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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Relatively Serious Comics Reviews: A.L.I.E.E.E.N. and Sardine in Outer Space

Last week I got an email from one of the fine folks over at First Second Publishing asking if I'd be interested in reviewing something from their Spring releases here on the ISB. Apparently, they'd gotten me confused with someone who actually finished getting his English degree instead of dropping out to devote more time to Grand Theft Auto, a fact that I'm pretty sure they might've tumbled to the third time I asked if they had anything with Batman.

Regardless, the people I dealt with were unfailingly polite about their mistake, and I managed to con them out of select a couple of their extremely well-packaged books for review purposes. So please, dear reader, pour yourself a fine glass of Chablis and put a little Mozart on the stereo as we diverge from our usual festival of karate explosions and attempt to treat tonight's subject as serious comics journalism.

Or as serious as you're going to get from someone who read Extreme Justice, anyway.



First up is Lewis Trondheim's A.L.I.E.E.E.N., which comes complete with its own great hook, detailed in the introduction (available along with the first ten pages for your free-of-charge online perusal). It was, according to Trondheim, not his creation, but a relic left at the site of an alien landing, a gimmick that not only provides a context for the story, but leads to the book's best gag: the critical reviews on the back cover.

So, as a comic that alien kids would read, the book starts off pretty much like you'd expect, with cute aliens having fun in an orange-and-purple forest. And then everything goes horribly wrong:

And it pretty much goes downhill for our principal characters from there.

The sparse dialogue is all rendered in a cryptographic alien script, leaving the story to be driven entirely by Trondheim's pictures, which jump from over-the-top sight gags to downright horrifying in places. To put it another way, it's essentially Owly with eye-gouging, and all that goes with it.

It's deceptively cute, and according to the First Second catalog (which is a slick, well-produced affair that's worth reading in its own right), it's a Young Readers book, but I'm not sure that's quite the audience it might appeal to. After all, children's books don't generally involve a cute alien being tied up and graphically beaten to death by a jolly, club-weilding mob. It's the kind of book that would've freaked me out as a kid, although to be honest, it freaked me out now.

It's definitely a European surrealist indy comic, which as you might know, isn't exactly my speed. But if you like that sort of thing, it's extremely well-done from a technical standpoint, especially the incredibly interesting visuals and the way Trondheim paces the story, and there are some genuinely terrifying moments in there--and some genuinely stomach-churning ones as well.

So yeah. Not exactly my thing. But fortunately, they sent along something that was.

Emmanuel Guibert and Joann Sfar's Sardine in Outer Space is the first collection in a series of kid-friendly space-pirate adventure strips from France.

The stories (the first of which is available in its entirity to preview) center on Sardine, a youngster who, with the aid of an older mentor, manages to escape from the orphanage of a sinister space-dictator and his evil mad scientist sidekick and then spends the majority of her time eluding them.

Yeah, that's right: It has what is essentially the same plot as Jack Kirby's Mr. Miracle. Unfortunately, there isn't a scene involving the phrase "Then let me be Sardine--and find myself!" but since the whole thing's a lot more lighthearted than the Fourth World, that's to be expected.

But I kid. With its fun, nonsensical 10-page stories, Sardine's a lot closer in tone to a particularly upbeat Bruce Coville novel than anything else, and the Supermuscleman--Sardine and Captain Yellow Shoulder's mustachioed nemesis--makes a great fall guy. But while the stories are cute and there's generally at least one great gag in every story, like a giant squid hidden in a bathroom or some good old-fashioned space-pirate cross-dressing, there's one sequence in particular that blows them all away:

"Planet Discoball" is almost worth the price of the book alone. More than anything else in the book, it's the one where everything works, from the wacky premise right on down to the translation, which is awkward in certain parts of the book but goes smoothly here.

And it's got everything I could possibly want in a story: Breakdance fighting, deathtraps, a frigg'n lightsaber. It even features a mix tape called "LASER DISKETTE PARTY TO THE MAX" as a plot point, and if that doesn't make you want to read it, then I have no idea what possibly could.

It's a quick read, but it's a good one, and in parts it borders on spectacular--especially for the first volume in a series. There's a lot of potential, and with the second volume coming out later this year, it's well worth checking out.

Plus, Sardine's cat is just adorable

6 Comments:

Anonymous Heckblazer said...

I just read the sample A.L.I.E.E.E.N. pages, and boy it IS disturbing; just eye-gouge of the poor blue thing made me kinda upset. The comic probably does explain the grey's penchant for probing though.

3/30/2006 2:08 AM

 
Blogger CalvinPitt said...

Seeing that eye gouge made me think first of the Three Stooges, and then of the Happy Tree Friends.

Both those comparisons are a good thing in my world.

3/30/2006 12:46 PM

 
Blogger Canton said...

Wow. That first one gives the phrase "disgustingly cute" whole new meaning. Apparently it is my cup of tea, though, because it certainly made me laugh. That can't be a good sign...

3/30/2006 3:32 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the petit prince-style art on that Sardine splash page.

4/07/2006 4:09 AM

 
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