Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Not For The Squeamish, Snarl Review

After My last review of The Chair I chatted it up a little with Alterna Comics president and writer of The Chair Peter Simeti who was kind enough to give up the keys to the Alterna kingdom. I give social media full credit for my meeting Peter Simeti and giving me this opportunity to review some amazing works from Alterna.  Because of this I have decided to take advantage and do this review of Snarl. I have followed and friended Kelly Bender because of his creativity and because were both concerned with networking, so because of our social media friendship I felt I should maybe let it be known before the review. I whole heartedly admit to picking this book to review because of these two guys but I will never let my friendship cloud my reviewing, it would be unprofessional at best and as a blogger I can’t afford any shots to my credibility, so rest assure my review is exactly like the rest.

Snarl is written by Kelly Bender, art by Nathan Kelly, colors by Josh Jensen, letters by Micah Meyers, and is published by Alterna.  Snarl is a one shot and is an all-around good book as far as the art and lettering is concerned. The art is something between cartoon and realistic but carries what I assume is Nathan Kelly’s signature style mixed with some pretty awesome coloring by Josh Jensen. The coloring really assists this books feel because there are a lot of shadowy parts that depend on good coloring. I like the lettering by Micah Meyers as well because he followed the tone of the book with some of the letters that describe scenes and all of the thought bubbles and scene descriptions are perfect. I feel like these guys weren't just reading from the same book they were on the same page the entire time as well.

For me personally, the first thing that sticks out about the book is the location it’s set in, Seattle. I live in the Pacific Northwest and Seattle is pretty much the pinnacle of the Northwest culture and scene, so it instantly grabbed me. The beginning is a one page five panel intro that sets up the feeling of a man that survived something pretty hardcore. Bender sets up the coming flashback, which is the majority of the story, and makes the feelings of the man very clear. The first page is a nice set up because it shows us that the main guy is still alive but he clearly lived through something scary and lives with the scars daily.

As I said the majority of the story is a flashback and it starts right away with the main character, Detective Bevil, as he gets to the station. As the flashback starts it sets up the world that Detective Bevil lives in, a typical high pressure police station with a BA Captain that doesn't take no for an answer. Detective Bevil has a partner and an important case that is starting to weigh itself down on his back. We knew already that this case was what set up the intro but now that the story continue we see the small facts and details that start to set the world Bevil lives in. I feel like the setup with the Captain and the intro to the partner, Detective Sagun, is essential but what makes this part a good piece of writing is the way Bender blends the everyday actions to exposition. This is a sign of good writing and the way it blends the possible supernatural connection into the story is subtle but effective. The banter back and forth between all the police officers involved is done great and now we know that their facing a possible ware wolf.

Bevil and Sagun have been all around and have nearly exhausted their resources when a fellow Native American Officer gives Bevil an idea. Bevil drops Sagun off to try and get some info from a surviving victim at the local hospital while he heads to learn more about the possible native connections to the case. So far the story has flown so well I haven’t even noticed that I’m like ten plus pages into it. It’s not just the story, the art is great too, and one of the best pages so far is when Sagun is in the hospital trying to get the victim to wake from a coma. The shadows and the way that Kelly and Jensen contrast the obvious frustration with the way the page lays out is exactly what I think of when I think of good creators working well together.

There is a small break in the A story that comes from a small one page conversation between the two guys from the beginning including the captain. They made it known to Bevil and Sagun that they needed to start making some headway but they speak a little bit on why during this little break. It’s followed by more murders of people in the park that help to break up the A story line. I wouldn't call the break a B story at all but it does serve a purpose and pushes the main story further along while emphasizing a few things; the severity of the case and the fact that Bevil is the best detective in the precinct, and the severity of the crimes. The two men make no bones about their desire to keep the feds and the media away from the story and the killings are clearly done by a shadowy wolf like creature. These two facts make the provide a break from the detectives but still service the story and that is very hard to do effectively but this team nails it on the head. The shadowy wolf thing could easily be the ware wolf the skeptical detectives were talking about but they leave the mystery to the reader’s imagination and I respect that.

