Thursday, June 29, 2006

Review: The Left Bank Gang

The Left Bank Gang
By Jason
Published by Fantagraphics, US$12.95

Norwegian artist, Jason, is one of those artists whose work stands by itself. Using anthromorphic characters that loosely resemble ducks, rabbits, cats and dogs, Jason's themes and stories are more human than many of his contemporaries. His latest book is an odd alternative history starring four literary giants - Hemingway, Joyce, Pound and Fitzgerald, re-casting them as struggling cartoonists. The four of them, as they may have in real life, spend significant amounts of time together in Parisian cafes, lamenting their poor artists' lifestyle, and discussing techniques and story ideas. The first half of the story really establishes these characters, taking many of their famous personality traits - Fitzgerald's excessive drinking and tumultuous marriage, Hemingway's love of bullfighting - and setting the stage for the second half of the book, when the actual conflict is introduced.

That conflict, which will resonate with just about everyone whose ever worked as a cartoonist, is a scheme to somehow get some money and break the endless poverty. Hemingway hatches the plot to commit a robbery, and it's at that point when Jason's own superb storytelling skills really shine. Through a series of interrelated scenes, one from each of the main characters' perspectives, we learn that what really happened is never what each of the characters, nor the reader thought. Jason delivers one twist after another, most of which are woven together with clever visual clues like the falling newspaper clippings that Fitzgerald encounters, or the phone call that Zelda receives.

It's also interesting to see how Jason works many of his own artistic experiences into the story. For example, at one point Hemingway, at work in his studio, proclaims to Fitzgerald, "I never got the hang of the brush," defending his use of pen and ink. Later, Hemingway takes coffee at Gertrude Stein's house, only to be barraged by a litany of questionable advice, including "avoid narrative captions" and "never, ever write 'a little later'" in your panels, which, of course, Jason does in the last panel on the very same page.

Artistically, Jason's art is consistent with his previous works. His clear line is expressive, and adds enough detail without suffocating the page with overly drawn backgrounds (Joyce, at one point, proclaims to Fitzgerald "you've got to leave some white space, for Chrissake. Let the page breath!"). And while I've enjoyed his black and white art in the past, Hubert's colors add a richness and depth that really make this story come to life on the page.

Jason's choice of characters is more than simply an homage to his favorite writers. Like these authors, he integrates certain literary devices (foreshadowing, humor, plot twists, etc.) into his stories and combines them with his already honed sense of dialogue and pacing. The Left Bank Gang is definitely a good read and if you've enjoyed any of Jason's work in the past, you won't be disappointed. While I wouldn't call this my favorite book by Jason (that honor is still reserved for Hey, Wait), I would say that this is probably his best work since Shhhhh.

Grade: 4/5

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Coming Soon: The Top 26 Books Shipping in July

Looks like July's going to be another good month. Here are the books I'm most looking forward to, or am just plain curious about...

The Adventures of Carrie Giver #1 - while I admit this is a longshot, the publisher's claims that this new female superhero book was created to "challenge ideas about mothers and other caregivers in our political, social, and economic life" certainly sounds intriguing. And the Neal Adams cover doesn't hurt either. Published by TR Associates.

All Star Superman #5 - is there anybody out there whose NOT reading this book?

Andru and Esposito: Partners for Life - this looks like a pretty good biographical retrospective book focusing on Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, two of the giants of early mainstream superhero comics.

Baobab #2 - the first issue was a thing of beauty, though it offered so little story, it was hard to take much away other than an aesthetic reaction. I'm hoping the second volume gives this story a little more context.

Batman #655 - Grant Morrison's first issue with artist Andy Kubert. Should be a big hit, regardless of quality, but I'm optimistic, given Morrison's run on All Star Superman that this will far surpass Miller's All Star Batman and Robin series.

Bluesman vol. 3 - this third and final volume of the excellent series about, well, a bluesman from the early days of American blues music. Rob Vollmar's script is original and deeply human. Among the best and most ambitious graphic novels in recent memory.

