A Journey into Adulthood With Witches and Haints: Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook’s Harrow County

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Supernatural creatures seem to dominate media attention in cycles. In a matter of 5 years, we’ve seen vampires return to vogue with an oversaturation of vampire themed TV, books, and films that made the blood-sucking motif transition into the trendy and then the passé. At the moment, the zombie craze may just reach a similar oversaturation line, forcing the subgenre to also begin to lose its steam, which means that a new supernatural horror creature can take over. Will we see a return of the werewolf next? Or Frankenstein? If comics continue to influence TV and film and vice versa, then I suspect the new supernatural fixture to capture the terror of the  public will be…witches.

Witches? Is there anything new to add to the mythology? Haven’t witches remained in our collective imaginations for hundreds of years? While witches never really disappeared from the horror genre over the years, the last time I can recall witches in the foreground of public attention is in the 1990s, and those witches tended to be more of the sillier, more kid-friendly kind (think Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Hocus Pocus, Halloween Town, and late night episodes of Bewitched on Nick at Nite). Based on the enormous success of Scott Snyder’s Wytches, it looks like the cute witches of the 90s are getting a makeover, one that brings them closer to the primordial connection of witches to the earth and to evil.

Taking a similar approach with the grim, eerie witches of Snyder’s creation, Cullen Bunn, the mind behind the magnificent Western series, Sixth Gun, creates Harrow County, the fictional setting that gives the the series its name and the place destined to feel the influence of Hester, a witch who once healed the citizens of the area with her powers but eventually succumbed to the evil around her and in her inherent power. Though the residents of Harrow County killed Hester, her connection to the earth allows her to live on, particularly through her ability to create humans from elements of the earth, and to carry on her own spirit, she has created Emmy, a child born from a tree. While everyone in Harrow knows about Emmy’s non-human origins, she does not, and on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, when dreams become strange and people begin to gather in the night, Emmy and her powers begin to awaken.

Cover for Harrow Country Volume One: Countless Haints

As with any strong horror work, the horror here represents something more universal; in Harrow County, Emmy’s discovery of her power and her attempt to wrangle its darkness symbolize a less supernatural experience almost all of us go through: growth into adulthood. For Emmy, adulthood not only means learning more about life away from the farm she knows but also learning about the forest, all of the Haints (ghosts of wandering spirits who cannot seem to leave the world) who wander there, and the graveness of her powers. Emmy’s struggle to understand the internal and external ambiguities between good and evil in her world exaggerate the belief formation process we experience as we develop as adults and begin to understand that good and evil can be relative rather than exact.

Consequently, while Harrow County certainly exists as a work of the horror genre, it is ultimately a coming of age tale. As a result, the core plot of the series focusing on Emmy’s growth and conflict does not contribute anything particularly groundbreaking and is a tiny bit stale. However, Tyler Crook’s artwork and Cullen Bunn’s imagination for the creatures Emmy encounters strengthens Harrow County and pulls it up from falling into being yet another alternative form of the bildungsroman. In Harrow County, there are uniquely creepy ideas and images. From glowing skeleton ghosts to multi-eyed creatures that look like minotaurs crossed with Giger’s Aliens to a decrepit tree with jaws and crooked teeth to a little boy who can shed his skin and use it as a communication device while the rest of his body travels elsewhere and reports back on any impending danger, the creepy crawlies of Harrow County are the reason to return to this series. Bunn’s ideas for characters capture your fear and dread, and Crook’s illustrations colored with loose and haunting watercolors make them just real enough to be believable but also loose enough to be almost mythical and archetypal.

Emmy discovering the boy whose skin can speak about what his flesh sees

The first volume of Harrow County, Countless Haints, includes character development sketches as well as the original prose chapters for the story, which Bunn originally intended to publish in parts online. These materials provide an insight into Crook and Bunn’s collaboration and their thought process in creating a complex setting, making the first volume a fun first read but also an enjoyable re-read after getting a better sense of the creators’ thoughts on the world they have created. For someone taking a beginner’s step into contemporary horror comics, Harrow County Countless Haints is a strong candidate as a starter book; it has a balance of horror and non-horror concepts, providing some chills but with the familiarity of a coming of age drama.      

Though I prefer Snyder’s take on the witch, Bunn and Crook have undoubtedly created a fascinating, unsettling, and scary world in Harrow County that I hope will get further incorporated into the plot as the series progresses. After the first four issues, Harrow County has promise, but I would like to see it steer away from familiar journey to adulthood devices and move toward exploring the combination of its environmental and external horror with psychological internal horror for Emmy, which will take her character on more uncharted paths. Regardless, if my prediction comes true that witches will soon dominate our television sets and movie screens, I will look forward to seeing a version of Harrow County beyond comicbook pages.

Harrow County Volume One: Countless Haints collects issues 1-4 of the series, which is written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Tyler Crook. It is available now via Dark Horse Comics. 

