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Graphic novel finalists for Los Angeles Times Book Prize

The Los Angeles Times Book Prize judges have released their list of finalists for the 2011 prizes, and here are the five nominees for best graphic novel:

This is only the third year that there has been a graphic novel category, and it’s worth noting that this is the second time one of Jim Woodring’s books has been a finalist; last year it was Weathercraft. Also, while the selection is quite eclectic, five out of the 15 nominees in the past three years have been from Fantagraphics, which gives an inkling of the judges’ tastes.

Comics A.M. | Charlaine Harris’ new graphic novel; the origins of Epic

Charlaine Harris

Publishing | Charlaine Harris, author of the “Sookie Stackhouse” novels on which HBO’s True Blood is based, says that after she finishes the last two “Sookie” books, she plans to work on a graphic novel with Christopher Golden. “I’m very excited about that. It’s called Cemetery Girl with Christopher Golden, and it’s a very exciting opportunity.” Harris had mentioned wanting to do a novel called Cemetery Girl back in 2009, about “a girl raised by ghosts in a cemetery,” but put it on hold when she found out the plot was similar to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

Based on the description in the news report, it sounds like the story has been tweaked, as it says the graphic novel “centers on a woman who finds herself living in a cemetery with no memory of her past but a clear sense of a mysterious threat hanging over her.” This isn’t the first time Harris’ characters have found their way into comics, as IDW publishes comics based on HBO’s True Blood, and an adaptation of her Grave Sight novels has been published by Dynamite. [NBC San Diego]

Publishing | Former Marvel Comics editor and Transformers writer John Barber has joined IDW Publishing as a senior editor. IDW also announced the promotion of Tom Waltz to the company’s first senior staff writer position, in addition to his duties as editor, and the expansion of the company’s book department with longtime IDW employee Alonzo Simon becoming an assistant editor. [press release]

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Your Wednesday Sequence 14 | Yuichi Yokoyama

Garden (2011), page 12.  Yuichi Yokoyama.

(remember, manga means read right to left)

Saying Yuichi Yokoyama is the best artist of environmental processes that comics have going is a bit like saying somebody is the best right fielder the nation of Switzerland has going: it isn’t really something we’ve got a lot of.  Even with the increasing prominence of landscape drawings in American comics — I’d guess it’s a combined effect of the art-comix revolution, which put sequential pages on the same level as fine-art paintings for the first time, and the translated manga boom, which introduced many a stateside reader to the more landscape-heavy Japanese comics tradition — the emphasis I see is surprisingly foreign to the comics medium.  In both American and Japanese cartooning, most landscape scenes seem mainly concerned with using the form to put forth a panorama of images, a bouquet of still shots.  That’s fine, but it misses a potential that this Yuichi Yokoyama page taps deep into.

What simple landscape drawing misses in its depiction of environments is that the world is a living place, a constantly unfolding process rather than a fixed background.  Traditional, single-image landscape painting can’t really be called on to depict that process since it’s only single images; but comics can, and yet it does so rarely.  That’s the purest, most transcendent aspect of Yokoyama’s strangely literalist manga: he draws the living world, and he uses the comics form to do it.  In Yokoyama, environmental forces perform the role of “characters” with regularity, propelling sequence with the development that their very existence entails.  Here, more typical characters drop out entirely and the page fixes around an unusual type of interaction for comics: not that of living things, but of the natural and man-made worlds.  And still, it’s as dynamic and recognizable a “short story” as any tracking of human movement through space or conversation, a beginning, middle, and end in five panels.

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Exclusive preview and interview: Explore Yuichi Yokoyama’s Garden of unearthly delights

It’s always a good sign, and a rare blessing, when you close a comic and say to yourself, “Well, I’ve certainly never seen anything like that before.” Such was my reaction to Garden, the upcoming PictureBox graphic novel from acclaimed manga artist Yuichi Yokoyama (currently in Previews for a May 4 release; Diamond code MAR111221). Sure, this is the same guy who made guys throwing books at one another as exciting a fight scene as anything out of Kill Bill in his collection New Engineering. It’s the same guy who made a bunch of dudes taking a ride on the train as thrilling as Jack Kirby drawing someone hijacking the Moebius Chair and going on a joyride through Apokalips in his book Travel. But Garden takes Yokoyama’s unique combination of deadpan characters, robotically clean lines, zany costumes, epic sets and scenery, and hyper-caffeinated action to a whole new level. It’s like a magical mental amusement park.

The plot of Garden is pure simplicity: A crowd of would-be sightseers (all wearing costumes and headgear that make them look like a lost Kinnikuman toyline) sneak into a sprawling “garden” filled with inexplicable, incredible sights and structures, from a river of rubber balls and a forest filled with disassembled cars to mountains made of glass and a massive hallway filled with floating bubbles. The endlessly chatty characters slowly walk, climb, swing, float, and otherwise make their way through the environments and obstacles, constantly narrating as they go. (“Now what could this be?” “It’s a field of boulders.” “All the boulders have ladders on them.” “Let’s climb it.”) By explaining exactly what’s happening at all times, the little explorers make following Yokoyama’s often kaleidoscopic art a breeze, freeing you to simply marvel at the sheer scale and scope of his imagination (and chuckle at the the crazy stuff the characters encounter). The overall effect is like being strapped in for a ride through some Bizarro Disney World where every single attraction is as colossal and otherworldly as the big Spaceship Earth golfball, as fast as Space Mountain, and as dizzying as the Mad Tea Party.

Courtesy of PictureBox, Robot 6 is pleased to present this exclusive eight-page preview of Garden, and an interview with Yokoyama about the book, in which the cartoonist gives us some fascinating answers — about his love for the collision between the natural and artificial, his goal in including all that dialogue, and why size matters — and raises just as many compelling questions.

(Special thanks to Dan Nadel and Yu Marooka for their help in facilitating and translating this interview respectively.)

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