The creative team starts to blend the detective’s story back in with the murder of the kids in the national park but they do it very subtly. Through dialog between Bevil and Sagun the direction of the investigation is revealed to be heading towards the local native tribe and their customs while the new murders keep showing the severity of the case and build up the mystery of who is doing it. Through some really gory and well-illustrated pages the culprits of the murders appear to be just regular wolves but the dialog indicates that Bevil believes it to be a man in a wolf suit or something of that nature. The dialog is eye opening and super well written, it delivers on suspense, foreshadowing, and exposition, everything a reader can ask for.

For the next few pages the detective team follows a lead that puts them at the door step of a man running an illegal sanctuary. The man once housed some rare wolves from a specific German bloodline and Bevil had a hunch he would find some answers at the sanctuary. Although the hunch didn't really result in any answers the encounter with the sanctuary owner proved that there are in fact wolves missing and possibly out killing people but Bevil still believes that the real culprit is over six feet tall and possibly a Native American that is following the Yee Naaldlooshii tradition that roughly translates to “with it, he goes on all fours.” At this point the writing is really winning me over because it flows like a crime noir novel and is intertwining everything together really well. I feel like I’m a detective right next to Bevil and Sagun putting it all together piece by piece.

Bevil and Sagun head to the Duwamish tribal reservation to meet with Detective Walker the man that put Bevil on the right path to begin with. Walker brings them into a bar to talk with a village elder and shaman that not only clues them in on what is going on he drops a major bomb shell and tells them he can locate and knows the culprit. As I stated before I’m from the Seattle area and Seattle is actually sitting on occupied Duwamish territory so this story and the feel for me is incredibly surreal. I can’t say for sure if Yee Naaldlooshii is actually a Duwamish tradition but the area and the tribe are so familiar to me it’s eerie, I realize that may not be the case for some but for me it adds just a little bit to the story and I have to say that I love it.

As the three of them go searching they find the fight their looking for and without spoiling the ending let’s just say that Detective Bevil really is good at his job. The ending is hard to explain without spoiling it because it’s a one shot versus an ongoing series but I can say that I enjoyed it and it left me with a smile on my face. As far as the writing is concerned I think the crime fighting and detective work was excellent but I think what impressed me the most is the lack of leaning supernatural elements. The creative team and Bender could have easily written in supernatural ware wolves, zombies, vampires, or any other creative crutch to support the story, but instead they made the supernatural element dependent on the story which is refreshing to me. Sometimes comics can get a little heavy on the crazy and supernatural stuff and forget that there should be a story to tell as well, but Snarl is the exact opposite of that. Snarl relies on story and dialog that paints a vivid picture and Bender makes the main characters likable as well as smart so the reader gets invested in not just the characters but the story as well, that is where the good noir style came in handy. For my money character development along with excellent story development is more than any reader can ask for. I’m here to tell you “yes” to Snarl and I can say for sure that I enjoyed the book. I only have one thing bad to say about it, it needs to be more than a one shot. I could read a monthly with Bevil and Sagun’s adventures but I guess the point is to cherish what you have and enjoy it while you can, so please, go out and enjoy this book!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Horror On A New Level With The Chair

Since I started blogging about comics I have put myself out to network on social media and have been more than successful in my endeavors.  I have joined groups and followed some really amazing artists and writers.  My luck has by no means run out and the proof is in a few of the posts I have put up like Salvagers, Summons, and now The Chair.

The Chair is a graphic novel for people seventeen years and up, roughly a hundred and twenty pages long, and is largely the brain child of Peter Simeti.  Simeti is the responsible party for; creator, writer, gray tones, letters, and cover colors.  Kevin Christensen is the penciler, contributor on act six, and cover pencils.  Erin Kohut edited this book, but as I stated this is largely Peter Simeti’s baby.