 

Generoso and Lily’s Bovine Ska and Rocksteady: Duke Reid’s Dutchess Label 12-1-15

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Killer Derrick and Patsy on Dutchess!

Hello Bovine Ska and Rocksteady Listeners!

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! On the first day of December, we were excited to present another edition of Generoso and Lily’s Bovine Ska and Rocksteady with a special label spotlight on Duke Reid’s Dutchess label. To kick off the show, we started with a fantastic version to version cover of the Isley Brothers’ hit, “It’s Your Thing.” Delroy Wilson and Alton Ellis each took a shot at the iconic track, and the results are both impressive. After the first set of reggae, we began the second set with “Penny Wally,” a track from the Soul Defenders, followed by “Pack Up Your Things and Go” from The Overdrives, a group who recorded a limited number of gems for Lloyd Daley’s Matador label. For the mento set, we opened up with “The Walls of Jericho,” a mento from Laurel Aitken, and then closed off with Lord Composer’s “Daphne Walking,” a track from the Songs from the Caribbean LP, a release from the American ART label.

Then, to prepare for the spotlight on Dutchess, we presented a set of ska that included the lovely “Too Late” from Lloyd and Glen and the too pretty “Dance With Me” from Bob Marley and the Wailers.

At the top of the second hour, we were proud to present the spotlight on Duke Reid and his Dutchess imprint. We’ve had spotlights on imprints on all of the major soundsystem names from Coxone Dodd to Prince Buster to King Edwards, and in that arena of music giants, we cannot forget Duke ‘The Trojan’ Reid. Long before he entered the music industry, he served as a police officer for ten years before he changed courses. First, he opened up The Treasure Isle Grocery and Liquor Store in Kingston. And, in addition to this business, in 1953, Duke opened up his Trojan soundsystem, which was supposedly named after the Trojan van that Duke Reid drove and filled with the equipment, liquor, and records for the dances he held. Given the distinctiveness of the Trojan van and Duke Reid, when he would arrive to a location, it is claimed that people said, “Here comes the Trojan,” thus giving birth to the name of the soundsystem.

Like many other operators, Duke first played R&B from America on his soundsystem but would have the itch to record his own tracks. In the late 50s, Duke first recorded 78s for his Trojan label, and when he moved to recording on vinyl, he opened up additional imprints, including Dutchess, which was named in honor of his wife and is the subject of our spotlight tonight.

“Love Not to Brag” was an early hit for the Dutchess label and for a young Derrick Morgan. One of the earliest hits for a male and female duet; it preceded Keith and Enid’s “Worried Over You.” Derrick has said that the track was Inspired by Monty Morris, whose family was better off than Derrick’s, so he may have boasted a little bit about the things he had.

The backing bands for the label were a bit scattered:

In early recordings:

  1. Baba Brooks Orchestra
  2. Lynn Taitt and the Comets
  3. Tommy McCook and the Supersonics
  4. Treasure Isle Stars

By the time rocksteady comes around, we see a domination by Tommy McCook and the Supersonics and the Lynn Taitt Band

By the time reggae comes around, the backing bands are mostly the Treasure Isle All Stars and Tommy McCook and the Supersonics

You can listen to our full show from December 1, 2015 HERE. Subscribe to our show on Mixcloud; it’s FREE, and you’ll get an email every Tuesday when we post a new show.

Happy December!!! Please help us and spread the word and repost if you liked the show! Repost anywhere you see fit.

Join the group for the Bovine Ska and Rocksteady on Facebook.

Love,

Generoso and Lily

Taking Cues from Steinbeck and the Bible: Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s Two Brothers, an Adaptation of Milton Hatoum’s Dois Irmãos

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In recent years, the graphic novel has emerged as an alternative medium for literary adaptations. From the writings of Victor Hugo to Edgar Allen Poe, graphic novel writers and artists have begun to dissect and reimagine famous Western literary works into word bubbles and panels of illustration. Generally, I avoid such adaptations (there’s something a bit disorienting about the idea of reading The Black Cat in comicbook panels), but sometimes, when the adaptation is placed in capable hands, a gem can emerge, one that not only has a distinct style of its own but also pays respect to the source material in a way that encourages the readers to delve further into the origin of the adaptation; this is the case with Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s Two Brothers.

Cover for Two Brothers, released in October 2015

Adapted from Milton Hatoum’s celebrated novel, Dois Irmãos, released in Brazil in 2000 and translated into English in 2002, Two Brothers opens with the images of an industrialized town center before abruptly transitioning to the haunting, decayed remains of a once glorious European style manor in the Brazilian town of Manaus. Immediately, the narrator, once intimate with the family that lived in the home but not necessarily a member himself, prepares you for a tale of the rivalry between two twin brothers and their disastrous consequences on the people and the world around them. From the start, you know that Two Brothers will follow the course of Cain and Abel or Jacob and Esau, but Hatoum’s tale travels to the bowels of uncertain morality as foreign investment and industrialization creep into Manaus, eliminating its quaint history as a quiet port town and the people tied to the city’s former heart.

