Eisner Watch, Pt. 2: The Lady’s Murder, Speak No Evil, Vs.

Previously, on Eisner Watch…

El Santo took a look at Bodyworld and Finder. Today, El Santo plunges himself into a world of hard luck Mexicans, French hookers, and dog pee. No, we won’t be look at some sort of hardcore triple X adult movie. I think.

Anyway, onward with the reviews of the Eisner nominees!






Speak No Evil, by Elan Trinidad

sne

I don’t like to talk politics here, but the comic has made it necessary. I am not, however, in disagreement with the point it’s trying to make. Like many Filipinos, my dad was a guy who found work doing work overseas. He was hardly what you’d call a migrant worker, but he did share the same experiences … being separated from family for long periods, feeling like an alien in an unfamiliar culture, and living in fear. In later years, our house would host other relatives who did the same … coming to America to do menial labor while sending money to their family back home. It’s a hard life, and I’ve unfortunately seen at least one marriage crumble under the stress. Filipinos are often the unknown casualties… we’re the ones who get held at gunpoint by Somali pirates, who get trapped in Dubai far from home due to the economic crisis, and who get in the cross-hairs of the US’s current controversy over the immigration policy. Yet no one, including our own brethren, ever talks about it.

So, in a way, it seems like I’m almost obligated to like Speak No Evil, subtitled “Melancholy of a Space Mexican.” Really. It’s a sci-fi tale that serves an an allegory about the trials and tribulations of illegal immigrants. And heck, I almost feel like I’m inclined to root for the author, Elan Trinidad, who is a fellow Filipino. Pinoys gots-ta stick to together! Right, Bleedman?

That said… our protagonist is a guy with a square-shaped hole in his mouth?

COME ON.

This is the very definition of a visual metaphor that’s trying way too hard. It reminded me of A Day Without a Mexican, an equally clunky allegory about how SoCal would be helpless if all the Latino workers disappeared. Suggestion to immigration fiction writers: subtlety is a good thing.

And the rest of the comic is just terribly corny. I have never liked it when comic writers try to attempt an emotional scene where several characters sing in unison to show their unbreakable spirit. It’s one of the most awkward scenes in Frank Miller’s Daredevil: Man Without Fear. I think a huge part of the problem is that comics, surprisingly, do not do audio. Which is why I think the scene where several Mexican mouths sang “a beautiful choir of pure coincidence” lack any emotional impact beyond looking ridiculous.

Worse, I can’t sympathize with our intergalactic migrant worker, Javier. He just seems like a total dope. We’re clearly supposed to pity him, what being a breadwinner for his entire family in Space Mexico and all. But he seems to lack any personality beyond being a doormat. I hope to God Trinidad isn’t suggesting that migrant workers are pure, naive innocents, because that’s the vibe I’m getting here.

Speak No Evil has the aesthetic of a horror manga, which is suitably appropriate for it’s central grotesqueness and its dark humor. The comic doesn’t take itself too seriously, especially when you get to the ending. However, since the comedy doesn’t ever go beyond the stand-up stylings of Carlos Mencia, I imagine that the Eisner committee picked it specifically for the message. I can’t imagine this comic being anything more than preaching to the choir … and I’m the sort of irascible cynic who already thinks that the choir has a flawed view of the humanity in migrant workers.

Sci-fi is often a good vehicle to distill important issues into metaphors. However, when metaphors get too on the nose, it gets sorta silly.






Vs., by Alexis Sottile & Joe Infurnari

vs

I must not be the sort of guy who’s all that big on symbolism. Or maybe I’m starting to tire about writers talking about the art of writing. Would you, the reader, appreciate a blog devoted to the art of blogging? I could talk about how I’d really love to be blogging right now, but I keep getting distracted by those pestering YouTube videos of fan-made Lost intros. Or how I can’t focus on blogging because I’m waiting for the pizza delivery guy. Or how blogging is turning me into a giant pickled herring.

See, if I did that, you’d think I was pretty self-absorbed, right? But put it in comic book form, and it’s a candidate for the Eisner Awards. The comic is narrated by an unnamed nebbish, but who I imagine is Joe Infurnari.

Like Speak No Evil, Vs. it’s all about visual metaphors. This time around, though, it’s used in a more conventional and slightly less pretentious sense. Noisy neighbors, for example, are portrayed as a drum-playing octopus creature. So our hero finds a new apartment, deals with a troglodyte of a super, there’s a whole new set of problems, yadda yadda yadda, and a dog pees on him.