The Chair is an Alterna Comic production where Simeti is the president and publisher.  I imagine those two titles carry a ton of responsibility and after a quick peek at the Alterna website I can confirm that statement with impunity, Alterna has at least eight different comics and two different movies, and that was just from the first page of their website.  Right off the bat I see that Peter Simeti has a handful just dealing with other people’s creative properties and I commend him for finding the time to stick with doing his own.  The Chair is not only a large graphic novel it’s being turned into a movie as well, kickstarter has been quite generous to a lot of artists looking for help and this project is no exception.  I have a lot of respect for the people that run their kickstarter’s but I also have a ton of respect for those that contribute.  If I was a millionaire I would troll kickstarter repeatedly but knowing that many of the people that give are just as broke or more broke than I am warms my heart.  

The first thing I noticed about The Chair’s cover is that it’s different from the inside but in a similar tone.  The cover is somewhat colorful compared to the charcoal looking inside.  I’m color blind but even I can tell the slight tones of blue and red and the way that they blend nicely with the charcoal look.  The inside of this book is something reminiscent of an art school style charcoal portrait piece, the type of portrait that naked people come and model for.  The style is actually pretty amazing and clean on the eyes, dark and brooding, like the story.

The graphic novel is actually volume one featuring original published works from The Chair #1 - #4.  There are 6 parts to this book and as I said the page count runs into the hundreds so this review will be much less in depth than my normal reviews.

As act one starts we are given a little overview of what the situation is and a bit of a back story of how the main character, Sullivan, ended up sitting on death row.  Simeti starts by painting a picture of what I would consider the most awful prison experience ever; multiple bodily fluid laced food trays, screaming and scary fellow inmates, and worse of all, the knowledge that you are one of the only innocent people in the place, guards included.  The introduction is solid to say the least, it gives a vivid picture of the horror that would be prison, but it also sets up the empathy we readers need with Sullivan.  Sullivan is a good guy that was wrongly accused and without that simple fact this book wouldn’t carry as much weight as it does in the beginning, and the story really does depend on it.  Because of the first act I’m already invested in Sullivan and I really feel his situation.  Another thing that is done well in act one is the hints to the horrors to expect.  The pee and spit in the food is really pretty mild compared to how act one ends, with a guy chained to a wall with no legs.  The foreshadowing is thick and the setup is solid, couldn’t ask for more from the first act. 

Act two starts to get a bit more in depth with Sullivan and some of the other inmates.  The key behind the new character introductions is that it has a similar feel to it as the first act.  Sullivan has the guy that he hates, the guy that is the child killer, but through his time in prison he befriended a decent guy named Jimmy that was in a similar situation as he was.  Jimmy was a soldier that got caught up in a scenario that landed him right next to Sullivan and was quite possible Sullivan’s only reprieve from the hell he lived, so of course he got killed immediately.  Jimmy’s death was a real slap in the face for me, I was starting to think that maybe Sullivan had a break coming, but that idea was quashed quickly.  As I read on I understood the reason they took Jimmy so fast, Simeti needed an excuse to push Sullivan to the brink, or at least appear that it was the brink.  Sullivan’s pain just pushes him to murder a janitor sent to clean his cell and I think this is significant for a few reasons; it proves that the absolute horror he lives in day to day is real, and it gives Simeti a reason to introduce us to the real evil in the story.  

Act three is exactly what I expected after seeing the end of act two where Sullivan is strapped to a table.  The warden or the guy named Enrik I assume to be the warden, has Sullivan strapped in for the first round of torture.  Over all the torture is fairly standard, Enrik just pulls him a bit and sends him back to his cell to stew over Jimmy’s death and listen to the other torture subject as he gets cut up piece by piece and limb by limb.  At this point I get the feeling of desperation that Sullivan has to be feeling, he can’t even have a friend without them killing him.  The third act is not really different from the second it just gets more into the pain and suffering and ramps up the torture.  I can’t complain about the pace, it continues to climb the story and adds new characters like Enrik.  I get the feeling the story is about to really kick off in act four.

