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It happens every year: Despite the best efforts of authors, publishers and publicists, there are smart, funny and downright entertaining comics that fail to get their proper due. It’s a truth made more manifest every year as production and publishing costs are lowered and more and more people find ways of getting their work on print or online.
So once again I’ve put together a list of some books I thought could have used a bit more love, at least in terms of coverage if not also sales (though usually it’s both). These aren’t necessarily the best books of the past year – I’m not sure I’d swap any of them out for my own top 10 list – they’re just really good comics that didn’t seem to get enough attention. Let me know what you’d add to the list in the comments section below.
Awards | March: Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, was honored this morning at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia with the Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award, recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults. Other youth media winners include: Lucy Knisley’s Relish, the Alex Award as one of the 10 best adult books that appeal to teens; Chip Kidd’s Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults; and Brian Selznick, recipient of the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award. [press release]
Passings | One of Fiji’s best-known cartoonists, Laisiasa Naulumatua, was remembered by his former editor as someone who relied on humor rather than venom to make his point. A number of former government officials, including a former prime minister, came to pay their respects to the cartoonist, who used the pen name Lai, at his funeral on Saturday. [The Fiji Times]
Both books are travel stories. The first, An Age of License, is the tale of Lucy’s trip through Europe, where she apparently has all sorts of adventures, meditates on the meaning of life and finds love. It’s due out this fall and will be about 200 pages, black and white with some color.
In the second book, Displacement, Lucy takes her grandparents on a cruise, meditates on the meaning of life and “tries to hold her family together,” which sounds intriguing. This graphic novel will also be black and white with some color.
There are a couple of things about this announcement that are worth noting. First is the move from First Second, which published Relish, to Fantagraphics. First Second gave Relish a strong marketing push — for a while it seemed there was a Lucy Knisley interview somewhere, often in a major publication, every single day, and she did a book tour as well. I think that’s helpful to a young creator, and I hope she’s able to stay on a roll with Fantagraphics.
The other thing is format. Relish had a lush feeling because it was in full color. To me, a black-and-white or black-and-white-with-color format signals a different type of book, maybe something a bit more serious, a bit more literary. It works well for many of Fantagraphics’ titles, as it did for Knisley’s first book, French Milk, and it will be interesting to see how it changes the feel of her work.
Fall is a long ways away, so while you wait, check out Knisley’s sporadically updated webcomic, Stop Paying Attention, which is funny and perceptive and really shows what she is capable of.
The full press release can be found below.
Before Scott Snyder began writing Batman and became the hottest writer at DC Comic and an overall direct market darling, garnering high sales and high praise for his work on the title, he was penning the Vertigo series American Vampire. Sharply written and clever in its conception and execution, it infused a longtime staple of fantasy literature with some fresh ideas, and was also both good and well-received (that Stephen King was writing back-ups in it for a while probably didn’t hurt any, either).
Not long ago, Snyder returned to Vertigo for another series scarily reinventing a legendary creature with The Wake, drawn by fellow Sean Murphy (Joe The Barbarian, Punk Rock Jesus, some Hellblazer), with whom Snyder previously collaborated on American Vampire miniseries (2011’s Survival of the Fittest). This time the jump from ordinary to scary is a lot further, as Snyder’s not reinventing vampires, but mermaids of all things.
Well, mer-people, I guess, as they all look rather androgynous, like sci-fi creatures from the black lagoon from the waist up, rather than pretty naked ladies, and, of course, fish from the waist down. Mer-creatures, then. Or maybe mer-monsters.
Next fall, Fantagraphics will publish Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It, featuring stories by an array of well known Japanese manga creators, many of whom have never been published in English before.
Massive was originally slated to be published by PictureBox, but the company closed its doors at the end of 2013 and Fantagraphics acquired the book as part of its queer comics line. Translators Anne Ishii and Graham Kolbeins and designer Chip Kidd will remain on the book at its new home; the three also worked on The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, a collection of gay manga that PictureBox published last year to great acclaim.
The creators whose work is represented in the book are Gengoroh Tagame, Jiraiya, Seizoh Ebisubashi, Kazuhide Ichikawa, Gai Mizuki, Takeshi Matsu, Fumi Miyabi, and Kumada Poohsuke.
We talked to Ishii and Kolbeins about their work and the gay manga genre in Japan and the United States.
