Bouncer The One Armed Gunslinger: Alexandro Jodorowsky and Francois Boucq

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Published in late 2011 but only arriving on my lap the other day, Bouncer The One Armed Gunslinger (published by Humanoids) is the second volume of collected issues in the ongoing adventures (or misadventures) of the half indian one armed gunslinger Bouncer, written by Alexandro Jodorowsky with art by Francois Boucq.

Bouncer, as his name suggests is the bouncer of the Inferno Saloon in the frontier town of Barro City, and his story is a violent one. The varied cast of characters in this graphic novel include a creepy, freaky trio of Mexican assassins, an aged spooky indian, evil landowners, a loyal three legged dog, a whole array of raggedy outlaws and the odd lynch mob. These characters inhabit a story drenched with violence. All very Sergio Leone, very spaghetti western. Oh, I forgot to mention the opium dens, the revenge obsessed hangwoman, the freaky murderous monkey and the hideously burnt and bedridden owner of the Inferno Saloon. All vital ingredients in this quite epic but exploitive tale. And by exploitive I mean very 70’s, very B movie. Which is a good thing.

Published in late 2011 but only arriving on my lap the other day, Bouncer The One Armed Gunslinger (published by Humanoids, US) is the second volume of collected issues in the ongoing adventures (or misadventures) of the half indian one armed gunslinger Bouncer, written by Alexandro Jodorowsky with art by Francois Boucq.

Bouncer, as his name suggests is the bouncer of the Inferno Saloon in the frontier town of Barro City, and his story is a violent one. The varied cast of characters in this graphic novel include a creepy, freaky trio of Mexican assassins, an aged spooky indian, evil landowners, a loyal three legged dog, a whole array of raggedy outlaws and the odd lynch mob. These characters inhabit a story drenched with violence. All very Sergio Leone, very spaghetti western. Oh, I forgot to mention the opium dens, the revenge obsessed hangwoman, the freaky murderous monkey and the hideously burnt and bedridden owner of the Inferno Saloon. All vital ingredients in this quite epic but exploitive tale. And by exploitive I mean very 70’s, very B movie. Which is a good thing.

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The story opens with Bouncer becoming the town hangman against his wishes, corralled (contextual verb usage!) into the job by the town’s corrupt officials. Events conspire and he ends up being the reluctant hand that brings about the death of his old lover and her new amour. Both are victims of a set up by evil landowner Clark Cooper, with Bouncer the reluctant hangman. Clarke was previously embarrassed by Bouncer as he was booted out of the Inferno saloon and their mutual hatred fuels much of the plot. As all these shenanigans are going on, a mysterious old indian dude is jumping about the town rooftops knocking off members of the towns ruling elite by the nefarious means of a poisonous green coral snake.

There is much more to this graphic novel, and in particular the old Indian, than what I have described above. There is a flashback sequence that fills in some important backstory, and some heartbreaking plot twists and turns, but revealing more would be adding spoilers so I will resist it.

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As a writer and director Jodorowsky is simply legendary and he is rightly celebrated for his films as well as his comic book writing. I first saw his very tripped out film Holy Mountain a couple of years ago and reading Bouncer reminded me that I really need to watch El Topo, his famously weird western.

My first introduction to Jodorowsky was via comic artist genius Moebius and The Incal, a series of comics with a vaguely parallel plot to that of Holy Mountain, that of a twisted and somewhat surreal journey to spiritual awakening. On the back of the success of The Incal Jodorowsky went on to write some great science fiction, notably Les Technopères (The Technopriests). Bouncer … was my first view of Jodorowsky writing a western, and I was a little reluctant to pick it up as my first – my only exposure to Jodorowsky is through his sci fi writing, but I should not have been worried, after a couple of pages in I was hooked.

The art in Bouncer … is by Francois Boucq. A french comic legend, the only Boucq art I have been exposed to previously is the set of satirical shorts collected as Pioneers of the Human Adventure and featuring his absurd character Jérôme Moucherot (published in 1989 by Catalan Communications and translated by Elisabeth Bell who seems to have translated every foreign language comic I read growing up.)

