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Acclaimed cartoonist Dylan Horrocks returns with a long-awaited new graphic novel, the first since his perennial classic, 1998 s Hicksville. Cartoonist Sam Zabel hasn t drawn a comic in years. Stuck in a nightmare of creative block and despair, Sam spends his days writing superhero stories for a large American comics publisher and staring at a blank piece of paper, unable Acclaimed cartoonist Dylan Horrocks returns with a long-awaited new graphic novel, the first since his perennial classic, 1998 s Hicksville. Cartoonist Sam Zabel hasn t drawn a comic in years. Stuck in a nightmare of creative block and despair, Sam spends his days writing superhero stories for a large American comics publisher and staring at a blank piece of paper, unable to draw a single line. Then one day he finds a mysterious old comic book set on Mars and is suddenly thrown headlong into a wild, fantastic journey through centuries of comics, stories, and imaginary worlds. Accompanied by a young webcomic creator named Alice and an enigmatic schoolgirl with rocket boots and a bag full of comics, Sam goes in search of the Magic Pen, encountering sex-crazed aliens, medieval monks, pirates, pixies and of course cartoonists. Funny, erotic, and thoughtful, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen explores the pleasures, dangers, and moral consequences of fantasy."


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Acclaimed cartoonist Dylan Horrocks returns with a long-awaited new graphic novel, the first since his perennial classic, 1998 s Hicksville. Cartoonist Sam Zabel hasn t drawn a comic in years. Stuck in a nightmare of creative block and despair, Sam spends his days writing superhero stories for a large American comics publisher and staring at a blank piece of paper, unable Acclaimed cartoonist Dylan Horrocks returns with a long-awaited new graphic novel, the first since his perennial classic, 1998 s Hicksville. Cartoonist Sam Zabel hasn t drawn a comic in years. Stuck in a nightmare of creative block and despair, Sam spends his days writing superhero stories for a large American comics publisher and staring at a blank piece of paper, unable to draw a single line. Then one day he finds a mysterious old comic book set on Mars and is suddenly thrown headlong into a wild, fantastic journey through centuries of comics, stories, and imaginary worlds. Accompanied by a young webcomic creator named Alice and an enigmatic schoolgirl with rocket boots and a bag full of comics, Sam goes in search of the Magic Pen, encountering sex-crazed aliens, medieval monks, pirates, pixies and of course cartoonists. Funny, erotic, and thoughtful, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen explores the pleasures, dangers, and moral consequences of fantasy."

30 review for Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    Cartoonist Sam Zabel is burned out on comics. Suffering from anhedonia (the absence of pleasure, of joy), he sets aside his indie book Pickle for writing the banal superhero Lady Night for Eternal Comics, hacking out scripts he hates to earn a living. Then one day he discovers a forgotten New Zealand cartoonist, Evan Rice, and his comic The King of Mars. Opening the pages, he sneezes, opens his eyes and… he’s inside the comic’s world! So begins Sam’s fantastical odyssey through sequential art… D Cartoonist Sam Zabel is burned out on comics. Suffering from anhedonia (the absence of pleasure, of joy), he sets aside his indie book Pickle for writing the banal superhero Lady Night for Eternal Comics, hacking out scripts he hates to earn a living. Then one day he discovers a forgotten New Zealand cartoonist, Evan Rice, and his comic The King of Mars. Opening the pages, he sneezes, opens his eyes and… he’s inside the comic’s world! So begins Sam’s fantastical odyssey through sequential art… Dylan Horrocks’ Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is the timely exploration of women in comics, particularly with how they were and are represented. In a positive development, more women today are reading comics than ever before, the numbers growing with each passing year, which is starting to be reflected in Marvel and DC’s focus on bringing female (along with non-white) characters and creators to the fore. The question posed in Horrocks’ book is whether we are morally responsible for our fantasies. Sure, the idea of fantasy is just that: a fantasy, and it’s there to be enjoyed for what it is, not picked apart. But someone’s idea of fantasy is often not someone else’s, ie. violently assaulting women. More to the point, do cartoonists have a responsibility in how they portray women? Comics do shape and form part of the wider culture, especially given the immense popularity of comic book movies - if women are drawn as “generic erotic playthings for men to use and abuse as they wish”, shouldn’t that change to improve the culture? A lot of that criticism is levelled at Golden Age comics from the ‘50s which had no qualms in denigrating women. Which isn’t to say all creators have necessarily lascivious intentions - the joy of creation is expounded upon, something Sam is missing, but other comics creators, like Evan Rice, possess when making their comics. For them, comics are an escape and thoughts of sexism, etc. don’t come into it but can be a subconscious byproduct. Horrocks also romanticises the simplicity and relative innocence of superhero comics from that era. Through the Lady Night character, he talks about his dislike of how modern superheroes have become too dark and gritty, oversexed, rebooted and redesigned far too many times (it’s worth noting Horrocks wrote a run on Batgirl for DC roughly ten years ago, his only superhero work-for-hire to date). These are points of view I fully agree with but I still thought the book ended up being a tad too preachy in its points, the story and its characters becoming secondary to the message. That and the unoriginal Edgar Rice Burroughs-ness of the Mars story made it a little dull to read. Sam’s arc was also a bit too neat and unconvincingly underwritten in its resolution too - that whistle-stop tour/celebration of the medium was a little heavy-handed. Also, the ending about the magic pen itself is very, very cheesy in an after-school special way even though it fits in with the overall theme of the book and Horrocks is clearly being very earnest. I really liked the art. The clean lines and the black dotted eyes reminded me of Tintin (one of Herge’s books also appears in a panel), and I liked how he illustrated in a Golden Age facsimile when it came to those pages. The colours are mostly very bright, imaginative and appealing too. If it wasn’t for all the bewbs (the green women of Venus - because women are from Venus, men are from Mars - are all topless), I’d say it looks like a very kid-friendly comic! Dylan Horrocks’ Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is a decent comic that I wanted to like more because of what it was aiming for but only felt ambivalent about because of its uninspired over-reliance on well-established genres to tell its story. Necessary, yes, but not very compelling either. It’s a fine comic though, thoughtful and drawn really well. The indie crowd will read this but it should really be superhero readers - and creators - who pick this one up.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jan Philipzig

