Saturday, 20 September 2014

Red Moon by Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Risso

Red Moon, a flame haired princess meets a travelling acrobat, Antolin, and they form an unlikely friendship, setting off on several quests together, in a medieval world of magic, witches and fairies.

The protagonists are both around ten years old, and the book is aimed at this age group. Drawn in a typically Bande Dessinée style, the Argentine author and artist are obviously drawn to this European tradition, rather than the American comic book.

Carlos Trillo, who died in 2011, was a prolific writer, collaborating with many notable artists, and this is one of several efforts with Eduardo Risso (of 100 Bullets fame). Originally published in four editions by SAF Comics, they have now been brought together in an omnibus edition, and should have enough excitement, fantasy and adventure to satisfy most young children.

It is good to see this kind of European comic book on sale in the UK (I bought it from Forbidden Planet, in Shaftesbury Avenue, London) and Risso’s artwork is accomplished, his lines part pen, part brush, he draws the characters expressively, and  I cannot fault his drawing, his research, nor his style.

If I did have to find a fault, it would be the colour, which is very ‘photoshopped’, with very flat areas of colour and very precise graduations. To make things worse, it is printed on gloss paper, which seems to emphasise this crudeness.

I also found it clumsy in its ‘story boarding’, and at times it seemed too hurried, and I think it would have been better if it had tarried somewhat at certain points of the story, and if the creators had spent more time acquainting us with the characters. I did not feel much empathy with anyone in the story, as they all seemed rather two-dimensional.

I also found the ending rather unsatisfying, not very believable and a bit of an anti-climax. I know the story is for young children, but they will still respond to engaging and believable characters and situations, as the early Asterix books atest.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Blankets by Craig Thompson

‘Achingly beautiful’ is how Time magazine described Blankets. It is a story about first love and self-awakening, tempered with regret for a lost childhood.

Craig and his brother Phil, the children of fundamentalist Christians, are growing up in a small town in Wisconsin. A skinny child, not interested in sport or Heavy Metal, Craig is marginalised and bullied at school, and an easy target for the teachers. As is common for those with extreme beliefs, the home and church become a refuge from the evil, sinful world, and they see themselves as the persecuted faithful.

The story revolves around the beautiful Raina, a mutual misfit he meets at ‘Church Snow Camp’, and the first stumbling steps of their romance, which blossoms as Craig stays with her during the holidays. Away from his parents, the pull of fundamentalism is diminished, and his guilty conscience is unable to put up much of a fight.

I have read the book three times now, and every time I also fall in love with Raina. Beautiful, sensitive, intelligent, creative, generous and fun. Is this nostalgia, for the perfect woman who does not exist, except as a memory?

The beauty of Blankets is not just in the story, it is in the artwork as well. Craig is an accomplished artist, and worked for DC, Marvel and many other top publications. He uses brush and ink, working in black and white. His work has a strong line, which is never merely a contour, but a description of form and volume, light and shadow and expression and movement.

Craig communicates so much, sometimes without any words at all. In one scene, Raina’s devoutly Christian father, looking into the spare room one morning, seeing Craig’s bed neatly made, storms into Raina’s room and finds them in bed together, clothes strewn over the floor. Then he looks at the sleeping face of his daughter, seeing such contentment there, and maybe, reflecting on his own failures, backs out of the room, quietly closing the door behind him.

To what extent the hero of the book actually is one and the same as the author is difficult to say. He is an innovative story teller, not content to regurgitate mere facts. That said, it is so well observed that it must be grounded in true events and real people.

In Blankets, the events of his childhood are seen through the eyes of an angy, 24 year old man, and the book is cathartic, as he exorcises his demons and satirises his tormentors. Yet he is not blinded by anger – he has time for an affectionate portrayal of his parents, and he claims that he retains a belief in the teachings of Christ, if not the teachings of the church.

The things we angrily throw away one day, we later return to for comfort, as we realise that the adversity we faced as a child has made us the person we are today. I wonder if Craig would change one moment of his childhood, which has shaped him into a strong individual, and a talented artist and story teller.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See