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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Comic Book Tattoo

Comic Book Tattoo is a collection of short stories in comic form, each inspired in one way or another by a Tori Amos song. Given the large number of stories (over 50), it is not surprising that the collection is hit or miss -- there are some excellent stories in there, some not so excellent, and some that are downright cringe-inducing. And for the most part, the difference in quality seemed to depend on how the artists and writers were inspired by the songs. Many of the better stories ("Little Earthquakes," "Crazy," "Toast," "Devils and Gods") were only loosely inspired by Amos's lyrics, taking their own impressions from the words and crafting their own stories that linked thematically to the songs.* One had nothing at all to do with the lyrics, taking its inspiration from the title alone, "Bouncing off Clouds," to create a cute little fantasy. It was when the writers tried to adhere too closely to the songs that they ended up with stories that were weak or precious, because Amos's lyrics can be beautiful and evocative, but they sound nothing like the way people talk in real life. Even otherwise good stories like "Take to the Sky" and "Here. In my head" were marred by forced inclusions of her lyrics, causing me to roll my eyes quite a bit.

There are exceptions to this, however. "Little Amsterdam" and the adorable "Snow Cherries from France" among others, managed to tell cohesive, interesting stories while hewing closely to the lyrics. "Pandora's Aquarium" by Dame Darcy went all out and embraced Amos's lyrics in all their weird, quirky, nonsensical wonderfulness; the result is an amusing little vignette about an underwater Catholic school with mermaids, nautical nuns, and pearl-diving.

My favorite, "God," by Jim Bricker and Craig Taillefer, took a different literal track. It starts out with two friends on a coffee break, one of them complaining about his job until, at the last panel of the first page, he uttered his version of the first line of the song -- "Sometimes God just doesn't come through." I groaned out loud, but turned the page to see his friend awesomely challenge him on that statement. The rest of the comic is a clever, funny philosophical debate on God and human expectations.

*This doesn't always work. Some writers developed their own stories that thematically suited the songs, and it still resulted in triteness.

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