At first glance, this year has been terrible for motorcycles. In fiction.
Kamen Rider, okay? Let me get my personal bias all shaken out first. Forty-three years of superheroes on motorcycles, oh yeah! There’s a new series every year, and this year said new series has a superhero… in a car. Ghost Rider? A bonehead… in a car. What’s up with this?
See, the only reason I ever got on a bike was: Dark Angel and Kamen Rider Decade told me I could. Both of these shows in tandem; not one without the other. Decade when I was twenty-five, old enough to do what I want. Dark Angel when I was fifteen, all hepped up on feelings of disempowerment. Max (X5 452, yea still got it~) rides for escape and joy, as the product of experiments, as somebody hunted, as a girl tormented. Tsukasa, a male protagonist, treats motorcycle machismo with such disinterest that he dismounts by kicking his leg forward over the handlebars, and by sometimes using a (matching!) scooter instead of the big bike. Gender, gender, gender. What tricks you play on us!
After DCD & DA I had all of my mental permissions, and I got on my bike, and as it turned out I fucking love it. Stories gave me this. It’s been so good for me. Which stories are there for the next precious tentatives?
Well, there’s Road Force. Which Marvel were so keen to do, they had to wait until they got sponsorship from a scrappy little no-name garage known as “Harley-Davidson.” Road Force are tied in somehow with the Avengerzzzzzzz. All the best to the creative team.
Getting a little indier, Motorcycle Samurai is an interesting project from Thrillbent. Their SDCC freebie is available here, and while it’s pretty irritating on a desktop to click through panel by panel, it’s an enjoyably told thing. The art has a vagueness to it that’s compelling; that Clint Eastwood-y internal distance. I’d much prefer to see it in print, but if you’re a digital comics fiend, get over there. Lady badass motorcycle protag is a big bonus. Find four more Motorcycle Samurai chapters here, for between $0.01 and $2.99.
If you’re into checking out the new ground on comic-games hybrids, SXPD is ready and waiting. Check the art in the banner for this post.
Artist and art teacher Sean Murphy, and writer Katana Collins, put out Cafe Racer this October, after taking “6 up and coming students for a 2 week apprenticeship”in early 2014. This project grew out of a highly successful Kickstarter ($50,164 pledged of the $15,000 goal) — each of the apprentices stayed with Murphy and Collins, who are married, experiencing intensive tutorials and workshopping with Murphy whilst working towards completing one chapter of the Cafe Racer story each. Murphy himself completed the two final chapters, and I believe that Collins provided the script (it’s really not clear from the physical copy). It’s hardcover, black and white, with plenty of procedural notes in the back. Not a resource to sniff at.
I like this comic. I like what it represents (learning! Specialised skills!), and the cover is basically flawless. I quite like the story, too, although if you consider it apart from its existence as a learning project it become a little weaker. Similar to Age of the Wolf last month, this book feels like a great pilot.
The bulk of the book and its cover focus on Orchid, London girl, in what eventually shows itself to be the sixties (Cafe racer times. You don’t have to understand 60s British bike culture going in, but if you do, it’s probably an extra draw. Cafe racer-style bikes are experiencing a bit of a renaissance, to the point that this month’s Ride featured a little look at these hipsters, isn’t their enthusiasm great mini-feature). Orchid’s dad is Yamato Japanese, her mother was white British — but we don’t talk about her mother. She died, and it was just too sad.
In fact we do talk about her mother, eventually: the last quarter of the story tells the history of Orchid’s immediate family, her grandparents’ attempts to build international commercial partnerships in the face of oncoming war, her parents’ success at finding love amidst strife. This is the part that makes me yearn for a full-length graphic novel. Murphy’s in charge throughout the flashback, and maybe it’s his increased intimacy with the story, evidence of his viability as a master of his craft, or just the change in the focus of the story itself, but this is where Cafe Racer really begins to shine as a heart-tugging motorcycle hill-run. 1940s interracial romance, class issues from various directions, wartime concerns, nationalism, fighting your cultural programming, and family melodrama are chock full of storytelling potential. The sections with Orchid, making a friend, racing a chump, being wilful and disliking dresses… these feel like an elaborate framing device for a really interesting promo. In an ideal world, we’d see a Cafe Racer monthly; three pages of Orchid dealing with the 60s, sixteen long-form parental flashback, three more of Orchid. Do that for a year then bring the book back to Orchid alone, knowing the story of her mother in greater detail, inspired by her dual heritage. A book about getting along as a woman, observably biracial, in white British 60s-70s bike culture.
I have to wonder why the choice was made to situate the story in London when the apprenticeship was anchored in Portland. Jorge Coelho’s chapter starts the book, and his art is a treat (you can feel the lines being made, they’re got a tangible weight and friction), but London? I received no cues. I didn’t get London-y vibes from any of the artists, to be honest — I couldn’t tell you what I’d expect — although there’s some extremely handy environment work on the factory, inside and out. Notes in the back show that this setting was pored over, invented, discussed, designed, redesigned. The artists were familiar with the factory, because they “built it.” If they’re familiar with London, joke’s on me.
There are good things to say about every artist in this anthology; enjoy the examples below. I do have to note that I’m not sure the choice of eyeliner flick that Orchid displays in several chapters is compatible with a character supposed to be asian; bit stereotypical. Likewise, I’m confused by Orchid’s father having taken the name Lee in place of his actual family name Miyamoto — if the character said “these Londoners don’t know Japanese from any other Asian, nobody will question Lee so it’s a better way to hide than using Satou or something” then fine… but he doesn’t. “Orchid”, too, is more suggestive of Chinese or Korean girls’ names than of Japanese. Am I showing my ignorance, or is Cafe Racer?
Moving on, 2014’s also seen the transition of Sons of Anarchy from a six issue tie-in mini-series to a fully fledged ongoing series. The writer changed with the status of the title, the artist stayed the same, but neither of these facts were enough to convince me to stick with the title after those first six issues. Damian Couceiro’s art is competent and shows some interesting stylistic choices, but his hand isn’t quite deft enough to hide every pause for photographic reference. This really matters in an adaptation of live action properties, as I discussed in our short Buffy roundtable this year (with reference to this series, in fact) — working from photographs, working with well-known celebrity faces, can easily spoil a page when the reader spots a familiar rictus. To be honest, Sons of Anarchy: the comic was just boring to me. It’s not my bag, these people are irrelevant to my life! I don’t care about the stories of their continuing masculine crimes and guilt complexes.
Sherwood, TX sounded RIGHT up my alley. Right in my garage? As a lifelong Robin Hood enthusiast, putting the men in tights on bikes can’t go wrong, right? I’ve not managed to access copies of this book, so I can’t tell you too much. I don’t think these merry men practice motorcycle archery (wait, maybe I’m wrong — see below), which is a huge disappointment. But I’m holding out some hope. Like I said before, I need Biker Robin Hood to be good. It’s in my DNA. Please tell me your stories of loving this book!
Next year we’ll see Curb Stomp from BOOM!, and that looks fine as wine. But February’s so far off! Can we really wait?
There’s one book, though, one perfect, saving grace for 2014. Katie Skelly’s Operation Margarine: collected vignettes that form, in this paperback release, one gemstone story. That’s next time. I think you’ll like it.
If you don’t?