While Two Brothers certainly alludes to the biblical battle between brothers, it most resembles Steinbeck’s approach to the adaptation of Cain and Abel in the early 20th century in East of Eden. Like Cal and Aron, Omar and Yaqub are twins, with Omar possessing a darker complexion and more sinister in nature like Cal and Yaqub possessing a kinder heart and an affinity for education like Aron. Zana, the twins’ mother, fixates on Omar, a sick and weak infant who required more care as a baby. Omar continues to devour Zana’s affection and attention throughout his growth, and as a result of his mother’s incessant doting, Omar never seeks to accomplish anything because, after all, he will always stand as his mother’s favorite, guaranteeing him a home for the rest of his life or at least as long as his mother is alive.  

The same cannot be said for Yaqub. As the more accomplished and kinder son, Yaqub must fend off most of the world himself. Zana abandoned Yaqub as an infant, leaving him primarily in the care of Domingas, an orphan given to Zana and Halim as a servant for their home, and this first act bears course on Yaqub’s status in his home for the rest of his life. When an adolescent Omar slices Yaqub’s face open with a broken bottle upon seeing Yaqub with Lívia, a girl both brothers have tried to pursue, Zana and Halim send Yaqub away to Lebanon in the guise of allowing him to learn more about his family’s roots, but in such an act, they cast away their first born son, placing him on a course of aloofness and solidifying the contempt between the two brothers and Yaqub’s conviction to establish himself without the aid of his family.

For the first half of the book, Omar emerges as the obvious antagonist in Two Brothers, but by the end, it is difficult to determine whether Omar or Yaqub possesses more evil. While Omar outwardly displays his jealousy toward his brother as Yaqub succeeds as an engineer in Rio de Janeiro, Yaqub quietly holds his spite and acts on it in a more backhanded and manipulative manner. Though Omar has the darker complexion, Yaqub has a permanent scar on his face, a mark which can parallel the mark placed on Cain after he murders Abel. Both brothers have inherent malice and malevolence, but they choose to act on it differently. Omar conveys his evil in the sense of an irresponsible child; he’s hedonistic, violent, lazy, and outrageously selfish. Yaqub’s evil manifests in a more covert manner; he’s a vengeful industrialist determined to wipe away the history of the town and members of his family who made him a pariah. Which is worse?  

To contrast the graveness of the tale of Omar and Yaqub’s destructive relationship, Moon and (twin brothers who we imagine have a far better standing with each other) illustrate Two Brothers with a deceiving simplicity and lightness. The wilderness surrounding the family home has a certain whimsy to it, and the fading of this magical sense of the jungle into decay then manicured, superficial gardens of a parody of the Orient on the edges of the Amazon jungle best conveys the changing face of Brazil in the years after World War II. The shifts in the settings along with the physical appearance of the characters help to tie each character to a certain place and time and aid us in understanding why as time passes, certain types of people rise as others fall depending on their connection and adaptation to the evolution of society.

Though the story of Omar and Yaqub dominate the plot because their actions influence all of the peripheral plotlines and the future of the town of Manaus, Two Brothers, at its core, addresses and explores the psychological motivations of individual family members and how their differing states lead each to interact differently with each other. While Omar and Yaqub do possess inherent evil, the expression of this evil comes from the environment that their parents created in the family home. Halim, the patriarch of the family, never wanted to have a family, and as a result, he keeps a specific distance from his family that prevents him from being a strong parent. Zana displaces her original passion for her husband on her son Omar, alienating the rest of her family. As a result of the psychological states of Zana and Halim, we spend the rest of the Two Brothers studying their impact on their sons and anyone else who crosses the threshold to enter the family home, adding a richness to the story that keeps you engaged with every character and page.

Fábio Moon and Gabriel handle the adaptation of a novel containing severe ideas and concepts with poise and grace, making Two Brothers a captivating and enlightening but never heavy-handed read. They manage to extract the fundamentals of the book without overly simplifying its themes, and in doing so, have me interested in picking up and visiting Hatoum’s original novel, which is a result that every adaptation should try to achieve.

After reading Two Brothers, I realize that I perhaps have been too judgemental against graphic novel adaptations of literature. Admittedly, I have avoided the adaptations of works by literary authors I adore, so perhaps I read Two Brothers simply because I have no familiarity with the original work. Thus, my opinion may change after reading Hatoum’s Dois Irmãos, but I can say that a standalone piece, Two Brothers, balances layers of complexity in a graphic novel in a way that few other releases have this year, and for that, it should be commended regardless of its relationship to its source material.

Two Brothers by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá is available via Dark Horse ComicsIt’s a heck of a gift for any graphic novel enthusiast this Christmas. 

