Friday, May 15, 2009

Forgotten Comics: Electric Girl

Electric Girl, Vols. 1-3 (Published by AiT/PlanetLAR)
Story and Art: By Michael Brennan
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

Here's another excellent series that fell by the wayside, because there is no room in the greater marketplace for comics that feature anything but superheroes beating the crap out of each other and/or profanity. (This review was originally written in 2005. At the time, I was holding out hope Brennan would do more Electric Girl stories. I hoped in vain.)

Virginia the Electric Girl and friends, by Michael Brennan
The "Electric Girl" graphic novels present cartoonist Michael Brennan's quirky series about Virginia and her constant companion Oogleoog. Virginia is the title character, so named because she has the strange ability of emitting electric shocks whenever she feels like it. Oogleoog is a gremlin, invisible to all but Virginia and animals... and, like gremlins are supposed to, he is constantly causing trouble. The stories, ranging from six to fourteen pages in length, skip around in Virginia's life, covering a period from her being five or six to her college years.

"Electric Girl" takes place in a world that could very well be the one just outside your window--well, if that world contained robots who befriend electricity-conducting girls, talking dogs, and invisible gremlins with kind hearts--and the people who inhabit it are believable and probably very much like the people that you and I know.

The stories are light on sinister personages who are trying to capture her and use her powers for evil, or mysterious crime-fighters trying to recruit her for the cause of justice. In fact, the two stories that *do* deal with Virginia as "crime-fighter" or "superhero" end as one would expect them to end if she was a real girl. (No, not with her being tossed in jail, but I'm pretty sure she was grounded for a long time after one of the stories.)

What is most pleasurable about the "Electric Girl" comics is that Virginia is not some angsty outcast with parents who fear her strange powers. Some of the very best stories are about the small problems that can arise from a child and parents trying to cope with Virginia's unique abilities, but they are handled with humor and heart, not teeth-gritting and random mayhem.

The graphic novels contain mostly reprints from the ten-issue "Electric Girl" series, but Vol. 3 contains a significant amount of material that has never seen print before.

Any one of these books is worth its price tag. Brennan's unique art style is a joy to behold, his characters are all likable, and his "comedic timing" on the page is flawless.

For a little more about Virginia the Electric Girl, click here to visit a page at my website where I adapt her and Oogleoog to the classic "Big Eyes, Small Mouth" roleplaying game system.

You can also visit the office Electric Girl website by clicking here. There are a dozen or so "Electric Girl" stories that are available to be read online there.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Too much bloat weakens 'A Cause for Alarm!'

Cause for Alarm! (1951)
Starring: Loretta Young, Barry Sullivan, Bruce Cowling and Irving Bacon
Director: Tay Garnett

A delusional, bed-ridden man (Sullivan) writes a letter to the district attorney's office in which he claims his wife (Young) and doctor (Cowling) are plotting to kill him. As he reveals this to his wife, his weak heart gives out. She has just given the letter to the mailman, and she launches into a frantic series of attempts to recover it, before she ends up being framed by a dead man for a murder she didn't commit.

"Cause for Alarm!" could be an exciting--and even thrilling--little movie, but it is about 15 minutes too long. It drags a bit in the beginning and it sags in the middle. It needed to be more concentrated in order to fully capture the dread of the main character and to drive home the sense of ever-closer doom that is closing in on her as more and more people seem to grow suspicious of her, and she fails in her attempts to retrieve the letter.

The acting in the film is good all around (even if Young's constant hysterics get a bit tiring) and the technical aspects of the film are very well-done, particularly the lighting of the film's climactic scenes. The only problem with the film is its bloated, drawn-out script.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

'Little White Mouse' deserved more attention

Little White Mouse Omnibus Edition (Cafe Digital, 2006)
Story: Paul Sizer
Art: Paul Sizer, with pin-ups and shorts (dream sequences and flashbacks) by various others
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

It's a commentary on the sad state of the comic book market that an excellent series like "Little White Mouse" went through two publishers, neither of which completed projected plans, and that the creator self-published the collected edition of the series in the end. It's a sad commentary that most of you reading these words, even those among you who are regular comic book and graphic novel readers, haven't heard of "Little White Mouse", one of the finest sci-fi comic books series to be published in the past couple of decades.

"Little White Mouse" is, on the surface, the story of sixteen year-old Loo, a girl who is stranded on a remote mining satellite that is running on automatic after the crew all died in a mysterious accident. As you read the stories of her struggles to survive and eventually get rescued, the scope expands to examine the impact Loo's presumed death is having on her family and friends, and it continues to widen until we start seeing glimpses of the politics and cut-throat inter-stellar business environment of the far future in which the story takes place. There even ends up being a little time travel aspect introduced (and, as I've said in other reviews, I love time-travel stories!) and ends up supplying one of the most interesting and poignient plot-twists in the book. But, ultimately, the main thrust of the story is about love, family, and how it keeps us together and helps us survive.

Sizer has a real talent for creating likable, believable, and distinctive characters. Like all good comics writers, you can tell his characters apart because their dialogue sounds different--and in some cases, he makes a character so distinct that one can almost hear their voices while reading... Loo, Pasqual (a mysterious "ghost" who is marooned on the satellite with her) and "Filthy Jake" Armani (Loo's friend and protector, whose rough exterior hides a loyal soul and generous heart) are particuarly well-written.

On the art-front, Sizer's style is distinctive, but a little rough around the edges and a bit inconsistent quality-wise. As with most young artists, you can see his style evolve and change as the series progresses, and by the second half of the book, the quality of the art stabilizes and remains fairly high. (The first five pages of the book, a "prologue" thatI think was drawn just for the omnibus edition, are of even higher quality that the end of Loo's adventure, so Sizer is clearly still growing and developing as an artist. And I think he's a talent to watch for as the years unfold.)

There are very few comics where I buy every edition. With "Little White Mouse", I purchased the individual issues (some of them from Sizer directly when I met him at a convention, somewhere... Chicago, I think. I did too many shows that summer to know for sure) as they came out from Caliber and Blue Line Pro; I purchased the collected editions that came out from Blue Line Pro; I tried (and failed) to get my hands on the "Retro-Mix Special"--my comic shop guy told me it didn't exist, yet it's in the omnibus, so he was wrong; and I ordered the "Little White Mouse Omnibus" as soon as I heard it was available. Once I got it, I read the story of Loo all over again, for the third time for parts of it.

And it's as good as the first time I read the early issues in that hotel room in Chicago (or Milwaukee or Salt Lake City... where ever I was).

If you like comic books, or if you just like a well-done sci-fi story, I cannot recommend "Little White Mouse" highly enough. The same goes if you know a girl who likes "manga." Give her something good to read.

I also encourage you to visit Paul Sizer's website by clicking here. It's got a great gallery section devoted to "Little White Mouse," as well as all sorts of information on Sizer's more recent, critically acclaimed projects.