By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Oct. 27, 2009 -- Most of us have never wanted to go to Turkmenistan, nor could we find it on a map. But the graphic novel Joe and Azat
($10.95, NBM/ComicsLit) depicts it as an awfully interesting place.
The Joe of the title is a Peace Corps volunteer, and Azat is the Turkmen who befriends the American during his two-year hitch. Joe is based on writer/artist Jesse Lonergan (Flower & Fade
), who did serve in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan, and the book is largely true.
So one almost wants to meet Azat, the eternally optimistic and enthusiastic Turkmen with an idealized view of America, plus grandiose dreams of business success and romantic love. Joe knows that Azat’s ambitions are preposterous, but Azat’s enthusiasms are infectious and, more importantly, he proves to be a true friend.
Which is probably a necessity in Turkmenistan. As described in the book, it’s a barely civilized autocracy buried in Central Asia with customs and a lifestyle that few Westerners could understand or navigate. Azat proves to be a lifeline to Joe more than once.
Which means that, in addition to the personal narrative, Joe and Azat
serves as something of a travelogue, which has a growing tradition in graphic novels. This book fits on the bookshelf well with Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China, The Burma Chronicles, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
and other graphic novels that do double duty.
Lonergan’s art is cartoony but effective. Joe and Azat
is a quick read, and a pleasant diversion. And who knows? Maybe by the end you’ll want to go to Turkmenistan.
* Festering Romance
($11.95, Oni Press) has a cute premise: Janet, a college girl with a ghost (of her childhood chum, who aged with her), meets Derek, a college boy with a ghost (his former girlfriend), on a blind date. Neither had met anyone else so afflicted, and both can see not only their own ghosts, but the other one as well. It’s a match made in … well, somewhere south
of heaven, I suppose.
You’d think they would have so much in common that a romance would immediately ensue, but what kind of story is that? Miscommunications, jealousies and immature reactions amid this mismatched foursome conspire to keep the would-be lovers at odds.
Will the ghosts find happiness? Will Janet and Derek get together?
Well, of course. The end isn’t really the point of a “festering romance,” though -- the rocky path to the inevitable is where the fun lies. And writer/artist Renee Lott’s manga-influenced, cartoony style is sufficient to carry this breezy story, which ought to appeal to the target audience, rom-com-loving teens-and-up.
* I didn’t much collect DCs’ suspense anthology House of Secrets
when it was in its costumed characters phase in the 1960s. Showcase Presents: Eclipso
($9.99, DC Comics), which collects all of Eclipso’s 1963-66 run in Secrets,
tells me I didn’t miss much.
Eclipso is now a Big Bad in DC Comics. But 40 years ago he was just a supervillain who split from handsome young scientist Dr. Bruce Gordon whenever there was an eclipse, due to some sort of implausible lab accident. Gordon, girlfriend Gail Bennett and mentor Dr. Bennett would chase about and try to contain Eclipso during his “escapes,” primarily by hitting him with – wait for it – very bright lights.
Ooh, scary. And what could Eclipso do? Well, I’d count as a super-power the ability to break the laws of physics by appearing out of nowhere. Plus, he always manages to find his (really ugly) costume every issue, which I consider a super-power, too. Also, Eclipso very quickly became world-infamous and feared on the order of Osama bin Laden, which is a pretty good trick when you only appear when there’s an eclipse, and not for very long, and your evil schemes are routinely thwarted on the QT by Gordon and the Bennetts (who really don’t want the whole “hero and villain in one man!” schtick to become common knowledge, because Bruce would immediately be locked up forever, the end).
Eclipso’s real power? He could shoot dark light and power blasts through a black diamond he held to his eye. And the hideous costume was pretty evil.
What saves this collection is occasional art by Alex Toth and Lee Elias. Toth, the designer of Space Ghost, is so good he even makes Eclipso interesting.
Hmmm. That might be a super-power, too.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at email@example.com.