The big news (for me at least) of the past week was Dan Nadel’s announcement that he has decided to close up shop on PictureBox, his publishing empire. While I completely understand his desire to focus his energies on other things it’s sad news nevertheless. PictureBox was one of the most interesting and daring comics publishers out there and the books they released helped change the conversation about what comics should be.
Thankfully, Nadel is going out with a bang in the form of a 50 percent-off sale through Jan. 2. PictureBox published so many excellent books by so many talented cartoonists – Lauren Weinstein, Mat Brinkman, Jonny Negron, Frank Santoro, Ben Jones, etc. – that making a few essential recommendations is a tough task to put it mildly. Still, if you’re looking to take advantage of the sale, and aren’t sure what to buy, here are some books I enjoyed a great deal and think you might too.
1. Gold Pollen and Other Stories by Seiichi Hayashi. One of the sadder tragedies of PictureBox’s closing is it comes just as critic and scholar Ryan Holmberg’s two new lines – Ten Cent Manga and Masters of Alternative Manga – were just getting started. I greatly enjoyed the two books in the Ten Cent line (The Mysterious Underground Men by Osamu Tezuka and Last of the Mohicans by Shigeru Sugiura) but it was Gold Pollen that really floored me. This collection of highly symbolic short stories (one uncompleted) present some really daring, exciting work by Hayashi (author of Red Colored Elegy), particularly the elegant, minimalist Red Dragonfly. That, combined with Holmberg’s insightful, educational essay make this my favorite book of 2013 thus far. The good news is that apparently Holmberg has found a publisher interested in picking up the Ten Cent Manga line. No word yet if the Alternative Manga line will find a benefactor, but let’s keep our fingers crossed.
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 …
A Centaur’s Life, Vol. 1 (Seven Seas): Easily the weirdest comic I read this month, Kei Murayama’s manga is about an alternate world where everything is the exact same as it is in ours, save for the fact that there are multiple races like centaurs, angel folk, goat folk, cat folk, dragon people and so on. Oh, and while human beings apparently still exist, the only one glimpsed is a medieval knight seen in flashback, having enslaved a centaur is some bizarre armor/restraining device in order to ride him.
What makes the manga so weird, however, is that there doesn’t seem to be any reason, at least not in this first volume, for why our heroine Himeno is a centaur, and why her classmates are all various fantasy races living out an otherwise completely mundane existence.
Himeno is a sweet, shy, pretty and popular Japanese schoolgirl (who is also a centaur). She’s afraid of boys, likes hanging out with her friends, and love sweets, although she worries about getting fat. The stories are mostly of the frivolous high-school comedy sort that could easily have been told with human characters.
In the first story, Himeno is self-conscious about her genitals, which she’s never looked at, as she’s afraid they might resemble those of a cow the kids once saw on a field trip (unlike some centaurs, the ones in this comic keep their horse parts covered in elaborate pants that appear difficult to put on and take off). In another, her class puts on a play, and she’s cast as the female lead, while her best friend — a girl with bat wings, a spade-shaped tail and pointy ears — is the male lead. In another, she’s suspected of doing some modeling work, in violation of school policy regarding part-time jobs.
PictureBox may be the only comic book publisher to win a Grammy Award, as Dan Nadel helped design the packaging for Wilco’s 2004 album A Ghost is Born. What might be more remarkable is that despite such a high-profile achievement, it isn’t likely to be how the small yet innovative comics house will be remembered when it closes at the end of year. Instead, at least in comics circles, PictureBox will be remembered for somehow capturing and releasing a mercurial yet eye-catching merger of music and imagery that manifested as graphic novels, art books and magazines.
For all intents and purposes, PictureBox is Nadel. He’s an accomplished editor, designer, publisher and curator of “visual culture,” as he describes it. “Each project comes from my own tastes and relationships, and are rooted in what I believe in,” he wrote on the PictureBox website. “Since it’s just me running this thing, you’re pretty much seeing me through those books and this site.” Looking through the PictureBox catalog proves that to be true. It’s like walking into the house of the kid down the street who had a collection of comics you never heard of but instantly wished you had. Where did he find these people, these mad geniuses? Maybe if I read everything, I’ll understand.