    Joyful, sweet, smart, effortless, sexy, playful, funny, reflexive, sincere, magical, pure - I love it!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Seth T.

    When I was in high school, I heard an older man recount a conversation he had while in seminary in his twenties. He vividly remembered speaking with a friend who was wracked with guilt and confessing sins. Possibly a common experience in so religious a setting as a seminary—a place intended to prepare young men for religious service.  The curiosity was that this repentant man was broken up over and ashamed of sins he had committed in his dreams. The man telling the story was completely blown awa When I was in high school, I heard an older man recount a conversation he had while in seminary in his twenties. He vividly remembered speaking with a friend who was wracked with guilt and confessing sins. Possibly a common experience in so religious a setting as a seminary—a place intended to prepare young men for religious service.  The curiosity was that this repentant man was broken up over and ashamed of sins he had committed in his dreams. The man telling the story was completely blown away by a person who would be so devastated by the actions of his subconscious self (as expressed in dreams) that he would feel the need to confess those actions. The story stuck with the man I heard, and it was wild enough that it stuck with me as well. At the time, the whole idea seemed ludicrous. After all, we couldn’t possibly be held accountable for the murders, careless thefts, and sexual dalliances of our dream lives, could we? Fantasy is, after all, fantasy. Yet now, even those who lack any religious fervor are exploring the intersection of ethics and the imaginary. Are our fantasies harmless or do they encourage certain moral poisons to infect us? Are our fantasies merely products of the us who exists or do they encourage us to act on nascent sparks of interest? One of the principal modern engagements in fantasy worlds, videogames, labours under near constant suspicion. Do violent games breed violent temperaments? Or do they merely exacerbate existent proclivities? Or do they do even that? What about the systemic sexism that expresses itself across videogames’ treatment and portrayal of their stand-ins for the female and the feminine? Does that speak to the broad social assumptions of the civilization? Does it encourage a particular way of viewing women? Does it encourage unhelpful sexual objectification and sexual alienation of the female? The question of whether and to what degree we are responsible for our fantasies is a huge issue of the contemporary ethical landscape. We wonder what participation in fantasy says about the participant—and the power of what it says to the participant. We need to understand fantasy worlds and what they say about the real world, but we seem pretty torn between liberty and responsibility. We dismiss some concerns but highlight others. In one sense, we’re pretty certain that fantasy doesn’t have to have any particular moral quality to it. If I’m playing Super Mario Brothers, I’m engaging in regular, careless-and-perhaps-malicious destruction of turtles by stomping them to death. But I believe deeply in not carelessly harming animals and would never stomp on a turtle in real life. So what kind of weight do we give the fantasy game violence in that case? Negligible moral weight probably. But if I engage in preteen rape fantasies? Is that worrisome? Does that say something about me? We generally agree that it probably does. Obviously better to express in the fantasy than in the reality, but it still speaks (we think) to something broken within the fantasizer. (Pedophiles who do not act on their desires and fantasies are still—probably legitimately—seen as a major concern to the community around them.) And if I express those pre-teen rape fantasies through comics so that others can enjoy and take part in them, is that moral or responsible? Or is that a neutral non-malicious act, or is it rotten and soul-corrupting? By spreading my fantasies and sparking the fantasies of others, am I helping to forge a new framework for people? The hypothetical Me here (the Me that’s published these awful hypothetical comics) has in some sense challenged the notion that preteen girls aren’t to be objects of adult sexual fetishment. And so what are the repercussions of that challenge? Does the idea die with the fantasy or does it, like so many ideas, bear further fruit? This is the world that Dylan Horrocks explores in Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen. He investigates fantasy as healthy release vs responsible fantasy vs focus on the “real” world. Horrocks highlights his purpose in two places early in the book: 1) in his dueling epigraphs, “In dreams begins responsibility” (Yeats) vs “Desire has no morality” (Hartley); 2) when Alice summarizes main character Sam’s subconsciously delivered speech as being concerned with “the pleasures and dangers of fantasy,” the purpose of stories, and whether art is a lie that conveys the truth or merely a lie. This is Horrocks’ fantasy playground, and though he doesn’t actually deliver to us anything like a conclusion, he does pack in enough bookclub’s grist for discussion to keep wheels spinning for a couple hours of heated argument. While only a little more than 200 pages, Sam Zabel is a bit of sprawling adventure-by-way-of-tourism. Sam finds himself sucked into a comic drawn with the titular pen. And then into another and another and another. There’s a bit of plot and danger to move us from here to there near the climax, but largely the book is concerned with Sam and his interaction-with-slash-fear-of fantasy expression. The character is torn all over the place, enjoying and engaging in fantasy flight but then feeling bad and uncomfortable with aspects of it. He’s as confused and contradictory as our own society is—and while he comes to something of a conclusion for himself, it’s more an issue of what’s comfortable to him rather than the larger question of right and wrong. Horrocks seems pretty well aware of his character’s hesitations and often interjects as the omniscient narrator with notes that Sam was supposed to have responded in a particular way but waffled, so the fantasy goes in a different direction. One moment of Sam putting significant effort into untangling the question of responsibility vs fantasy is rendered self-consciously suspect by the fact that it occurs in the midst of one of Sam’s own fantasies (as the fantasy is quick to point out to Sam). It’s a curious book and I would have preferred Horrocks’ ending with less ambiguity (and maybe even coming down straight on the question), but like so much art, Sam Zabel is less Art As Statement than it is Art As Question or Art As Exploration. I largely found myself satisfied with Sam Zabel (though the tremendous amount of nudity[1] made public reading in Starbucks a bit of a dicey affair). There is, however, a chief deficit when interacting with Sam Zabel's primary discussion. It’s a problem similar to that proposed in Duncan the Wonder Dog. In Duncan, Adam Hines offers a fantastic tool for learning to empathize with animals—if a reader will allow themself to be convinced. Duncan's conceit is that all the animals in the world speak and can communicate with humans. Because of this we get a greater sense of their often tragic place in human society. It can be heart-wrenching book. The problem is that because animals don’t actually talk and we don’t really in real life see them able to conceive of their circumstances as sentient beings would, many of the situations feel contrived. So the argument loses its force. The same is true of Sam’s moral rectitude when it comes to the cartoonists’ responsibility for their fantasy creations. He worries that because the magic pen made these comics come to life, the artist has a responsibility to these living things. He means for the argument to carry over, but it’s hard to buy it as there’s not really any actual tie between his argument and our real world. But maybe that’s part of Horrocks’ aim—maybe he intends to undermine his own point.[2] Because if one wishes to say that any fantasy creation has within it the same breath of life as those created by the magic pen, we run into the extremist argument[3] that all fantasy is real. Whether intentional or not, it kind of takes the wind a bit out of the sails and pushes the reader to take the stakes of the book with a little less gravity. The other bit that probably did the least to win me was the dialogue, which sometimes felt like trading monologues devised from well-intentioned Tumblr posts. It’s never awful or even bad. It just never remotely approaches verisimilitude. I won’t ding the book for it though because I’m not even sure that realistic dialogue was ever meant to be on the table. There’s a little something nod-nod, wink-wink about even the “real world” segments of the book—stuff that makes you aware that you’re still reading fantasy—so the dialogue is probably just more of that fantasy bleeding through. It’s a smart book and deserves discussion. I’d highly recommend it to the book club set. I waffled a bit on whether I thought this was Good or Okay. I’m still not sure that I got it quite right. Which may mean that it’s just Okay. But then maybe I’m undervaluing it. Whatever, the stars mean so little anyway. There are probably three kinds of people Sam Zabel is meant for: 1) those who have a community with whom to discuss the Idea books they run across; 2) those already invested in the book’s principle question regarding the nature and place of fantasy; and 3) those with a special interest in nude green women. And man, if all three of those describe you, consider this book a slice of your heaven. _______ [Review courtesy of Good Ok Bad.] _______ Footnotes 1) Really, what can you expect from a book that critiques male cartoonists’ fantasies by exploring visually their cartoon fantasies? 2) He does this overtly and with tongue in cheek at several points throughout the book. 3) Extremist enough that I’m not sure anyone would actually make the argument.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dave Schaafsma