The Building Opposite - A new book from Fanfare/Ponent Mon is always worth checking out. This one, by Japanese artist Vanyda, is described as "a delightful 'slice of life' view of the occupants of a regular 3-story apartment block and their interactions in daily life." Check out the 4 page preview here.

Cancer Vixen - it seems like every few weeks someone publishes a "my experiences with cancer" book. There was Brian Fies excellent (and Eisner winning) Mom's Cancer, then came Miriam Engelberg's breast cancer memoir, Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person. Now we have Marisa Acocella Marchetto's Cancer Vixen, whose tagline, "cancer, I am going to kick your ass, and I'm gonna do it in killer four inch heels" seems, well, kind of trite I guess. I'm sure this book can and hopefully will serve as an inspiration to those who suffer from cancer, but personally I'm a little fatigued with these personal therapy journals.

Castle Waiting vol. II #1 - I'm not clear if this is reprinting the old Cartoon Books series, or if this is new stuff, but if its new, this is definitely on my list.

Daredevil #87 - Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark's run on this title has so far been outstanding. Could be the beginning of a classic in the making.

Detective Comics #821 - First issue by new creative team Paul Dini and J.H. Williams III. I'm undecided about this one. While I have no doubt that Williams' art will be stunning, I may go with Grant Morrison's Batman instead.

Drawn and Quarterly Showcase vol. 4 - this issue, which is starting to feel like D&Q's version of Mome, features Gabrielle Bell, Daniel Zettwoch and Martin Cendreda. While this latest volume lacks that unknown artist discovery that previous volumes offered, the lineup is nevertheless impressive.

Escapists #1 - if you haven't read Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay yet, then forget everything else on this list and go check it out. This new series focuses on Chabon's fictional character, The Escapist, and is written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Phillip Bond. Also, if I'm reading this right, the first issue is only $1.00?

Gumby #1 - I know this sounds crazy, but this book is illustrated by Rick Geary (Tales of Victorian Murder) and written by Bob Burden (Flaming Carrot). The preview pages over at the Great Curve actually look pretty good in that light-hearted, "all ages" sense. Could go either way, but its at least worth a look.

I Am Going to be Small - by now you know if you like Jeffrey Brown's autobiographical comics or not. However regardless of what you think, this is a vastly different type of project for Brown - a collection of "subversive, laugh out loud...gag cartoons." Interestingly, this book is 384 pages but small enough to fit in your pocket. I'm looking forward to seeing Brown do something different than his straight forward relationship stuff, and have high hopes for this collection.

Kramer's Ergot volume 6 HC - probably the most anticipated book this month is this anthology from Buenaventura Press. Volume 5 was outstanding both in terms of production and content, and from what little I've seen online, this one looks just as good. You've probably seen it by now, but there's a very good preview here.

The Left Bank Gang GN - a new graphic novel by Jason is always something to celebrate, especially when its in color as this one is. I already have this (got it at MoCCA) and I can tell you it's outstanding.

Niger #1 - another of Fantagraphics outstanding Ignatz titles, this one is done entirely in woodcuts by Nigerian artist Leila Marzocchi. Described as "a fascinating ecological fable...follows the life of a strange new being named "Pupa" born in the depth of a lake. Wandering about the surface among other creatures, she takes refuge in a glass and falls asleep. Some birds, curious for the event, organize themselves to protect this small, weak, creature to allow her to grow up."

Reflections #1 - I'm not sure if this will actually ship in July, though Fantagraphics website still lists it as "arriving in July," along with Niger and Baobab #2. At any rate, this is also an Ignatz book by newcomer (at least in America) Marco Corona, about a woman named Miranda's quietly dysfunctional life.

Sloth HC - new original graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez. From Vertigo. What more do you need to know?

Sudden Gravity TP - I reviewed this series way back when it first came out from Caliber. Most people were never able to read it given the difficulties in finding all 5 issues, and those who were may have found the story frustratingly cryptic, in that David Lynch sense. Now Dark Horse is collecting the entire series, and according to artist Greg Ruth, the script was rewritten to make more sense.