Generoso and Lily’s Bovine Ska and Rocksteady: Bobby Kalphat’s Soul Sounds Label

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A New Gaylads Track on Bobby Kalphat's label with Willi Williams at the Producer Helm

A New Gaylads Track on Bobby Kalphat’s label with Willi Williams at the Producer Helm

Hello Bovine Ska and Rocksteady Listeners!

Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays, and, to celebrate, we had a food themed Thanksgiving edition of Generoso and Lily’s Bovine Ska and Rocksteady. All sets outside of the spotlight on Bobby Kalphat’s dazzling Soul Sounds label were related to food in some way, and to start off the Thanksgiving cheer, we presented two sets of ska, beginning with a 19 year tradition of starting the Thanksgiving edition with Prince Buster’s excellent track, “Thanksgiving,” a super ska from the Hard Man Fe Dead LP. Then, Laurel Aitken kicked off the second set with his “Mash Potato Boogie,” a rollicking track that should make you dance anytime you are mashing potatoes (regular or sweet!). Given the food theme, there was no way that we would forget to include “Night Food” by Alerth Bedasse or “Night Food Recipe” by Chin’s Calypso Sextet in the mento set. After some fun and salacious mento, the last set of the first hour featured food related rocksteadys, including “Coconut Water” from Desmond Dekker and “Food of Love” from The Inventors.

At the top of the second hour, we presented a two set spotlight on Bobby Kalphat’s label, Soul Sounds.

Bobby Kalphat, the mighty melodica player, began performing as a vocalist. Upon realizing that his voice was not quite the best, he began to perform as an instrumentalist, first as a keyboard player and then gaining enough of a reputation to become a member of Bobby Aitken and the Carib-Beats. He first recorded for Lloyd Bell’s President Hi Fi sound system before heading over to Lyndon Pottinger’s SEP label. And after recording for other producers and saving up his salary from being a correctional officer as he honed his craft as a musician, in 1968, Kalphat began producing his own tracks, debuting with, “Rhythm and Soul,” which he released for his own label, Soul Sounds.

We began the spotlight on “Rhythm and Soul,” which was distributed in England through Pama, whose purchasing payment did not include a royalty agreement but did allow Bobby to purchase a Wurlitzer keyboard he would use in the coming years.

While Bobby founded the label and even designed its logo, Willi Williams, who was a member of the Set Takers, a band that Bobby performed with, would eventually take over the Soul Sound label, releasing his own recordings on it along with his own productions. One of those Willi Williams’ productions of note is “Revenge,” credited to Youth Winston. Youth Winston would become Dr. Alimantado, but Willi Williams met him before those days and gave him the name Youth Winston in order to evoke a similarity to Big Youth, who was rising in popularity.

Beyond Soul Sounds, Bobby Kalphat continued to produce records and open up his own imprints. Some of note are Roots Rock Inc./International, which released tracks in the late 1970s, Hit Vibes, which released recordings in the 1980s, and Music Mania, which released productions in the 2000s.

After the trek through Soul Sounds, we closed off the show with some sensational reggae, including I Roy’s “My Food Is Ration” and Skin, Flesh and Bones’ “Bammie Fe Fish.”

You can listen to our full show from November 24, 2015 HERE. Subscribe to our show on Mixcloud; it’s FREE, and you’ll get an email every Tuesday when we post a new show.

Happy Thanksgiving!!! Please help us and spread the word and repost if you liked the show! Repost anywhere you see fit.

Join the group for the Bovine Ska and Rocksteady on Facebook.

Love,

Generoso and Lily

Wilfrid Lupano and Jérémie Moreau’s The Hartlepool Monkey: A Microcosm of England and France’s Ugly Past

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After reading Wilfrid Lupano and Jérémie Moreau’s The Hartlepool Monkey, I began to prepare myself for giving, at best, a lukewarm review for the book. At face value, I found the monkey trial of espionage on behalf France and consequent hanging by a group of townies in Hartlepool to be a bit of a heavy handed metaphor in combination with the final discourse and cautionary message about the effects of severe xenophobia. In fact, immediately after my first read, I felt that The Hartlepool Monkey possessed the satire sensibilities of Voltaire’s Candide but diluted with a few buckets of distilled water.

But, everything changed when I delved into the cultural history of the legend of the Hartlepool monkey. Sure, the back cover alluded to the inspiration from the legend, but prior to reading the book, I had not realized the influence of the monkey across the course of time.

Cover for the English Edition of The Hartlepool Monkey

So at this point, you must be asking, what is the Hartlepool monkey legend? And what about it caused you to reverse your perspective of the work?

The legend/myth/tale of the Hartlepool monkey claims that during the Napoleonic Wars, when Napoleon attempted to extend his ruling domain across Europe, a French commercial ship crashed off the coast of Hartlepool, a small city on the eastern coast of England. It is believed that the only survivor was a monkey, most likely some type of chimpanzee, and given that the denizens of the town had never interacted with any citizen of France, they believed that the monkey was in fact a spy for France. The legend then claims that the town gave the monkey a trial, and as expected , they found the creature guilty of espionage and lynched it on the beach (how could a monkey proclaim its innocence in the first place?).