    This graphic novel by New Zealand artist Horrocks is (for me) a major event in comics this past year, a thing which I also said about Scott McCloud's The Sculptor, of which it in some ways reminds me. In both the main character suggests the author in many ways, both preach a little bit about moral issues and comics history and tradition, and both are masterfully accomplished as comics. Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen appears from the cover and opening to be for kids, but it is for grown-ups. Or all This graphic novel by New Zealand artist Horrocks is (for me) a major event in comics this past year, a thing which I also said about Scott McCloud's The Sculptor, of which it in some ways reminds me. In both the main character suggests the author in many ways, both preach a little bit about moral issues and comics history and tradition, and both are masterfully accomplished as comics. Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen appears from the cover and opening to be for kids, but it is for grown-ups. Or all ages, maybe. One of the issues Horrocks takes on is the continuing one of how women are still being depicted in comics, primarily by the two big superhero houses, and primarily with respect to the unrealistic, male-fantasy-dominated depictions of women's bodies. Horrocks, like his main character, has worked in superhero comics (Horrocks did some Batgirl work, and other comics), and he depicts Zabel as quite conflicted about his desires. He himself is of course a male, with fantasies about women's bodies, and through Zabel and the help of three smart women characters he depicts, he wrestles with the issue of representations of fantasy in comics, and particularly sexual fantasies (which, one of the women character notes, women also have, of course, and like to see depicted). So Horrocks is controversial in that there are a lot of naked women in this comics novel. Can he have it both ways? In other words, can he slam the comics industry AND show lots of naked women in the process of his critique? Through a complicated story about a magic pen, Zabel enters into a jungle comic he finds that is from the Golden era, and one from New Zealand. This story he enters is hilarious, with sex-starved jungle women seen in part through the eyes of one or the three or four women who help Zabel see the situation, though not all of the women comics commentators follow the strict feminist condemnatory line. Horrocks has fun with the debate, and in the process has fun with jungle comics with a New Zealand flair; for instance, in many golden age comics, superhero characters used lots of exclamation points. Zounds! Holy Firecats! Horrocks's kiwi angle is to have such characters say things like "Tumbling tuataras!" and "Cackling keas!" that refer to Kiwi and often specifically Maori culture. Fun! Educational! Silly! Helps us lighten up a bit from the intense feminist issues, which is a good thing. It IS a comic, so it's oaky to be educational and political and have fun. Sam Zabel, the sellout comics master has not produced a significant work for more than ten years. . . . a little like Horrocks! The first section, entitled Anhedonia (a term I first heard was Woody Allen's working title for Annie Hall, meaning a condition where you can't experience joy, in anything), shows him depressed, artist-blocked. So he has to go through this process of comics history discovery to regain his chops. The result is a multi-layered, entertaining and educational tale that like Hicksville and other Horrocks's work is a paen to comics and comics history. He wants to speak to his fellow comics readers and artists and engage them in dialogue about moral and ethical issues and recapture the joy of comics in the process. One thing he discovers, along the "preaching" lines (not very spoiler alert): ALL pens are actually magic pens! Go create! Horrocks includes notes that help us with all the comics he references throughout history, and New Zealand cultural references. Overall: Fun time!