I know some of the Ignatz books that were due earlier are shipping in July, including David B.'s Babel #2, Matt Broersma's Insomnia #2 and Gipi's Wish You Were Here #2: They Found The Car. It also looks like Dan Clowes' latest reprint collection, Pussey!, and Anders Nilsen's long awaited Monologues For the Coming Plague are also listed on Fantagraphics' website, so those will probably also show up in July at some point.

So there you go. Did I forget anything?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Love & Rockets #3

My latest Shelf Life column is now up at Sequart. This one focuses on Love & Rockets #3, which includes Gilbert's very first Palomar story, "Sopa de Gran Pena (Heartbreak Soup)," as well as a couple great short stories by Jaime, including "Toyo's Request." This column's a little shorter than the last two, and also includes a scan of the awesome back cover by Jaime. I'm hoping to increase the frequency of these as my schedule frees up a little over the summer, and the issues drop from 64 to 32 pages each starting with #5. As always, let me know what you think about this project - good, bad, or otherwise.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Anybody in St. Louis want to buy some comics?

Well, it was bound to happen sometime.

My parents, in a rare pleasant chat on Father’s Day, informed me that they are selling the house in St. Louis. This is not only the house I grew up in, but it’s also where the vast majority of my comic book collection resides. That collection, which spans my first twenty-four years or so (I’m 33 now) comprises 4 large file cabinets full of comics (and by large, I mean the kind you see in dentists' offices) as well as about 20-25 long boxes.

Now I live in NYC. I have a fair-sized collection in my small two bedroom apartment, though it’s much more reasonable, along the lines of about 8 boxes and a bookshelf full of graphic novels. It feels like a lot, but that’s due more to space restrictions. There’s no way I can fit all those comics in my apartment. Not if I want to stay married anyway.

My dad basically told me, 'I don’t care what you do with them, but they gotta go.' So, I’m faced with a decision I’ve known I would have to make sooner or later, but thought I wouldn’t have to think about for many years. Do I unload most of these books on some local comic shops in St. Louis? I doubt most shops would even take most of this stuff. Do I try to buy some temporary storage? Seems like a waste of money. Do I ship them back to NYC? I can’t even guess how expensive that would be. Or should I try to E-Bay them and see what I can get?

Just to go through my collection and try to sort out what’s worth keeping and what’s not is going to be a monumental task. While the books in the file cabinets are pretty well organized, the boxes are anybody’s guess. I know there’s bound to be a lot of crap, stuff that I was into as a child that I no longer need or want. For example, I know I have a ton of Ultraverse stuff from Malibu (remember George Perez's Ultraforce?) That can probably go, but who would want it? And I have tons of old Vertigo stuff, too, including a full run of the Sandman.

Not surprisingly I also have tons of Marvel and DC 80s and 90s superhero runs. There’s my complete run of Peter David’s Hulk. That’s an entire box right there. I’d love to re-read that someday, but will I ever actually do it? And what about all those Todd McFarlane Spider-Man books? Or Jim Lee’s X-Men? They were great at the time, but do I really need to hold onto them? And what about all those Marvel Team-Ups I used to love as a kid? I must have at least half of the series. Are those worth anything now?

So I don’t know. Maybe it’s good to just let all this stuff go. Like letting go of the past and moving on and all that. But I have this sinking feeling that I’m going to regret it someday if I get rid of all this stuff. Not because it’ll be worth money, since for the most part, it probably won’t, but rather because these comics, in their way, tell the story of my life. I’ve been collecting since before I could read.

Oh well. I’ll be in St. Louis in July, so I guess I’ll figure it out then.

Friday, June 16, 2006

MoCCA Mini-Interview: Neil Kleid

Marc Sobel: I'm here with writer Neil Kleid on Saturday at the MoCCA festival in New York. Neil, tell me what you're working on these days.

Neil Kleid: I'm actually working with Jake Allen, the artist on Brownsville, on several projects. First we have a short story in Jason Rodriguez' Postcards anthology coming out, I think by next year's convention season. And then Jake and I are working on our next historical graphic novel called Dead Ronin, which is the story of an exiled samurai in 1909 that emigrates to San Francisco and ends up getting involved in the waterfront gangs and starting a gang of his own, so it's gonna be about the same size as Brownsville, about 200 pages, and hopefully hardcover but we don't have a publisher for it yet. So we're working on it.