The art by Boucq is excellent, he has that lovely loose but realistic french style, full of energy and expression, and with the analogue appearance of pens and pencils rather than the sterile computer generated look of many contemporary mainstream comics. His art in Bouncer … has moved along since the eighties and Monsieur Moucherot. The quality of line is less scratchy and urgent, but still fluid and expressive. The colouring more subtle and muted. The colour palette in Bouncer … is especially evocative of seventies westerns, all sepia and beautiful autumnal shades of red and orange.

The exaggerated proportions and features of his characters has been replaced with a much more considered approach, but there is still huge expression and character in the faces of his protagonists. Maybe this is due to the subject matter, I would be interested to check out his other contemporary work, and after reading Bouncer … I certainly will track some down.

 

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Chatting to my comicbook aficionado friend about Bouncer … the other night we both remarked on how painterly some of the panels look, in their composition. Bouncer looks like it has been inspired by the epic westerns of John Ford, and my friend pointed out that Ford himself was influenced by the great american painters of the frontier, painters like Thomas Cole, Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt. Seeing the beautifully composed painterly panels within Bouncer … seems to complete the circle. Bouncer … is a perfect love letter to the Westerns of Ford, but it’s also a note scrawled in blood on the back of a fag packet, addressed to Sergio Leone.

All in all I can’t really fault Bouncer, The One Armed Gunslinger. I am not a huge fan of the western in comic format, Blueberry by Moebius aside. The fact that I enjoyed this so much is a testament to artist and writer. Having always been a fan of Jodorowsky’s writing, I am now on a mission to track down more contemporary English language translations of work by Boucq. Can’t say much more than that really.

 

Winshluss: Pinocchio

Winshluss (Vincent Paronnaud) has taken the Pinocchio stories of Carlo Collodi and dragged it through the hundred or so years of popular culture that has passed since it was first written and given it a surreal dark twist. The results are quite an amazing comic book: Pinocchio by Winshluss (Amazon UK), an award winner, picking up book of the year at the French Angouleme festival.

Winshluss: Pinocchio

The book is published in French but mostly without text, the story told in descriptive panels in that classic Bandes Dessinées style intermixed with with full page and half page panels that also form part of the narrative. The only parts of the book with words are a few sections in black and white drawn in a loose sketchy style that nicely juxtaposes with the colour artwork that makes up the main body of the book. These black and white passages involve Jimmy the Cricket who has taken up home in Pinocchio’s head, and with my bad french I managed to just about understand what was going on, although you could easily understand the story with little or no french (like me).

The majority of the book is colour and wordless. Winshluss draws and paints in several mediums and there are several full page panels that I was amazed by. The coloring has that desaturated nostalgic feel that perfectly matches his drawing style.

Winshluss: Pinocchio

Winshluss: Pinocchio

The lame fox and blind cat from the original Carlo Collodi Pinocchio adventures become a smack-head and blind beggar, Monstro the great whale becomes a polluted toxic mutant fish destroying a Titanic style liner complete with white bearded captain and string ensemble who not only carry on playing when the ship goes down, but as they are being dissolved by the acidic bile in the stomach of the toxic fish.

Winshluss also makes several nods to Disney; Snow White and the seven dwarfs make an appearance, the dwarfs are a gruesome set of perverts and their involvement in Geppetto’s comeuppance is particularly twisted. There is even a film noir element, a hard boiled cop with a head like an Easter island statue who tracks down Geppetto and the seven perverted dwarfs. The book is certainly dark, but full of humor.

Pinocchio himself is a mute robot-boy, created by Geppetto to be a war machine who he initially tries to sell to the military. Pinocchio goes wandering after short circuiting while Jimmy the Cricket enters his robot brain. Pinocchio tumbles through this story, staying resolutely mute while the tale unfolds around him.

Winshluss: Pinocchio

Winshluss: Pinocchio

Vincent Paronnaud is also credited as co-writer and co-director with Marjane Satrapi on the film adaptation of her comic series Persépolis. What a talented chap.

You can see more artwork at a larger size here at http://www.bdgest.com.

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David Mazzucchelli: Asterios Polyp

My previous experience of work by David Mazzucchelli is his re-working, re-interpretation, re-whatever you want to call it of the first story in Paul Auster’s trilogy City of Glass – a graphic novel which blew me away with its art work, mind bending story and ‘silent’ passages describing the vortex of the mind of a man going slowly mad. After getting round to reading the novel a couple of years later, I re-read David Mazzucchelli’s City of Glass again and was even more impressed. My round about-discovery of both seemed apt considering the subject matter.

