Comical Musings

Tag: magic realism

Review: Power Out

by on May.03, 2010, under Review

As a literary genre, magic realism is something of a minefield. Taking the rough, feverish text of realist fiction and grafting in the limitless whimsy of fantasy can result in stories like “The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit” (a personal favorite of mine, written by Ray Bradbury) . . . but it can also lead to stories involving the protagonist being raped at gunpoint by the daughter of a naked hermaphrodite who knits the universe together with anti-matter yarn.* Fiction in general can be a crap shoot, but magic realism plays with erotic dice.

Which brings me to the topic of Power Out, a story from the ACT-I-VATE collective submitted by creator Nathan Schreiber. As far as I can tell, Power Out takes its inspiration from the Northeast Blackout of 2003**, though it extends the scope of the incident—and, according to Schreiber, the duration.

The story follows Justin, a teenager with ineffective parents, an irresponsible older sister, and some unexplained past trauma. Considering the sorts of people his sister befriends, it’s little surprise that he spends most of his time in a cocoon of video games and online lingerie ads. But then his parents go out on a cruise, his sister heads out to Cape Cod with some people she barely knows, and irony strikes: the power grid gives out on the anniversary of the invention of the electric clock.

Justin is forced to confront a world full of rude people, people who don’t speak his language, and heat exhaustion. He doesn’t take to it well. An explicit and unsettling wet dream follows, though for the life of me I don’t know why we’re treated to it. It probably shows how disoriented Justin is, but at the same time, I don’t feel at all good for having had to read through an erotic scene between a teenager and an old woman.

Schreiber’s line art flows very nicely, such that even straight lines seem like gentle curls. His talent really seems to shine through when he’s depicting the high contrast between light and dark or pretty and grotesque. His landscapes are likewise nothing to sniff at. Honestly, if the style were being used to depict a less unsettling plot . . . but that’s my own personal taste. Power Out is the winner of a 2009 Xeric Award, so people certainly like what it does. But as I’ve said in other reviews, I guess I’m not one of them.

Comic Rating: 3 Amperes.

* I am not making this premise up. The title of the story escapes me, but I had to read it for a class on short fiction. The things a person will do to finish off a degree . . .
** An event that I remember mostly for having gotten the evening off of work. A bit callous of me, perhaps, but then my hometown got power back after a day or so with few repercussions.

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Review: Sandra and Woo

by on Aug.17, 2009, under Review

A few hours before writing this review, I was cleaning out a closet (the joys of moving and resettling) and got clocked in the forehead by an unexpected large decorative glass thing-a-ma-bob. It inspired a good deal of pain, dizziness, nausea, and nostalgia for all things that involve surprise attacks by somewhat softer things. Calvin and Hobbes, for instance.

So imagine my delight when I remembered the comic Sandra and Woo, written by Oliver Knörzer, drawn by Powree, and copy edited by Sarah Dunphy. This is one of the first officially multilingual comics I’ve reviewed, being also available in German. Seeing as my own skill with German only goes up to recognizing what an eszett is, however, I’ll have to limit myself to reviewing the English portion of the comic.

The combination of a German writer, an Indonesian artist, and an American editor leads to some interesting complications for the comic. Speech bubbles that would be fine for a sentence in German wind up being rather loose around a laconic English equivalent. And sometimes the translation doesn’t account for styles of speech, leading to the oddly charming “be damned!” moment or two. And the art is unabashedly Asian in style. That last part isn’t really a complaint, other than the big sparkly eyes and Hime Cut on a girl named Sandra North feeling strangely incongruous.

Another side effect of the multinational team-up is that the comic will occasionally take a turn for the political. Sometimes it’s part of a plot arc, but rather often it just sort of pops up out of the blue.

On the one hand, Sandra and Woo acknowledges the influence of Calvin and Hobbes quite openly–and does it twice, just to make sure. On the other, Hobbes’ token solo adventure didn’t end in a spin-off set of friends or successful hunting, so Knörzer is safe from any copyright infringement problems. (Granted, Bill Watterson would have to get past all those Calvin-defiles-a-logo truck stickers first anyway.)

Sandra does, however, share Calvin’s capacity for sophisticated sarcasm, as well as his strong eco overtones. Of course, she also lives in a world where just about all animals have proven human intelligence, so saving various wildlife species may be more an exercise in keeping the neighbors happy. Of course, given that people can legally (or at least openly) keep raccoons as pets in her world, I may be way off base.

Sandra’s precociousness may seem a bit strange at first, especially to those who haven’t read Calvin and Hobbes, but it makes a good deal more sense once you realize that Sandra probably had to grow up really quickly. Her mother is deceased, and her father doesn’t always pay her terribly much attention. (In fact, as one of my friends pointed out, it seems like all of the adults are video game addicts for one reason or another. At least it seems to come in handy sometimes.) And now she has to deal with a talking raccoon that could almost seem like an imaginary friend . . . or schizophrenic hallucination. An extensive vocabulary doesn’t seem like such a big deal now, does it?

So in the end, has Calvin and Hobbes found a weekly successor? You’ll have to answer for yourself, but this pun tips the scales for me.

Comic Rating: Three stuffed animals. They couldn’t eat another bite.

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