MS: Is this also based on historical research or is this more of a fiction?

NK: It's a little bit of both. It's based on a lot of historical research as far as what was going on in San Francisco at the time. It's based on the fact that, first of all, the Japanese dynasties were ending around the turn of the century and a lot of immigrants were coming from Japan, China and Mongolia to America and a lot of them moved to San Francisco where they could start working in the mines and taking over a lot of jobs that Americans were working on. Eventually the United States government started the Asian American Act which meant that they had to come in here and have certain papers otherwise they would be imprisoned and San Francisco started something called Angel Island which was a prision that was for Orientals and Asian Americans at the time, so it was before Chinatown really got off the ground and it was about this struggling community trying to really make its own place against a city that really hated them. So when you drop a samurai in there, who is very proud of his culture and proud of where he comes from, it doesn't always go so well.

MS: Have you and Jake travelled out to San Francisco to do any research and take photos at all?

NK: Jake is actually going to San Francisco to do some research. I mean, with Brownsville, we worked from photo reference mostly, stuff that we found online, stuff that we found in books. I am hoping to travel out to San Francisco this year and take a bunch of shots as well, but with the Japan scenes, we're not going to Japan. But we try not to guess when we're doing something that actually is based on real places and real events. We really go and find the research and you know a lot of the scenes that are in Brownsville - the scenes at the Loew's Theater and Pitkin Avenue, the scene with the diner shop they went to - these were actually from photos that we found so we're trying to work the same way as we did with Brownsville but with an entirely different coast.

MS: Great. Neil, thank you very much.

Coming Next: D&Q Publisher Chris Oliveros.

The Ten Commandments

Check out this Stephen Colbert interview with the Congressman who sponsored the bill to display the 10 commandments in Congress. Pretty good stuff.

Monday, June 12, 2006

MoCCA 2006 - Day Two

Day Two was much more subdued, no doubt from the partying from the previous night. Still, the main convention room seemed to hold the same level of energy and enthusiasm of the previous night, though the crowds were definitely thinner.

I had promised Rachel I wouldn't buy too much more, given how ridiculously large my reading pile has become, but after one more walkthrough of the room, I ended with two full bags of new stuff. Two of the most exciting books I picked up were an advance copy of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, which I can't wait to read (it was featured in this week's Time Out Magazine), and Jason's new graphic novel, The Left Bank Gang. Not only is any new Jason book a treat, but this one is once again colored by Hubert (who also colored Why Are You Doing This?).

And of course, I also ended up getting a bunch more mini-comics. I won't list them all here, but I'll just mention a few of the highlights which included Jesse Reklaw's new issue of Couch Tag (#3), Jamie Tanner's latest, called simply Mine, Cool Name Pending (or at least I think that's the title), a nice looking collection of short stories by newcomer Julia Durgee, and Pater Contrarius, an older silent mini comic by C. Malkasian, who I'm told has a graphic novel coming out from Fantagraphics in 2007.

I also noticed this year (and maybe this was the case in years past and I just missed it, but it really stood out to me this year) that many creators are really experimenting with the formal elements of design, packaging and production. I saw comics with hardwood covers selling for $60, while other comics were designed to fold out into three dimensional cubes. Comics were sold in brown paper bags with sketches all around. Many of the mini-comics sported brightly colored silkscreened covers, while others were bound together with rubber bands and even, in one case, shoelaces. There were creators selling comics in wax sealed envelopes, manilla folders, halloween candy bags and even origami shapes. I even saw creators banding together to sell packages of minis together in 'box sets" (which was a great idea). It's a very interesting trend, in which the book itself becomes an art object, rather than simply a comic book. I know there are some creators who have been doing this for a while (Eleanor Davis comes to mind) but seeing so many variations in one place at one time really stood out to me.

So what else?

Bries Press is a company with dozens of gorgeous books just begging to be translated into English. Anybody who remembers Philip Paquet's incredible adaptation of Louis Armstrong's autobiography (perhaps the best biography in comics?), would be very impressed with the creator's new book, Yume. Unfortunately, the book is only available in Dutch, and the publisher has no plans to translate it anytime soon.