I completely believe in the monster inside all of us but the way Simeti paints the guards and Enrik I can’t help but to wonder how many of us let our evil out like the guards in this book.  Simeti has shown the guards to be heartless as can be and has made several references to the guards referring to Sullivan and other inmates as animals and the more I see of the guards the more I wonder who the real animals are.  Act four doesn’t introduce anymore characters but the theme of the book is so real and only emphasized by the continuation of the story.  Nothing much different happens but some things are revealed; the warden Enrik is new and brought on all of the horrible things, and Sullivan has been in that hell hole for about a decade. 

As act five starts the first image is a sadistic portrait of Enrik.  I have minced no words in saying that the theme of this book is dark and brooding but the portrait of Enrik is downright creepy looking.  So far this guy encompasses everything that scares the hell out of me, a man in high position abusing his power over people with a horrible torturous mind.  When I started act five I thought that it would be a little more of the same but Simeti switched things up.  Sullivan isn’t just some good family guy, he has a checkered past.  Simeti shows a small glimpse into Sullivan’s past and reveals some pretty horrible things before he returns back to Enrik telling him to enjoy his last moments.  The new revelations of Sullivan and his true nature have got my head twisted around, I’m not sure what to believe and I can’t figure out who the real evil one is.  I’m fairly confused and my feelings about Sullivan have been flipped but I wasn’t ready for the end and the real bomb shell.  Sullivan kills a guard and through flashback’s we see that he is really just a cold killer but as they sedate him the thought bubble said, “How the hell can I execute my own brother?”  I know, mind blown, right?  At this point in the story I have been up and been down, I have seen a good man turn to a devil, and a devil at least make me question his actual intentions.

What a twist, what a way to start the last act.  Enrik is a Sullivan too and everything we have seen about him is through the eyes of a sick man.  The reality of the situation is something out of real life, a paranoid schizophrenic seeing life the way he does, nowhere near reality, and the guilt ridden family member watching him deteriorate.  Sullivan did it, he killed a ton of people, but he was not just sick he was crazy, and his brother clearly carried plenty of guilt over his little brother’s faults.  Some of the feeling from both brothers is surreal and I more than sympathize but at this point I have to stop with the review and leave this review with this.  The reveal of the reality and the twist of Enrik being a good guy and Sullivan being his brother is only magnified as the book comes to an end.  I can’t spoil the ending but I will say one thing about it… In-freaking-credible. 

This book is fabulous to say the least; it has not only great dialog and wonderful story telling it has social norm overtones that really get the brain cells working.  The way Simeti writes and paints Sullivan only to switch it up is pretty amazing to me.  As a writer I have a hard enough time making my characters not boring and Simeti not only makes his characters not boring he makes them so complex it takes nearly two or three reads to understand what really happened.  The character development of this book is so complex and done so well that I can see why Simeti decided to try to make it a movie.  The actors must have read the script and flipped out, this sort of story is something the most talented people on Earth search for.  I truly envy Simeti, not only does he run a nice comic company he followed his dreams of making comics, and ran a successful kickstarter so he could turn that comic into a movie as well.  It might sound easy but trust me; turning comic scripts to movie scripts and transforming properties across platforms is actually very hard to do.  Because of this fact I happen to admire Simeti even more.  As far as the book is concerned I highly recommend it but I would also suggest sticking with the mature seventeen and up rating because there is killing and adult themed things.  I enjoyed the book a lot and the way it flows impresses me, I can’t wait to see what they have planned for the movie.  If the movie is similar to the book, which I assume it will be, the twist will have you on the floor rolling around in disbelief.  This book is seriously worth the read and it actually flows pretty fast considering it’s over a hundred pages, not to mention it would be worth reading before watching the movie to compare the styles.  

I can’t say enough about Simeti and the work he must have put into this book and all these related projects, it’s hard enough to run a company but it’s on a whole other level to do that and maintain two of your own projects at the same time.  If anyone reading considers themselves a supporter of indie comics I really think you should support The Chair because it represents not just comics but the way comics make it to the big screen as well and that is very important for indie comic creators as well as indie movie makers.  Everyone involved with the book and the movie deserve a pat on their back for all of the effort and they deserve your business as well.