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Acme Novelty Library Vol. 20
by Chris Ware
Drawn & Quarterly, 72 pages $23.95
(Note: I shall endeavor to be as spoiler-free as possible, but obviously if you’re the sort who would rather dive into a book like this knowing as little as possible then you may not want to click on that “continue reading” link.)
Acme Novelty Library #20 is about an asshole. The book’s main character, one Jordan W. Lint, is a bully, a coward, an adulterer, a drunkard, is frequently callous and cruel to friends and family, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In some regards he is an outright monster.
And yet, Ware manages to make us not only care, rather deeply, about this unlikeable figure but also sympathize and, to a surprising degree, understand his plight. Without condoning or excusing his behavior, Ware manages to offer a portrait that is nuanced enough to make us reflect upon our own foibles and fears. If that’s not the mark of a great artist, I’m not sure what is.
A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
by Moto Hagio
Fantagraphics Books, 288 pages, $24.99.
It will be interesting to see what sort of response A Drunken Dream has in the alt-comix community. While I’m have no doubt that more traditional manga fans (especially older manga fans with an interest in the medium’s history) will lap it up and ask for more, I’m not as convinced that your average Fantagraphics reader (if there is such a thing, and I acknowledge full well that I might be off the rails here in even thinking such a thing) won’t find this to be a little far afield from their purview.
by Daniel Clowes
Drawn and Quarterly, 80 pages, $21.95
by Jim Woodring
Fantagraphics Books, 104 pages, $19.99
Here we have two of the more notable and anticipated graphic novel releases of this year. Though at first glance the two don’t seem to have much in common, they do have some similarities. Both come from artists who came to help define the alt-comix movement in the late 1980s and ’90s and their work during that period was seen by many as sterling examples of the sort of Art with a capital A that the medium was capable of producing. Both have also laid relatively low in recent years, pursing projects in other mediums like film, illustration, performance art and toy-making, occasionally returning to comics through the side door (Woodring in the pages of Mome, Clowes with his Mister Wonderful serial in the New York Times). And, while it doesn’t have nearly as much significance as some would like to think it has, this also marks the first time both authors have attempted to publish their work in the “done in one” graphic novel book format rather than serialize it over a lengthy period of time in the more traditional pamphlet format (indeed, this is likely the longest story Woodring has done yet).
Both also begin with the letter W.
by Tim Hensley
Fantagraphics Books, 64 pages, $18.99
Wally Gropius can be a tough book to describe. It seems to revel in its contradictions. It’s both an affectionate paean to the Archie/Harvey/Dell comics of yesteryear and a blistering critique of them. It has contains disturbing imagery and themes that will shock the unexpectant reader, but is also utterly silly, joyfully so at times. It comes off as jarring, even downright bizarre, in its blend of word and image, yet at the same time feels strangely familiar. Even with its influences writ largely on its sleeve, it’s hard to find a book to compare it to.
I had never warmed to Hensley’s work prior to this story, originally serialized in the Mome anthology. The few short pieces he did in anthologies like Dirty Stories left me befuddled and cold. His work seemed so deliberately off-putting, so more concerned with being clever than good, that I honestly didn’t quite know what to make of it.
by Gene Luen Yang
First Second, 64 pages, $6.99
Every book by Gene Yang thus far follows the same basic thematic plot: A young man (or woman, but usually man) feels his life would be perfect if he could only attain that one special thing (acceptance, money, popularity, etc.). Through supernatural or otherwise fantastical means, he obtains his goal, only to discover (all together now) that it wasn’t what he really needed after all.
So it is with Prime Baby, Yang’s newest book, which was originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine. It’s about a young boy, Thaddeus K, who dreams of global conquest and is supremely resentful, jealous of, and thoroughly annoyed by his baby sister. When it turns out that his sister also serves as an inter-dimensional doorway to an alien world and tens of little pod spaceships start spitting up of her mouth, Thaddeus sees an opportunity to rid himself of his sister once and for all. Does he come to regret his decision? Are there stars in the sky?
Hotwire Comics Vol. 3
Edited by Glenn Head
Fantagraphics Books, 138 pages, $22.99
Once again, Hotwire returns to attempt to fill in that edgy alt-comix niche that was so prominent in the 80s and early 90s and has seemingly been eclipsed by the more literary, rarefied indie comics of today (sort of). If for no other reason, this anthology should be lauded for giving folks like Mary Fleener and Mack White the opportunity to showcase their work, since no one else seems to be interested in doing so these days. There is always the occasional dull or misguided piece (David Paleo and David Sandlin’s work continues to fail to interest me), but the stellar work by folks like Michael Kupperman, R. Sikoryak, Onsmith, Johnny Ryan, Tim Lane and Mats!? make this well worth your time.
Footnotes in Gaza
by Joe Sacco
Metropolitan Books, 416 pages, $29.95.
If you’re at all familiar with Joe Sacco’s comics — if you’ve read any of his previous graphic novels, like Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde or The Fixer — then it won’t come as much of a shock to you when I say that his latest book, Footnotes in Gaza, is another exemplary work, perhaps even his best to date. You’re already aware of the high standards he continually sets for himself as a storyteller and an artist and how he amazingly seems to reach those benchmarks time and again. You probably don’t need much convincing.
If you haven’t read any of Sacco’s books up till now, you’re in for a treat. Well, I suppose “treat” is the unequivocally wrong word to use considering the book’s grim subject matter, but there is something so captivating and masterful about Sacco’s work — he uses the medium to such great effect, squeezing every bit of tension and drama from his narrative while avoiding obvious, sentimental heart-tugging or one-note political polemics — that it’s hard not to be stunned by the power of artistry on display, even while you’re being moved to anger or sadness by the tragedy he’s recounting.