  5. 5 out of 5

    rob

    Dylan Horrocks, I fucking love you. It has been less than half a year since I found Hicksville and in that time have devoured it no less than 5 times, each time being reminded of why I liked it so much the other times and also getting a little something extra every time. But you couldn't do that story again, and leading up to this book I was wondering how you'd do anything again – hasn't the nature of the criticism of your last book ballooned your head in such a way that the reader won't help bu Dylan Horrocks, I fucking love you. It has been less than half a year since I found Hicksville and in that time have devoured it no less than 5 times, each time being reminded of why I liked it so much the other times and also getting a little something extra every time. But you couldn't do that story again, and leading up to this book I was wondering how you'd do anything again – hasn't the nature of the criticism of your last book ballooned your head in such a way that the reader won't help but notice in your next book? Weren't you scared that it would just be compared to that anyways and you'd crumple up your penciled paper in rash frustration? What would this story be about – oh, some dumb pen? I wasn't hoping for much. . . -- Hicksville did a wondrous thing of celebrating comics within a comic about comics. It would have come off as pretentious if it wasn't so ball-swingingly honest with me right from the start. Each chapter of that book has a selected quote from the likes of Ditko or Lee or Tezuka that (sorta) sets up the following chapter. The Magic Pen gives us just two, right at the beginning. One from WB Yeats and one from...Nina Hartley, pornstar. They both concern fantasy, desire and responsibility. I was worried having a full color work would somehow detract from the experience. Hicksville sports a few pages that are so subtle in their wordless artistry that they're completely without peer to me. Not to worry. Dylan has done it again, and I should've recognized this when I got through the first sixty pages and thought the SAME exact thought that I had with Hicksville when I reached that mark: where's the story, man ? See, The Magic Pen 's story comes from real life. Its not in the comic! How are you gonna go and write a comic about something that isn't there, in the book? You start it with a completely self-deprecating and anhedonic tone. Did you know that I, another artist (both less and more failed than yourself), would pull back and lower my expectations? Did you know that I would pity you going into this world(s), seemingly distracted from its own McGuffin for much of its 200 pages? How responsible am I for my fantasies? seems to be the question of this comic. Without saying too much, it both celebrates and critiques fantasy in ways too numerous to count. The Japanese girl with rocket boots and an adorable book bag that burps and noms comics. A tree of literal life and homely retreat and a Martian ravine of adorable, rideable over-sized eyeballs. All of these things show us Horrocks' simple love of comics and the visual medium. And then there's his wife, kids and home life that get pushed to the side when Sam falls inside a comic book. But why set yourself up for failure? Why make the frame of the story so thin and fey its practically not there at all? The plot relies so much on the reader's pathos and determination to re-read that it is no wonder why it took so long to come out (especially after the brilliant but no doubt realistic intro, reminiscent of the intro to Hicksville's rereleased version). Artists get that they're only failures with a couple successes here and there. This book is a xanadu of failures. The female characters are given focus, especially toward the end, when the point is hammered home. Is Horrocks white-knighting his way out of a proper climax? I don't think so. Its an apology for a life of creation ("now, blow") and destructive placation ("Sam sits in front of his computer all day long...keeping the wolf from the door"), but born of guilt it isn't. In maybe the best chapter (in a book full of great chapters) we learn from a golden-age comic heroine about a creator's role in order — now, this is where the artist is holding a mirror to the world. She says the artist wants order in a senseless universe. S/he, the creator, wants... Well, I'll have to leave you to find out what that is for yourself. Sam's character finds out what that is for him and leaves us when that wonderful, glowing sense of the story's arch finally, gloriously raises its head JUST ONCE to eclipse the art itself and tell me, Hey, there's a story after all. Now take responsibility and just breathe.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Beckie Dutcher

    This started out as a magical little adventure tale that weaves together the dull horrors of getting older with the evolution of comics and entertainment. By the end it is a beautiful rumination on creativity, imagination, getting unstuck and loving this life. I'm a sucker for stories within stories, and Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen quite delivered on that front. I enjoyed the earnest examples of how comics can benefit from more progressive views and how Horrocks was able to incorporate that philo This started out as a magical little adventure tale that weaves together the dull horrors of getting older with the evolution of comics and entertainment. By the end it is a beautiful rumination on creativity, imagination, getting unstuck and loving this life. I'm a sucker for stories within stories, and Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen quite delivered on that front. I enjoyed the earnest examples of how comics can benefit from more progressive views and how Horrocks was able to incorporate that philosophy into the book's action. The discussion of the morality of desire was thought-provoking and fascinating. I'll probably be thinking about that for a long time. 4 stars for Miki and Alice alone. One extra for a surprisingly lovely and touching ending.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor Toland

    In this bold and transgressive graphic novel, drawn in a simple, clean style, Dylan Horrocks mixes autobiography and fantasy to relate a poignant journey from depression and artist's block towards a sense of deeper authenticity. Sam Zabel resentfully writes scripts for formulaic superhero stories and can't bring himself to work on his own material. The discovery of a campy 1950s sci-fi comic along the lines of John Carter of Mars leads to him being swept into a series of fantasy worlds. Guided b In this bold and transgressive graphic novel, drawn in a simple, clean style, Dylan Horrocks mixes autobiography and fantasy to relate a poignant journey from depression and artist's block towards a sense of deeper authenticity. Sam Zabel resentfully writes scripts for formulaic superhero stories and can't bring himself to work on his own material. The discovery of a campy 1950s sci-fi comic along the lines of John Carter of Mars leads to him being swept into a series of fantasy worlds. Guided by Miki Roketto, a manic pixie dreamgirl with flying boots, a sentient teddy-bear backpack and black lipstick, Sam explores the true meaning of story through a series invented worlds, many of which are seriously "adult" in nature (in fact, the book should probably be labelled as unsuitable for younger readers). Along for the ride is Alice, a 21-year-old webcomic artist and tumblr enthusiast who rewrites pop-culture into her own Mary-Sue fantasies. It's a strange and often lurid story- seeing a space-alien orgy drawn in the style of Herge really quite something- but there's a moral heart to the story, one put forward in such a heavy handed manner that it's impossible to miss. It's a story about the responsibilities of art, about asking whether fantasy should be held accountable for its influence on culture, and especially whether certain sexual fantasies influence violence in real life. Alice proudly defends her self-insert fanfic as a feminist act in the following quite awe-inspiring speech: "Look- I'm a geek, but I'm also a girl. Fantasy is what I live for. But most of the imaginary worlds I spend my time in were made up by men- often with some pretty icky ideas about women... I've learned to take those imaginary worlds and make them my own- subverting them to serve my fantasies- not theirs." But interestingly, the villain's motive is a dark version of the same thing. He subverts an upbeat children's story into his own vicious, perverse fantasies (Brony?). There are no easy answers here, and the reader is left with the uneasy suggestion that perhaps fantasy itself might be inherently unhealthy. It's a thought-provoking read, and definitely a major addition to the very small canon of New Zealand speculative fiction.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Scott Robins

