A couple of recent reads today.
First off, the Elephantmen hardcover, which is a really fantastic value ($24.99 USD for a remarkably fat-ass hardcover) and remarkably entertaining. The problem with approaching Elephantmen, from a reader’s perspective, is that the main story thus far has been told in the Hip Flask hardcovers, which, while gorgeous (some of the best work Ladronn has ever done, there’s simply no question) are ridiculously expensive (thirty bucks for forty-eight pages). This in turn makes the investment in the individual issues questionable simply because they’re so goddamned short.
However, the hardcover of Elephantmen solves these problems adequately by containing all the vignettes first printed in the original single issues, thus making the reading experience self-contained and utterly absorbing; it’s the difference between a hundred different looks at the same detailed, brilliantly conceived world and one. Reading a single issue of Elephantmen always made me feel lost; the hardcover, however, gradually immerses you in the world until you’re completely submerged in Richard Starkings’ original ideas and visions.
And of course, the stories and art are fantastic. Starkings, as the owner of Comiccraft, can call in a lot of favours. Chris Bachalo, Ladronn, Flint Henry, Joe Madriuera – the art on this book is consistently first rate, to go along with Starkings’ excellent characterization. (In terms of plot, there isn’t much; the book is, after all, mostly a set of character pieces rather than designed to advance the overall story. Again, that is the purview of Hip Flask, and although I might not be enthused with that editorial decision, it wasn’t mine to make. But the character pieces in this hardcover are all really well-written.)
Also, it has a private detective who is an anthropomorphized hippopotamus.
I frequently drop into the BMV here in Toronto, which is a giant used/remaindered bookstore (which also sells DVDs – I got my seasons of Justice League here for less than half original sale price in brand-new condition; presumably they “fell off a truck” somewhere). It’s actually a pretty decent place to grab comics; I’ve got a bunch of Drawn and Quarterly books from BMV, some Joe Matt, some Sin City, some Love and Rockets, Berlin: City of Stones, et cetera. It’s always a grab bag but I usually walk out with something interesting for a fraction of the retail price.
So when I saw Ragmop, I was enthusiastic, because countless people have recommended Ragmop to me as being hilarious and brilliant, and that’s a good start, but when it’s hilarious and brilliant for twelve dollars rather than thirty? Score!
Except here’s the problem: Ragmop is dogshit.
Seriously, this is a terrible book. Look, I understand a lot of atheists feel persecuted in modern North American society, and rightly so, but there’s very little that’s quite as irritating as the smug, self-superior atheist denigrating all religious believers as idiots. (Yes, technically Ragmop is not an atheistic book – it’s more scientific-agnostic. Either way, it still blows.) Combine this with Walton’s penchant for dippy conspiracy theory and his thinly disguised rants about sexism and you have a book that’s just not much fun to read, and that comes from somebody who shares a lot of Walton’s politics to begin with. I can only imagine how intolerable this book would be to someone not sympathetic to Walton’s viewpoints. As it is, all I can think is “god, stay off my side, will you?” whenever I read this book.
The annoying sophistry would at least be permissible if the gags were good. The gags, sadly, are not good. Two pages of characters discussing classic animation history isn’t ironically amusing; it’s just look-at-me writing. Characters referring Gene Colan and Steve Ditko when they fight isn’t an imaginative break of the fourth wall, it’s just blatant pandering to the (presumably small) audience. And oh look HE WROTE THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AS A GORMLESS IDIOT! HOW NOVEL! It amazes me that a book with talking dinosaurs and a con-man monkey can be so powerfully dull, but it is.
A huge disappointment.