#59 Multipart Extensions II, ROBOTIKA: FOR A FEW RUBLES MORE–Guest Blog by Noah Meernaum

Note: This week features Noah Meernaum, with a dual review of ROBOTIKA and its follow-up, ROBOTIKA: FOR A FEW RUBLES MORE.

Wherein the graphic series Robotika is seen to be mounting up and continuing into further outbound territory proclaimed to be steadily aided by an additional scribe (causing much trepidation upon the reviewer).

Robotika: For a Few Rubles More by Alex Sheikman (writer/illustrator), David Moran (writer/script), Joel Chua and Scott Keating (colors). Archaia Press, 2009.

Alex Sheikman’s resplendently rendered comic concoction Robotika was (as serial albums often intentionally are) left largely open-ended regarding its leading characters and had rather boldly proclaimed that its odd cast would be drawn further forth within the sequential sequel subtitled For a Few Rubles More. I reckon most readers will recall that this secondary heading is an exchanged refrain rung from Sergio Leone’s notorious noodle western For a Few Dollars More (Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965) aptly referenced by Sheikman as a flipside further molded by Russian relations. 1 This inflected impartment reflects upon Sheikman’s personal experience living in Russia and tenders due currency toward maliciously ‘made men’ or marked outlaws. 2

Saddled alongside Sheikman is David Moran, pulling double-duty upon the successive story and is singularly presented to be supplying a (supposed) steadier aim to the undue disapprovals that had fired wildly through the preceding pages of Robotika. For while the previous graphic series sampled by this reviewer related ample amounts of infused iconic imagery, which deserved to be considerably digested, other professed pundits have pronounced caustic caveats and curt catcalls upon its excessive comic exploits, criticizing it as having a shotgun script and scatterbrained story.

What rankles most puerile or purist reviewers of Robotika then are the sidling and seemingly sporadic storylines that are unseemly joined and apparently cobbled together. Thrown, as some say, headlong into this muddle, they are in some dire confusion as to the reception of Robotika’s circulate script, that ran plum loco as it seemed in different directions, (for example, as with those vertical verbalisms from that bald gal being so &%^$#@* difficult to decipher!). 3 Though cheekily conveyed and punning put, the conflicting critical reactions of the first collected series of Robotika run from almost unanimously praiseworthy in regard to the art (or specifically the sequential renderings) to various denouncements about its script and story being vacillating and wayward.

These cutting remarks, although relevantly addressing the concerns about Sheikman’s need to adjust or focus the extreme range of his comic inventiveness, appear as mistaken incisions applied to Sheikman’s nascent redoubled efforts toward comics. Those who are largely uninformed of the complexity of graphic storytelling that has ongoing demands of successive written narrative and visual scope constantly challenging the emerging comic creator, should be more thoroughly informed in order to duly appraise the applied level of the combined effort presented (if the reviewer is interested in relating a thoughtful review). Alas, many erroneous evaluators of comics are more prone to whip through readings, and if the comic does not meet their immediate expectations, then said critics get all trigger-happy with their condemnations.

As one who has experience in writing and drawing comics, there is an undeniable empathy concerning the constant challenges caught up in the responding aspects of story and script. About this direct interaction with comics there is an ongoing appreciation for its myriad possibilities, including the unlimited level of experimentation that can be personally conducted around its unique format. Reflecting upon Sheikman’s sole efforts toward the inception of Robotika his renewed intensity, despite the intermittent breaks or flaws in the lines, transmitted a resounding passion toward the graphic possibilities within the comic format. Personally communicated as a pointed pursuit, was Sheikman’s efferent push to prescind, attempting to go past existing comic precepts that are often solidly in place .

Sheikman has acknowledged his returned foray into comics being accompanied by feeling his way through the embryonic storyline of Robotika, and though some may perceive this as an admission of a reckless creative process it is not without graphic precedent Sheikman’s creative approach has been effectively explored in the unsystematic flowing lines of Jean Giraud or as he is widely recalled Moebius (a repeated reference due to his ongoing relevance to Sheikman’s comic series). 4 This opening of unconscious connections is an ability relayed by Sheikman that this reviewer fears may be stifled or stymied through misinformed reader’s reactions or as with the stable coupling or steady exchange with Moran, a mismatched firm (or worse overly frivolous) partnership formed toward the future impartations of Robotika.

