And now we present: the comics review round-up section of Steampunk Week. Step on board, strap yourself in, and stay for a few books with pictures!
Return of the Dapper Men, by Jim McCann and Janet Lee
Thing #1 to know about Jim McCann and Janet Lee’s Return of the Dapper Men is that it is lovely. The book is 11 x 9 ½, it’s got a cloth-bound spine, the title is embossed with gold foil, and the whole thing looks like it could come from ye olde steampunk era. The foreground colors for the book are done in marker, and for the backgrounds, some crazy technique with cutting out the parts where the background should be and replacing them with a painted board is used (or so the back of the book helpfully tells me).
Thing #2 is that there is tea in the book, in the end and in the middle (though unfortunately, not in the beginning). In fact, at one point one of the characters (predictably, a Dapper Man), wants tea so much that he takes the time to make a tea plant grow, harvest the leaves, dry them, and then brew some tea. That’s dedication.
So this book is about a strange world full of robots (who live above ground) and children under eleven (who live belowground; belowground has fascinating paleontology and is full of dinosaur skeletons and miscellaneous gears that appear to have no possible use for the dinosaurs but have nonetheless integrated themselves there somehow) and time has stopped, so no one ever gets any older or does anything interesting. Luckily, down from the sky come the Dapper Men, like an entire flock of Mary Poppinses (umbrellas and all), to say cryptic things that will induce the children-and-robots to solve their not-having-any-time problem.
There are umbrellas on the endpapers. It is difficult to resist.
Grandville series, by Bryan Talbot
95% of the characters in Bryan Talbot’s Grandville series are animals, and they’re living in the post-French-Revolution era in England (the French Revolution where the French tried to take over England), which turns out to be a super-fun time for everyone because there’s death and conspiracies and prostitution and double-crossing and also air-ships.
Grandville is about a badger named LeBrock who’s a detective-inspector in London’s police force. Of course, he’s also the soul of honor and righteousness, so when the police force falls down on the job, it’s up to him — sometimes illegitimately — to pick up the pieces and make sure the real criminals get found and brought to justice. Luckily, he’s excellent at this, so mostly it works well — and he also has an excellent Sherlockian rat sidekick (with a cane-gun!) to help.
Bryan Talbot’s art is full-color and printed in an oversize bande-dessinee album format; it looks lovely. And he manages to pull off the animal characters realistically — this isn’t Brian Jacques or Beatrix Potter, it’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue. My favorite character so far is Billie, the badger who’s also a prostitute — besides the fact that she’s stunningly attractive and good in a crisis, she also manages to be wear all the right buttons and ruffles, even while making stew for dinner.
And then there is solving of crime! Let’s do it. (Coming soon: Grandville #3, Bete Noir.)
Sailor Twain, by Mark Siegel
Sailor Twain (no relationship to the author of Tom Sawyer) is a steamboat captain on the Hudson River — a Hudson River populated by mermaids and other mysterious and magical creatures. But mostly mermaids, one of which he finds, wounded, aboard his boat. He rescues her, then keeps her safe — or prisoner — in his cabin in the ship, which every day turns more into an underwater world, with seaweed and anemones sprouting from the floor, and the mermaid — and miscellaneous fish — swimming through the thick air. He keeps her there with stories and poetry until she gets better, and then she escapes the cabin, fleeing the steamboat (which also contains the man who hurt her in the first place) for the watery depths of the Hudson River. Sailor Twain must now find a way to balance his obsession with the the mermaid, his love for his wife, his job on the ship, and his creative life as an artist and author.
The art of Sailor Twain is really gorgeous; it’s done in charcoal, which makes everything really feel like the sooty, smutty world of the steamboat. 18th century, here we come!
Sailor Twain is serialized online; it’s still ongoing, so you can check it out now. You’ll find it in stores in fall 2012.
Fullmetal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa
I am putting this review at the end of the review set because if I put it at the beginning, I fear it would balloon and take over everything.
So the first thing to know about Fullmetal Alchemist is that it is worth it. The second thing to know is that it is twenty-seven volumes long and therefore reading it is very much a commitment. But: see the first thing.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a series about two brothers who are left alone when their mom dies. Feeling that this whole death thing is not very cool, they therefore decide to raise their mom from the dead via alchemy — and usefully, alchemy is a thing that works in their world. As typically happens when small children attempt to play with the forces of magic, life, and death, things go horribly wrong and Al, the younger brother, ends up as a classical Japanese suit of armor, while Ed, the older brother, loses an arm and a leg and must get them replaced with artificial metal versions.
The rest of the story consists of their many adventures trying to get their bodies back, because being a suit of armor tends to be somewhat tiresome, despite being a perfect place to store kittens on you at all times. It turns out that using alchemy on humans carries with it a terrible cost, and that the whole of the country is engaged in a secret conspiracy of possible evil! And the two brothers must therefore thwart it.
The series is a whole lot of fun; lots of great characters, many adventures, some serious ethical questions, and even the occasional super-cute thing! (Miniature pandas! How can you resist?)
The steampunk part is also super-cool; the country is living in the aftermath of a war that left a lot of people crippled, so they invented metal prosthetic limbs. There are whole towns full of mechanics that make for some hilarious chapters of the story — especially when Al, the brother who’s a suit of armor, visits, and everyone wants to know how he works. Best of all, the person who is the official mechanic for the two brothers is a girl, and she is both excellent at her job and dedicated to it.
In conclusion: comics with gears in; they are worth the time to check out.
Gina Gagliano is sad that none of these comics had any kittens. Seriously, pictures of kittens with gears in them would be the best thing. Maybe they could even use them to fly.