Conventions | This Japan Times article about Comiket provides a fascinating look behind the scenes of the dojinshi (self-published manga) fair, which each August and December new draws between 560,000 to 590,000 visitors to Tokyo Big Sight. However, even that massive convention center is becoming too small for the event; of the 51,000 booth applications for August’s Comiket 84, only 35,000 were granted because of space limitations. Incredibly, the organizing Comic Market Committee has just eight full-time employees (but more than 3,000 volunteers). [The Japan Times]
Creators | MariNaomi discusses her experience of being sexually harassed by another creator while participating in a panel at a comics convention. That’s right, she was sexually harassed onstage. [xojane]
This isn’t comics per se, but rather a collection of portraits Hornschemeier did of various notable figures as a late-night drawing exercise of sorts. One of the things I like is that Hornschemeier tries to change his style to suit the subject matter, or at least keep things from getting similar, so that Edward Gorey might be portrayed in a traditional stipple/cross-hatch method, J.D. Salinger and John Steinbeck are all made up of severe, angular, slashing lines, while P.G. Wodehouse seems to consist of a collection of basic geometric shapes that threaten to break off into pure abstraction. My favorites are probably the “blind continuous line” drawings, where Hornschemeier attempted to capture a person’s likeness without looking at the drawing or lifting his pen form the paper. These images have a lovely chaos to them that nevertheless manage to coalesce into an identifiable face.
On the downside, Hornschemeier has a tendency to elongate people’s faces, which can result in some rather odd-looking figures (Charles Schulz in particular seems rather off-model). He’s also obviously working off of photos, and part of me wished he took even more of a chance in attempting to draw his figures in different poses or expressions — especially with someone like Tesla, where the original image is so well know. On the upside, I also appreciated Hornschemeir’s notes in the back on each individual. Every so often he comes up with a delightful turn of phrase that captures an artist’s essence, as when he describes Richard Scarry art as, “The aesthetic equivalent of a towel fresh from the dryer.” All in all, it’s a nice little gift book that holiday present-shoppers can give to fans of Mother, Come Home or those who simply share the same sort of admiration Hornschemeier clearly does for these creative people.
While the original 2002, five-issue miniseries was in color, the 128-page trade collection ($19.99) will be in black and white but will feature two new pages by the Love and Rockets co-author.
ROBOT 6 readers with good memories might recall that I wrote about Grip earlier this year, lamenting that it was, to my knowledge, the only work by Hernandez that had never been compiled into book form.
To describe Grip’s plot takes some effort, as this is one of Hernandez’s more surreal and deliriously and wacky stories, involving a wide cast that includes an amnesiac young man, a pair of police detectives, a trio of Amazonian adventurers, another trio of gun-wielding gangsters, a sweet little old lady, a dwarf couple and a little girl with an eyepatch. As I wrote in May:
The story begins with the amnesiac young man wandering around a nondescript city and being assaulted by some of the people mentioned above for reasons that are murky at best. The story takes an even stranger left turn, however, when the man literally loses his skin at the end of the first issue and starts walking around beaches spouting seemingly half-remembered phrases. The skin starts to take on a life of its own as well.
2013 has blessed us with a bumper crop of great books by Hernandez that includes the critically acclaimed Marble Season and Julio’s Day, as well as Children of Palomar and Maria M. With Dark Horse planning to release Grip in addition to the collected edition of his more recent Fatima miniseries, it seems as though 2014 will continue that trend well into the new year.
I talked with Hernandez over the phone a few days before Thanksgiving about the new collection, the not-so-secret origins of Grip, and what else he’s working on.
Welcome to Best of 7, our new weekly wrap-up post here at Robot 6. Each Sunday we’ll talk about, as it says above, “The best in comics from the last seven days” — which could be anything from an exciting piece of news to a cool publisher’s announcement to an awesome comic that came out on Wednesday.
So without further ado, let’s get to it …
Thursday at this time, many Americans will be digging in to their bountiful Thanksgiving dinner or, depending upon the time zone, blissfully enjoying a tryptophan coma. Feasting isn’t the only tradition, however: There’s also the custom of giving thanks, hence the holiday’s name.
With the end of the year approaching, it seems like a good opportunity to reflect on the state of comics, and celebrate what’s working. Sure, this crazy industry can be frustrating at times, but it also gets a lot of things right. So in keeping with the numerical motif of our namesake, here are six things in comics for which I’m thankful.
1. Image Comics is killing it
There are a lot of fantastic comics today. It’s been said a number of times by myself and others but it’s so fun to repeat: We are living in a new renaissance period for comics. I don’t think there’s ever before been such a sustained output of quality books. You can’t reasonably give credit for that to one publisher, but if we’re just looking at the major players in the direct market, Image Comics is just killing it this year. I don’t think they’ve ever had such a stellar line-up of quality creators putting out books that look fantastic, have great hooks to them, and stand on their own as solid entertainment.