Though the exact origins and the truth of the tale remain somewhat contentious, Hartlepool has continued to embrace the story, so much so that the city’s soccer club’s mascot is H’Angus the Monkey. And as if the impact of the tale could not get more absurd, the man who dressed up as H’Angus for Hartlepool F.C. became the mayor of Hartlepool in 2002, serving the town for ten years until the city decided to eliminate the role of mayor in favor of a ruling local committee. With absurd and macabre origins, the legacy of the Hartlepool monkey got even more bizarre in modern times.

Given the generally positive perspective of the myth of the monkey hanging in Hartlepool, it makes sense that Moreau and Lupano would want to revitalize the story with a focus on its outrageousness and absurdity. The skeleton of the story focuses on the Hartlepool monkey, and the flesh focuses on building the mannerisms and cultural practices of the people of the setting. Unlike in the original myth and the song popularized by Ned Corvan in the 1800s, The Hartlepool Monkey contains a voice of reason whose thoughts weave through the tragedy of the monkey. A doctor, whose carriage fails on a trip, stops into Hartlepool and offers a more modern perspective on human brutality and xenophobia. However, it becomes clear that his perspective is out of place, and as thus, the course of events of the legend will have to occur.

While most of the narrative focuses on Hartlepool’s rogues, who Moreau illustrates to their utmost grisliness, Lupano prefaces all of the events in Hartlepool with a sequence that casts light on the overall ugliness of the people of the time. The Hartlepool Monkey opens up on the decks of the French vessel that crashed, where the captain himself proves to be as ignorant and vulgar as the Hartlepudlians to come. As a former slave trader turned navy man, the captain reigns over his ship with a reverse direction xenophobic severity as the Hartlepool yokels. In foreshadowing the idiocy ahead, the captain sentences a French servant boy to death when he sings a sea shanty and mentions that his nanny was English. Though the tale of the Hartlepool monkey certainly exposes a dark truth about the town, the actions of the French navy on the ships do not make the French citizens more sympathetic than the Hartlepudlians. In this period, France hates England; England hates France, and both act stupidly and violently out of their hatred.

With the contrasting settings on the boat and in Hartlepool, Lupano conveys the overall heinousness committed by humans, regardless of nationality, in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, which is by far the strongest part of the novel. Sadly, it stands in the shadow of the doctor’s more philosophical statements and eventual closing speech on the brutality of man in the name of patriotism, which the book could do without, for we as readers should be able to infer such a message from the story. But, I’ll pardon these more dogmatic and heavy-handed panels, since after all, perhaps we need a more explicit reiteration of the learnings from the tale of the Hartlepool monkey, since a slightly disconcerting pride in the tale continues to exists nearly two centuries later.

The Hartlepool Monkey is written by Wilfrid Lupano and illustrated by Jérémie Moreau. The English edition is available via Knockabout.

Lily’s Powerful Vietnamese Curry – Ca Ri Ga

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Winters in Los Angeles are certainly much milder than they were in Boston, but there’s a coolness to the air here that always has Lily craving for soup-type items, particularly curry. After eating plenty of Thai and Indian curries out, Lily realized that she has not made Vietnamese curry for Generoso, so Ca Ri Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Curry) would be this week’s recipe.

Lily makes her curry a bit thinner in terms of viscosity and spicier with red chili pepper flakes, Sambal, cayenne, and black pepper in addition to the curry powder. We used S&B curry powder for this recipe, but you are welcome to use Massaman curry powder or garam masala if you can find it and prefer to do so. Generally, Lily prefers a curry powder with fenugreek, star anise, and tumeric for a bright yellow curry but feel free to pick a spice blend that makes sense for you.

Feel free to choose your protein as well! Meat generally adds more flavor to the curry liquid, but tofu and vegetable broth can definitely be used for a vegetarian version.

As a final preference note, Generoso and Lily like savory curries, so this recipe of Ca Ri Ga does not have any sugar in it. If you prefer a sweeter curry, you can add a little bit of white sugar, brown sugar, or even molasses.

This curry was served with brown rice, but it is delicious with egg noodles, thick rice noodles, a crusty baguette, or simply by itself as a hearty soup. Enjoy!

Music provided by Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54

A Tale of Parenting Beneath a Vietnam Veteran and Werewolf Tale: Brian Buccellato’s Foster

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A devilish cold has been rampaging through the Fierro house, and in the midst of our cough syrup and cold medicine stupor, I rummaged through a couple of stacks of recent comicbook purchases looking for this week’s review piece. After recent convention visits and trips to our local comic book shops, the “to read” pile is steadily getting out of hand. Consequently, I completely forgot about the volume of Brian Buccellato’s Foster that was hiding underneath a copy of Will Eisner’s To the Heart of the Storm (on the to read list…) until I pulled apart the precarious stack of books above our modest comicbook shelf.

