Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Best Comics of 2014, no. 11 (tie): Doomboy and Sing No Evil

Posting a day late. When I got done with work yesterday, all I could do was sleep! I took an extra day to recoup my energies, and am now catching up.
Today's adventure is a bit musical.
That's like saying the Chicago Fire was a weenie roast.
Since I saw The Monkees, Dave Brubeck, Steppenwolf and Jimi Hendrix, in that order, between the ages of 14 and 15, music, especially rock music, has been almost as big a part of my life as comics. So it's no surprise that I'm fascinated with the overlap of the two.
There have been some wonderful moments in this arena. Steve Leialoha's story of his experience at the Altamont fiasco (I believe from the Gates of Eden one-shot) is fascinating. There is a spate of stories featuring The Beatles and Beatles pastiches, and great stuff like the Sienkiewicz/Green biography of Jimi Hendrix, Voodoo Child (long overdue to be back in print!) and the graphic memoir Freddie Mercury and Me.
Well, two graphic novels appeared this year that expand this body of work. I was hard pressed to pick between them, so I didn't. Besides, ties are a great way to expand the list!
First up is Doomboy byTony Sadnoval, translated by Mike Kennedy.
The story of an enraged guitarist whose girlfriend dies, Doomboy is ultimately about the unleashing of creativity for its own sake. D, the young man in question, goes from literally beating people up with his guitar to performing solo on a beach, touching on something powerful in the process. His confederate records and tacitly broadcasts D's performances under the name Doomboy.
All the characters are rendered in a fairly neotenic manner. It took a bit of a read to realize they were intended to be young adults. This is apparently a universal trait in Sandoval's work, with which I was not familiar prior to this book.

The broadcasts create a flurry of interest in the anonymous player, which leads to some inevitable, and a couple surprising, plot developments. Sorry to be cryptic, but I want you to read this for yourself!
There are three factors that deserve mentioning in addition to the plot and to Sandoval's remarkably energetic art. First, there's a surprisingly effective gay relationship involving a couple unlikely minor characters. Second, Sandoval's approach to the singular challenge of illustrating music is remarkably effective. Rather than fall back on the cliches of floating notes and people dancing he... well.... brings life into it. Ranging from floating sea creatures accompanying dead girlfriends to bombastic Norse storms filling the skies, the music comes to life quite effectively in this book. This elegant use of "show, don't tell" makes the melodramatic aspects of the storyline just, for want of a better term, sing!
Finally, the cover itself contains a spot varnish of a D monogram. No reason to put it there, other than for pure style. As a devotee of the art form of the book, this touch really bowled me over.
The monogram is much more blatant here than it is on the actual book cover!
For the second part of today's double header, we have the Finnish team of J.P. Anohen and K.P. Alare presenting Sing No Evil.

The trials of a prog-metal band in Finland, this is by turns charmingly funny and achingly profound. The story has elements of the mystic, some incredible art and a rather diverse band. The bass player is either a 60s burnout or a 632- year old cleric/mystic, depending on how much of his stories you want to believe. I find Kervinen, the bassist/mystic/janitor more interesting than the rest of the band, but perhaps that's just me. His character has more nuance than the others.
The guitarist and former lead singer (more on that momentarily), Ahskel, is the musical visionary of the group, frustrated that nobody hears the music he makes as he wants it to be heard (a common plaint of musicians, and of artists in general, yes?).  Lily, the keyboard player, patiently tries to hold the whole mess together, and discovers the group's new vocalist, Aydin, delivering pizzas.
Why do they need a new singer? Well...
Finally, there's the drummer, Bear. Bear is a bear. No more, no less. Just a bear, and a damn fine drummer. There's even discussion of their gig schedule being inhibited by his impending hibernation cycle.
After many trials and tribulations, the band Perkeros (for which I could not find a translation) gets the dream gig, at Rocktoberfest.
Everything is here. The obligatory dream sequences, the battles of the various bands, the seemingly over the top (but actually tightly controlled, once viewed more closely) art and coloring, and all the strum und drang you can handle.
As the big event approaches, events whip to a fever pitch . The band gives a stellar performance, but Askel refuses to see it. He's so locked into his arbitrary vision of musical perfection that he cannot abide anyone's improvisations imposing on that vision.
Following the show and Askel's inevitable blowup, Askel finds himself in the woods where he encounters...
... but that would be telling.

As mentioned in the Doomboy review/overview, the illustration of music is a huge challenge.  While Sing No Evil uses more conventional  tools to render sound, like notes and clich├ęd postures, it does so very effectively, with verve, passion and artistry.
Perkeros in action!
Sing No Evil is a delightful romp, full of the stuff that makes prog metal, and prog rock in general, work- profundity, beauty, intricacies, an occasionally exaggerated sense of its own importance, and above all, passion. Ahonen and Alare work in Finland (which has a very rich musical life, according to some of my progressive rock pals who live there) as comic strip artists and graphic designers. I hope this isn't the last long form work we see from them, as Sing No Evil is a delight.
Next: Number 10 on our hit parade, as a veteran comic writer visits Germany during a challenging period.