Ultimo Vol. 1
by Stan Lee, Hiroyuki Takei, Daigo and Bob
Viz, 216 pages, $9.99
Why is it that — especially in most shonen manga — whenever there’s some big story about the ultimate good going up against the ultimate evil, the good side of the equation is always represented in the blandest, dullest terms possible? Are basic human decency and kindness really that boring as attributes? Or is it that most artists and writers are stymied when forced to portray these qualities in any sort of dramatic or otherwise interesting terms and end up resorting to cardboard cut-outs?
The thing that strikes me the most about Smile is how utterly and completely normal it all is. Telgemeier’s chronicle of her dental problems and general angst during her junior high and high school years, though entertaining, and certainly fraught with melodrama, wouldn’t exactly fall under the realm of trauma, on the same level that, say, Stitches does. And while few of us have had our front teeth knocked out and spent our formative years in a variety of dentists offices, most of have had the other sort of problems Telgemeier narrates, like trouble in school, unrequited crushes, dysfunctional friendships, etc.
Perhaps the most striking thing is how Telgemeier handles these occurrences with relative intelligence and grace. Not that she doesn’t fret mind you, but rather that she so rarely trips herself up on the way to adulthood. So congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Telgemeier. You raised your daughter right.
Benny and Penny in The Toy Breaker
by Geoffrey Hayes
Toon Books, 32 pages, $12.95
This is my favorite of the Benny and Penny books so far. It isn’t that I’ve disliked the previous two books in the brother/sister series as much as this new entry, about an unruly cousin that comes over to play, seems a bit more lively and playful, both in the layouts and in the art itself, which has a frenetic and loose — but never sloppy — quality. It’s a pretty energetic and fast-paced book, even by young reader standards. You sense Hayes had a lot of fun putting this together and his good humor is infectious. Obviously it’s not going to challenge anyone over the age of seven, but I’d easily recommend it for it’s intended audience.
King of RPGs Vol. 1
Story by Jason Thompson; Art by Victor Hao
Del Rey, 240 pages, $10.99
Jason Thompson is a talented, erudite guy. He knows more about manga than I can ever hope to absorb in the rest of my lifetime. His Manga: The Complete Guide is one of the best reference guides on the subject around and one of the most frequently pulled books off of my shelves. His monthly (or whenever) column on Comixology brims with intelligence and wit. Plus, he’s got a helluva collection.
Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days
by Al Columbia
Fantagraphics, 240 pages, $28.99
Can an art book have a narrative? What I mean by that is, can book purportedly made up of a series of unrelated images — or at least, images that don’t ipso facto follow a traditional narrative path — produce one anyway, even if it’s unintentional?
That’s one of the questions I asked while reading Pim & Francie, Al Columbia’s latest (and it should be noted, first ever) book. It’s more a collection of unfinished work and ephemera than an outright comic, but it many ways it remains Columbia’s most disturbing material yet.
Talking to Strangers
Written by Fehed Said; Illustrated by Nana Li, Wing Yun Man, Faye Yong, Chloe Citrine, and Sonia Leong
The cover to Talking to Strangers shows a young girl with a Band-Aid on her cheek. She’s in a downtown area of a large city, but there’s no one around. Her expression is very passive. It’s so wounded that it’s not even sad; it’s lifeless. But she’s leaning forward at you and her hand is pulling back the headphones she’s wearing so that she can hear what you have to say. It’s a beautiful, haunting image.
There’s this theme that keeps coming up in movies and books that I’m experiencing lately. It was in Up in the Air and in a Jeff Daniels/Lauren Graham film I just watched from last year called The Answer Man. It’s an especially powerful message in these days of easy, long-distance communication. It’s about how we’re meant to connect with people. Not just to talk to them, but to share with them and laugh with them and cry with them. To reach out to those around us and help; not just with a charitable donation sent by couple of mouse-clicks, but with our hands and feet and hearts. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s a message I need to hear a lot and I love it when it’s delivered with enough power to push through my complacency.
Fehed Said introduces his anthology with a story about how reaching out and talking to strangers literally saved his life. The book itself is a collection of six stories, all written by Said, illustrated by various artists, and dealing with this theme.
How it does after the break.
The Year of Loving Dangerously
by Ted Rall & Pablo G. Callejo
For a brief time, in my supposed salad days, I had the alleged good fortune to date two different women at the same time. My friends frequently kidded me about my good luck, but the truth was I was absolutely miserable. Plagued by guilt, constantly shuttling between the two women, desperately trying to remember who was responsible for, say, the flowers left on my car, and knowing that sometime soon I was going to have to break one of their hearts, put an amount of stress on my shoulders that outweighed any supposed benefits. My behavior during that time still ranks as one of my biggest regrets.
Ted Rall doesn’t have that problem. In the 1980s he juggled, lied to and slept with numerous women, a fact he chronicles in his latest graphic novel, The Year of Loving Dangerously, without much angst on his part.
Army of Two #1
by Peter Milligan, Dexter Soy and Jose Marzan Jr.
I’ve read great Peter Milligan comics and I’ve read horrible Peter Milligan comics. This, however, falls in neither category. That’s because this could have been written by anybody. There’s nothing unique or interesting about it. It betrays none of Milligan’s stylistic quirks or themes, and the art by Soy and Marzan merely serves to underscore how thoroughly and depressingly inane this spin-off of a somewhat popular video game franchise is. I suppose there’s the off chance this is intended to be some sort of satire, but if so it misses the mark sharply, not to mention the fact that others (most notably Kyle Baker) have done that sort of thing better. No, there’s no nice way to say it: This is hackwork, pure and simple, from someone who is capable of much, much better, and the fact that it’s a tie-in product to a video game doesn’t really excuse its shabbiness.
More reviews after the jump …