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Thursday, 21 October 2010

THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD And Other Curious Objects

Writers: Mike Mignola, Katie Mignola
Art: Mike Mignola
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Clem Robins and Pat Brosseau
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Today's review is a guest post brought to you by Mothee.  Mothee is a comics fan, about to graduate from film school and would like to be a writer.  You can find Mothee at the following places:
Twitter: @Mothee

On with the review!

What’s it about?
A clever collection of short stories and art by comics auteur Mike Mignola. For those who may be unfamiliar with his work, Mignola is best known as the creator of Hellboy (you may have seen or heard about the film that was released in 2004). He’s a writer/artist with a flair for the fantastic with a twinge of horror and oddities thrown in for good measure.

Included in this collection:

THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD:  The main feature of this book –taking up about half- is a reprint of the hard to find Mignola classic short about Abraham Lincoln’s go to special agent: The Amazing Screw-On Head.  He, with his faithful companions Mister Groin (his butler) and Mister Dog (his dog), they are tasked with stopping the evil Emperor Zombie who has stolen The Kalakistan Fragment which holds an ancient and terrible secret.

ABU GUNG AND THE BEANSTALK:  A re-telling of the children’s classic “Jack and the Beanstalk” that also eludes to mysterious origins of the fragment from the first story. Gung is a poor boy who just wants a potato to eat and confronts a couple of old women who share their tale of woe and beans and set Gung on a journey that changes his life forever.

Mignola originally put this out in a Dark Horse collection in 1998 but was unhappy with the art and completely re-did it for this book.
THE MAGICIAN AND THE SNAKE:  This story is adorable. Anyone who’s ever gotten a kick out of a child telling a story completely from their imagination will be thrilled with this 5 page story that was told to Mignola by his seven year old daughter Katie. The story was published in 2002 and won Mignola an award in 2003. (no word on if he shares that honor with his deserving daughter)

THE WITCH AND HER SOUL:  It’s so very very odd, yet very very clever. Essentially what you have are two puppets named Hankel and Manx, they were created by an old woman who sold her soul to The Devil in return for magical powers. She dies and The Devil Comes to take her to Hell and every magical being she created since receiving her power. Hankel and Manx decide to make a deal

THE PRISONER OF MARS: The full title of this story is “How Doctor Snap Murdered Professor Cyclops and What Came of it. Or - - The Prisoner of Mars” if that doesn’t hook you I don’t know what will. This is the second longest story in the book and it’s essentially Doctor Snap recounting his demise. Doctor Snap kills Professor Cyclops in what turns out to be self defense but Snap “being an inexperienced murderer” was put to death, and that is how the story begins. His ghost goes to the planet Mars and is inserted in Martian robots, he’s reunited with Dr. Cyclops after a fashion and the story just draws you in and refuses to let you go. Snap isn’t dead at the end either…

IN THE CHAPEL OF CURIOUS OBJECTS:  This isn’t a story so much as a showcase of art that loosely ties up the end of the book. The random portraits and artwork shown throughout the book could conceivably be hanging in this chapel. The last panel in the book is a picture of a heart, similar to the same heart Mignola used for the cover of Guillermo del Toro’s film Cronos.

What’s good about it?
Content. For a deceptively small book it is jam packed with content. Amazing stories that aren’t traditional fare for most comics out today, they dare you to use your imagination and they leave you wanting more.

In re-reading the story I found that every story links to each other in some form or another that I won’t reveal here. It makes reading the book seem like a new experience every time. Not many comics have that going for them in a single volume.

There are pages of sketches and even some backmatter from Mignola talking about his motivations for writing the stories as well as some anecdotes about the process (such as the story his daughter told him).

The writing is amazing, I laughed out loud quite a few times, from the absurdity of Screw-On Head’s rationale of everything to Doctor Snap’s acceptance of his situation at any given moment. It’s all very dry and very hilarious.

The hardcover isn’t thrown together either it’s bound with a good spine, it will look amazing on any bookshelf and continue to be eye catching for years to come.

What’s bad about it?
Very little is bad here. The price can work as a deterrent ($17.99 US) but as I said the content is more than satisfying and makes you feel like you’ve definitely gotten your moneys worth.

The humor is odd so if a title like “The Amazing Screw-On Head” doesn’t make you a LITTLE curious, then you may want to pass.

Those unfamiliar with Mignola’s art may be skeptical at first but they’re in for a major treat.

What’s the art like?
Mignola. That’s the only way I can describe it. He has such a distinctive feel. It can be a little jarring for new comic readers. I liken it to Jack Kirby or Frank Miller, it seems a little odd at first but once you get into the story, you realize that you wouldn’t want anyone else on the art. It’s very solid, and a little gritty. A fantastic piece of work from one of the greats.

Other information:
Price: $17.99
ISBN: 1595825010
You can find this book at any major retailer like Barnes & Noble, but if you want to just get it on Amazon it’s here.

Before this graphic novel came out there was an animated short released on DVD for The Amazing Screw-On Head starring Paul Giamatti as the hero and the ever amazing David Hyde Pierce as Emperor Zombie. It tells a slightly different take of the same tale that’s collected here and I recommend it as a companion piece.

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