Page 7, Robotika: For a Few Rubles More

At the outset, past a page of summarizing panels, Moran’s added presence is pronounced in a malicious rhythmic creed that sets the tone for a revengeful route casting a more somber setting around this second series (p.7). The former implied nano-narcotics are here prominently placed foregrounding their prime relevance (p.9 & 12-13). ‘The Man with No Name’ accordingly draped with the moniker ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘Mr. Saint’ appears with a grave bearing (p.10). 5 Whenever the bad guy smiles the situation is sure to turn from bad to worse (if you happen to be on the wrong side) and solemnity soon gives sway to slicing carnage. Sheikman’s rendering round all this is again superb (if a bit dark), and his recall of ‘Mr. Saint’ in particular is presumably a revered nod to “sword saint” Miyamoto Musashi who continues to be graphically adapted in Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond or Vagabondo (serialized 1998-present). 6 Amidst this decidedly malevolent cast, Sheikman relays some inventive bio constructs (the floating mined transporters? p.11) and unusual (though recognizable) symbols above the recently departed (p.18).

From Robotika: For a Few Rubles More

Cover from Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue

Further fine-tuning is especially evident in the adjusted accounting of Cherokee Geisha’s (CG’s) vertically aligned ‘speech pattern’ (p.15). This resettled order of Robotika is at this point beginning to confirm some of the trepidations previously stated, that is the clarifying influence taking shape expectantly within this responsive continuation. Though this scene is resolved in a fitting light manner by Sheikman it carries some fretting concern about the reasons for these decisive measures being undertaken.

Page 15, from Robotika: For a Few Rubles More

Sheikman regroups his three ‘Yojimbo’s’ (recalling Akira Kurosawa’s leading ‘samurai’ film made in 1961 that was reprised by Leone through the featured film previously related) – Yuri Bronski, Cherokee Geisha and Niko- within the recollected second series of Robotika upon a visible westward course marked by Eastern emblems round an outwardly altered, though informingly ingrained, frontier territory (p.33). This outlying region relays a reversion of a devolving decrepit West populated of despondent denizens (perhaps reduced to this state by biotechnological replacement?), dire desperados, along with riving Ronin, and amid the various rusting ruins, a hodgepodge of dastardly dolts.

Iconic reciprocations are once again in reconfigured replay throughout, headed for a showdown with the head Mafioso (or ourlaw?, p. 20). Bronski, foreshadowed from the last series, is featured more in this wrangled samurai/western ode and the defining themes are rolled out… retribution, romance, and (if possible) redemption. More of Moran’s salted hand is conjectured here, and as suspected it begins to neatly patch what could be more wildly sprung. On the upside there are some sly insertions of monster trucks (p.89), and the delusory virtual exchange around Niko seems more reflective of Sheikman’s particular shifting perspective than the more stable scenarios wrapped up earlier. Additional touches by Sheikman are notable, namely his inset usage of Russian sans translation toward an intimacy of dialogue between CG and her father (p.43).

With these singular strokes Sheikman begins to build closer contact within this run on Robotika and the importance of relationship is relevant to the creational partnership involved in it as well. Although Robotika is still in its early stages of development, the dual involvement of writer/scripter and designer/illustrator is of central importance. One series that was formed of a remarkable pair that has stayed in my mind, and has resurfaced in connection with Sheikman’s art and dystopic projection is Darko Macan’s (writer) and Edvin Biuković’s (illustration) inspired contribution on Matt Wagner’s epic comic continuation Grendel. 7 Although their combined presence was short in comparison to the extensible collection, the impact they conveyed through the impartment in Grendel Tales: Devils and Death (1994) and -Devil’s Choices (1995) remains as a pointed example of what is possible to achieve in the comic medium within a brief cycle. 8

Toward the future portions of Robotika this reviewer retains his sense of anticipation, even after having a bit of an expected scrap neatly cut up or plainly served. With Sheikman continually experimenting with the mix perhaps next time there will be generous genre splicing, large categorical spread, and a dash of a secret ingredient that may well defy this reviewers and any prospective readers known senses.