Cover for Foster Volume One

Truth be told, I probably never would have picked up Foster based on its cover. Upon opening up the collection, it is evident that Foster wants to eat, breathe, and consume the 70s of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and James Toback’s Fingers, but the cover gives off more of a Rambo with a hint of werewolf scent. Thankfully, the psudo-script opening written by Robert Place Napton describing or pondering on Buccellato’s origins lured me in and opened the curtain for the character of Eddie Foster and the setting of Vintage City, a future wasteland and composite of America’s major cities in the 1970s.

Buccellato’s first full-creator controlled series, Foster, exists in 6 issues that trace the first arc for Eddie Foster. A Vietnam War veteran, Eddie struggles to re-adapt into society. We know he saw ghastly things and committed the same in Vietnam, and as a result of his sins and those of others, Eddie cannot function as a husband, father, or working man. Instead, he remains in a haze of depression and alcoholism, languishing in the ruins of his past and present.

Adapted to the wreckage of his current state, Eddie attempts to rise above, but he lacks a clear reason to live. Redemption may be something he craves, but he is so mired in his regrets that he is unaware of it. That is, until, one day, his next door neighbor’s son, Ben, appears to be orphaned by his dysfunctional mom, and Eddie Foster must serve as his guardian, caretaker, and protector in the days to come.

In parallel to Eddie Foster’s chance to redeem himself as a father, the leader of the Dwellers has returned to Vintage City, and he wants his son back to become the heir of the Dweller kingdom. Part ape, part wolf, part human, the Dwellers lurk in the night, picking off the unnoticable of members of the city’s society. They quietly rule the underworld of Vintage City, and they are ready to emerge at the surface.

The Dwellers not only interest those fascinated with the supernatural beings of nightmares but also the geneticist Doctor Marjorie Fisher, who wants to learn more about the biology of the creatures. Consequently, Marjorie has had a few conversations with Ben’s mother, Trina, because Ben is not just the adorable six year old he appears to be. In fact, he may only be the only documented half-human, half-Dweller to exist.

Thus, the task of caring for Ben involves far more than just taking him to school, preparing his meals, and providing him with a place called home. Eddie must protect Ben from Dr. Fisher and the Dweller king, both who want him for their own motivations, and both who will prevent Ben from ever having any consent in the course of his future. So, despite the characters and plot which have hues of Vietnam Veteran, werewolf, and science fiction tales, Foster, at its core, explores the meaning of being a parent in a world in disrepair. Eddie, the Dweller king, and Dr. Fisher all represent different parental motivations with Eddie as the unlikely (and unconventional) but most supportive parent, the Dweller king as the genetically tied parent demanding filial loyalty, and Dr. Marjorie Fisher as the parent interested in studying and experimenting on her own child.

While the dialog does get a bit clumsy here and there, Foster, stands as an accomplished first full creator-owned work for Buccellato because his own battles with parenting ascend from the action sequences and the Dweller battles of the series, making Foster a far more introspective and ruminative work than it would seem on its action-packed surface. I am a firm believer in synchronicity, and it is of no surprise that reading Foster reminded me of a film we caught at AFI Fest 2015 and remains fresh in my mind, Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan. Buccellato and Audiard have similar sensibilities in understanding the differences between genetic and constructed families, and both Dheepan and Foster involve war veterans on a track for redemption via the protection of their non-traditional families. In turn, both are able to balance an enormous amount of action with sympathy and emotion, creating a story that should not only pull in people attracted to explosions and gunfire but also those who prefer more conversationally based, pensive works.

And while I do emphasize that Foster at a superficial level looks like a comicbook inspired by a extravagant action films of the 70s and beyond, I must admit that I love Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort and Streets of Fire, both of which have covers and surfaces that do the same, so perhaps my appreciation of Foster is not such a surprise after all.   

Foster is written and colored by Brain Buccellato and drawn by Noel Tuazon. The first volume with the first six chapters/issues is available via OSSM Comics. 

Fried Pork Goodness! Thit Rang Muoi

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What to do when you have a pork loin in the house and don’t feel like making Thit Kho? Why not deep fry the pork?

Rang Muoi is a five-spice batter that can be used to fry any meat of your choice. It is frequently used with squid or shrimp, but given that I love pork, we used pork to make Thit Rang Muoi.

The batter requires plenty of dry goods, but, overall, the recipe is pretty simple. As a quick note, on the initial ingredient listing, I forgot to mention that oyster sauce will be required for the final sauce to toss the crispy pieces of pork in.

Thit Rang Muoi can be served with rice, but for extra brightness, I served the fried deliciousness with lettuce lightly tossed in lime juice. Enjoy!

