Comic book reviews: Dean Haspiel’s Fear, My Dear

Here’s another one for the “better late than never” category!  I’ve been waiting quite some time for Dean Haspiel to finally bring his rough & tumble love-struck brawling philosopher Billy Dogma back into print.  I finally got my wish when Z2 Comics published Fear, My Dear: A Billy Dogma Experience earlier this year.  The volume collects two tales originally presented online at the ACT-I-VATE webcomix collective.

I picked up my copy of Fear, My Dear at this year’s MoCCA Arts Festival in April.  Why wait so long to review it?  Well, as with Dean Haspiel’s prior accounts of the romantic misadventures of Billy Dogma and Jane Legit, the stories in Fear, My Dear are not really linear narratives that progress from one plot point to another.  Rather, they are surreal chronicles replete with allegorical symbolism, possessing a significant emphasis on emotion and atmosphere.  Fear, My Dear is undoubtedly intriguing reading, but it certainly left me perplexed as to how to pen a coherent review.

I undoubtedly think that the two tales within this volume, “Immortal” and “Fear, My Dear,” are fertile ground for analysis.  As with many other works that are also not easily interpreted, I believe that Haspiel’s examinations of the dynamic between Billy and Jane are ones that will reveal further layers of meaning upon subsequent re-examinations by readers.

At its heart, the book is an examination of relationship between Billy and Jane, seemingly equal parts devotion and anger, an explosive cocktail of raw emotions percolating within each of them.  The stories, especially the second one, also delve into Billy’s mind and soul.  Haspiel addresses that oh-so-fine line that divides love and hate, the all-too-similar nature of the passion of love and the passion of violence.

Fear My Dear pg 14

For the most part Haspiel’s artwork is drawn within a four panel grind.  It is interesting to see how he frames the action within this strict structure.  Varying his layouts between close-ups, long shots, and everything in between, with numerous angles and perspectives, Haspiel demonstrates his strengths as a storyteller.  A single color is utilized for each segment, red in “Immortal” and yellow in “Fear, My Dear.”

Haspiel’s illustration is beautiful, as well as beautifully grotesque.  I’ve always found his art to be impressive, but this is undoubtedly some of his strongest work.

You can certainly see the influence of the two gods of Silver Age comic books, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, in Haspiel’s work.  At times Billy brings to mind Kirby’s two iconic tough guys, Ben Grimm / The Thing and Sgt. Fury.  Jane somewhat resembles the curvy, wide-hipped, big-haired groovy gals that The King so evocatively rendered.  The “space-god” which is awakened by Billy and Jane’s tempestuous love recalls something from one of Ditko’s Doctor Strange stories.

Nevertheless, despite those clear influences, Haspiel possesses a style all his own.  Like all the best artists, he is inspired by elements from those who went before him, experiments with them, takes them in different directions, and creates something new & distinctive in the process.

Fear My Dear pg 87

Haspiel’s scripting for the Billy Dogma stories, the cadence of his dialogue, is undoubtedly unique.  In his introduction to this volume Haspiel’s long-time friend & associate Josh Neufeld describes it as “part hard-boiled slang, part beat poetry.”  That is a brilliant articulation that sums up Haspiel’s utilization of language.  I’m happy Neufeld made it, since that saves me the trouble of attempting to explain it in what probably would have been a much less coherent manner!

So, welcome back, Billy Dogma and Jane Legit.  It’s been a while, but it was well worth the wait.

Comic book reviews: Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis

Okay, so I was originally going to do a write-up on Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis in an upcoming post on graphic novels that I’ve been reading.  But then I realized it didn’t quite fit into that category.  Written & drawn by Simon Fraser, The Mines of Charybdis originally appeared as a weekly web comic on ACT-I-VATE in 2009, and subsequently appeared in print as an eight part serial in the Judge Dredd Megazine.  In 2011, Fraser released a limited edition trade paperback collection of the story, and I was fortunate enough to score a copy of that.

The Scottish-born Fraser is probably best known for co-creating with Robbie Morrison the swashbuckling Russian rogue Nikolai Dante in the pages of 2000 AD.  Fraser has worked on a number of other features for that famed British anthology, including flagship character Judge Dredd.  Among his other works was an excellent comic book adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel Hell House done with Ian Edginton at IDW.

Lilly Mackenzie is Fraser’s creator owned series.  Lilly is a sexy space adventurer, seemingly bubbly and carefree, but with a dark family past.  Her best friend is Cosmo Judd, a brilliant scientist who happens to be a midget, and so is consequently underestimated by many people.  Cosmo carries an unrequited attraction to Lilly.

Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis

The Mines of Charybdis sees Lilly attempting to track down her long lost, ne’er do well brother.  The trail has led to the brutal mining world of Charybdis.  The planet is surrounded by an EMP field, meaning that all electronic equipment does not work.  Settlers and prisoners are sent down in unpowered space capsules, where they are expected to spend the rest of their lives.  The only way of launching the mined ore & minerals back into space is via a mass accelerator.  Due to the enormous acceleration needed to escape the planet’s surface, this would kill any human beings attempting to travel on it.

In other words, Lilly and Cosmo need to find a way to sneak onto a planet with no advanced technology, find Lilly’s brother in a desolate wilderness, and then come up with some sort of method of escaping the planet that won’t leave them pulverized.  The problem is pretty well summed up in an exchange between the two, when Lilly asks “Can’t we just, I dunno, improvise something,” and a disbelieving Cosmo shoots back “Improvise? Improvise what? Physics? Maybe Newton, Einstein and Sinclair got it wrong?”

Of course, Cosmo eventually does come up with a plan to get down to Charybdis safely and, in turn, theorizes a brilliant, yet incredibly dangerous, method of possibly getting the pair of them off the planet.  Possibly, because even if he can get it to work, there’s still no guarantee it won’t end up killing the pair of them.  And before they can even attempt this, they have to locate Lilly’s brother while dealing with any number of desperate thugs and crooks who are imprisoned on Charybdis.

Fraser does a superb job of blending two often disparate aspects of science fiction, namely space opera and “hard science” speculative fiction.  He appears to have conducted a thorough amount of research into physics to have devised Cosmo’s ingenious scheme.  Fraser also adds in what you might consider to be high-octane, adrenaline-packed action sequences, with Lilly doing some major ass-kicking.  And at the same time, he makes sure to really develop his characters, to show the depths of their personalities.

It’s unfortunate that economics only allowed Fraser to release the collected edition of Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis in a limited print run, because it is an excellent story, one I highly recommend.  But you can read it in the pages of Judge Dredd Megazine #298 to #305.  Those may be difficult to locate here in the States (you can always try to find them on Ebay or something) so if not, then definitely go to the ACT-I-VATE website and read it there.  Fraser’s sequel, The Treasure of Paros, is also online, along with various other excellent series by a number of talented creators.

The ACT-I-VATE Primer

In 2009, IDW published The ACT-I-VATE Primer, a hardcover anthology featuring 16 new stories.  Among the creators whose work is featured in The ACT-I-VATE Primer are Dean Haspiel, Roger Langridge, Pedro Camargo, Molly Crabapple, Tim Hamilton, and Mike Cavallaro.  Fraser’s contribution was “When Lilly Met Cosmo,” a prequel tale that reveals how Lilly Mackenzie and Cosmo Judd first met.  It’s a good story in an excellent collection of material, and I highly recommend purchasing a copy.