After a long chat with some very cool guys who are currently enrolled at The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, I learned about several interesting biography projects forthcoming from Hyperion Books, including:

Maybe I just missed the news on these (which is entirely possible) but this was the first I'd heard about any of these three projects and as you can imagine, I was very excited.

Another item to look forward to is the Big Questions collected edition by Anders Nilsen. According to Drawn and Quarterly, Nilsen has two more issues to finish the story, and then a hardcover collected edition, which will include the long out of print first six minis as well as the Drawn and Quarterly issues which started with #7, is due sometime in 2008. Like most people, I've only read the D&Q issues, which are stunning to say the least, so this is definitely something to look forward to.

Finally, exhausted, and once again loaded down under the weight of my new comics, I decided to attend Dan Nadel's slide show about his new book, Art Out of Time. The slide show was a great introduction to his book, but I felt like a few members of the audience were pretty disrespectful. If you don't share Nadel's appreciation for these obscure strips, that's fine, but it's rude to sit and make fairly obvious comments mocking the presenter, snickering and laughing under your breath. I'm a fairly laid back guy, but that really pissed me off. To his credit, Nadel either didn't notice, or paid it no attention, and gave a pretty good overview of some of the strips he selected and what he found fascinating about them.

I guess that's it. I think its safe to say the 2006 convention was a great success, and that based on the enthusiasm of the publishers and established creators, as well as the passion and experimentation of the literally hundreds of new cartoonists trying to establish themselves, that the future of comics is definitely bright.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

MoCCA 2006 - Day One

I love MoCCA!!!

I look foward to this show all year long, and it never disappoints. There is such excitement for comics, the feeling is tangible in the room. And there are so many good artists out there. It's really amazing to see how many young, creative, talented artists are self-publishing their work. The whole show has that real grassroots feeling that you can't get at the larger Comic-Cons. And there's no Klingons or Vampirellas wandering around making you feel ashamed to be there. It's just a group of people sharing a love for the artform. Not only do I love seeing all the great mini-comics out there, but I feel inspired to create my own.

So, here are my thoughts, reactions, encounters and impressions from the first day in no particular order:

Though I got a lot of stuff yesterday, the 5 books I ended up reading last night were:
  • Disquietville vol. 1 by Daniel Spottswood - Disquietville definitely uses many of the conventions established by Chris Ware - the tiny panels, the extended pacing, the primary color scheme and even the simple, rounded character designs - yet Spottswood's strips do not have the same desperate sense of loneliness that pervades much of Ware's work. Instead, the characters are everyday artists struggling with balancing relationships, jobs, financial concerns and life in general. They're sweet, funny and charming. My wife also read this book last night and loved it just as much as I did. Highly recommended. You can check out some of his strips online at the link above.
  • Carnival by Stef Lenk - this is an absolutely gorgeous book. Imagine Renee French combined with Thomas Ott, with the color sense of Jon J. Muth and you can sort of get the picture. Carnival is a silent book that follows a young girl wandering through a carnival with her toy heart doll at her side. It's textured, etched, and meticulously crosshatched art make for a very impressive debut.
  • Hung no. 1 and 2 by Shannon Gerard - Shannon Gerard's illustrated poems are not for everyone, but Gerard's definitely an artist to watch. While the first issue, about a woman longing for "the ripe, animal joy" of a past relationship wasn't my favorite, the second issue showed a tremendous step forward in terms of both art and writing. Gerard's art leans more toward the photo-realistic, featuring the artist herself in many of the pages, but shows a great ability to draw figures and facial expressions. Gerard's poetry is also considerably better in the second issue as she explores the pain of breaking up and seeing your ex everywhere. I also particularly enjoyed the "hipster bingo" insert, which is a game meant to be played in an urban setting where everyone is competing to define themselves into certain predefined stereotypical looks.
  • Content #2: Kaleidoscope by Gia-Bao Tran - those who remember G.B. Tran's first Xeric award winning issue of Content, and have been patiently waiting more than two years for new work, will not be disappointed. Tran's second book is outstanding. There is no single story here, but rather several short stories which are woven together with some clever visual transitions and interesting coincidences. Tran proves he is capable of writing both serious, interesting characters (as in the presumably autobiographical tale of his parents escaping from Vietnam) and at the same time, disappearing into his imagination as well (best evidenced by the cell phone sex scene!!!). Tran is one of those creators whose work shows endless passion, and this is definitely one of the best works of the year. I highly encourage you to order it directly from the artist if you can't wait until it ships through Diamond.