    Really torn on this one - it tries to recreate the same mysterious, esoteric nature of comic book as in Hicksville but it just doesn't feel as authentic or true. I found the first few chapters of Sam Zabel to feel like a completely different book compared to the rest. There's a lot of great stuff in here but it gets so bogged down and mired in the heavy handed messaging about the nature of writer's block, the responsibility of artists and creators and the nature of graphic fiction itself. I gues Really torn on this one - it tries to recreate the same mysterious, esoteric nature of comic book as in Hicksville but it just doesn't feel as authentic or true. I found the first few chapters of Sam Zabel to feel like a completely different book compared to the rest. There's a lot of great stuff in here but it gets so bogged down and mired in the heavy handed messaging about the nature of writer's block, the responsibility of artists and creators and the nature of graphic fiction itself. I guess considering how much I LOVE Hicksville, maybe my expectations were too high for this. I think this is really a 2.5 stars for me.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I had just finished reading Horrocks Hicksville when I found out this book was just recently released after a long period of inactivity. I really enjoyed the artwork and the fast paced adventure. The message was a little obvious though, and felt forced. I would have preferred more emphasis on Horrocks' lack of happiness. I had just finished reading Horrocks Hicksville when I found out this book was just recently released after a long period of inactivity. I really enjoyed the artwork and the fast paced adventure. The message was a little obvious though, and felt forced. I would have preferred more emphasis on Horrocks' lack of happiness.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I liked the tone, which seemed quite personal and unaffected. Unfortunately, the art didn't really work for me, and although I thought the issues were interesting, no new-to-me ground was covered. I liked the tone, which seemed quite personal and unaffected. Unfortunately, the art didn't really work for me, and although I thought the issues were interesting, no new-to-me ground was covered.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eric T. Voigt

    Kind of had me freaked out for a bit with all the different worlds being dipped into one after another, but the message of the graphic novel was entirely benevolent, so being scared was worth the while.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lara Mi

    I will start this off by saying: too much sex and naked women. Although I used to work in a comic store, my love for Western comics is very limited. Not to say that I find them any less good than other types of comics or storytelling. But they, quite simply, do not appeal to me. So as unfortunate as it is, my English Literature paper at university saw the need to include a graphic novel. Sam Zabel is a cartoonist, one with a major block. Unable to appreciate his work any longer he finds that what I will start this off by saying: too much sex and naked women. Although I used to work in a comic store, my love for Western comics is very limited. Not to say that I find them any less good than other types of comics or storytelling. But they, quite simply, do not appeal to me. So as unfortunate as it is, my English Literature paper at university saw the need to include a graphic novel. Sam Zabel is a cartoonist, one with a major block. Unable to appreciate his work any longer he finds that what he lacks is some fun in his life. Upon sneezing into an old comic, he finds himself thrown into the world of the comic itself. It appears he can jump from one comic into another and starts exploring comics of various genres with his new found friends Miki and Alice. The basic story is actually quite nice and could have been a very fun ride. But while Sam Zabel visits comics of very different genres, they all have one thing in common: they all offer ‘fun’. In most scenarios, we have female characters throwing themselves on Sam and trying to please him. In some cases, it ends up in a whole group sex scene. Even if Sam is not involved, there are sure to be some characters in the background who are. What is this supposed to say about comics? Do all of them have sexual themes? Are they meant to be jokes? If it would have been included in one of the comics – fine. But all of them? Then there is my issue with Miki. From the moment the character Miki appeared I was convinced that she represents a stereotypical manga figure. Throughout the book, I just could not figure out: was this a homage to manga or was the author having a go at it? It was made very clear at the end that Miki was indeed a manga character and her comic... Of course, her comic turns out to be hentai – what else? If it were the story alone, I would probably give it a 1-star rating. The good thing about comics, though, is that there is also the graphic aspect. While the art does not appeal to me personally, it is a solid and clean style – I liked the vibrant colours.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Derek Royal

