Michael Avolio's sci-fi war story romance webcomic
Michael Avolio

"Somewhere out there are people who need to hear a story you're uniquely able to tell. Art by others, even better art, won't do; only yours."
- Jesse Hamm


I'm inspired by the craft on display in the Last Man comic series so far (not to be confused with Y: The Last Man). I've only read volume one at this point, which is about 200 pages but is a lightning-fast read, and there are five volumes translated into English so far from a total of twelve volumes planned. It's made by comic creators Balak, Michaël Sanlaville, and Bastien Vivès, all of whom are French, but the work doesn't show signs of being influenced by the major French cartoonists (Moebius, Lewis Trondheim, David B., and the like).

Last Man is obviously influenced by Japanese manga, in presentation — manga tends to be serialized in small black and white episodes in weekly anthologies alongside other comics aimed at the same demographic and later packaged in volumes of about 200 pages, whereas a standard French comic is released in a full-color album of 48 pages or so — and in content — Last Man is a simple action/adventure story about a young boy and a mysterious outsider who enter a fighting tournament in a land of magic and video-game-like "special moves", which is just the sort of thing Japanese cartoonists make for young boys. (In Japan, comics are much more widespread, so they have comics aimed at all kinds of different demographics, the same way we in the U.S. have TV shows for any demographic you could name.)

What impresses me about Last Man is how smoothly it reads, with elegantly-conveyed movement, expression, and gesture. I'm excited to read the rest and explore other comics by Vivès (it seems he's the only one of them with prior comics experience; the other two have backgrounds in animation and video games, respectively, which makes sense when you think about the illustrated movement and the story itself).

I snapped a few quick photos of Last Man pages and posted them over on my Mutineer Studio Facebook page, if you'd like to take a look.

I love the approach of combining different influences. Cartoonists like Paul Pope (from the U.S.) and Taiyō Matsumoto (from Japan) are considered by some to be "international cartoonists", because they combine facets of comics from the United States, Europe, and Japan. That's something that's a goal for me in my own comic work — pulling from other countries' comics as well as adapting techniques from other media like film, theater, and prose. Learning from everyone and everywhere. Absorbing and hybridizing.


The movie High-Rise drops you immediately and offhandedly into absurdity. The idea of giving you a barrage of unexplained but interconnected snippets of scenes for the first couple minutes before moving the narrative back three months into more recognizable and digestible territory is a disorienting masterstroke — it feels like you've missed a prologue, or maybe even the first reel. My understanding is that the book does the same trick.

High-Rise is adapted from J.G. Ballard's novel by, surprisingly enough, a married couple — screenwriter Amy Jump and director Ben Wheatley. They chose to set the film in the era the novel was written instead of adapting it to modern day, so the movie reads like an alternate universe 1975. I've not read Ballard, but the other film I've seen adapted from his work, David Cronenberg's 1996 film Crash (not to be confused with Paul Haggis' 2004 movie of the same name) is weird, sexual, and dark. High-Rise gets even stranger. There's a unique, idiosyncratic voice to the film that reminds me a bit of Peter Greenaway, with a dark but detached and straight-faced comedic tone, an eclectic pace, and a hint of Steven Soderbergh in the shooting and editing. There's also some social commentary in there for anyone interested in finding it, but it can also be taken more as surrealism than allegory.

The many montage sequences peppered throughout High-Rise are impressively bold. Classical music contrasts with mayhem and its aftermath in a way I haven't seen done this well since Lecter's escape attempt in Silence of the Lambs. The acting performances are strong across the board, which is additionally difficult in a movie with such a different tone. This is the first time I've seen Tom Hiddleston in anything besides his brief appearance as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, and he did a commendable job. And it's always good to see the nuanced Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men and the dangerous Jeremy Irons. 

Overall, High-Rise is more for fans of Ballard and similar source material — it's definitely not something that will appeal to a broad audience. If you prefer Cronenberg's Crash over Haggis', this is a movie for you. If not, then it probably isn't.


The other night I realized one of my favorite Wes Anderson films, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is sorta about a knight and his squire. Gustave H., played by Ralph Fiennes, is a man who lives by a specific and arguably outdated code, and he it teaches to his lobby boy, Zero. The film's conflict is between those who live by that code and those who don't. You could say that the theme of the film has something to do with that contrast — living by a code that the world doesn't appreciate, that's perhaps been passed by because it's outdated or because the world has become less moral (as is the case in the film, when the characters symbolizing Nazis take over).

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a technical marvel and a charming and exciting story about an unlikely friendship, with hilarious comedy and moving tragedy and excellent filmmaking all around... but beyond all that I couldn't previously articulate why that film affected me so deeply on an emotional level. But I think that's it; I identify and empathize strongly with people who have the self-discipline and purity of spirit to live by a code that way, whether it's knights or monks or samurai or cops who don't give in to corruption or what have you.

There's a book on The Grand Budapest Hotel written and compiled by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz, the guy who put together The Wes Anderson Collection, a book packed with info on all the Wes Anderson films prior to The Grand Budapest Hotel. I'm looking forward to seeing if Anderson mentions the idea of chivalry or Gustave H. as a knight in the interviews in the Grand Budapest Hotel book when I eventually get it...


I got to see some pages of Joshua W. Cotter's graphic novel Nod Away last year at the Small Press Expo, the indie comic convention held in Bethesda that I attend every year, so I was looking forward to reading the whole thing. Part of Nod Away is a fairly straightforward science fiction story about a scientist coming to work on a space station and being helped or distracted by the people around her, and part of it is... harder to describe. Cotter's previous graphic novel, Driven by Lemons, may be the most avant-garde comic I've ever read, a virtuoso piece that appeals to an extremely limited audience (of which I'm a member, despite not usually liking art so difficult to comprehend). Nod Away is far easier to digest than Driven by Lemons, but it still includes some challenging flourishes and whole avant-garde sections.

I love how the medium of comics is big enough to contain the avant-garde, all kinds of Japanese manga, French BD, literary comics, genre comics of various types (crime, western, romance, action, superhero), comic strips in the newspaper or online, auto-bio and non-fiction comics... There's more high-quality comics work in print in the US now than ever before; there's a large amount of great comics being produced, and some older work that's being reprinted or translated into English for the first time. This is an exciting time for comics.


My first comic, Flesh Machine, a science fiction piece about a young woman leaving her home planet for the first time during intergalactic war, is still being serialized in weekly installments on I post new pages every Tuesday, and today I posted pages 112-114. If you're enjoying it, you can help me by spreading the word to others you think may also like it.

Thank you for reading,

Michael Avolio

"The art in Flesh Machine is deceptively simple, with a hint of Mike Mignola influence, but this comic is one cool science fiction story for older readers. Once you start reading Flesh Machine, it is easy to get warped right into this mysterious and provocative universe."
- Farel Dalrymple
(Pop Gun War, NY Times bestseller The Wrenchies)

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