Other random thoughts:

- Skyscrapers of the Midwest is a book I clearly overlooked. Thanks to Adhouse publisher Chris Pitzer for turning me onto the book, and to creator Josh Cotter for signing my "yearbook."

- Picturebox Inc. debuted their new Comics Comics magazine, and it's a very interesting project. Presumably meant to compete with Comic Shop News, this is a free, low quality (in terms of the production on newsprint, rather than the content) mini version of the Comics Journal, with some original cartoons by Mark Newgarden and others, as well as a couple of essays and a few pages of reviews. I sincerely hope this does well as it fills a particular niche that no one else has yet.

- Marjane Satrapi's Chickens with Plums, which will be released by Pantheon in October, looks very interesting.

- First Second Books had preview copies of their second wave of books (though they were for looking only, not for sale), including Missouri Boy by Leland Myrick, American Born Chinese by Gene Yang and Klezmer by Joann Sfar. All three looked as outstanding as you would expect.

- Blurred Books had preview copies of their second anthology, Blurred Vision volume 2, and were kind enough to give me a copy. I can tell you that this book is sure to be one of the major indie anthologies of the year, and features new work by Ethan Persoff, Dash Shaw and several others. The book won't hit stores until the Fall, so as it gets closer, I'll post a more detailed review.

- Artist Greg Ruth mentioned that he has completely rewritten his first graphic novel, Sudden Gravity, and that it is "much better." The collected edition of the long out of print (and excellent) Caliber mini-series is due later this year from Dark Horse.

That's all I can think of right now, though I'm sure I'm forgetting a ton of stuff. I'll have another update probably tomorrow. I also conducted a series of spontaneous "1 minute interviews" with many creators, publishers and other kind folks who patiently endured my thrusting a handheld tape recorder in their faces. As the week goes on, I'll be posting these right here, so please check back.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Where Have All the Crack Shots Gone?

Damn it's been a busy week! Not a lot of time to post. I'm working on several things right now, larger scale projects, so I'm probably not going to have time for too many of the smaller Crack Shots style reviews over the next few months or so. But what I'm working on is exciting indeed:

- 14 Days in Sri Lanka - back in December/January my wife and I visited Sri Lanka. It was an amazing and very personal trip on many levels, as we explored Rachel's family history (she is half Sri Lankan), made a Buddhist pilgrimage, and toured the tsunami ravaged coastline. I've been madly working to get the first of a planned six issue photo comic mini-series finished for MoCCA this weekend (which is why no posts this week). I'm pretty happy with how the cover came out, though it looks murky in the scan for some reason. The colors on the actual cover are much sharper.

- I have also arranged a major interview with the writer of one of this year's most noteworthy books. I'm very excited about it, and when it's ready (probably in 3-4 weeks), I hope it'll be great.

- Shelf Life. Maybe I was crazy to commit to this whole Love & Rockets project, but I'm determined to see it through. I know I need to work on shortening the amount of text in each review, so that will be a goal going forward. At this point, I have finished reading the first 4 issues, and am halfway through the review of issue #3. Starting with #5, each issue drops from 64 to 32 pages each, so I'm hoping that over the summer, I can start to fly through this a little more quickly.

- And if all that wasn't enough, I am also very close to finalizing two other mini-comics projects. The first, The Blue Spade, I mentioned a while ago in one of my Crack Shots columns. At that time, we (artist Tim Twelves and I) had 12 pages in the bag, and I thought we might put it out, but after thinking about it more we decided it was better to wait and put out the first issue with a full 24 pages. If I had to guess right now, I'd say The Blue Spade #1 will be out sometime in the Fall.

