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 …
Air Vol. 2: Flying Machine
by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker
The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity
by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Vertigo, 144 pages, $9.99
I hate to say it, but I remain thoroughly disappointed in Vertigo. What was once an interesting, thriving imprint has become a rote factory, printing out dull comics that follow a strict formula. To wit: A young, thoroughly average, completely naive white (usually) male (usually) is indoctrinated (or thrown) into a magical world of mystery (or catastrophe) and conspiracy that alters their entire preconceived notions about themselves and the world they know. Seemingly every title in the past decade or so has taken this story path — from American Virgin to Y: The Last Man. If you take away the supernatural elements, even DMZ‘s initial arc fits the pattern. As a result, even the more interesting or idiosyncratic titles have a stale familiarity about them.
This is a ridiculously broad statement, of course. There have been a number of new series from the line in the past few years that seem to be trying to break with that tried-and-true formula — Fables and Scalped being two of the more obvious examples (though one could argue that some of these merely put aside one set of cliches for another). Despite this, however, Vertigo seems determined to cling to its tried-and-true formula, with only superficial changes in the material.
by Taiyo Matsumoto
Viz, 464 pages, $27.99
GoGo Monster bears a number of resemblances to Matsumoto’s other, more well-known (at least in the U.S.) work, Tekkonkinkreet. Both, for example, feature two young boys as protagonists, one of whom is in touch with more primal, perhaps supernatural forces and possibly even in need of “saving.” Both feature a wise elderly man who serves as guardian for the pair. Both feature enigmatic narratives that tease at meaning. And both trade highly in allegory, with readers being able to draw all sorts of thematic possibilities from the elliptical roles the various character serve.
Moyasimon Vol. 1: Tales of Agriculture
by Masayuki Ishikawa
Del Rey, 240 pages, $10.99
When I heard the basic gimmick for Moyasimon — incoming college student has the ability to see germs — a number of possible scenarios ran through my head. None of them, however, involved a professor sucking out the innards of a dead bird through its anus after the bird had been sealed up in the stomach of an equally dead seal that had been buried under the ground for several weeks. Nor did they involve the main character having his hand stuck up a cow’s anus with everyone watching (he does wear gloves) for several panels.
The Great Anti-War Cartoons
Edited by Craig Yoe
Fantagraphics, 192 pages, $24.99
The title says it all really. It’s a collection of editorial cartoons and the occasional gag cartoon with a specific focus on the futility of war. The book is subdivided into sections like “The Brass” and “Famine” to perhaps give the book a bit of structure. While there is the occasional modern contribution or art from before 1850, most of the work in the book seems to focus on the late 19th to mid-20th century, with a decided emphasis on the World War I era, which makes sense given the stunning horror of that war and the prominence of newspapers and other print media at the time.
By and large, the cartoons collected here offer little in the way of visual surprise — skeletons, fat cats with diamond pins and the Roman god Mars abound. Only occasionally do you really come across a really shocking image, like Louis Raemaekers’ “Barbed Wire” or John Sloane’s “The History of Ignorance Obeying Orders.” Most of the cartoons offer the same simplistic truisms about how bad and evil war is without really doing more than scratching the surface. Only humorists like George Booth and Gerald Scarfe seem to offer anything beyond the basic “war is hell” trope.
What the book does offer, however, is a feast of great early 20th century illustration. There are a few recognizable names here, like Winsor McCay and Art Young, but a number of great discoveries as well, like Daniel Fitzpatrick and Luther Bradley. While their ideas may involve resurrecting the same tired metaphors again and again, their craftsmanship, linework and sense of design and composition is often striking, and the best reason I can think of for buying this book.
Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1
Edited by Blake Bell
Fantagraphics Books, 240 pages, $39.99
I am in no way an expert where Steve Ditko is concerned. My knowledge of him and his work is pretty much equal to that of the average comics fan my age (co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, also did Creeper and Shade, big Ayn Rand fan, has a thing for drawing hands). So I don’t feel I can offer some kind of quantitative analysis about Strange Suspense, a new compendium of pre-Code Ditko stories, and how it compares to his most famous and even current work.
I do, however, have a few thought that sprang to mind while reading the book that I thought worth sharing …
by Glenn Eichler and Nick Bertozzi
First Second, 128 pages, $17.99.
Ball Peen Hammer
By Adam Rapp and George O’Connor
First Second, 144 pages, $17.99
by Danica Novgorodoff, Benjamin Percy and James Ponsoldt
First Second, 144 pages, $17.99.
In addition to getting great Eurocomics into North American hands, one of the other — perhaps more interesting, possibly odder — feathers in First Second’s cap is what I’ve opted to call (for lack of a better term) the match-up, wherein already penned screenplays or stories by professional prose writers are given to established cartoonists to translate into graphic novels. This fall saw the release of three books that fall into that category — Stuffed!, Ball Peen Hammer and Refresh, Refresh. It’s a process that, depending upon the quality of the original material and the talent of the artists involved, can go wildly in either direction between success and failure, a theory all three of these books seem to prove to one degree or another.