What I don’t get is the resolution. So, OK, the hero feels ridiculous because he’s saved all his anger against a mean neighbor, and it turns out to be a dog with a weak bladder. Why wouldn’t he still be pissed? (Pun fully intended.) Hell, I might be tempted to kick the little darling if I weren’t so afraid to be hauled off to prison Michael Vick style. At the very least, I’d be calling animal control. I would, at no point, be ashamed at my anger.

The prose is done as a poem, which sorta makes the comic experience feel like a grown-up version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” It’s cute. But is it Eisner-worthy? No.

What’s worse is that Joe Infurnari was already nominated last year for the thematically similar The Process. It was the one about a pillbug, a caveboy, and how it related to the creative process of a guy who looks a lot like the unfortunate fellow in Vs. A bit heavy on the symbolism, me thinks, and not deserving of the Eisner Award that year… yet that comic was superior to Vs. in every way.






The Lady’s Murder, by Eliza Frye

tlm

The Lady’s Murder seems to have come from a completely different cloth than the other webcomics vying for the Eisner Award. It’s got style. Or, to be more precise, the illustrations feel like something you’d find on an old paperback novel that was translated from the French original. The story may be set in the Victorian Era, yet the artwork feels like artifacts from 50’s and 60’s pop culture, where simplicity meant elegance and the color palettes were simple yet striking. I’m sure someone can think of a better example, but Ms. Frye’s style reminds me most of the old Pink Panther cartoons.

Basic hand-drawn elements define the artwork. Scenes depicting a naked woman are barely anything more than solid white shapes against and solid background. Yet, by showing the lady in poses that tread the line between innocence and erotic, the comic still has the power to make me feel like a dirty voyeur. My favorite panel, however, is when Frye slows things down and shows close-ups of a drink being prepared. You can almost see the fingers gracefully glide to and fro while French accordion plays lazily in the background. Ah, mais oui, mais oui, ça va bien.

The Lady’s Murder is all about the recent death of the Lady — a beautiful woman named Marie Madeleine. We never see her directly; we only know her from the memories of those who knew her. It’s a 30-plus page eulogy. However, it seems Marie never had any friends. The people that the comic visits only knew her peripherally, and no ones seems to have known her personally. It feeds into the tragedy; Marie now only exists as an idea, and not as a human being. Perhaps because the only person really does know her … is the only one who’d want to destroy her.

(I’m tempted to throw in a kickin’ CSI: Miami “Yeeeeaaaahhhh!” joke here, but I’m coming up snake eyes.)

Ms. Frye seems to enjoy injecting her comic with conflicting imagery. The fat butcher is seen large and blood-spattered, yet he may have the gentlest soul of the cast. (He carves a heart-sharped cut of meat in his sorrow. Aww.) A sketchy looking pervert is actually an artist, and he was more intent on capturing Marie’s beauty. (Though, I admit, those two are not mutually exclusive.)

So … who murdered The Lady? Well, the murder-mystery aspect isn’t what The Lady’s Murder is about. From that stand-point, the reveal at the end is somewhat of a cop-out. The comic is rather about establishing a mood. The comic is as cozy as an afternoon chat, yet insidious in suggesting how the murder itself may have been the least of sins in the story. The Lady’s Murder is short, but it accomplishes volumes through its economy of style.






Who should win

So who do I think should win the Eisner? For me, it boils down between Bodyworld and The Lady’s Murder. I’d probably side with the latter, though, mainly because I do adore the style.

Who WILL win

Vs. by Joe Infurnari.

Finder might have a chance based on the body of work … but if the last two years have been any indication, the Eisners don’t like to read a long-form webcomics. They’ve selected short, self-contained works like the 12-page Sam & Max comic and Whedon’s barely one-issue length Sugarshock! The only real contenders, then, are the short stories.

The other factor seems to be celebrity. Now, none of the final three are names known to the public, so this might be a non-factor. However, the Act-i-Vate collective (which, by the way, is excellent overall) has been a driving force in the webcomic world for a while. Joe Infurnari has ties to the collective, and the Eisner judges might just select Vs. to recognize the group as a whole. It’ll be like when Scorcese won Best Director for The Departed … the award was really for all the stuff that came before.

Clinching it: the last three winners (which includes PvP) were all comedy efforts. Vs. is the only light-hearted comic of the bunch. So unless the Eisner committee plans to make some sort of stand this year, plan to see Joe Infurnari going home happy.

