than I used to. It’s an extraordinarily good comic full of engaging characters, lying cats and weird worlds. Occasionally, the action takes some melodramatic turns, but I can’t help loving it.

It’s hard to put my finger on the reason I like Saga most for, but it may have something to do with the subversive feel or quirky tone of the storytelling. The TV heads and various things that slip on their screens, the virtual reality slash interactive theatre form of entertainment, the protagonists’ baby as an extra narrator and countless other delightful details add to the impression that Saga is saying lots of complex and interesting things in imaginative ways. Even though it’s a war story of sorts and terrible things do happen, the comic manages to stay cheerful and fun. What mad scripting skills Brian K. Vaughan has.

The third volume ties up neatly all the story threads of the first two volumes, and I guess that the series is going to take a new direction now that the protagonists have dealt with all the immediate threats. I’m pretty certain I’ll stay reading.

Score: 9/10

saga

That wraps up the graphic story category:

  1. Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick 9/10
  2. Saga Volume 3 9/10
  3. Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal 8/10
  4. Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery 5/10
  5. No Award
  6. The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate 4/10

What’s Wrong With Superheroes? — Ms. Marvel: No Normal

Category: Graphic Story
Slates: None

The new Ms. Marvel is a Muslim American schoolgirl who has to balance between doing superhero stuff and her family’s cultural traditions, just as the classic Spider-Man had to balance between doing superhero stuff and having a girlfriend. Nothing terribly new under the sun.

Writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona have done a great job at describing different tensions that the latest incarnation of the character has to deal with in an entertaining and — in a right way — light-hearted comic book. Ms. Marvel isn’t notable because she is the first major (or the first?) Muslim superhero in the Marvel universe. A less talented creative team could easily have turned it into a preachy story about diversity, but I think Ms. Marvel is a Hugo finalist because it is a damn good SFF comic.

On the other hand, Ms. Marvel sheds light on some of the silly limitations of the superhero genre as a whole. Because it’s a Marvel comic, there has to be an evil cardboard supervillain to fight against even though just seeing her live her life and try to cope would have been interesting enough.

In short: Having difficulties with being a young Muslim in New Jersey — interesting. Having difficulties with emerging superpowers — interesting. Having to fight a lame-ass supervillain — sort of boring.

Score: 8/10.

Sex Criminals: One Weird Trick

Category: Best Graphic Story
Slates: None

Every sensible person likes good comics. Everybody, sensible or not, likes sex. As a result, it’s baffling how few good comics about sex there are.

Plenty of comics do feature sex, sure, but I’ve had difficulties enjoying most of them. Much of the underground era depictions by Robert Crumb and others, for example, can hardly be described as very nuanced or insightful — leaving aside the insights into middle-class values, the Comics Code (which did a pretty good job at keeping sex out of the American overground comics scene for decades) and such. In continental Europe, comics have of course been more free to explore sexual themes, but the tone of the revered erotic works of Milo Manara et al has always stricken me as at least slightly sexist.

In addition, very few comics dealing with sex are SFF. There’s Heavy Metal Magazine, of course, and I have tried to enjoy their material but there’s a sexploitative edge to some of it that I feel is hard to ignore.

Sex Criminals, written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky, is something completely different. It may be the best sexual SFF comic I have ever read, possibly rivaled only by some of Alan Moore’s work (like Lost Girls, or the “Rite of Spring” issue of Swamp Thing, or the “Sex, Stars and Serpents” issue of Promethea) and possibly this thoughtful and intelligent sex scene.

Sex Criminals is about people who stop the time at the moment of orgasm and can therefore pull off all kinds of things right after the sexual climax — such as shitting on their boss’s pot plant and robbing banks in order to save an endangered library. That’s what every sensible person would do if they had this superpower, right?

These superpowered people can also have this experience together if they manage to have orgasm at the same time. And there are sex police who roam this frozen orgasm-space (armed with vibrators) and collect information on anybody who goes there. Very little of this makes any sense, but what the hell. It’s fun and weird.

Sex Criminals tells a story that is actually difficult to deliver in the comics form. How to show time stopping and everything (except the protagonists) freezing during orgasm in a medium in which narrative is made up of frozen images? Fraction and Zdarsky have chosen to tackle the problem with shining lines that tell which panels are in the Cumworld mode (ehhh) and there are also meta-level narrators visible in the panels to explain what’s happening.

It sounds complicated, but it all works tremendously well. The story is good. The sex is interesting. The combination of tongue-in-cheek SFF ideas (especially the dumbass sex police) and poignant accounts of sexuality pushed my buttons. The only thing I wasn’t so keen on was Zdarsky’s slick and sterile style. Combined with the meta-level narration, the comic was a little off-putting at first, but Sex Criminals sucked me in after the first 15 pages.

Highly recommended.

Score: 9/10.

Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery

Category: Best Graphic Story
Slates: None

For a person like me who doesn’t play role playing games, the one single joke that Rat Queens comic by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch keeps repeating gets old pretty fast. I’ve spoken with RPG aficionados who enjoyed the comic enormously, but I honestly can’t see why they’re so excited. I didn’t like Rat Queens at all.

For me, Rat Queens feels like a second-rate Tank Girl imitation in a fantasy setting that ignores the things that really made Tank Girl work — being original, being anarchistic, being absurd, keeping the jokes tight (a consequence of being published in very short installments, I guess). The one thing Rat Queens has and Tank Girl doesn’t is the longer storyline. Too bad it’s uninteresting and goes nowhere.

The artwork by Roc Upchurch is beautiful, though. It’s my understanding that later on Upchurch got kicked out of the series after being arrested for domestic violence, but despite his troubling behaviour Upchurch seems to be a first-class comics artist. Three and a half of the five points I’m giving Rat Queens are there for the art.

Score: 5/10