Notes to review of Robotika: For a Few Rubles More

1. Information and translation of film referenced, Chapter 4, “Were You Ever Young, Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (1965)” in Howard Hughes, Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns (New York: I.B. Tauris; illustrated edition, 2006. First published in hardback, 2004). Also recommended Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981). Very comprehensive study of Italian Western films made between 1964 and 1970. The consideration of context and cultural roots around these films that Frayling relates is especially enlightening.

2. In the section on Robotika in editor Paul Green’s Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns: Supernatural and Science Fiction Elements in Novels, Pulps, Comics, Films, Television and Games (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009) it is related that Alex Sheikman stated: “I grew up in the Soviet Union and as a kid was fascinated by the American Westerns.” p.174. Further relations regarding Sheikman’s import of Russian gunslingers were referenced from Rob Murray’s “For a Few Monkeys More: An Interview Robotika’s Alex Sheikman and David Moran” http://www.comicsbulletin.com/features/120058083043567.htm (accessed 01/12/11).

3. One reviewer at odds with the tilted dialogue in Robitika http://www.rambles.net/robotika_gn06.html (accessed 01/12/11).

4. Moebius, a pen name for artist Jean Giraud, is without a doubt one of the most influential creators in comics working today. He is best known for his successive epic graphic series “Arzach” among other grand sole created comic relations such as “Le Garage Hermétique’”. These flowing sequences are often without any common comic scenario and turn in highly imaginative ways. http://lambiek.net/artists/g/giraud.htm (accessed 12/10/10).

5. ‘The Man with No Name’ is a inveterate character that has been thought to arise out of a mysterious depiction shown in films mythologizing the American west such as the iconic takes of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, though the character is a recurring motif that has been explored as a lone ronin in Akira Kurosawa’s films that drawn upon Eastern precepts, particularly regarding Samurai principles. http://www.spaghettiwestern.net/index.php/Four_Artists_and_a_Man_with_No_Name,_part _2 (accessed 12/08/10). The adopted name “Angel Eyes” was given to the debatably ‘good’ character by the equally dubious ‘ugly’ figure in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966).

6. Takehiko Inoue’s manga re-conceptualizes the historic character of Shinmen Takezo who is destined to become the “sword saint” Miyamoto Musashi. One of the most renowned samurai’s his legendary status arose in the written serial exploits described by Eiji Yoshikawa in 1935. http://www.samurai-archives.com/musashi.html (accessed 01/10/11). Takehiko Inoue, Vagabond, (English translation, VIZ Media LLC, 2002-present).

7. Grendel was a comic series that was begun by Matt Wagner in 1982. For a full bibliography regarding this series see http://www.mattwagnercomics.com/bibliography.html (accessed 01/08/11).

8. Darko Macan (writer) and Edvin Biuković’s (illustration) brought a striking impact in their combined contribution to Wagner’s epic comic series Grendel. Macan’s and Biukovic’s series of stories centered on a clan of Grendels (gangs) in a war-torn countryside of a future dystopia compellingly reminiscent of the creators’ native Croatia. This was initially serially published in single four part issues as Grendel Tales: Devils and Death (Dark Horse Publications, 1994) and -Devil’s Choices (Dark Horse, 1995). It has been collectively bound as Grendel Tales: Devils and Death (Dark Horse Publications, 1996) http://www.darkhorse.com/Books/46-477/Grendel-Tales-Devils-and-Deaths-TPB (accessed 01/12/11).

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Noah Meernaum practices and employs a variety of aesthetic methods, working part-time in a esteemed art gallery, while pursuing the additional arts of illustrating, and writing.

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