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So, I was in Dave’s Comics, Brighton, a Saturday afternoon, wanting a comic book fix. 2000 AD re-issues are just not doing it for me. I bought Asterios Polyp on the recommendation of the shopkeeper and on the brief flick through I gave it – and also, the nice hardback copy abated my ‘nice book’ addiction. It was only on getting home and giving it a proper inspection that I realised I was familiar with the author/artist. But I am crap with names. And facts.

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Asterios Polyp, the protagonist, is a fifty-ish ‘paper’ architect – belligerent, arrogant, won lots of awards, recognised, but not one of his designs have ever been built. Already I liked Asterios, but saw the flaws, what I was supposed to think. His story is ‘a journey of discovery’, can’t put it in any other way – he is brought down, escapes, goes on a journey, discovers himself, meets interesting characters along the way and finds some sort of redemption. Sounds pretty average and run of the mill but this is anything but and so much more. Mazzucchelli manages to comment on relationships, compatibility, art theory, aesthetics all within his narrative and combines these themes with some very off the wall characters.

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The artwork, so different to City of Glass, is itself subverted to become part of the narrative, different styles denoting mood, illustrating compatibility. The way he has combined his lettering, colour and page composition, all coming together in a way that communicates vast amounts on a single page, seems such a natural part of the evolution of comic books (sorry, Graphic Novels). Every character, however minor, had their own stylistically different lettering reminding me of Asterix books of my youth, the Goths with their blackletter style lettering, Egyptians talking in hieroglyphs. But Mazzucchelli uses this approach, spins and multiplies it to create a quite unique vision.

I bought a copy for my brother for his thirty eighth birthday. It was the last one in the shop. Must be good then.

Buy it here

Read an 2000 interview with David Mazzucchelli

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Jason Lutes: Jar Of Fools

If anyone has heard of Jason Lutes before this UK publication of Jar Of Fools it’s probably due to his work Berlin: City of Stones. Over the last 15 years Lutes has published a handful of graphic novels: Jar of Fools, Houdini the Handcuff King, and the Berlin series among them.

Jar of Fools follows an alcohol addled, broken-hearted magician as he comes to terms with the end of a relationship and the unexpected suicide of his escape-artist brother. His journey is framed by the increasing senility of his mentor and the attempts of a low life con-artist to persuade the magician to educate his young daughter in the ways of magic.

A sense of detachment, of being out of time saturates this book; the magician’s acknowledgment that he is no longer relevant and the literal underworld the characters inhabit support this feeling. The magician’s own traditional take on his vocation removes him from the modern world – his kind of magic is the magic of smoky clubs, starched collars and sleight of hand, an antiquated form of showmanship made redundant by CGI, Vegas and television. In the magician’s aging mentor’s own words, how can you top Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear on peak-time TV?

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Accordingy to Lutes’ Wikipedia page, a trip to France exposed him to ‘Bandes Dessinées‘ comic strips (Tintin and Asterix for example), which have greatly influenced his style (see his homage to Hergé on page 77 of Jar of Fools, and extra points if you spot the reference to Chris Ware). Having myself grown up with Asterix comics I can easily relate to these simply drawn characters and the rhythm of the uniform panels on the page. In some ways Lutes reminds me of Chester Brown, another European-influenced comic artist, insomuch as both keep a regular grid of panels on the page and use simply drawn characters, able to express a wide range of emotions through a few considered lines of ink.

Jar of Fools is neatly paced, and does not suffer from the transition from a series of issues in to a single volume. Lutes uses dream sequences and alcoholic hallucinations to show our protagonist’s state of mind, and successfully incorporates these sequences into his narrative, reinforcing the detachment from reality his characters all suffer from. With such doomed characters inhabiting Jar of Fools, a feel-good ending was never going to be on the cards, and although the characters all go through some sort of awakening the ending is downbeat but open-ended enough for the reader to form their own conclusions.

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A graphic novel that I will revisit again, in Jar of Fools Lutes has created a work that is engaging and a joy to read, a refreshing change from the navel-gazing that constitutes much of contemporary American ‘grown up’ comics.

Many thanks to Faber & Faber for supplying a copy for review.

This review first appeared on bookgeeks.co.uk.

Buy a copy here.

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