My other project, however, is very close to being finished. It's a collection of 5-6 poems and a short story, tentatively called A Sudden Rise in Life, illustrated by Leontine Greenberg, a good friend and an unbelievably skilled artist. I'm really excited about this particular book as I think it showcases my best work to date, and Leontine's art is just stunning. Hopefully this will be ready by August.

- Oh yeah, and I'll try to have a MoCCA report sometime this weekend or Monday at the latest.

- And then there's my reading pile. Actually, its more like a mountain as I've fallen way behind. And I haven't even bought any of the First Second books yet. Right now, I have Miriam Katin's We Are On Our Own, Joe Daly's Scrublands, Chad Michael Ward's Autopsyrotica, Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies, The Squirrel Mother Stories by Megan Kelso, Superman: Red Son (got this as a gift), the Blurred Vision anthology, the Attitude vol. 3 The New Subversive Online Cartoonists anthology and the latest Comics Journal with a David B. interview. Not to mention the 8 volumes of Buddha I bought and only read the first one. Or the many ongoing titles I'm at least 6 months behind on (Y: The Last Man, Kabuki, Ex Machina, Detective Comics (still haven't finished David Lapham's story), etc.). Or the pile of schwag I got at Free Comic Book Day of which I've only read a few books.

- As I alluded to last weekend, I am plowing my way through Linda Medley's massive Castle Waiting hardcover graphic novel. I'm about 2/3 of the way through at this point, but I just haven't had time to sit down and focus on it like I'm used to. I plan to do a more in depth review soon. I'm also half way through Dan Nadel's excellent Art Out of Time, which as the title itself promises, presents many great unknown cartoonists.

- I've also got 2-3 stories left in Jonathan Lethem's Men and Cartoons, a short story collection very loosely themed by Lethem's love for old Marvel Comics. Like most short story collections, it's hit or miss, but there are some very good stories here. Not sure if I'll do a review or not, but I do recommend the book for fans of Lethem's writing. I'm definitely looking forward to his Omega the Unknown mini-series from Marvel. Especially since it's illustrated by Faryl Dalrymple!

So as you can see I'm pretty busy these days (actually it looks a lot worse when I list it all out like that), but it's all good stuff and I'm excited about it all. But I do think it's time to take a break and catch my breath before I keep buying more stuff.

Ahh, who am I kidding!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Preview: Comics as Art

In case you haven't heard, Tom Spurgeon's got a new book coming out this summer about the history of Fantagraphics. As perhaps the single most influential publisher in "pushing comix forward," Fantagraphics has worked tirelessly to bring alternative comics to mainstream attention, and is largely (though not solely) responsible for the current renaissance of literate cartooning. The book, cheekily titled Comics as Art: We Told You So, tells the history of the company through a series of interviews with everyone involved in any way with the publisher, including creators, family members and friends. It also features many never before seen documents, early fanzines, sketches, photographs, and other comics ephemera. In short, it looks outstanding, and the first 12 pages are available here. So, as Tom would say...Go, Read!

The Wednesday Forecast - 6/7/2006

Y: The Last Man #46 - I am so behind on this book. I think the last time I checked in, Yorick and his crew were just leaving for Japan in search of Ampersand. Still, I love the concept of this book, and considering that Vaughan is still writing it, I'm still interested. I'll probably do a binge read one weekend in the near future and catch up.

Walking Dead #28 - this title, on the other hand, I read immediately. I haven't loved every issue, but the last two were great, and it's clear to me that Kirkman loves this book as much as his readers do.

Squirrel Mother TP - I actually already have this. Ordered it off of Fantagraphics' website a couple weeks ago, but havent' had the chance to read it yet. I can tell you that it's a beautiful looking book, though. Squirrel Mother collects all of Megan Kelso's short stories (many which were published in various anthologies) into one handsome book. There are also a couple new stories as well. Definitely recommended.

Morlac GN - I previewed this one in my Top 27 for June, and I have to admit I'm really curious to see this book. I know nothing about its creator (Lief Tande) and the few descriptions I've seen online for the story itself sound very intriguing. I have a feeling a lot of comic stores won't have ordered this book, so if you're curious, you can order it online here.