Learning How to Create Comics With a Rabbit Samurai – Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo: Samurai and Other Stories

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Given my natural affinity to Westerns, I am amazed that I have yet to dive to far into the samurai genre, the foundation for most of the tropes and themes in the Westerns I adore. With the variety of samurai adaptations seen over the years, I always wonder what each incarnation has to offer. Melville’s Le Samouraï placed the concept of the bushido code in 1960s France. In contrast, Kobayashi’s and Takeshi Miike’s versions of Harakiri remained true to the Edo period. Consequently, when I found the gallery edition of Usagi Yojimbo, I was curious to see the effect of anthropomorphism on the story of the traveling ronin.

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Cover for Gallery Edition Volume One of Usagi Yojimbo: Samurai and Other Stories

A series spanning over nearly three decades, Usagi Yojimbo follows Miyamoto Usagi, a former samurai whose lord died in battle. As a ronin (i.e. lordless samurai), Miyamoto wanders across Japan during the shifting Edo period, offering aid to towns in need and offering services as a yojimbo, a bodyguard. Unlike the images of samurai we know, Miyamoto is a rabbit, and his world involves other animals in the place of humans.

Certainly entertaining, Usagi Yojimbo has a far different tone than the standard samurai tale. Rather than using minimal and distant storytelling, Stan Sakai, the creator of the series, focuses on making Usagi Yojimbo more didactic. By using animals in the place of humans, Sakai invites younger audiences to read the stories, and by including explanations of core samurai concepts, Sakai also teaches readers about the fundamental basics of the samurai genre.

The early stories of Miyamoto included in the gallery edition, Usagi Yojimbo: Samurai and Other Stories, explore the bushido code in addition to human motivations, ranging from honor to guilt to greed. In sum, all of the stories focus on Miyamoto’s code of ethics in a changing world where the samurai has begun to face extinction. While less dire than Harakiri, the Japan of Miyamoto Usagi needs the original samurai code of ethics, but the people do not seem to realize it. Usagi Yojimbo teaches readers about the way of a righteous samurai in contrast to the ignoble ones he encounters as the feudal society around him begins to change.

Given its educational leanings, Usagi Yojimbo may be a bit frustrating for readers looking for a new perspective on the samurai. However, for what Usagi Yojimbo lacks in complexity, it makes up in charm. With the gallery edition, Sakai earnestly draws himself introducing the collection, and he even conveys how he creates each page of Usagi Yojimbo. Furthermore, the gallery edition includes re-prints of the original, unedited, Bristol artboards used for the collected stories, which span the first ten years of Miyamoto Usagi. Thus, as a collection, the gallery edition of Usagi Yojimbo not only teaches the audience about standard samurai motifs but also how to create a professional comic. In addition to explaining techniques at the beginning, the stories include imperfect pages with an occasional whiteout spot here or there, serving to remind and encourage any new or seasoned comic book artist or letterer to keep on practicing and creating.

Admittedly, if it were not for the gallery presentation of Usagi Yojimbo, I am not sure if I would have enjoyed the book as much. Miyamoto Usagi, the samurai rabbit, is an appealing character, but beyond his manifestation as an animal, he differs little from other ronins we’ve seen in samurai films and the various versions of ronin adapted over the years ranging from the man without a name to the rogue yukuza. Despite this, Sakai’s humble and welcoming introduction along with the large format pages make the book something special. You can study each line, each letter, each character and combine all of them to admire Sakai’s vibrant, kinetic visual style. Usagi Yojimbo: Samurai and Other Stories serves best as a comic book creator’s resource or as a gateway into the samurai genre for a new reader, but regardless of your understanding of samurai or comicbooks, you’ll still have fun seeing rabbits with top knots fight rhinos, moles, and cats and get excited to see the adorable tokage (lizards) that look like a cuddly cross between a brontosaurus and Al Capp’s Schmoo; I know I certainly did.

Usagi Yojimbo: Samurai and Other Stories by Stan Sakai is available via Dark Horse. 

American Flagg! Howard Chaykin’s Dystopian, Futuristic Noir

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As seen by my great affection for Satellite Sam, I really enjoy Howard Chaykin’s work, perhaps a little more than I should. Thus, it is of no surprise that American Flagg!: Hard Times from 1985 forced me to stop my digging as I flipped past collections of Bill Griffith’s Zippy and Will Eisner’s The Spirit on the Comikaze exhibition floor.

Cover for Hard Times Trade Paperback

Chaykin’s male protagonists and femme fatales (or really any peripheral female character in general) fit the idealized form for both genders. They are figures inherently from the past in that they really no longer exist. The women are almost always voluptuous and clad to emphasize their curves; they have the proportions of Jayne Mansfield and the sultriness of Marilyn Monroe or Barbara Stanwyck, with much of their words loaded with double entendre. As for the other part of the Chaykin gender equation, the protagonist men are rugged with square jawlines and shoulders; they have somewhat charmingly naive faces and ever so slightly sinister smirks to remind you that they have more than just brawn; Chaykin’s male protagonists are the Guy Madisons, Rock Hudsons, and Gary Coopers of comics.