Publishing | Tom Spurgeon writes the definitive obituary of PictureBox, which announced Monday it will stop publishing at the end of the year. He also polls other small-press comics publishers for their reactions. [The Comics Reporter]
Digital comics | Yen Press is bringing its digital manga magazine Yen Plus to an end; the December issue will be the final one. The magazine was launched as a print anthology in August 2008 and switched to digital-only format in 2010. When it began serializing Soul Eater NOT, Yen Plus became the first magazine to publish manga chapters worldwide at the same time they came out in Japan (Shonen Jump does simultaneous release, but only to a restricted region). [Anime News Network]
PictureBox, the influential Brooklyn-based publisher of such titles as 1-800 MICE, Cold Heat and Powr Mastrs, announced it will no longer release new books after the end of the year. Its final title will be Matthew Thurber’s Infomaniacs.
“This was not an easy decision, but the company is no longer feasible for me as a thoroughgoing venture,” owner Dan Nadel wrote this morning on the company’s website. “Change is, as the cliché goes, a good thing, and I am proud of PictureBox the idea and the company, and grateful to the many artists I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve been publishing since 2000, and without such an astounding array of loyal and talented people PictureBox would be nothing. Some of my closest friends were made while working on PictureBox projects.”
Nadel offers more details in an interview with The Comics Reporter, where he explains the decision to shutter PictureBox was a personal one rather than a financial one; the company remained viable.
Current titles will remain available through the PictureBox website. Nadel is also holding a 50-percent-off sale through Jan. 2 on all books, prints, posters and more.
Last weekend I went to Comic Arts Brooklyn. I bought a lot of comics. Here are six that I think are really good, and I think you should try to find as well.
His work might have a rushed, “dashed-off” look to it at times, but don’t kid yourself: Frank Santoro puts a lot of time and consideration into his comics. In fact, it’s safe to say he puts more thought into the overall structure and design of his pages than a lot of his contemporaries, as anyone who has read his “Layout Workbook” series of posts on TCJ.com can attest.
Santoro’s latest comic, the stand-alone graphic novel Pompeii, deals quite overtly with issues of art and craft, as it follows the story of aspiring ancient Roman artist Marcus who’s slaving away as an assistant to the more established painter Flavius (who has his own problems). Marcus is at something of a crossroads, frustrated by his slow progress under Flavius’ tutelage, but unwilling to move back home or reconsider his options, despite the pleadings of his girlfriend, Lucia. As you might expect given the book’s title, things come to a head quite violently with the eruption of a nearby volcano.
Overall Pompeii is a fast-paced but moving, almost tender at times, work, that begins almost as a sex farce but quickly turns into a more considered and elegiac consideration of careers, youth, love and the purpose of art and artistry in our lives.
I talked with Santoro recently about his new book and its conception.
Batwoman Vol. 3: World’s Finest (DC Comics): It’s difficult to talk about this comic without also discussing the announced departure of its creative team which, like several others that have worked on DC’s New 52, left amid quite public complaints of editorial interference.
As an auteur-driven book starring a relatively new character that’s barely been drawn by anyone other than artist and co-writer J.H. Williams III, the whole affair strikes me as strange, as Williams seems to be at least as big a factor in the book’s continued existence as the word “Bat” in its title. And it’s stranger still he and co-writer W. Haden Blackman are only now reaching the breaking point, as from a reader’s perspective, DC appeared to have pretty much left them alone to do their own thing; like Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated and the Geoff Johns-written portions of Green Lantern, this book seems set in its own universe and is sort of impossible to integrate into the New 52 if one thinks about it for too long (with “too long” being “about 45 seconds”).