Other books I'll flip through but probably won't get:
  • Grease Monkey HC - I took a quick look at this when I was at Midtown last week. It looks like something I would like, with solid art and a complex, multi-layered story, but probably will pass on right now. Just too much to read, and not enough time and money.
  • Action Philosophers Vol 1 Giant-Sized Thing TP - I also previewed this in my Top 27 books for June. Not sure if I'll end up getting it, given all that I have in my reading pile already, but I think its definitely worth a look.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Waiting for a Hangover Cure

It's Saturday morning and I'm nursing a considerable hangover after two large glasses of port and 3 beers last night. I'm not as young as I used to be, and my tolerance for alcohol is a shadow of my college self. All I want to do is lay in bed and finish Linda Medley's massive Castle Waiting collection, which I'm about half way through at this point. I would trade my left arm to be able to draw like Medley. With such expressive, distinctive and fully realized characters and settings, literally every panel is a delight. I find myself reading the dialogue quickly then, before turning each page, savoring each panel, taking in the many rich details and characters. At 450+ pages, Castle Waiting is worthy of the label "magnum opus," but its interesting how little Medley's style changed over the years it took to finish this book. I have several of the original Olio Press issues and did a quick eyeball test to see how much, if any, of the art Medley reworked for this collection, and was surprised to see that very little was redrawn, other than the usual relettering and removal of credits, etc. Like Charles Burn's, Medley was such an accomplished and talented artist when she began the book, that its consistency makes for a very satisfying read in this collected format. At least so far. I'll hopefully have a full review in the next week or so, once I finish the book, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this sketch I got from Medley at the 1998 Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC. It's one of only 2 sketches I've ever gotten at a comic convention (the other is by Adrian Tomine). But now, I'm gonna pop a couple aspirins and crawl back in bed. Hope you all enjoy your weekends.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Classic Far Side

In honor of tonight's Scripps National Spelling Bee Championship on ABC (8:00 EST).

Review: Dungeon - Twilight vol. 1: Dragon Cemetery

Dungeon - Twilight vol. 1: Dragon Cemetery
By Joann Sfar & Lewis Trondheim
Published by NBM, US$14.95

Maybe this isn't fair, but I feel like everything you need to know about whether or not you'll like this book is in the panel above.

The story follows the Dust King (pictured, center) on a quest to find the fabled Dragon Cemetery. Blind and elderly, the Dust King is aided in his journey by several interesting characters, including Marvin the Red, a smart ass samurai rabbit and a young bat, whose charming naivete is endearing. What follows is a fairly typical plot involving several obstacles overcome, usually with the requisite swordfighting or other violent encounters, with more than a little sarcastic humor and witty banter mixed in.

Where this book excels is its craftsmanship. Both Sfar and Trondheim have the ability to envelop the reader in their unique inner world, where every character, no matter how minor, is a fully realized extension of the two creators' vast imaginations. The panel above is a typical example of the kinds of bizarre creatures that inhabit the Dungeon world, characters that combine anthromorphic and fantasy traits with the goofy humor of Larson's Far Side panels. Sfar and Trondheim, whose styles are so similar it's not always clear who illustrated what, pour themselves into this story filling every panel with an impressive amount of background detail and the digital coloring, while often times overused in lesser books, further enhances the story adding a richness and depth to the artwork, and its colorful cast of characters.

Yet readers looking for the same kind of original and compelling storytelling found in Sfar's classic The Rabbi's Cat may feel a little disappointed. Much of the action is predictable, and though the plot certainly holds together, it's a fairly light story at best, with little subtext or character exploration. In addition, the story ends abruptly, without resolving its many plot threads, presumably meant to entice readers to purchase the second volume, but not as clean a break as one is typically used to at the end of a chapter (ie - no climactic cliffhangers or lingering questions). There isn't even a "to be continued" banner.

Twilight was my first visit to the immense world of Dungeon and though I can't say, after reading this, that I'm moved to go back and fill out my library with the other volumes of the epic, I would be lying if I said I wasn't at least tempted to read vol .2.

Grade: 3.5/5