Publisher’s Note: This week on SOLRAD, we’re introducing a semi-regular column from Helen Chazan of comics mini-reviews. This week, Helen Chazan reviews From This Flame, Blue Hole #2, and Booty Royale: Never Go Down Without A Fight! in her new column!
It was really a matter of time huh?
I set out on this article, in the hopes that it might become the first of an ongoing column here at SOLRAD, with a simple desire – to write more and to try writing briefly. Review assignments aside, writing articles can take me a very long time. I am brutally ambitious, I carry unfinished essays in my back pocket for months and years at a time. I will never change. I don’t want to. But I want to write more! I also need to publish more. So I’m trying something different, that should have been obvious. Short, capsule reviews. Two paragraphs tops. A discipline. No going deep, no getting lost burrowing into my labyrinthine thought process and epic syntax. Just my thoughts, some little melodies to the tune of what I’ve been reading lately. Just write some comics crit, girl. Get it out there. Get moving! It’ll be great, it’ll be fun, nothing bad can happen at all.
So anyway, get yourself a Gatorade – the blue one, the good one – kick back, and enjoy my thoughts on a few comics in my most immediate vicinity:
From This Flame, Oumi Konomi, Glacier Bay Books (2022)
Oumi Konomi’s short stories are cosmic horror reduced to the briefest snapshots and sensations. The collection begins with a portrait of an apocalypse at its midpoint, from the view of a person observing their city’s sudden destruction at the hand of a god, deciding not to run but to watch and laugh as their body melts into the death-bringing blizzard. Each story unfolds like this, a little maelstrom in progress, meager mortals merging into the cosmos, flesh penetrated and minds ripped open by the great unknown. Gods too are isolated, adrift in their own painful vastness. Beings find each other and try to share some comfort while being disturbed by the troubling existence. It’s all very “quo non nata iacent” – an atomic universe where everything, even gods, are reducible to the base elements capable of death, of confusion and dispersion, in the face of which we are.
The artist’s compositions are as warm and organic as their stories are disquieting; their earthy hatching and stippling suggesting a soft natural world of snow, grass, and star-stuff. Humans and gods have slender, frail limbs and wide, innocent eyes – vulnerable creatures that can still be torn apart by a gentle universe, ruptured by the warmth of a summer breeze. In the collection’s afterword, Oumi recalls a time in their childhood when they “would dream about being killed every night.” The comics in From This Flame are a bit like that – remembering the dreams that troubled you when you were young, the visions that tore you out of your sleep in a cold sweat, anxieties that still haunt you and yet you can’t help but look back on fondly. These are wonderful short comics about nostalgia for your first nightmares.
Blue Hole #2, Christine Shields, Self Published (1997)
A 90s alt comic I’d never heard of until coming across it via Austin English’s Domino Comics — always a good vendor to wander slightly off the beaten path with. Self-published with the aid of a Xeric grant, Christine Shields is clearly one of those artists who ought to have sustained a little career in comics but just didn’t, or moved on; she works as a fine artist and musician now, her website doesn’t mention comics at all. Nonetheless, her furious independence shines: this is a comic steeped in personal fixations and idiosyncratic aesthetics that do not lend themselves well to summary – seaside reminisces that continue while a narrator’s head sprouts wings and flies off to go on an adventure of its own.
As an artist anthology, Blue Hole #2 fits the mold of comics from the time like Eightball and Optic Nerve – Shields’ art is definitely Clowesian, in that more muted Ghost World sorta register, albeit a bit more psychedelic. However, the comic that Blue Hole most reminds me of is Panpanya’s Invitation From A Crab. Like Panpanya, Shields depicts ambling, dreamlike adventures on the outskirts of urbanity — women find themselves lost and wandering unfamiliar streets, spirits casually detach from bodies and roam the landscape. The highpoint of the issue is the story “Soulheart Station – Starring: The Kerosene Boy”, an elliptical yarn about a wicked young man who falls asleep and finds himself drifting through moments of his romantically nasty life, finally drifting into the afterlife, a train station where our attention drifts to other ghostly passengers. There is a meditative surrealism to these stories, a feminist slant on the subconscious. There is also a bit of a sea-shanty-like quality to how these darkly humorous stories of lifelong travel build, unravel, and repeat, accentuated by the guest appearance of comics’ drunken master Tony Millionaire for a superb jam comic. Above all else, these comics are meditations, inviting the reader into stories that escape our grasp like so many grains of sand, brief little cartoon windows into memories, dreams, and fantasies with the artist, whose hand produced such warm dreamy lines just barely out of reach.
Booty Royale: Never Go Down Without a Fight! Vols 1-4, Rui Takato, Seven Seas (2014/2021-ongoing)
Hagure Idol Jigokuhen (“Fallen Idol: Portrait of Hell”) lamentably retitled Booty Royale: Never Go Down Without a Fight!, is a fanservice comic that just barely is not porn, about a very strong woman with huge boobs beating the shit out of anyone who crosses her in order to not have sex or make porn. Misora has entered the idol industry with only her K-cups, her lovely smile, and her incredible martial arts prowess to support her, and she must defend her virtue in increasingly baroque contests, challenges, and feats of strength to earn her right to stay out of AV and hang onto her dream of becoming an idol singer despite never training her heinous singing voice. Within the first chapter, Misora has defeated 100 men in battle to prevent her appearance in a bukkake video. Soon after, she is smashing watermelons and tables with the combined weight of her massive jugs to obtain the prize of a comfortable sports bra – having recently found my chest surprisingly hefty and burdensome myself, this was the most relatable chapter of the series thus far. Sports bras are really great.
Misora is joined throughout the series by an ever-growing library of powerful, sexy, ridiculous idols both hardcore and softcore; an ex-gangster who has done every extreme act, a former child actress turned martial arts champ, a lesbian (this is enough to be a character trait), etc. The appeal of Booty Royale is that it begins at a place of extreme horniness and absurdity that can only go further. Rui Takato draws buoyant, animated figures with genuine gravity – you can believe that Takato’s curvy, soft women are also incredibly fit and in deadly fighting form. Action scenes of – ahem – both varieties are spectacularly choreographed. This is a manga you come to for the nudity and stay for the thrill of the impact of an airborne knee striking a jawline. Nothing here is likely to receive the possibly misguided feminist takes that the author’s prior work in translation Devilman Grimoire earned from some North American critics – nor should it really, there are some “jokes” in here about eating disorders and lolicon that are frankly reprehensible – but like Grimoire,the work is fueled by the conflicting motivation of a storyteller who loves highlighting the power, agency, and physical strength of gorgeous women while catering to his (and his audience’s) appetite for sleaze. I would be lying if I said I was reading this manga for particularly smart reasons but there’s a lot going on and honestly I’m hooked.
Well, there you have it. Those are some comics I read. All totally different… I’m so unique and eclectic, I am so good at writing comics criticism, I crushed it, someone should give me a medal for being myself. If you liked reading this and have the means – or heck, if you hated every second of reading this and have the means – please support my friend Nina’s gofundme, she’s currently saving up for essential gender-affirming treatments and doesn’t have any income of her own. Love comics XO