    While I appreciated more Horrocks's previous book, Hicksville, I very much like where he's going in this recent work. This plays off many of the characters and situations established in the earlier graphic novel -- or his original Pickle series -- and I'm wondering how connected these two books really are...and along with that, if this is a narrative world that the author plans to revisit again. If we read Sam Zabel as a fictional version of Horrocks, and if Zabel is also a character in a fictio While I appreciated more Horrocks's previous book, Hicksville, I very much like where he's going in this recent work. This plays off many of the characters and situations established in the earlier graphic novel -- or his original Pickle series -- and I'm wondering how connected these two books really are...and along with that, if this is a narrative world that the author plans to revisit again. If we read Sam Zabel as a fictional version of Horrocks, and if Zabel is also a character in a fictional world as found in Hicksville, then the metafictional possibilities are greater than any surface reading might suggest. In many ways, Horrocks's comics are about comics, the history of comics, and the act of creating comics. We're interview the author on an upcoming episode of the podcast.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    I love the art in this book so much.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michael Scott

    INFO: meta-comic about the pleasures and difficulties of making comics. Imagination and exploration meet societal norms and moral debates. PROs: +++ Interesting story and topic. The story is ostensibly about Sam's struggle with creativity, which he has forsaken for *gasp* money. Sam dreams of making great cartoons, and has even made one, but now he's stuck cartooning for hire and lost his creativity. His family is supportive, but he's unable to live with himself. The topic? Not redemption throug INFO: meta-comic about the pleasures and difficulties of making comics. Imagination and exploration meet societal norms and moral debates. PROs: +++ Interesting story and topic. The story is ostensibly about Sam's struggle with creativity, which he has forsaken for *gasp* money. Sam dreams of making great cartoons, and has even made one, but now he's stuck cartooning for hire and lost his creativity. His family is supportive, but he's unable to live with himself. The topic? Not redemption through creative struggle, but the depiction of women in cartoons. +++ High quality cartooning. +++ Common trope - the wish for effortless success in one's professional life - and makes me think of Scott McCloud's The Sculptor. CONs: --- The cartoonist appears at first in the middle of a life crisis, but the resolution does not arrive through his own merit or even his own struggle. --- The introduction of the moral debate seems forced and robs the main character of his day in the spotlight. Instead, Sam becomes the side-kick to another story and his topic becomes subsumed to another. --- The book lacks a debate. Would have been interesting to see Sam Zabel discuss the same topics of depiction with, say, Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb. (Let alone the je m'en fous attitude of Moëbius.) --- The gratuitous use of women as erotic objects is exemplified in this work in several instances, starting with section 2, where Lady Night takes initiative as Sam's wet dream. Perhaps one would have been sufficient?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Murphy

    This was an engaging story with an important message, but I was unable to fully enjoy it for one reason in particular. When creating stories that detail sexual abuse and exploitation, specifically ones told through a visual medium, there is a vague line I believe the author needs to consciously avoid crossing for their work to not read as aggressive and exploitative in itself. Unfortunately this line almost seemed to be leaped over, especially during one of the last chapters of the book. If sexu This was an engaging story with an important message, but I was unable to fully enjoy it for one reason in particular. When creating stories that detail sexual abuse and exploitation, specifically ones told through a visual medium, there is a vague line I believe the author needs to consciously avoid crossing for their work to not read as aggressive and exploitative in itself. Unfortunately this line almost seemed to be leaped over, especially during one of the last chapters of the book. If sexual abuse depictions trigger you this is probably not something you could feel comfortable reading, which is a shame since the narrative did have many moments that existed to call out male cartoonists who create horrifyingly misogynistic and distorted works of fiction to satisfy their own 'private' fantasies. That being said I still appreciate the sentiment of this work, and hope it opens a dialogue that will impact readers to grapple with their own fantasies and the way fiction inevitably influences the real world around them.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This was a fun, quick read. Sam Zabel is a cartoonist, who has been in a creative slump for a while and is depressed. He stumbles into a fantasy world of comics, meeting new characters and exploring many issues related to comics and life. This is definitely a graphic novel for adults, due to minor nudity and sexual content. What I found interesting is the exploration and discussion of how women have been treated in comics, comparing and contrasting earlier comics from the 50's to modern comics. This was a fun, quick read. Sam Zabel is a cartoonist, who has been in a creative slump for a while and is depressed. He stumbles into a fantasy world of comics, meeting new characters and exploring many issues related to comics and life. This is definitely a graphic novel for adults, due to minor nudity and sexual content. What I found interesting is the exploration and discussion of how women have been treated in comics, comparing and contrasting earlier comics from the 50's to modern comics. There is also some humor and good natured fun along the way. Similar to Sam Zabel, I have been in a slump in terms of drawing. This book actually motivated me to start drawing again! I enjoyed this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Martinez

