Headlines   2003 Review Index   December 10, 2003
Suspended Animation &

Michael Vance

Mark Allen

Michael Vance Books

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Sacred Circles

    Long ago, a medicine man sought to harness the power of the spirits of the forest, for his selfish gain. Imprisoned by said spirits, for his affront, his evil is ended....until the arrival of modern man, 300 years later, in the form of a man-and-wife archeological team, with children in tow. As might be expected, a series of actions by said group awaken the long-bound spirit, still intent on evil. Chaos ensues.

    That's the long and short of Sacred Circles #1, from Birch Bark Comics. While not the most original of concepts, it is wrought with potential, and, quite possibly, one of the most beautiful works to hit comic racks this year. Brandon Mitchell pens an enjoyable tale, made so by character-rization, more than plot. The children (a brother, sister, and brother's buddy) steal the show in this title, their "Our Gang" type antics lending a chuckle, compounded by a feeling of impending disaster; gotta LOVE that feeling.

    Even more attractive, however, is the art by penciller Nicholas Bradshaw and colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu.

    The Sacred Circle website claims the work is "Sure to please fans of comics as well as animation..." They're not wrong. Scoring a very "Disney" look, the style is beautifully appealing, and just plain fun! Great for high-action sequences, which seem, largely, to drive the tale. If I had to complain, I suppose it would be about the near-inability to read the translation script at the bottom of the panels in which characters are speaking their native language.

    Instead of simply being laid across the artwork, a script box would have been preferable. Otherwise, no complaints about this book.

    Sacred Circles is recommended for all ages, and for those who enjoy fantasy, adventure, and animation. Sacred Circles, published by Birch Bark Comics, 24 pages, $4.95.

    Find it at your local comic shop (as it just became available through Diamond Distribution), online auctions and catalogs, and at www.birchbarkcomics.com. For the comic shop near you, call 1-888-comicbook.

    Review by Mark Allen

The Comics Journal

     The Comics Journal is not a comic book or strip, or a book about comics.  It is one of the two oldest periodicals about comics, and thus appropriate for review in Suspended Animation.

     It is also acerbic and counter-cultural by its own admission, praising little published in comics while professing a deep love of the medium. In addition, its parent company markets some of the best comics ever created including Pogo, Popeye and some of Will Eisner's work, and the worst like its pornographic comics. In effect, it does not consistently live up to the standards it professes.

     The current issue contains articles on its own recent near demise as a publisher, a criticism of comics criticism, and news of court battles over copyright laws. Included is an interview with artist Will Elder conducted by Gary Groth that is worth five times its cover price.

     With editor and writer Harvey Kurtzman, Elder established the wildly satirical style that made Mad magazine an icon. Their work together still directly and indirectly influences the humorists that followed them. As an example, TV's Saturday Night Live was originally heavily influenced by Mad, and today's Mad TV exists because the magazine exists.

     Elder is a versatile artist not limited to one style, duplicating other styles in his comic strip and book satires. He always stretched his potential while sharing his talent with readers. If you think that's easy, try it. Elder also mastered the technical aspects of visual storytelling, and his art is instantly recognizable and esthetically joyful.

     Among his final surprising comments in The Comics Journal interview, the cartoonist asks, "Don't make me look mediocre."

     Granted.  One word rarely used in Suspended Animation best suits Elder.  He is that rarest of gifts, a comics genius.

     The Comics Journal is highly recommended for serious readers of comic books and strips. The Comics Journal #254/143 pgs. & $6.95 from Fantagraphics Books/ various artists and writers/sold in comics shops and www.tcj.com.

     Review by Michael Vance


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