Robot 6

Six by 6 | The six most criminally ignored books of 2011

Salvatore Vol. 2

It’s time once again for our annual look at six books that were, for whatever reason, unjustly ignored by the public and critical cognoscenti at large. With all the titles that are published lately, it’s no real surprise that some books fall through the cracks, though in certain cases it seems grossly unwarranted.

After the jump are six books that, while they may not have made my “best of 2011″ list, I think got nowhere near the amount of attention they deserved. There are lots more that I could include if I had the time. I’m sure there are books you read this year that you don’t think got enough praise either. Be sure to let me know what they are in the comments section.

1. Salvatore by Nicholas De Crecy (NBM). Although highly acclaimed on the other side of the Atlantic, De Crecy is one of those many, many European cartoonists that remains persona non grata here in the U.S. Only three of De Crecy’s books have been translated for American audiences so far: the Louvre-themed Glacial Period and two volumes of Salvatore, the second of which came out this year with barely a peep from critics or readers. That’s a shame as Salvatore is a charmingly absurd anthropomorphic tale involving a philosophizing dog mechanic who, along with his silent, minuscule, bald servent — sets off for South America in a ridiculous contraption of an automobile in search of his true love. As that description suggests, Salvatore is a rather complicated farce, with lots of side stories and supporting characters, including a near-sighted mama pig who searches in vain for a lost child while the rest of her brood becomes ecological entrepreneurs. De Crecy applies an arch, overly formal writing style here that, combined with his rough, detailed art, gives the story an off-kilter, almost grotesque feel that makes it seem both otherworldly and a sly satire of modern foibles, cultures and attitudes. Certainly there’s nothing quite like it being published right now.

King of Flies Vol. 2

2. Pure Pajamas by Marc Bell (D&Q). I have no evidence backing this up, but I suspect Bell is an artist that confounds a number of people. He adopts a big-foot, potato-nose visual style in the best comic strip tradition, and his world is a friendly, anthropomorphic fantasia where everything, from your breakfast food on down is eager to wish you well. On the other hand, his stories lean towards the distressingly surreal, cute characters can easily come to violent ends and things can go bizarrely awry for the most absurd reasons. Myself, I find that tension between the rubbery cute and off-kilter savagery to be one of Bell’s strengths. Pure Pajamas, which collects various strips and stories Bell has done for various media over the years, is about as good an example of those strengths as you’re likely to find.

3. King of the Flies Vol. 2: The Origin of the World by Mezzo and Pirus (Fantagraphics). I suspect a number of potential readers flipped through King of the Flies (either online or in stores) and dismissed it quickly as an obvious Charles Burns rip-off. That’s somewhat understandable. After all, Mezzo and Pirus do wear their influences on their sleeves. Not just Burns, but other artistic lodestones like Quentin Tarintino, David Lynch and Jim Thompson haunt this three-part saga as much as one recently deceased character does. But this dark, disjointed story about an assortment of misfit suburban characters plagued by bad luck and their own poor choices is a compelling, bitterly funny read nevertheless. Despite its obvious influences King never feels like a pale imitation, especially in the second volume, where the ante is upped considerably, both on an aesthetic and narrative level. Don’t let your initial impressions keep you from checking it out.

4. Everything Vol. 1: Blabber, Blabber, Blabber by Lynda Barry (D&Q). It seems odd that a Lynda Barry book should make this list after the deserved acclaim that greeted her last two books, Picture This and What It Is. Yet aside from a review at the AV Club and a New York Times profile (which admittedly is nothing to sneeze at) I’m not sure anyone talked about this new collection of some very early work other than to acknowledge its existence. It certainly seemed to slip off a lot of people’s radar (including my own) when it came time to make a “best of” list. Yet Blabber offers a fascinating look at Barry’s early development as a cartoonist, as she moves from the delicate, oddball Ernie Pook to the rawer, more emotionally savage material of “Boys and Girls.” There’s a lot here for Barry fans, and fans of good comics in general, to chew on.

The Man Who Grew His Beard

5. The Man Who Grew His Beard by Olivier Schrauwen (Fantagraphics). Color Engineering author Yuichi Yokoyama got all the attention this year, but to my eyes Schrauwen is just as innovative and wholly original a cartoonist as Yokoyama. The main difference between the two is that where Yokoyama is focused on expressing motion, machinery and discovery, Schrauwen prefers to explore differences in perception, especially between reality and that of the imagination. Many of the characters in Schrauwen’s collection of short stories (many of which appeared previously in Mome) are mentally disturbed or disabled in some fashion and attempt to reshape what they see in order to compensate for their liabilities. None of this is explicit however; it’s often up to the reader to determine where truth and subjectivity begin and end (though he does frequently drop hints). Incredibly inventive and at times darkly funny, Beard is the work of a master cartoonist worth more attention.

