Archive for April, 2015

Review: The Sculptor

Monday, April 20th, 2015

It is easy to tell that The Sculptor was created by Scott McCloud.  Even if you somehow failed to identify his clean, distinctive art style, the writing displays all his predilections in both content and style. I’m a pretty big fan of those predilections, so I enjoyed The Sculptor quite a bit.

Most of McCloud’s work comments on art and the struggle to create it, and this is the central theme of The Sculptor. McCloud centers his narrative on a gifted and driven sculptor who makes a nearly literal deal with the Devil to improve his chances of making his creative mark. This is the kind of character that McCloud does well.  Several of his Zot! villains are cut from this cloth as well as some of his heroes. McCloud’s own drive, coupled with his obsessive study and theorizing about art seem to make his driven artist archetypes particularly believable.  His sculptor is no different.

Within that setup, McCloud wears his heart on his sleeve.  His characters all make their wants and needs and hopes and dreams very clear to us as readers, and we’re invited to root for them unabashedly.  There’s not much wondering about anyone’s motives or purity of heart.  Even the central love story is carried out as much through declaration as through any innuendo.  Everyone is very direct; when he resorts to symbolism to drive a point home, it’s of the most direct sort.

In some hands, that could feel very simplistic. And Sculptor is simple in many ways, but McCloud’s winning sincerity makes the directness feel like clarity when it could feel like laziness.  The story is a bg sincere puppy, and such animals are tough to dislike.

It’s also surprising that McCloud can keep narrative tension without any real villains in the story.  Each character seems to represent a different attitude about making art in addition to having a personality and perspective.  While there are clearly differences in how much sympathy McCloud has in their perspectives, none is portrayed as being irretrievably wrong or without some merit. This reflects his inclusive bent toward other artists, but the occasional bad guy to hiss at does help focus attention.  Even his deal with the Devil is diluted into a deal with Death, who has the sculptor’s interests in mind to an extent; the real enemy is the rules of the deal rather than a malevolent supernatural force.

Overall there’s a lot to like about The Sculptor, but I can understand some people being more bored than inspired.


Review: Gonzo

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Will Bingley and Anthony Hope-Smith call their Gonzo graphic novel a graphic biography of Hunter S. Thompson, but I see it as more a supplement for other reading on Thompson.  They seem to assume that the reader knows who he is and why he is an important – or at least interesting – man in American letters.  I have long been a fan of Thompson, so I may well be the target audience.

To their credit, they illuminate Thompson from some unusual angles.  Their vision of Thompson is a more calculating and clear-eyed writer and journalist than most biographers.  It seems that Thompson did care about and groom his legacy, but I am not sure that he was thinking about the big picture of his legacy at the time he was writing his early works.  It definitely will prompt me to reread some of the other biographies with that in mind.

Graphically, I think the art matches the tone.  The lines are clean and dramatic with a clarity that mirrors Thompson’s clear eyes throughout.  There’s a certain amount of Darrick Robertson’s Spider Jerusalem in their Hunter Thompson, which is to be expected.  Jerusalem is partially a Thompson pastiche, but one gets the feeling that Robertson’s influence is also present.  The effects are strong, regardless of the sources.

Recommended for Thompson fans.

Review: Exploding The Phone

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Phil Lapsley’s Exploding The Phone captures the phone phreaking culture with both solid journalism and with the sort of enthusiasm that brings a story to life. I have long known that phreaking was a foundation for the modern hacking and open source communities, but the scene never came alive for me.  Reading Exploding The Phone was like finding my parents’ high school year book for the first time and realizing that they went through the same things I did.  It was enlightening and warming.

The first few chapters are a little repetitive for my taste.  Lapsley follows several seminal phreakers introduction to the phone system, and those paths are different only in detail.  As a result, the chapters are somewhat repetitive.  I think that Lapsley is trying to give these fellows their due and to introduce the cast for the rest of the chapters, but I would have been happier with one detailed chapter and somehow getting just the differences.

Once the narrative begins to talk about the social scene that phreakers developed around conferencing and connecting to one another inside the phone network, the scene becomes recognizable as a forerunner of modern social networks. That’s the point at which it becomes rich enough to go from academic to exciting for me.

In addition to the social networking of the phreakers, Lapsley brings the stories of the phone company employees and law enforcement officers who collided with them.  These folks shared the phreaker mentality and skill set to different extents, just as such folks do today.  It makes the scene more full and believable.

Overall this is a great view of an legitimately exciting time that is the basis for much modern technology.  Jobs and Wozniak figure prominently, and the path from phreaks to hackers is remarkably clear.

Strongly recommended.