Monday, August 17, 2009

The Price of Heroism

Draw the World Together is an organisation which, among other things, brings comics artists together to raise money for underprivileged children around the world. They've got a print up on Ebay right now, of some characters from Heroes, signed by the actors, and also by the artist, Mike Collins. It's well worth a look!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Mario!

We've been playing a lot of Mario Kart Wii of late at Brainsplurge Towers; we've had it about a year now, and it's still great fun. In fact, it's pretty much the only video game Meg actively enjoys playing, and she rattled through a bunch of the time trials the other night, unlocking stuff I couldn't even get near in all the time we've had it. I'm astounded at how much play this thing has still got in it, but it could still have a lot more. I've been playing a bit of Guitar Hero World Tour on and off, and it got me thinking about downloadable content. Such content is pretty common on computers and other consoles, but it's still a bit rare on the Wii, although GHWT does its best to mimic the service available on the "grown up" consoles, with most of the same songs available for download.

It occurs to me that, with at least five games' worth of tracks in the franchise history, Nintendo could quite easily offer Mario Kart circuits for download. The Wii edition already has a number of older tracks, so we know they can be updated. It seems like an obvious move to me, and something which would extend the life of the game even further. I doubt anything of this sort would happen, and it's not like Nintendo executives are reading my ramblings, but I had to get this frustration off my chest, and that's what blogs are for after all.

If you ever do want a race, our Wii Code is 7714 7295 2393 7107, and our Mario Kart Wii friend code is 3093 9646 0225.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Adventures of Julius Chancer: The Rainbow Orchid Volume One

(This review was written for Comics Bulletin's Wednesday graphic novel reviews, but due to the editor being away, they haven't been uploaded this week, and since the book was released this week, I've chosen to gazump my bosses just for once. The review will still be posted at Comics Bulletin, probably next week.)

Writer/artist: Garen Ewing
Publisher: Egmont Books Ltd
ISBN-10: 140524853X

When I was young, I thought Tintin was British. I had no idea that there was such a thing as translated comics back then, and Captain Haddock, Thomson and Thompson all seem very British indeed, so it did come as something of a surprise to eventually discover the series' true origins. The Rainbow Orchid, despite the very continental ligne claire (literally, "clear line") style, is most definitely British; in fact it is produced about twenty miles up the road from where I am writing this review. This is the third and most high-profile release of the book thus far; after a self-published black and white run which apparently goes for shedloads on eBay, there was a limited edition hardback, and now this remastered and retouched version from, appropriately enough, Tintin's UK publishers. It is certainly a handsome volume, and there's just something very right in having the story in this familiar format.

The story starts with a gentlemen's wager, which swiftly escalates into a madcap race towards the Hindu Kush, and the possibly mythical flower of the title. It is a good solid adventure story in the vein of the pulp periodicals and the (good) Indiana Jones films, ramping up from a somewhat sedate beginning to an exciting and literally uplifting cliffhanger ending. I do not claim to be an expert on European comics, but even so I can detect a significant difference between The Rainbow Orchid and its more obvious inspirations; the average Tintin or Asterix story is over and done in sixty-four pages, but the pace here is a little more relaxed, and it is quite easy to imagine two or three further volumes of this. Even at such a pace, there is a lot going on, with a large cast, some of whom are not fully introduced at this stage, a number of mysteries and subplots, a wordy script, and an average of about twelve panels per oversized page.

With all this content, it is perhaps all the more surprising that the book does not grind to a cluttered and stodgy halt, and it is to writer/artist Garen Ewing's credit that it does not. Of particular note is the art, which shies away from the dynamic post-Kirby style common in English-language adventure comics; there are few fancy angles and no idiosyncratic panel layouts (although Ewing does show off occasionally with the odd establishing shot here and there), and a superficial critic might even call it "flat", but it's more that there is (to get all Scott McCloudy for a moment) a different visual language being used. I am always astounded by how well the ligne claire style can work, especially in terms of conveying depth and distance, as there is usually little or no difference in line thickness, shading is largely ignored, and yet everything remains, well, clear. It is a difficult technique to master, and I suspect that Ewing would say that he has not, but to my relatively uneducated eyes, he is certainly very close.

It is fair to say that part of the joy of The Rainbow Orchid, for me, is that it has a massive nostalgic pull, taking me right back to the days when the only comics I could get from the library were these colourful cartoony things from artists with unusual Gallic names. Yet a greater part of my enjoyment of the book, enough to get me to buy it a third time, is that it's just very well put together, an exercise in a type of storytelling which we do not see too often in English nowadays, and a cracking adventure yarn populated by compelling characters. The obvious comparisons will continue to be made, but this is a great comic on its own, very significant, merits.