    This is the first Dylan Horrocks book I have read, and I am interested to read more. I read this right after reading Joe Ollmann's "Mid-Life," which are both "family dude cartoonist mid-life crisis" graphic novels. Although this one is not autobiographical it definitely has the air of "I'm in a rut and out of ideas, let that be my idea". I don't often get into fantasy, and this is no exception; the idea of a magic pen whose markings can "take you there if you breathe on them" is a good one that' This is the first Dylan Horrocks book I have read, and I am interested to read more. I read this right after reading Joe Ollmann's "Mid-Life," which are both "family dude cartoonist mid-life crisis" graphic novels. Although this one is not autobiographical it definitely has the air of "I'm in a rut and out of ideas, let that be my idea". I don't often get into fantasy, and this is no exception; the idea of a magic pen whose markings can "take you there if you breathe on them" is a good one that's just not for me. The "team effort" story and the "just drawn that way" character are nods to trying to shake the male gaze. There is an orgy-type scene that is interesting to look at, but overall I'm more interested now in the stories that Horrocks is apparently most known for.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Conner

    An interesting story about a man with a magic pen to insert himself into past stories written with this pen. While it is an inspirational story, it’s not nearly the impact I expected. It’s far more along the lines of a cute and funny story that is surprisingly graphic(nudity) I was wary of the possibility of sexism being portrayed here, but that was shut down about halfway through, which was a welcomed moment. Overall, quite good, but not exactly what I was expecting.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Juniper Nichols

    More accessible than Hicksville, and possibly his masterpiece. Dealing with themes of creative inspiration and the morality of fantasy, I wish everyone who creates or enjoys entertainment would read this. In other words, everyone! The Magic Pen adeptly balances philosophy and fun. I wasn’t surprised to see Horrocks thank Scott McCloud, Alison Bechdel, and Craig Thompson in the credits, because those are precisely the creators this book reminded me of. Lightly autobiographical, Horrocks has clearl More accessible than Hicksville, and possibly his masterpiece. Dealing with themes of creative inspiration and the morality of fantasy, I wish everyone who creates or enjoys entertainment would read this. In other words, everyone! The Magic Pen adeptly balances philosophy and fun. I wasn’t surprised to see Horrocks thank Scott McCloud, Alison Bechdel, and Craig Thompson in the credits, because those are precisely the creators this book reminded me of. Lightly autobiographical, Horrocks has clearly put a lot of life lessons into this book. The copious references to New Zealand classic comics and kiwiana in general were the cherry on top for me, a newcomer to Aotearoa. :-)

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy Jones

    This is sublime. Dylan Horrocks delivers a near perfect look at creative malaise. Reminiscent of Chabon's Adventures of Cavalier and Clay. I only discovered Horrocks a few years ago through From Earths End and Hicksville. Makes me want to go back and read Hicksville and I will definitely read this again This is sublime. Dylan Horrocks delivers a near perfect look at creative malaise. Reminiscent of Chabon's Adventures of Cavalier and Clay. I only discovered Horrocks a few years ago through From Earths End and Hicksville. Makes me want to go back and read Hicksville and I will definitely read this again

  22. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Grace

    what? an exploration of a comix bro going through an artistic crisis that.............................actually has something to say? to me? i didn't think it was possible either but I really liked this ride. what? an exploration of a comix bro going through an artistic crisis that.............................actually has something to say? to me? i didn't think it was possible either but I really liked this ride.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kierah

    This book is a reflection on the power and consequence of visualizing personal fantasy, and the theoretical impact it can have, bad or good, on both the audience and the author. A thoughtful and impactful read for anyone in the creative arts.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    A funny take on writer's block. Feminist and full of local New Zealand connections. A funny take on writer's block. Feminist and full of local New Zealand connections.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David Thomas

    An author with writer's block discovers that he can travel into stories written with a magic pen. He goes on some adventures, meet some new friends, and overcomes his writer's block. Not bad. An author with writer's block discovers that he can travel into stories written with a magic pen. He goes on some adventures, meet some new friends, and overcomes his writer's block. Not bad.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    Dylan Horrocks never disappoints.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Perhaps an unfair comparison, but I didn't like this nearly as much as Hicksville. Nice colour and gorgeous line, but there is so much less depth to the story and the characters. Perhaps an unfair comparison, but I didn't like this nearly as much as Hicksville. Nice colour and gorgeous line, but there is so much less depth to the story and the characters.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    I loved this just as much as I absolutely hated it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Delaney

    The graphics are plain and realistic. A quick, enjoyable read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    I didn't particularly like/get the ending but other than that it was pretty good. Illustrations were excellent I didn't particularly like/get the ending but other than that it was pretty good. Illustrations were excellent

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