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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

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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

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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

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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.