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on May 4, 2009, in alternative webcomic, comedy webcomic, dramatic webcomic, gothic, sci-fi webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Ah, symbolism. A while ago I was reading a book about fiction writing which contained one very useful tip: don’t try to be symbolic. If you try to be symbolic, you just end up throwing all kinds of blatant, trite claptrap into the faces of your audience. The audience then begins to wonder if you think they’re stupid and pretty soon they get tired of you. If you want your story to have symbolism, create a well-realized, detailed world and let PhD candidates find the symbolism for you. Building it in yourself is not necessary or even advisable.

    How the judging worked in these cases I can’t imagine. All I can guess is that these people don’t actually read any webcomics.

    Incidentally, what happened to the WCCAs? The site hasn’t been updated since last year.

    • The worst part is that if you look up the WCCAs in Wikipedia, the article is marked for deletion. It has slipped into the world of non-notability.

      I checked out the message board a few months back, and one of the guys running the site seemed to think that there would be a WCCA this year … however, nothing has showed up since. Fallow times, low support for webcomic creators … or a sign webcomics are transcending the non-specific niche of being merely “comics on the web”?

  2. Actually, when I wrote in the singing mouths, I wasn’t trying to create any sympathy. I just thought that was funny. It was a comic relief after-thought because a bunch of singing mouths that no one would hear was along the same lines as Arthur Dent starting an intergallactic war. And they were singing mouths– singing in Spanish– and one Filipino guy.

    “I hope to God Trinidad isn’t suggesting that migrant workers are pure, naive innocents, because that’s the vibe I’m getting here.” No. Just Javier. I was thinking about depicting Javier sleeping with a prostitute but I didn’t want to write an entire graphic novel here.

    Half of this story was “funny… but sad… but funny” to me when I wrote it and I really wasn’t thinking about politics much. I was trying to think about the day laborers I’d see everyday as a kid. And when I was working on this thing, I would think “Am I being racist– like patronizing racist?” I didn’t intend to be preachy, but I knew that a lot of people would see it like that. I was mainly trying to write and draw comics after years of not doing it and keep my sanity while I was unemployed.

    Though, when white people read this they think its sad. When I show brown people (who aren’t privileged) they could find the humor in it. And after some distance from the project, I do see how its sad.

    Comedy is very tragic. And Tragedy is very comedic.

    Anyway, I know I’m the underdog here and I’d be really surprised if I won. (Though I can’t help but mentally prepare an acceptance speech just in case) If anything, I just want to get a publishing deal from this whole nomination thing. Hell, I was surprised this comic got nominated, I just submitted it because of all the comics that I had on my site (at the time), this one was the most complete. If I could submit something now, it would be God(tm).

    If I wasn’t allowed to vote for me, it would be Eliza Frye. Even though I didn’t find the story compelling. It was beautiful… like many of my past dates. I wish I could vote for Joe, but only because The Process was crazy good and Vs. is just okay.

    • Thanks for your comments, Elan! Trust me, I always value input from webcomic creators on this site. It’s given be a different perspective on Speak No Evil. (Also, good luck on the competition. I’m almost always happy when the underdogs win.)

      • Hey, I’m always up for an interview or whatever. Thanks for being honest in your review and lately little bits of the follow up: “Hear No Evil” are forming in my head.

        Most likely it would focus on a filipina workers sent to Japan as entertainers. Yes, that sort of entertainer.

        Still brewing in my head and you probably won’t see it for a while.

  3. I really agree on Vs…. and I’ve been confused about how Infurnari could be nominated for The Process, when there’s only 30-some pages of it drawn in months and months and months, and nothing even happens in those pages.

  4. Jackie Estrada

    FYI: The winners in the Eisners are not selected by a judging committee. The voting on the nominations is done by professionals in the comics industry, via either print ballot or online at http://www.eisnervote.com

    Full info is at http://www.comic-con.org/cci/cci_eisners_main.shtml

  5. “Pinoys gots-ta stick to together! Right, Bleedman?”

    Oh lawd, you are good ;]

  6. “I hope to God Trinidad isn’t suggesting that migrant workers are pure, naive innocents, because that’s the vibe I’m getting here.”

    Just thought of this in the shower and wanted to get it off my chest. It seems when any minority is represented in any medium, suddenly that’s supposed to represent that entire race.

    Its like when you’re the only Asian in the room and the way you behave is going to determine how all the White people think of Asians.

    But when I wrote this it was just about a guy. The race could’ve easily been interchangeable but I chose to go with the archetype/stereotype. (But “Space Mexican” was still a funny title)

    Its interesting that, when presented with a character of a certain minority, you thought of the race rather than the individual– though I can’t blame you because I just wanted to make a short story and not a character study… and I put “Mexican” in the title.

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