The villains, on the other hand, deviate far from the ideal images of the male protagonists and the women. They are overly thin or portly. They are too short. They are balding. They are unkempt.

But, despite the visual contrast between the protagonists and the antagonists, the characters in Chaykin’s work tend to all be quite flawed and somewhat rotten, and such is the case with the cast in American Flagg!

In the opening by Michael Moorcock, he addresses, rather bluntly, the consistent criticism of American Flagg!: that it is sexist. Sure, it is true that the protagonist of American Flagg! is your all-American, standard white, heterosexual male. However, returning to my previous statement, no character in the series is perfectly clean and pure; everyone in the Chicago of American Flagg! has clear weaknesses, be it power, wrath,  lust, or greed, and those vices drive them toward poor decisions. Under the pristine faces and bodies lies dark thoughts and deeds, making the characters fundamentally more like characters of film noir and less like those of 1980s teen films. In fact, you should be more offended by John Hughes films’ portrayal of women than Chaykin’s in the comics he was creating in the same time period, but I’ll avoid saying more and let you ruminate on that statement.

American Flagg!: Hard Times collects issues 1-3 of the series, completing the story arc of Rueben Flagg’s arrival to Chicago and his first experience as a ranger for Plex, the corporation that runs the universe after a series of great misfortunes and catastrophes force the government and corporation onto Mars. As a washed up television star replaced by a hologram and drafted into service duty by Plex, Rueben Flagg lands on Earth as a Martian by birth but Earthling by blood. Flagg has a naive patriotism for America and feels an obligation to help make Chicago a safer town to live in, but after meeting Chief Ranger Krieger and his daughter Mandy, he realizes that his gun-toting, Western style understanding of good and evil does not exist in the place he has landed.

The Chicago of 2031 has the rampant corruption of the Chicago of 1931. Plex, the major corporation that rules over the universe, parallels the organized crime outfits running the major cities in America in the 1920s and 1930s. Like the mobsters of the past, Plex has tyrannical control over everything, and every law has seemingly only one purpose: to make the executives at Plex richer and thus more powerful.

As with any dystopian government/authority, Plex also manipulates its people. Here, in American Flagg!, the company uses media to galvanize violence and create gang wars that generate profit through arms dealing and highly popular television broadcasting of the fights. Plex also uses subliminal messaging to encourage violence on innocent people, leaving the citizens in Chicago feeling vulnerable and in need of the Plex Rangers for security.

Unfortunately, Rueben does not understand the magnitude of Plex’s omniscience before his assignment, and he spends Hard Times finding out about its corruption of society and humanity. American Flagg!, at its core, is a science fiction noir; where Rueben, the outsider, must navigate a dirty, filthy world that will likely swallow him whole in his attempts to fix it.

And as a noir, American Flagg! could not be complete without its potential femme fatales. In this case, we have Mandy Krieger, the sharp-shooting, blunt, coarse, and sensuous daughter of Rueben’s boss. Mandy has a clear fascination with Flagg that draws the two closer and closer (and into bed, of course). In addition to Mandy, we also have the hostess (i.e. madame) Gretchen Holstrum and pilot Crystal Marakova. By the end of Hard Times, it is a bit unclear who will lead Flagg to the greatest danger, but we do know that his own lasciviousness will naturally get him into trouble. Combine his inclination to jump into bed with any attractive woman who approaches and his overly optimistic sense of duty to incite change, and Rueben Flagg stands on a course that cannot lead to neither a good end nor an overwhelming sense of catharsis.

Beyond the alluring characters and plot, American Flagg!: Hard Times also features exceptional artwork, mixing structured panels and free-form constructions on its pages. The Chicago of 2031 as imagined by Chaykin in the mid-1980s certainly has more art-deco influences than I suspect the real 2031 one will have when it arrives, but as a result, his world, while cold in its pervasive technology, also has a certain elegance to it in its clothing, cars, and marquees.

Given its noir qualities, American Flagg!, though set in 2031, which is not too far away from today, still remains relevant. It serves as a reminder that despite the progress we make in technology, we will still fundamentally have issues with corruption and media manipulation in the future to come, and if we get wrapped up in the consumerism associated with technological advances, we’ll have progressed no further as a society than from where we were in the 1930s. I wonder if 2031 will also bring about a talking cat such as Raul, Reuben Flagg’s confidante, that can sense subliminal messages and navigate through the human world as a covert listener and watcher. I hope so, since he’ll be an especially insightful, enlightening, and perhaps the last neutral party in a post-internet, advanced data and technology age.

American Flagg!: Hard Times was first published in 1985 by First Comics.  Image and Dynamite have since published collected volumes of American Flagg!