Creators | Newsday picks up the story of Al Plastino’s original art for the John F. Kennedy comic that was canceled when the president was assassinated, and then published a few months later at the request of the Johnson administration. Plastino, now 91, had been told the artwork would be donated to the Kennedy Library, but last month at New York Comic Con he learned that a private individual had the art and was planning to sell it through Heritage Auctions, which now says it won’t move forward until the ownership question is resolved. Copyright lawyer Dale Cendall, former DC Comics President Paul Levitz and artist Neal Adams weigh in on the case. [Newsday]
Kickstarter | In the wake of the successful Fantagraphics Kickstarter campaign, Rob Salkowitz looks at the evolution of the crowdfunding platform from a way for individual creators to connect with their audiences to a pre-sale mechanism that eliminates a lot of the risk for smaller publishers. [ICv2]
With 23 days left in a Kickstarter campaign to fund its spring/summer season of books, Fantagraphics has already surpassed its initial $150,000 goal.
“We literally are stunned by the support you have shown in less than four days,” Publisher Gary Groth wrote Monday in a Kickstarter update, “it’s incredible and we humbly thank you.”
As he explained last week to Comic Book Resources, the effort came in the wake of the illness and death earlier this year of co-founder Kim Thompson, which led 13 of the books he edited to be canceled or postponed. That amounted to the loss of about one-third of the spring/summer season, and a significant financial blow to the publisher. The Kickstarter is designed to help Fantagraphics finance the next season of books — 39 in all.
With that $150,000 goal now met, Fantagraphics is expanding the number of premiums. The campaign ends Dec. 5.
Creators | Anime legend Hayao Miyazaki, who announced his retirement just two months ago, is reportedly drawing a samurai manga set during the Warring States Period. Asked on the Japanese television show Sekai-ichi Uketai Jugyō over the weekend how the 72-year-old filmmaker will spend his retirement, Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki replied, “I think he will serialize a manga. From the beginning, he likes drawing about his favorite things. That’s his stress relief.” He also confirmed the manga’s setting before cutting off the line of questioning with, “He’ll get angry if I talk too much. Let’s stop talking about this.” Miyazaki has illustrated several manga over the past four decades, most notably the seven-volume Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. [Anime News Network]
Libraries | Mitch Stacy takes a look at the new Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University, which is scheduled to open this weekend with a gala celebration. [ABC News]
In addition to launching their first-ever linewide Kickstarter project this week, Fantagraphics announced another “first” for the company — their first digital-first comic. The 50-page, self-contained Violenzia by Richard Sala (Delphine, Cat Burgler Black) will be released on comiXology Nov. 20.
“A fast moving, self-contained story, Violenzia is a blast of pulpy fun, told in scenes of audacious action and splashes of rich watercolors,” said Fanta’s Jen Vaughn. “With elements of golden age comics and old movies mixed with Sala’s trademark humor and sense of the absurd, Violenzia is serious fun, a bloody enigma masked as eye candy, a puzzle box riddled with bullet holes.”
(Hmmm … it’s funny how we’ve never seen Violenzia and Jen Vaughn in the same room together …)
Check out some additional art from the comic below, and some additional thoughts on the project from Fanta’s Eric Reynolds at The Comics Reporter.
Crime | Three armed men invaded the home of comics collector Antonio Jose da Silva in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and held him and two employees at gunpoint while they stole more than 7,000 comics from his collection of about 200,000. The robbers seemed to know exactly what they were looking for, as they went straight for the most valuable books. Their haul included more than 200 first editions of O Lobinho and O Gibi, which reprinted translations of American comics in the 1930s and 1940s. The value of the thieves haul is estimated at $150,000, and the loss will be borne by da Silva, who was unable to get insurance for his collection. [The Comics Reporter]
Comics | Dana Jennings looks at the renewed interest in EC Comics, once reviled in the popular press as mind-destroying trash that would lead youths astray, now revered by the comics cognoscenti as subversive graphic literature. Locke & Key writer Joe Hill and EC Archives editor Russ Cochran weigh in, as does Fantagraphics President Gary Groth, editor of that company’s EC Library, who says, “They were arguably the best commercial comics company in the history of the medium, and their list of artists and writers between 1950 and 1955 represents a Who’s Who of the most accomplished craftsmen working in comics at that time.” [The New York Times]