Regularly cited as one of the best of DC’s current crop of comics, Batwoman is definitely the company’s best-looking, and most intricately, even baroquely designed and illustrated. As for the word half of the story equation, I found Batwoman — and this volume in particular — to be extremely strange, even weird, more than I found it to be good.
One of the biggest indie comics events of the year, Small Press Expo (aka SPX), will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in North Bethesda, Maryland.
It’s a must-attend show for me, and this year will be no different. Well, it will be a little different, as my 11-year-old daughter will be coming along for what will be her first-ever comics convention. She will have copies of her own comic, Indefinable, for sale, so if you see us wandering the aisles, say hello.
Traversing the aisles of SPX with a pre-teen might prove to be a bit of a challenge, but I’m going to try to cram as much age-appropriate comics fun in the weekend as possible. Here’s some things I’m looking forward to/hoping to buy.
Five comics I’m planning on buying:
1. Wild Man: Island of Memory by T. Edward Bak. I’m a big fan of Bak’s Service Industry and really enjoyed the story he was serializing in Mome, about explorer and scientist Georg Steller. Wild Man: Island of Memory collects and reworks that material, the first part of what will be a projected four-volume series. Based on what I’ve read so far, I feel expect that this will be one of the more talked-about books at SPX this year.
2. Frontier #2 by Hellen Jo. Jo has been relatively quiet comics-wise since she released Jim and Jan a few years back. Now, via Ryan Sands’ relatively new publishing venture, Youth in Decline, she’s got what’s sure to be a swell mini collecting various paintings, pencils and other artwork.
3. Monster. It just wouldn’t be SPX if Hidden Fortress Press didn’t have a new volume of this usually reliable anthology. This year looks to be especially good, with 200 pages of comics by such noteworthy names as Marc Bell, Mat Brinkman, Jordan Crane, Michael DeForge, Edie Fake and Leif Goldberg. That’s a pretty killer list of talent – when was the last time we saw a new Brinkman comic, anyway?
4. Gold Pollen and Other Stories by Seiichi Hayashi. It’s nice to see more and more classic manga from people that aren’t Osamu Tezuka coming to Western shores. This is a collection of short stories from the author of Red Colored Elegy, a book I was a bit flummoxed by initially but that has slowly won me over more in ensuing years. The Picturebox site still labels it as “coming soon,” but it’s listed as a debut book on the SPX site. Basically, if it’s there, I’m buying a copy.
5. Love Stories by Mat Tait. New Zealand will be duly represented at the show by Tait, who will have this collection of stories available for sale. I’ve heard good things about Tait’s work and am excited to delve into it.
Every month there are hundreds of new comics and graphic novels released, and dozens if not scores of them are noteworthy for one reason or another. Sadly, no matter how much time one spends reading comics, there are only so many hours in a day, and blog posts in a month. Here then are shorter reviews of every new graphic novel or somehow interesting or important new comic I read in July that I didn’t get a chance to cover.
Flowers of Evil, Vol. 6 (Vertical): Each successive volume of Shuzo Oshimi’s increasingly psycho psychodrama has upped the ante considerably, ending with a cliffhanger that positions our protagonist Takao on the precipice of some new, life-altering, no-turning-back-now crisis. This one’s no different, but now that the series in its sixth volume, the stakes don’t seem like they can get any higher.
Takao and the two young women in his life — troubled troublemaker Nakamura and his one-time crush and former model student Saeki — are all growing more and more psychologically unbalanced. Saeki seems to grow even more fixated on Takao the more he spurns her and becomes more fixated on Nakamura, ultimately even showing one of the “Something’s maybe not quite right with this lady” signs from Single White Female.
This volume opens with a police investigation of the events of the last volume, continues with Takao and Saeki both going a little nuts as they suffer withdrawal from the people they’re respectively obsessed with, features Takao’s parents trying to take a hard line and get him back under control, has Nakamura committing, threatening and asking for violence done with a baseball bat and climaxes with Takao and Nakamura about to engage in a violent public act that, if not actually terrorism, has gotta be getting pretty close to it.