6. Tank Tankuro by Gajo Sakamoto (PressPop). Japanese comics are generally thought to have begun with the end of World War II, but of course that isn’t the case, as this impressive book, lovingly designed by Chris Ware, proves. The Tank in question is an overly exuberant robot warrior/superhero whose metal ball body not only protects him from gunfire but can help produce airplane wings, a drill or even smaller clones of himself — whatever’s needed to get him out of a particular jam. Though decidedly militaristic and nationalistic (Tank is perhaps a bit too eager for war) Sakamoto’s comics from the 1930s are irrepressibly buoyant and loopy enough to delight even the most ardent pacifist. In a golden age of reprints where tons of lesser works are getting dragged back out for a glossy-page omnibus, here’s a little known gem that really deserves a spot in the limelight.

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Comments

15 Comments

i love ‘king of the flies”. the influences are staring one in the face. but the influences are SO good!
i’m going to keep on the lookout for “salvatore”. i have “glacial period” by de crecy. i’d like to get more of his work. i really enjoy his sketchy style.

I have never heard of any of these books

I like Lynda Barry’s work, but “Blabber blabber blabber” was way too much juvenilia for me. I should know by now never to by volume 1 of any complete works.

DeCrecy anthropomorphic animals are just too creepy.

Good list, Chris. I would also add Special Exits by Joyce Farmer.

Im certainly not the only one who finds Barry’s art painful to look at. Its seriously just…ugly. naturally she’s the darling of the ‘literary’ crowd. If you haven’t read Tom Wolfe’s little book The Painted Word, on this history of modern art criticism, now might be a good time.

“King of Flies” is currently my favorite trilogy. The influences are apparent, but their panel play, humor, and surrealism are definitely their own. A marvelous, stunning series.

Great, great list. Maybe it’s time you look into these books, David. You’ll be kicking yourself for not doing so sooner.

Marc — Didn’t Special Exits come out in 2010?

Derik — I like that creepiness in DeCrecy. It’s what keeps the whole thing from becoming twee. I thought the material in Blabber was fascinating, but mainly in that “watch someone slowly go from a to b” sort of way.

“I thought the material in Blabber was fascinating, but mainly in that “watch someone slowly go from a to b” sort of way.”

Exactly. Not really the sort of thing you want to spend money on and reread ever.

There is another translated De Crécy book: the Alexios Tjoyas-written Foligatto, which was published in the March ’92 issue of Heavy Metal… as Bart Beaty once said, it’s the issue with the sexy girl holding a weapon on the cover.

I think the reason that Schrauwen book didn’t get talked about is cause everybody’s mind is still catching up to it, like how it was with Yokoyama way back in 2007 when New Engineering came out.

Lots of European comics, as usual. Sigh!

Chris, that’s the exact reason I didn’t read King of the Flies. But three cheers for Salvatore; I don’t understand why NBM doesn’t have more critical buzz, given their fab line-up.

I’d add the Johnny Ryan collection Take A Joke to the list. Hit or miss, but the hits are among his best work, I think.

Salvatore is hilarious, but I guess if you find anthropomorphic animals creepy, then it’s not the book for you. The sequence where the half-blind, pregnant pig character nearly gets killed a half-dozen times driving her car was Barksian in its level of ingenuity and flow. De Crecy was a great find for me.

I liked the Barry book a lot, actually. Sure, it’s formative, but I thought it was surprisingly accomplished for such an effort. Also, the long, illustrated introduction is top notch stuff. Even if you don’t make it part of your permanent collection, it is certainly worth a read if your library has it.

The Oliver S. book is amazing, though I had read most of those stories already in Mome. I was still happy to see it unleashed on an unsuspecting public, however. I like that even though his work is idiosyncratic, his main goal is still to tell jokes. Weird jokes, but gags with a structure nonetheless.

Special Exits was definitely late 2010. It was on my highly belated top comics of 2010 list.

Great job as always, Chris.

Yes, Special Exits came out in 2010 and was nominated for an Eisner last year.

Good list, I haven’t read any of these books yet (I’ll probably start with Tank Tankuro and the Lynda Barry book).

Another 2011 book that got relatively little attention (and is well worth reading) is Pat McEown’s “Hairshirt”, published by SelfMadeHero.

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