Creators | Dark Horse announced that legendary Lone Wolf and Cub writer Kazuo Koike will be its guest of honor at Comic-Con International in San Diego, where he’ll sign July 18-19 at the publisher’s booth (#2615). In 2014, Dark Horse will debut New Lone Wolf and Club, the 11-volume series by Koike and Hideki Mori (original artist Goseki Kojima passed away in 2000) that picks up where the initial saga ended. [Dark Horse]
Awards | The Judging Panel for the British Comic Awards has been announced. This panel will choose the final winners from a shortlist sent to them by the Judging Committee, which screens nominations from the public. [Forbidden Planet]
Commentary | Steve Morris pens a thoughtful essay on cost versus content in comics and what exactly you are paying for with your $2.99 (or, more frequently these days, $3.99). [The Beat]
Awards | Sammy Harkham’s Everything Together: Collected Stories, published by PictureBox, won the 33rd annual Los Angeles Times Book Prize for graphic novels/comics. The Los Angeles Times also profiles Harkham as “a significant voice on the L.A. cultural scene.” [Los Angeles Times Book Prizes]
Awards | Now that their work is done, the Eisner Award judges share their experiences and the insights they have gleaned from six months of reading as much of last year’s’ graphic novel output as possible — and four days of deliberations. [Comic-Con International]
Creators | Craig Thompson (Blankets, Habibi) interviews the French creator Blutch, whose So Long, Silver Screen will be released soon by PictureBox. [BoingBoing]
Note: My schedule has been all goofy lately which means I haven’t been able to post on a regular weekly basis or contribute to Cheat Sheet or What Are You Reading in the manner I’d like to. I know: Wah, wah, wah.
Meanwhile, the books keep piling up. And piling up.
So, in an effort to assuage my guilt, I attempted to run through some of the titles I’ve received in the mail in the past few months. Warning: I might do this again. I might not. I’m mercurial.
You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)
As appreciative as I am that we live in an era when cartoonists are encouraged to, and do, create lengthy, thoughtful, multi-layered stories, there’s something to be said for the simple pleasures of a gag strip – the fleeting joy that a really short, well-constructed joke can provide. I didn’t realize how much I missed that sort of thing until I read You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, a collection of short strips that cartoonist Tom Gauld did for The Guardian. The bulk of the strips play upon classic stories, genre fiction or publishing in general. Gauld’s jokes are are silly enough and play upon familiar cliches well enough to make the reader feel smart even if you haven’t read, say, Zola’s “Germinal.” His minimalist, silhouetted style helps get the joke across as well. He’s also rather fond of diagrams and maps, which puts him in good company with folks like New Yorker cartoonists Roz Chast and Jack Ziegler I didn’t care much for Gauld’s last book, Goliath, which I thought milked a rather weak joke (gosh, the Biblical Goliath was actually a really nice guy!) but Jetpack had me frequently laughing out loud in the way that only my favorite comic strips do. Comics need more of this sort of “get in, get out quick” work right now and I’m happy that Gauld is here to fill that void.
Passings | French cartoonist Theodor Friedrich Otto Aristidès, aka Fred, passed away Tuesday in a Paris hospital at age 82. He was best known for Philémon, his surrealistic comic about a French farm boy who fell down a well into a fantasy world akin to Wonderland. Fred was awarded the Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême in 1980, and had been the oldest living recipient. [L'Observateu de Beauvais]
Creators | John Layman, who’s writing the 900th issue of Detective Comics (No. 19 in the New 52 continuity) talks about his plans for that and his creator-owned series Chew, and contrasts the two: “Well, the cases are weirder in Chew. There is an element that’s the same – you introduce a conflict, and then you have a detective with a certain skill set resolving it. … Batman’s just happen to be gadgets and fists. I guess if there’s a formula in the skeletal layer, it’s probably the same.” [Hero Complex]